Where is the brotherhood of man that John Lennon imagined in his song? He extended the invitation, "I hope someday you'll join us." Where is the 'us' of which he spoke? Where are the dreamers who have given up their possessions so that greed and hunger could be done away with in a brotherhood of men and women who share a common life together? And who is the courageous pacesetter who risked everything to bring about this brotherhood?
John Lennon was powerless to bring about the brotherhood of man that he longed for. The stirring message of his song could not take us beyond the life of the messenger who brought it. Likewise, the profound truths of the Bible can not, by themselves, take us beyond the compromised religious system of Christianity that does not demonstrate the life it promises. The Christian gospel has been reduced to verses on bumper stickers and billboards, and Imagine likewise has been reduced to the sappy sound of Muzak in supermarkets and department stores. The message has no power unless the messenger is so enthralled with the message that he gives up his own life in order to make it a reality.
The idea of a brotherhood of man did not originate with John Lennon, nor did it die with him. It was born in the heart of the Creator of all things. From His fertile imagination He created man and woman to rule over His creation. They were to fill the earth with their offspring who would share all the world in peace, living each day to its fullest. Even though man has fallen from this created purpose, what is in the heart of his Creator has not changed. He has always longed for a people whose life is a demonstration of the love that is in His heart, a demonstration of justice and righteousness for all the world to see.
But sin is entrenched in the soul of man, and while there is a genuine desire for life in the hearts of many, the fatal blood poisoning of sin ultimately overpowers that desire. Man can never by his own strength realize his full potential as a human being created in the image of God. Selfishness and greed are so ingrained into his fallen nature that no amount of self-effort can consistently suppress them. Ultimately they rise up to rule the human soul and render futile any attempt to achieve a genuine brotherhood of man. The only way to achieve that brotherhood is to break sin's power.
Death is the final outcome of the power of sin. Death is the consequence of sin, its fair wages. It is not just that our failure to attain to the brotherhood of man results in a somewhat less-than-ideal society to which we must all resign ourselves. Rather, the consequences of our selfishness, greed, and pride are the first fruits of death itself — alienation, strife, loneliness, depression, anger, hostility, murder. The decay of human society, which is evident all around us, is the sum total of the decay of the individual lives of which society is composed. Even the earth itself is defiled by our sin and increasingly becomes a hostile environment to the very creatures who were intended to be its loving caretakers. It is happening as the prophets have spoken:
The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left. (Isaiah 24:5-6)
We cannot glibly settle for something less than the brotherhood of man — we must have the real thing, for our very lives depend upon it. Each one of us was created for eternity, and it has always been in our Creator's heart that we would have eternal life, an eternal brotherhood of man, and not the eternal death that we reap as the consequence of our sin.
That is why, even from the time of man's fall in the Garden, God had a plan to break the power of sin and bring about the true brotherhood of man, the new social order that has always been in His heart. In the fullness of time, He sent the breaker — His own son — who would break the power of sin and usher in the true brotherhood of man, the kingdom of God. He was the true dreamer, the imaginer who not only had the true vision, but also the power and authority to make it happen. He was the Messenger who was so enthralled with His message, which came from the heart of His Father in heaven, that He gave up His own life to make it a reality.
Yahshua hand picked twelve ordinary men, calling them to abandon their own lives so that He could pour His life into them. For three years they followed Him wherever He went, and hung on His every word. He taught them about the kingdom of God. He taught them how to love one another, how to lay down their lives for each other every day. He did not teach them a program of self-improvement, power through positive thinking, or maximizing their human potential. Instead, He said:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)
The cross was not an abstract concept to Yahshua's disciples. They had grown up under Roman rule and had seen men crucified. The cross meant death of the most excruciating nature. It was a means of execution saved for the worst criminals and rebels. Yahshua taught his disciples that the only way to deal with their fallen human nature, the selfishness, lust, and rebellion that was in them, was to put it to death, ruthlessly. He taught them that a man cannot enter the kingdom of God without leaving the kingdom of darkness that he is born into, the domain of the evil one whose clutches hold its prey until death. He taught them that no one breaks free by his own strength.
He taught them about death, where you are finally alone with your conscience.1 You are forced to face your sin, with nowhere to hide and nothing to distract your mind from the awareness of your own guilt. Every evil deed, every base thought, every selfish motive comes out of hiding to torture you. Like a worm burrowing into the recesses of your memory, eating away at your every excuse, so is the path of your thoughts as your conscience fully awakens. The unquenchable fire of your self inquisition leaves you either weeping in remorse or gnashing your teeth as you resist the truth about yourself.
