“So to sum up…”
I had just spent the last 10 minutes speaking with a couple of young people in the streets outside Cardiff University. It was nearly Christmas time, and I was out on the streets with a student missions team handing out hot chocolate on an INCREDIBLY cold morning, inviting students to our Christmas student events. Over the course of the morning, lots of people stopped for a drink and a chat, but this one particular group stayed for a while (despite the temperature) because they had been exploring the Christian faith and wanted to ask some of their questions. As we came to the end of our conversation, this lad had one last question: “Do you think that the only way to get to heaven is to believe in Jesus?” How I wished in that moment that it wasn’t 2℃ and that he didn’t have to rush off to a lecture, because how does one answer that question in 30 seconds? So I briefly went over our conversation in an attempt to answer his question. Then I said those infamous words: “So, to sum up…”
I’m sure that most of us have heard someone use that phrase before. It’s usually because the person speaking has rambled on, or has lost their train of thought and need to drag themselves back, or because they are aware that those listening need some clarification. For me, in this instance, it was definitely the first of those! But if I had taken my lead from the first few verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, I might have used those words in a far more effective way. In the opening movements of this symphony that is the Ephesian letter, we find that God himself is in the process of a summary. Now unlike me, God has not waffled on, lost his train of thought, or deviated from his original intention. God’s words to humanity are always perfectly formed and they achieve everything that He intends them to. The challenge is that we as humans are not always listening well. But now there is no excuse, because as Paul writes, “[God has] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—that is the summing up of all things in Christ, things in heaven and on earth.” (1:9-10)
The eternal mystery of God’s purpose for creation has been revealed in – God is summing-up this age and his summary is Christ. He is the final word on God’s original intention – to unite heaven and earth. This is what Jesus came to do on the earth. It is for this reason that when Jesus started his earthly ministry, he went about telling people to “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) He was announcing the arrival of God’s rule on the earth to transform the earth to look just like heaven. This had always been God’s intention for humanity, to steward the earth and bring about his rule everywhere, but humanity’s sin got in the way. So Jesus came to deal with sin forever so that God could once again have a people on the earth that he could dwell with, but more than that, have a people he could dwell in. So it is, that anyone who repents and puts their faith in Jesus receives the Holy Spirit. In this way, the Church and every individual in it is now the meeting place of heaven and earth.
We see this in the way that Paul addresses the church in Ephesus. By calling them both the “saints (holy ones) in Ephesus”, and God’s “faithful in Christ” (1:1), Paul simultaneously acknowledges the two realms of creation and that the Church’s identity is tied up in both of these realms. The Church is made up of those “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” and those he “chose in him before the foundation of the world.” (1:3-4) So the call of Jesus to every person on the face of the planet, to you and I, to our families, friends, and even our enemies is to repent, seek God’s forgiveness and put your trust in the Lord Jesus. He came to deal with our sins, so that we might be restored in our relationship to our heavenly Father, and then take our place in his eternal purpose to renew the heavens and the earth in Christ.
And herein was the challenge I had with answering this lad on the street – he had asked the wrong question. I am not blaming him for anything, he was asking a valid question based on his experience of Christianity so far. But too often the Church has preached a gospel that functions a bit like the hot chocolate outreach. Just like on the streets that day, people are in the dark and the freezing cold, trapped in sin outside of God’s presence, and the Gospel we give them is like a hot chocolate – “Repent, put your trust in Jesus and you will be forgiven of the bad stuff you have done and then just hang on and do your best in this dark world because one day you will escape to be with Jesus in heaven.”
Now, I am not dismissing the meeting of present needs, and certainly not the giving away of hot chocolate! What I mean is that we can lessen the Gospel to something that mitigates the problem rather than gets to the root of it. Jesus didn’t come to hand out candles in the darkness of this world and promise an escape to heaven, he came to turn the lights on and bring heaven to earth through us! In the book of Malachi, the last prophetic book of the Old Testament, the coming of the Christ is promised in this way: “For you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise upon you with healing in its rays.” (Mal 4:2) The arrival of Jesus in the earth was the dawn of a new day in which the Kingdom of God has started flooding the earth and banishing the darkness. Jesus initiated this mission and now continues it through those who “revere” him. That’s us – the Church! The people seated in the glory of heaven and still walking the gritty earth.
“So to sum up…” If we can grasp the first few verses of Ephesians, the entire purpose of our lives on the earth will emerge from the shadows and become clear. God is in the process of “summing-up” this age in age, the place where heaven and earth unite. And what God has started in Christ, he is continuing through his people. All those who have responded to Jesus’ call to repentance, have a new identity in Christ, that is tied to both the heavens, where they have been blessed, and to the earth where they walk. So we can finish by saying that God’s plan for your life really is bigger than you think. It might outwork in small ways – caring for your family and friends, working hard in school or university, being full of integrity in your work place. In fact, Paul spends the second part of his letter encouraging the Church do similar small things. Why? None of these things will be sprawled across the news feed on your phone or the front pages of the papers, but they will be logged in the lamb’s book of life for eternity, because these activities form the culture of God’s Kingdom – righteousness, peace and joy. When we live this way in obedience to the Lord Jesus, God is actually summing-up all things in heaven and earth through us, filling the earth with a new culture – the Kingdom of Heaven.
May we all live today like our life counts – because it does. Amen.