The Answer Himself
John the Baptist was in prison when he heard what Christ was doing, and he sent a message through his own disciples asking the question, “Are you the one who was to come or are we to look for somebody else?” (Matthew 11:2,3)
And I want to immediately address a false message that I've heard spoken about this moment: This is not doubt; this is not unbelief. Doubt and unbelief operate at the level of the Self: the mind and spirit of the doubter is almost always an echo-chamber where unanswered questions may harden into opposing beliefs.
In reality, John the Baptist, languishing in prison, gives us the perfect picture of what's to be done with our questions: externalize them... and only, first, in the direction of Jesus. Think of this: If between now and Matthew 14, when John will be beheaded by Herod's executioner, he had allowed this question no egress, no voice, he would've wasted every single moment remaining to him for the rest of his life; he wouldn't have gone to his death with the equanimity that I'm sure he did.
Cynicism, skepticism, doubt and unbelief are not virtues: they do not make you, or make you appear to be, intelligent. The true student approaches the True Teacher for instruction; the honest question-asker walks his wonderings toward the Answer Himself.
Do not dwell in your doubts. Go to Him. We must not waste a moment of our lives.
Then came a violent squall of wind which drove the waves aboard the boat until it was almost swamped. Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion. They awoke him with the words, “Master, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
And he woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Hush now! Be still!” The wind dropped and everything was very still.
“Why are you so frightened? What has happened to your faith?" he asked them. (Mark 4:37-40)
Do you catch the implication implicit in those questions of His? Jesus is saying that faith in Him - belief in the realities of who He really is - should cause us to become fearless. Because if there's a logic in His mind to "Why are you fearful; have you no faith?" then the inverse is almost necessarily true: "Ah, so you have faith; now you need not ever fear."
Really, we should all question any talk of "faith" in Jesus that doesn't exhibit proportionate growth toward fearlessness for His purposes. The better we know Him the riskier it should look. The disciples' transition between the Gospels and Acts is all the proof we need.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth."
"As hydrogen and oxygen, two diverse elements, coming together produce an entirely new product, water, so the spirit of renunciation and the spirit of service coming together in a man make a new being, the most formidable being on earth - the terrible meek. They are terrible in that they want nothing, and hence cannot be tempted or bought, and in that they are willing to go to any lengths for others because they feel so deeply. Christ standing before Pilate is a picture of the Terrible Meek. He could not be bought or bullied, for he wanted nothing - nothing except to give his life for the very men who were crucifying him. Here is the supreme strength - it possesses itself, hence possesses the earth. It is so strong, so patient, so fit to survive that it inherits the earth. No one gives the earth to those who have this terrible meekness; they come into it as their natural right, they inherit it because they have the blood of God in their veins."
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Moun
Then they attempted to arrest Jesus, but actually no one laid a finger on him because the right moment had not yet come. Many of the crowd believed in him and kept on saying, “When Christ comes, is he going to show greater signs than this man?”
The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering these things about him, and they and the chief priests sent officers to arrest him. (John 7:30-32)
I think it's impossible to overstate how much we, most of the time, underestimate the chaos into which Jesus threw everything around Him. We preach and teach Him as so placid and calm, but there’s always so much craziness happening where He is. Look at this John 7 scene, for example: Jesus has just spoken some bold words; one group lunges forward to try to grab Him; somehow He avoids them; another group is standing back, marveling and believing He’s the One; while, in the shadows, the Pharisees call over the officers and send them to arrest Him...
Personally, I would never describe Jesus’ ministry as being particularly orderly; most of the time, His words and actions actually disordered people’s comfortable understandings and forced them to confront their set spiritual patterns and behaviors. In fact, we should probably all beware any ministry in Jesus’ name that seems to claim to have it all figured out! Because Paul didn't say in 1 Corinthians: “God is not a God of disorder but of order,” he said, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” I think we probably need less orderliness in the Body of Christ and a greater dose of the peace He brings in the midst of His own brand of chaos.
The best and most-like-Jesus charge against the Early Church came at Thessalonica: “These men who have unsettled the whole world have now come here.”
Oh, to be unsettling according to the pattern of Jesus!
