He speaks The Parable of the Net
“Or the kingdom of Heaven is like a big net thrown into the sea collecting all kinds of fish. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore and sit down and pick out the good ones for the barrels, but they throw away the bad. That is how it will be at the end of this world. The angels will go out and pick out the wicked from among the good and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be tears and bitter regret.”
The next day…
Three boats are beached upon the pebbly shoreline. To the east, the faintest light of dawn is just beginning to reveal itself. The sound of the gulls is loud against the morning’s silence. The windtides lap and suck through the sand and pebbles, hissing. The faintest breeze is blowing gently through the fronds of the trees. Their soughing sound is rather soothing.
A group of men—some in the boats, some leaning against the gunwales, others ringed around the prows—are looking over the overnight’s catch. It was a fairly good haul for that particular spot at this particular season. The fishermen in the group look particularly pleased with their work.
Climbing out of the boats, they haul the doubled seines onto the brightening beach and the fishermen show the others how they typically separate their aquatic “wheat from the chaff.”
One of the others turns toward their teacher: “This is exactly what you were talking about yesterday, isn’t it?”
The teacher, grinning, nods.
There is more hid in Christ than we shall ever learn, here or there either; but they that begin first to inquire will soonest be gladdened with revelation; and with them he will be best pleased, for the slowness of his disciples troubled him of old. To say that we must wait for the other world, to know the mind of him who came to this world to give himself to us, seems to me the foolishness of a worldly and lazy spirit. The Son of God is the Teacher of men, giving to them of his Spirit—that Spirit which manifests the deep things of God, being to a man the mind of Christ. The great heresy of the Church of the present day is unbelief in this Spirit. The mass of the Church does not believe that the Spirit has a revelation for every man individually—a revelation as different from the revelation of the Bible, as the food in the moment of passing into living brain and nerve differs from the bread and meat.
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
* * *
Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He existed before creation began, for it was through him that every thing was made, whether spiritual or material, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, every single thing was created through, and for him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation. And now he is the head of the body which is composed of all Christian people. Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the cross.
And you yourselves, who were strangers to God, and, in fact, through the evil things you had done, his spiritual enemies, he has now reconciled through the death of his body on the cross, so that he might welcome you to his presence clean and pure, without blame or reproach. (Colossians 1:15-22, Phillips)
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
* * *
[The Father] has by his own action given us everything that is necessary for living the truly good life, in allowing us to know the One who has called us to him, through his own glorious goodness. It is through him that God’s greatest and most precious promises have become available to us men, making it possible for you to escape the inevitable disintegration that lust produces in the world and to share in God’s essential nature. (2 Peter 1:3,4)
* * *
"It is in His presence and through His grace that whatever of fragrance or beauty may be found in us comes forth. Of Him as its source, through Him as its instrument, and to Him as its end, is all that is gracious and divine. But He Himself is better far than all that His grace works in us."
Hudson Taylor, Union and Communion
You, who were spiritually dead because of your sins and your uncircumcision (i.e. the fact that you were outside the Law), God has now made to share in the very life of Christ! He has forgiven you all your sins: Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross. And then having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, he exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in his final glorious triumphant act! (Colossians 2:13-15, Phillips)
* * *
Our Life Himself came down into this world and took away our death. He slew it with his own abounding life, and with thunder in his voice he called us from this world to return to him in heaven… He did not linger on his way but ran, calling us to return to him, calling us by his words and deeds, by his life and death, by his descent into hell and his ascension into heaven. He departed from our sight, so that we should turn to our hearts and find him there. He departed, but he is here with us. He would not stay long with us, but he did not leave us… Your Life has come down from heaven: will you not now at last rise with him and live?
Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions
(R.S. Pine-Coffin, trans.)
I was reading through Ephesians 1:3-14 this week, and was so transported by the over-and-over-and-over repetition of all that He has accomplished for us! Below is a rendering of the Phillips translation, placing His actions at the head of each sentence/verse. This is what He's done, and who He is, for us:
"HE CHOSE" us to become, in Christ, His holy and blameless children living within His constant care.
"HE PLANNED", in His purpose of love, that we should be adopted as His own children through Jesus Christ...
"HIS GLORIOUS GENEROSITY", so praiseworthy, has made us welcome in the everlasting love He bears toward the Beloved.
"THROUGH HIM", at the cost of His own blood, we are redeemed, freely forgiven through that full and generous grace which has overflowed into our lives and opened our eyes to the truth.