Yahshua's disciples didn't understand many things He said. But they witnessed the purity of His life, His boundless love and kindness, His unbroken communion with His Father in heaven. They saw how He suffered and grieved over the hunger, sickness, loneliness, brutality, indifference and pride in the people He encountered every day. Then they heard Him say that He would be delivered up to the Romans and would be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they scourged Him, would crucify Him. They could hardly believe it. Was He speaking figuratively? How could He bring about the kingdom of God if He died? Surely God would not allow it.
Then it happened. One of the twelve betrayed Him into the hands of the religious leaders who were threatened by His teaching and the power of His love. They were after blood, and although the Roman governor proclaimed Him innocent, they chanted in unison, "Crucify Him!" The only sinless man who ever walked the earth was cruelly nailed to a cross like a vile criminal and died.
His disciples were heartbroken, devastated, frightened. They huddled together in a locked room for fear that they would suffer the same fate as their Master. What would they do now that He was gone? He was everything to them. They had given their lives to Him. For three years they had depended on His wisdom, His authority, His direction, His peace. Now He was gone. Where was He?
When Yahshua, the Son of God, was nailed to the cross, having no guilt of His own, He took upon Himself the sins of everyone else. He literally became sin. It was a spiritual event of inconceivable proportions. That is why the earth shook at the moment of His death, when His spirit and soul plunged into the very domain of death. For three days and three nights He endured the unimaginable agonies of death that you and I deserve. The purging of death was able to penetrate to the very core of His being, because there was absolutely no resistance in Him. Out of His infinite love for us, He willingly bore the guilt of our sins and received their wages. When death had exhausted its fury on Him, His spirit returned to His body and the earth shook again as He stood on His feet, forever alive. By His death and resurrection He had broken the power of sin forever.
Imagine the joy of His disciples when they saw Him again! It took several appearances in their locked room before they could all believe their eyes and ears. For the next forty days He taught them the things concerning the kingdom of God that they were never able to understand before. He taught them about the brotherhood of man, the new social order that they would become by the power of His Spirit. They would become His messengers to carry His message to the ends of the earth. He told them to wait for His Spirit to come to them, and then He ascended into heaven.
Ten days later the disciples were still together, about a hundred and twenty in all, waiting in Jerusalem. Suddenly, with a noise like a mighty, rushing wind, Yahshua's Spirit filled the house and settled upon each one of them. The effect was electrifying. So great was their excitement that the whole city heard of it and gathered around the house. The disciples knew of nothing better to do than to speak to the people the message of eternal life that was burning in their hearts. Filled with Yahshua's Spirit, Peter stood up and spoke everything that was on his heart, and the multitude of people listened with rapt attention. His words convicted them of their guilt and their participation in crucifying Yahshua, the Messiah sent to save them. Pierced to the heart, they cried out, begging to know how to be rid of their guilt.
It was then that Peter told them how they could be saved from the perverse generation of that day and enter into the brotherhood of man that Yahshua was establishing on the earth. He told them that their sins had made them worthy of death, but that Yahshua, out of His incomprehensible love for them, had willingly suffered death in their place. If they would willingly surrender their old, rotten, sinful life and let it die in the waters of baptism, joining Him in death, then they would reach Him and have their sins washed away by His blood. Into their clean new life He would pour His own Holy Spirit that would seal them for eternal life and make them able to obey His commands and live a life of love in His holy brotherhood.
Three thousand people received Peter's words that day as if they had come from Yahshua himself. The disciples baptized and laid hands on them, passing on to them the very same Spirit they had received. The result is recorded in the book of Acts in the New Testament:
And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they were selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need ... They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart ... There was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-47; 4:34-35)
This life waned over the next fifty years to the point where nothing remained of its essence. What continued was the form, the dead institution that John Lennon despised — Christianity.
Today the brotherhood of man that began with those first disciples is being restored on the earth. It could not be imagined into existence. It is coming about because that same Holy Spirit has come upon a people who gave up everything for Messiah's sake. It is not the product of a group of people with a common philosophy, who seek to refine their character, ennoble their human nature, subject themselves to a rigorous discipline, or pursue a political agenda. You cannot enter it or bring it about by the strength of your will. You cannot even achieve it by polishing up your behavior according to principles you can read about in the Bible. The only way into the brotherhood of man is through death — the death of your fallen, sinful nature. And the only way to bring about that death is to come to Yahshua, to His disciples who represent Him on the earth, and surrender your life as you are baptized into the life He is establishing right now — a foretaste of the age to come.