"To you whom I love I say, let us go on loving one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God’s son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love cannot know him at all, for God is love. To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins. If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!" 1 John 4:7-11
When you look up the word "love" in the dictionary, here are the first four definitions given:
(1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
(2) : attraction based on sexual desire
(3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b : an assurance of affection
Okay. Very nice. Thank you, Merriam-Webster.
But what the apostle John wants you and I to realize, and to walk into this day living, is that, in reality, these are the only true definitions of real love:
(1) : Jesus Himself
(2) : His life that, living among us, gives life
(3) : Literal self-sacrificial, blood-soaked, complete personal atonement that is not only unconditional in scope but, maybe more impressively, without pre-condition: “not in the fact that we loved God, but that He loved us…”
Or, to put it another way:
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus does not dishonor others, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.”
What a wonder to be loved first by this Man!
"What Mary has conceived is conceived through the Holy Spirit, and she will give birth to a son, whom you will call Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet—‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’. (“Immanuel” means “God with us.”) Matthew 1:20b-23
And what so wonderfully strikes me as we celebrate this particular Christmas, and as we look here at Isaiah's words from Isaiah 7, is how the whole reality of this Jesus, of His Kingdom, of our God, is built on the most wonderful contradictions. Look here:
A virgin... with child.
God... with us.
No other spiritual understanding in all the history of the world, no other pattern of belief, has ever had its Center truly among its people. The way of Jesus contradicts every known normalcy:
His are regular disciples
In His presence, the blind see
The lame walk
The deaf hear
The mute speak
He is a humble King
Executed for His innocence
Whose death brought victory
Life was found in His death
And He retook life after death
He made sinful people holy
His Holy Spirit came to live in common people
His throne is meant to be shared by those commoners
The formerly lost now become their fellow-men's guides
Those who were once in darkness are now illumined by His light
Yes, God is with us
And, even more importantly, God is now within us
Perhaps this Christmas, instead of settling down into the grooves of tradition, of feel-goodness, let's give some meditation to the fact that Jesus came to overthrow everything mankind had ever known... and continues to know. An entirely new way of living is unleashed in the birth of this baby. Nothing should have ever been the same, since.
Has that been our experience?
Head in the Clouds
"But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith, keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses. I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!" 1 Timothy 6:11-16
The language used here, plus the direction of that language, actually teaches this paragraph better than anything I could ever muster. Imagine the first part as if Paul is looking Timothy in the eye: “But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith…”
And then it’s as if Paul’s eyes start to lift as he keeps writing: “...keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses…”
And now he’s looking skyward, up to the heavenly places, as he continues on: “I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things…”
Then Paul begins to grin uncontrollably: “...the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!”
Paul had begun by trying to give Timothy some good quality injunctions for his life and then got lost along the way and ended up with… Jesus! And this should be us too. We should be the people whose heads are so up in the clouds of His glory and goodness that, almost unthinkingly, we just follow His ways. Look at how Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 5: “We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.” That’s the whole deal, my friends! To wed the living of our little human lives with the eternal purposes of the all-knowing, all-powerful God; to cease to be ourselves in the presence of the One who indwells our hearts and is capable of eternally overtaking our lives!
Yes, YES, YES!
Hanukkah with Jesus
"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And by common consent they all used to meet in Solomon’s Porch..." Acts 5:12
This was the place in the Temple environs where, two chapters before, they'd preached the message after healing the man that caused 2,000 to believe... and themselves to be arrested for the first time. But, for the original disciples, this place had more meaning than just that. The year before this, during the Festival of Dedication, what is today called Hanukkah, Jesus Himself had gone on a walk through Solomon’s Porch. So for Peter and James and John, to meet in this place was instantly to remember His presence, the way He walked, the way He talked, the way – on that day – He’d spoken these words in this place:
“My sheep recognize my voice and I know who they are. They follow me and I give them eternal life. They will never die and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. And no one can tear anything out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.” … “If I fail to do what my Father does, then do not believe me. But if I do, even though you have no faith in me personally, then believe in the things that I do. Then you may come to know and realize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10)
Now, on the very same stones, standing under that same Jerusalem sky, these men and women, His “sheep,” are living their lives as “one” with Him, “He in they and they in Him,” and the life they live in Him is, without a doubt, “eternal.” Their presence together there on these days is the visible proof of the power of His words on that earlier day, walking around Himself, at Hanukkah.
May He be so present, and visibly noticeable, in us this week, my friends!