The Day the Revolution Began
by Jeff Ritchie
My wife and I spent a week in Washington, DC recently. We saw many museums and monuments during our stay. The theme of “revolution” was very prominent in the Museum of American History. A different kind of revolution, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, was exhibited in the relatively new National Museum of African American History and Culture. A third revolution, the revolution of travel through air and into space, was showcased by the National Air and Space Museum. Megan and I were profoundly moved by what we saw in the museums and monuments of Washington. We saw and felt the cost that our forebears paid in their struggles for what they thought was right and just, and by the lengths to which people would go to chart new ways of doing things and solving problems. Who would have thought, for example, that Orville and Wilbur Wright, bicycle-makers from Dayton, Ohio, would be the first to fly?
The theme of revolution was on my mind as we left for home at the beginning of Holy Week. Revolution is an upheaval, a turning-things-upside-down of the status quo, be it political, economic, social, intellectual, or moral. Revolutions can be beneficial or harmful depending on what happens after the upheaval. Amidst this reflection, I ran across the title of a recent book by one of my favorite Christian writers, New Testament theologian N. T. Wright – The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. What was this revolution that Jesus began through the cross? Don’t we normally call it “salvation,” “redemption,” or some other name?
Our trip to Washington made vivid a key aspect of the Jesus Revolution to me. It was a revolution of suffering love. Re-living the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s through the exhibits at the African American Museum in Washington, we graphically saw the suffering nature of the revolution of Jesus. To see the cost that people bore for their rights – the right to attend school, the right to eat at a lunch counter, the right to buy a home, the right to vote – moved me profoundly. Most political revolutions are accompanied by violence on the part of those seeking their freedom. In the civil rights revolution, however, the violence was one-sided: the perpetuators of segregation were the violent ones persecuting Jesus who walked among the marchers.
Recent postings by The Outreach Foundation have revealed the suffering love of Jesus in our global partners in Egypt and Pakistan. In a previous blog Dr. Rob Weingartner, Executive Director of The Outreach Foundation, has written of the witness of Egyptian Christians in response to church bombings from Holy Week of 2017. This week our website featured a plea from Pakistani Christians who do not feel safe in their own country. In recent years churches have been bombed, and there was a horrific case of Christians who were burned alive. But on Easter Sunday Pakistani Christians praised the risen Christ and sent Easter greetings to friends around the world. By faith they know that love is stronger than hate, that death has been swallowed up in life. They know because the God and Father of Jesus Christ is suffering with them today.
When God accomplished the work of redemption in the world, he chose to do something that cost him the life of his beloved Son. But it was not as a general sending troops into battle that God sent the Son into the world. As the Apostle Paul said, it was God in Christ, who died for our sins, for our redemption, for the redemption and healing of the world. We might say that God had the ultimate “skin in the game” as this revolution of love began.
For all the people who cry out in anguish – and sometimes anger – to God, “Where were you, God, when my wife suffered her cancer?” “Where were you, God, at Auschwitz?” and the like, God does have an answer: “I was there. When they suffered, I suffered. When they died, I died. On the cross I took on all the grief, suffering, and pain of the world. That is my character. That is how I overcame and defeated evil.” The cross defeated evil, and the resurrection confirms the victory of God. Hallelujah!
Up to this point we can see that God does love us enough to suffer for us. But what about the continuing suffering of the world? Is the resurrected Jesus not able to finish the task? That is the question to which the title of N.T. Wright’s book points the answer.
The revolution of God began the day Jesus died. But the resurrected Christ continues this revolution through the people he calls and commissions to go into all the world to make disciples, to baptize and to teach the obedience of faith, and to enjoy his presence when they gather together. Every person has a part to contribute to the healing of the nations, to repair the rent fabric of creation. Every cell of the kingdom that is created, be it in New York or New Delhi, in Cleveland or Cairo, has disciples who continue the Revolution of Jesus. It costs our lives – our time, our resources, our personal commitment. It may involve physical suffering, as those civil rights workers experienced in the 50s and 60s, and as many of our friends from about the world experience daily. But that is what we sign up for when we enlist on Jesus’ side.
How will the Revolution continue through you? In what part of the healing of the nations (Revelation 22), what part of the groaning of creation (Romans 8) is God calling you to play a role? Where can you work for the common good in your community or in a community half-way around the world? The tasks are overwhelming, well-nigh impossible, in fact. But Jesus promises, “I am with you.” Jesus breathes his Spirit on us empowering us for the mission. Nothing we do for God in the power of the Spirit will be in vain (Isaiah 55), for it is God at work in us who is completing the Revolution begun in Jesus.
God’s presence gives us courage. God’s promise gives us hope, for we know how the story ends. Therefore, friends, let us continue the Revolution of Jesus until he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”