"GOD HAS ALLOWED" us to know the secret of His plan, and it is this:
"HE PURPOSES" in his sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Him. And here is the staggering thing - that in all which will one day belong to Him we have been promised a share...
"SINCE HE DESTINED" us for this long ago, this One who achieves His purposes by His sovereign will, so that we, as the first to put our confidence in Christ, may bring praise to His glory! And you too trusted Him, when you had heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
Then "HE STAMPED YOU WITH HIS PROMISED HOLY SPIRIT", after you gave your confidence to Him, as a guarantee of purchase...
And "HE HAS PAID FOR US AS HIS OWN" and will complete the redemption, which will again be to the praise of His glory.
My friends, in view of all that He has done, been, allowed, planned, and carried out for us, what sort of people ought we to be this week? How will the world around us experience His life within us? How will we experience His life within us?
Perhaps the reason we sometimes are embarrassed to speak of Jesus is because we, consciously or unconsciously, realize how little we have to speak of. We're suddenly afraid our rote religious knowledges don't translate. (Which is generally the case.)
But overflowing life—overflowing experience of His life—will always speak for itself. Personal, alive experience of Jesus of Nazareth, day to day, is uncontainable.
We must do everything in our power today, and this week, from our side, to engage with Him directly. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. He is also the Way to His Truth and His overflowing Life.
Let us abide in Him.
“The very center of the Christian faith is the Incarnation, in which the Divine Word becomes flesh – the Idea becomes Fact. All other faiths are the word become word, the idea projected as an idea. In Jesus the Idea walked. It spoke in human life and manifested Itself in human relationships. It transformed religion from idealism to realism. Where this faith is sincerely tried, it becomes incarnate as fact. It works in human relationships. And where it is tried, it produces something so exquisitely beautiful that we stand ‘lost in wonder, love, and praise.’”
E. Stanley Jones, Growing Spiritually
O Christ, my life, possess me utterly.
Take me and make a little Christ of me.
If I am anything but thy father’s son,
‘Tis something not yet from the darkness won.
Oh, give me light to live with open eyes.
Oh, give me life to hope above all skies.
Give me thy spirit to haunt the Father with my cries.
- George MacDonald
from The Diary of an Old Soul
“It is possible to look at everything as Christ is looking at it and see it as you shall see it when all is ended. It is possible to pray as Christ prays from heaven and to be conscious that our glorious great High Priest is commanding and executing it from on high, and that all things must give way before His power and will. It is possible to recognize ourselves in the light of a few years from now, when we shall be sitting with Him in the seats where our names are already written and our place prepared, where God ever regards us as already seated. What dignity and triumph this will give to the humblest career, and we shall walk through earth as the children of the King, the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. He who sits there is but the other part of our personal life; and as we enter into closer union with His person, we shall rise into the constant realization of His glorious power, and learn to shout with the most tried and yet the most triumphant of mortals, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’”
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
In Matthew 8, we read a particularly rapid-fire series of encounters between Jesus and... great crowds, a leper, a centurion, Peter's mother-in-law, all the sick and possessed of Capernaum, one of the scribes, a nameless disciple, the Twelve, two demon-possessed men, some swineherds, and the townspeople of a town in the Gaderenes district.
And, reading all this, it occurs to me...
That the rest of our life, having encountered Jesus of Nazareth, is our direct reaction to having encountered Him. And, that if our sense of encounter has dimmed, or our reaction has begun to flag or fail, it is time to encounter Him all over again.
Fresh reaction to fresh encounters will always lead to the fruit He desires to see in our, and others', lives. First-handedness is everything. We cannot lead the heart of another to where ours hasn't been; or isn't, presently, itself.
Then Jesus said to them, “I myself am the bread of life. The man who comes to me will never be hungry and the man who believes in me will never again be thirsty. Yet I have told you that you have seen me and do not believe. Everything that my Father gives me will come to me and I will never refuse anyone who comes to me. For I have come down from Heaven, not to do what I want, but to do the will of him who sent me."
John 6:35-38, italics mine
* * *
"Faith is that which, knowing the Lord's will goes and does it; or, not knowing it, stands and waits... But to put God to the question in any other way than by saying, 'What wilt thou have me to do?' is an attempt to compel God to declare Himself, or to hasten His work... The man is therein dissociating himself from God so far that, instead of acting by the divine will from within, he acts in God's face, as it were, to see what He will do. Man's first business is, 'What does God want me to do?', not 'What will God do if I do so and so?'"
