Jesus and the New Normal


‘On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening but the dawn.’ (G. K. Chesterton ‘The Everlasting Man’)

For Christians the inauguration of the new creation in Christ’s resurrection forever changed the way we see and inhabit the present world.

‘Therefore if anyone is in Christ… there is new creation; the old has passed; behold the new has come.’

Ever since that first Easter rising, new creation-life has been for us ‘the new normal’.

We do not yet see all things in subjection to the ‘human jurisdiction’ God intends, but we do see Jesus crowned with a “glory bright with Eden’s dawn light”. (Hebrews 2:8-9, The Message).

We can truly say: “Nothing has changed; but everything is different.”

The Risenness of Jesus makes all the difference in the world.

In this light we may well question glib talk of a ‘new normal’.

Is the slogan an innocuous way of saying: ‘Let’s get back to ‘business as usual’?

But… economically, do we really want to revert to the same old hectic, short supply chain,

debt-fuelled consumerism of before?

Socially… do we want to resign ourselves long-term to the inhuman, non-incarnational, habits of social ostracism, wearing masks, with no touching, hugging or even handshakes?

And morally, do we realise that the ‘new normal’ slogan has already been hi-jacked by same-sex advocates and extreme transgender activists to normalise practices that for two thousand years of Judeo-Christian thinking have been viewed as decidedly abnormal?

More questions could be asked - but you get my drift.

As Christians, our ‘new normal’ was made possible by the decisive difference the cross and resurrection of Jesus has made to our world.

The great theologian Karl Barth, called New Testament believers the “normal case” – those who not only receive that which has taken place in Jesus Christ but do so in person and in practice with open eyes and ears and hearts to the “alteration of the human situation which has its basis in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…”

Pundits always blithely surmise that great catastrophes will permanently change the way we do things in the Western World. But the instinctive political response to the demolition of the World Trade Centre towers was: ‘Let’s show that America is open for business as usual’ - or to the current pandemic: ‘Let’s go shopping’!

What’s new?

As Stanley Hauerwas memorably retorted when people said that 9/11 changed the world: “Christians do not believe that September 11th, 2001 changed the world because the world was changed for ever in AD33.”

What this means for us as Jesus people, Paul unfolds to the Corinthians.

(2 Corinthians 5) A new view of death and of hope beyond it (5:1-10).

In Christ we may expect to exchange a mortal body (our tent) for a resurrection- body (a substantial house). ‘EternaI in the heavens’ does not mean what is far away above the bright blue sky: but what is secured for us in the transcendent realm all around us where God rules unchallenged. Set your sights on this ‘new normal’ and whatever facet of this multi-coloured ‘Heaven’ grips you: being at home with the ascended Jesus, life after death with Him, ‘life after life-after-death’ (as Tom Wright puts it), new heavens and new earth (as Isaiah and John see it), the kingdom of God fully come to earth, God-dwelling at last with his redeemed people, seeing the face of God…! - call it what you will but relish the prospect. Without this transcendent dimension, morality dissolves into virtue signalling, and without ultimate accountability to God, being human is robbed of final meaning and significance (5:9-10). Without this new creation vista, Christianity lapses into sentimentality and theology degrades into mere therapy.

A new motivation for living (5:14)

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Hemmed in by the love of Christ who died for all, like a narrow channel that creates powerful energy for what flows through it, we lose our self-serving drivenness and discover desire and delight in living for Him – often much to our own surprise!

A new way of evaluating other people (5:16)

‘Fleshly’ ways of rating people – by their prestige or power, by their wealth or skin-colour or ethnicity have died with us at the cross!

Viewing Jesus merely as a good moral teacher or useful spiritual guru – these views died a death at Easter. On the Damascus Road, Paul’s own eyes had been opened to who Jesus really was. From treating Jesus as a discredited messianic pretender, Paul came to see Him as Israel’s true king and the Lord of glory.  It was for him akin to a new creation. All lives matter.

A new – a radically new – reconciled relationship with God (5:18-21).

God’s love in his own Son bears God’s own righteous judgement on us sinners and no longer need he treat us as his enemies (Romans 8:1-4, 7-8). ‘For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life’

(Romans 5:10-11; cf 1 John 4:10). Reconciliation with God is not something we accomplish. Reconciliation, Paul emphasises, is God’s work; something he achieved in the death of his Son when he laid on him all that on His side meant estrangement from him and judgment on us - so making a peace which by faith we can step into as into a new creation (Ephesians 2:13-14).

This is the best news we can ever hear and believe: the good news we can tell others - appealing to them to ‘be reconciled with God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2). Our new creation mission is to be peacemakers, peace keepers, peace proclaimers.

I leave you with John’s inspired attempt on Patmos to put into words what he is being shown by the Spirit of the day when the new creation fully arrives.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

Our virus plagued world reminds us of our mortality, faces us with the harsh reality that the ‘future things’ are not yet here and that the ‘former things’ are still painful facts of life: pain still wracks, death still stalks, tears still flow and

the mourners’ bench is still full. But we dare to believe that the new creation was planted here in AD33 and that the future is assured.

The new creation world will finally be freed of all that despoiled God’s original world. But I am heartened, as I hope you are, by this realisation: that the true love we have shared, the genuine goodness we have known, and the beauty we have been blessed by - right here in our broken and flawed world - will not be discarded but taken up and redeemed and made more glorious in the new world coming. You see, God doesn’t say he will make all new things: he promises to ‘make all things new’!

Keep hopeful. Stay normal! The dawn is part of the morning.

My love to you all,

Philip Greenslade, 16/07/2020