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Here But Not Yet
In the epic action drama, Gladiator, Maximus is the most powerful Roman general. His loyal legions and the aging Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, love him. Before his death, the Emperor chooses Maximus to be his heir apparent over his own unworthy son, Commodus. The power struggle leaves Maximus and his family in harm’s way. The wrath of Commodus is brutal. The powerful general is rendered helpless to save his wife and young son. His loss of a will to live leads him to a life of slavery. Proximo, a former gladiator champion and now slave owner, purchase’s Maximus and drafts him to become one of his fiercest gladiators. Revenge is the only fire that fuels the fallen general to rise up from the ashes of his forsaken life. He longs to kill the man who destroyed everything he had ever lived for and loved. Maximus was a general who became a slave. A slave who became a gladiator. A gladiator who defied an emperor.[i]
Juba is a fellow slave and gladiator who befriends Maximus. Midway in the film, the two men are found alone on a rooftop talking candidly with each other.
Looking south toward Africa, Juba shares the story of his longing heart with Maximus saying, “It is somewhere out there, my country, my home. My wife is preparing the food. My daughter is carrying water from the river. Will I ever see them again? I think not.”
Maximus asks, “Do you believe that you will see them again when you die?”
“I think so,” Juba says, “but then, I will die soon. They will not die for many years. I will have to wait.”
Maximus asks, “But you would...wait?”
“Of course,” Juba answers.
In turn, Maximus shares his heart’s longing to see his family in the afterlife, “You see,” he says, “my wife and my son are already waiting for me.”
Juba assures his friend, “You will meet them again. But not yet.”
Juba takes Maximus’ hand as if to comfort him that the time will surely come. But not yet.
Maximus agrees by repeating Juba’s words, “Not yet. Not yet.”[ii]
In that touching scene, the two gladiators share with one another how their world ended and what it is that causes them to look forward to the new world to come. With an undying hope, their loved ones await them in Africa and the afterlife.
In another scene some 2000 years ago, an angel sits on top of a large stone that he has just rolled back from the entrance of a tomb. Like Maximus and Juba, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary carried a candid conversation while walking toward the tomb of Jesus. They were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us at the entrance to the tomb?”[iii] Their world had just ended three days ago when Jesus died on the cross and was buried. The large stone sealed and shut their world forever.
To everyone’s surprise, the angel shocked the Roman guards posted at the tomb. He even scared the women who came to do their dead leader a final service. The angel’s appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. He interrupted their traditional burial practice saying:
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Jesus is alive! Our leader lives! He was raised from the dead as he said he would be! He returned to the old world that has passed away in order to comfort his followers that the new world was coming—the kingdom of God was here, but not yet. Not only did he greet them in person, but he also assured them not to be afraid. His message for his fearful brothers was clear. Those that longed to see Jesus are to go back north for there in Galilee, they will see him again.
Jesus died and was buried in the old world, but lived to tell the story of the new world. The two worlds are in a cosmic collision course. The old world is decreasing without Christ, as the new world is increasing in and through Christ. The large stone that was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb is a signpost reminding us that the world as we once knew it, will never be the same again.
But what is this new world of God that is here, but not yet? What is this great future that Jesus is sharing with his followers? How can we say that we are already a part of this new world, while life in the old world still exists all around us?
Jesus came back from future. This future is the new heavens and the new earth. The Bible never speaks, as so many Christians imagine, of a disembodied heaven out there in the great somewhere. Rather, it speaks of the new heavens and the new earth.[iv] And when Jesus brought back the future into the present time, it was so real and so solid. In fact, it was more visible and tangible than our present world that one could hold it. How so? When the two women drew near to the visible and tangible evidence of Jesus’ resurrected body they “took hold of his feet and worshipped him.” Jesus’ newly resurrected body denied Thomas’ doubt when he saw and put his finger in the mark of nails in Jesus’ hands and put his hand on Jesus’ side.[v] Like the two women, Thomas bowed down and surrendered to the solid evidence saying, “My Lord and my God!”[vi] Even the Apostle John submits his joyous findings as proof that Jesus lives:
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”[vii]
Compared to the future world, the present world runs aground with corruption and chaos. Violence begets violence resulting in rampant sin. This simply gives birth to more sorrow and death. The Creator had had enough. He loved the world he made and decided that He would deal with the decay and death of His creation the only way He knew how. In Christ, the Creator cleared the way to make things right once again—as it was in the beginning. The clean slate commenced from within the borrowed tomb and contaminated all creation.
That’s why the angel’s appearance was like lightning. That’s why his clothes were as white as snow. Everything in God’s new world that is true and honorable and just and pleasing and commendable and excellent[viii] will shine out all the more brightly. That, my friends, is the future world that we got a glimpse of in the Gospels. That is the future world that Jesus brought back to the present. That is the future world that is already here, but not yet.
Jesus brought the future back so that instead of happening at the end of history, it unfolds in and through him in the middle of history—our present time.[ix] He took a corrupt sinful creation to the cross on Good Friday, the place where it would do its worst.[x] Come Easter morning the resurrection of Christ gives birth to the new creation. In answer to our prayer, God’s kingdom has come, His will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.[xi] Maximus, the savior of Rome, dies in the old Coliseum, while Jesus, the Savior of the world, resurrects the new creation. Amen.
[i] Gladiator (DreamWorks SKG, 2000) written by David Franzoni, screenplay by John Logan and William Nicholson, and directed by Ridley Scott.
[iii] Mark 16:3.
[iv] Revelation 21:1.
[v] John 20:25, 27.
[vi] John 20:28.
[vii] 1 John 1:1-3.
[viii] Philippians 4:8.
[ix] N. T. Wright, “God’s Future in Person,” Romans 6.3–11; Luke 24.1–12,
a sermon for the Easter Vigil, with Baptism and Confirmation, April 8, 2007.
[xi] Matthew 6:10.