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
"We ourselves are eye-witnesses able and willing to testify to the fact that the Father did send the Son to save the world. Everyone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God lives in him, and he lives in God. So we have come to know and trust the love God has for us. God is love, and the man whose life is lived in love does, in fact, live in God, and God does, in fact, live in him. So our love for him grows more and more, filling us with complete confidence for the day when he shall judge all men—for we realize that our life in this world is actually his life lived in us." (1 John 4:14-17)
* * *
"The closer any creature draws to God, the more it shares in His goodness and the more abundantly it is filled with gifts infused by Him. Thus he who comes closer to a fire shares to a greater extent in its heat. But there can be no way, nor can any be imagined, by which a creature more closely adheres to God than by being united to Him in unity of person. Therefore, in consequence of the very union of His human nature with God in unity of person, Christ’s soul was filled with habitual gifts of grace beyond all other souls. And so habitual grace in Christ is not a disposition for union, but is rather an effect of union."
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
"For all those words which were written long ago are meant to teach us today; that when we read in the scriptures of the endurance of men and of all the help that God gave them in those days, we may be encouraged to go on hoping in our own time. May the God who inspires men to endure, and gives them a Father’s care, give you a mind united towards one another because of your common loyalty to Jesus Christ. And then, as one man, you will sing from the heart the praises of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So open your hearts to one another as Christ has opened his heart to you, and God will be glorified." (Romans 15:4-7)
Isn't it interesting that when the original readers of these words looked back to "words which were written long ago," they were thinking only of the Old Testament? These words weren't "scripture" to them, then—they were just words written on parchment from a contemporary believer. They thought of Paul as just another follower of Jesus, like themselves. Which, to me, is what makes the last two chapters of Romans just a little more poignant...
And when I think of "endurance," of the "Father's care," of "a mind united towards one another," of a "common loyalty to Jesus Christ," of singing "from the heart," of "opening their hearts to one another as Christ had opened his heart to" them—what period of time do you think I immediately think of?
Those wondrous early days of the Early Church.
In fact, as a Monday refresher for the path we're trying to walk together this week, here's a reminder of what those days were like:
Then those who welcomed [Peter’s Pentecost] message were baptised, and on that day alone about three thousand souls were added to the number of disciples. They continued steadily learning the teaching of the apostles, and joined in their fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer. Everyone felt a deep sense of awe, while many miracles and signs took place through the apostles. All the believers shared everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods and divided the proceeds among the fellowship according to individual need. Day after day they met by common consent in the Temple; they broke bread together in their homes, sharing meals with simple joy. They praised God continually and all the people respected them. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were finding salvation. (Acts 2:41-47)
Among the large number who had become believers there was complete agreement of heart and soul. Not one of them claimed any of his possessions as his own but everything was common property. The apostles continued to give their witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great force, and a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship. Indeed, there was not a single person in need among them. For those who owned land or property would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and place them at the apostles’ feet. They would distribute to each one according to his need. (Acts 4:32-35)
By common consent they all used to meet now in Solomon’s Porch. But as far as the others were concerned no one dared to associate with them, even though their general popularity was very great. Yet more and more believers in the Lord joined them, both men and women in really large numbers. Many signs and wonders were now happening among the people through the apostles’ ministry. In consequence people would bring out their sick into the streets and lay them down on stretchers or bed, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall upon some of them. In addition a large crowd collected from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those who were suffering from evil spirits. And they were all cured. (Acts 5:12-16)
So the Word of God gained more and more ground. The number of disciples in Jerusalem very greatly increased, while a considerable proportion of the priesthood accepted the faith. (Acts 6:7)
The whole Church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria now enjoyed a period of peace. It became established and as it went forward in reverence for the Lord and in the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit, continued to grow in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
[And] the Word of the Lord continued to gain ground and increase its influence. (Acts 12:24)
When you read all that, what specifically sticks out to you for your day today?
“We are not dependent on a Christ who lived and died, we are dependent on a Christ who lived and died and who is alive for evermore. Since he is alive, he is here in such a way that we can draw upon him for power other than our own.
“The work of Christ, therefore, enables us to deal effectively through him with the situations in which sin had rendered us helpless. It enables us to deal with the situation which sin had created between a man and himself. A man remains a split personality, poised between goodness and badness, between right and wrong, between heroism and cowardice, between sainthood and sin, between the ape and the angel, until the power of the Risen Christ takes possession of him, and makes him a personality integrated by this new centre within it. ‘It is no longer I who live,’ said Paul, ‘but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2.20). Through the work of Christ a man ceases to be a battle-ground of opposing forces and reaches mature manhood (Eph. 4.13).”
William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus
* * *
“For everyone who is with Jesus is stronger than death.”
Origen, Commentary on Matthew
"...the present time is of the highest importance—it is time to wake up to reality. Every day brings God’s salvation nearer. The night is nearly over, the day has almost dawned. Let us therefore fling away the things that men do in the dark, let us arm ourselves for the fight of the day! Let us live cleanly, as in the daylight, not in the 'delights' of getting drunk or playing with sex, nor yet in quarrelling or jealousies. Let us be Christ’s men from head to foot, and give no chances to the flesh to have its fling." (Romans 13:11-14)
A few questions for you: What if everybody you ever met knew precisely where you stand, what matters more to you than anything else, because the Way of Jesus--His very life--IS your life? What if, in the world's economies of meaning—its passing fancies: sex, money, power, politics, celebrity—we were absolutely invisible? What if, instead, in the economies of Heaven, the eternal realities of Jesus of Heaven--His holiness, His trust, His authority, His glory—we were conspicuous in the ways He was conspicuous?
What if we only stood out like He stood out?
And what if, the rest of the time, we were quietly busy doing good?
In fact, what if the Early Church had the daily-weekly recipe right?
- enamored only with the life of Jesus...
- fellowshipping joyfully with those likewise moved...
- living simply in the midst of the world's greatest, ever, calling...
- prayerful, together, that He would do it all over again...
- filled with awe...
- seeing signs and wonders consistently...
- sharing peaceably so that all are cared for...
- fundamentally unattached to the material world...
- constantly gathering for the sake of the Holy Spirit's work...
- praising Jesus as their Center, their Head, their Everything.
Now doesn't that sound like an interesting Way to live?
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV)
One of the greatest enemies of practicable discipleship—fulsome following of Jesus of Nazareth—is that deadly, almost unnoticed feeling of creeping overfamiliarity. You’ll know the feeling is present when you’re either listening to, or when you’re personally reading through words like these in John 15, and find yourself not stunned by them. That is the work of overfamiliarity.
Overfamiliarity is the product of a conscious, or unconscious, thought-process whereby we think we already know all there is to know of something. So, reading of that subject again, one’s mind somewhat shuts down. An unthinking instinct seems to take over—like when you sometimes arrive at home without totally remembering your drive there—and Jesus’ words become a sort of background to one’s thoughts. Words like choose, chose, appointed, go, bear fruit, abide, in My name, get filtered out by the noise of whatever the day holds.
Let us together say: Not today! Not this week!
Today, and this week, I would have us wrestling with, and reveling in, the glorious practicalities of fulsome following after that wonderful Man, Jesus of Nazareth. And I want to take two particular different angles on this promise so that these words become a bit unfamiliar, fresh, and new.
To do that, instead of Jesus speaking these words to you in the second person plural (you, as in “all of you many”), let's speak these words aloud to Him in two different voices: the first person singular (“I” and “me”) and the first person plural (“us” and “we”). I want us to do this because, in the day-to-day context in which we live our lives and follow His Way, we often tend to be His disciples very much on our own. And this is natural: He means to lead us individually—and powerfully.
And yet, if we want to overwhelm the world with the wonder of His glory, and really show His Church in the power of its full manifestation, we absolutely must reconstitute the Body of Christ—and properly.
So here’s the plan:
I want you to read aloud, with some authority, the two new versions of these verses (1st person, singular and plural) and what I want you to do is--get carried away!
Repeat these words aloud--loudly—with your whole heart and mind; strip that latent overfamiliarity right out of the equation--make them today’s battle cry! Believe what you’re reading and pronouncing. Pronounce what you desire to believe as you read it.
Here you go—take it away:
"Jesus, I did not choose You, but You chose me and appointed me that I should go and bear fruit and that my fruit should abide, so that whatever I ask the Father in Your name, He may give it to me."
And, as a member of the Body of Christ, say:
Jesus, we did not choose You, but You chose us and appointed us that we should go and bear fruit and that our fruit should abide, so that whatever we ask the Father in Your name, He may give it to us.
My friend, as a member of the Body, and as an integral part of the constantly re-coalescing Whole that is Him, you did not choose—you are chosen. In fact, being chosen, not being in a position powerful enough to choose, Jesus instead decided to appoint you to the most powerful position He could find for you—a messenger of the Gospel and a bearer of its fruit. And that fruit, by the way, will abide--as you abide in Him. And, too, just in case the foregoing information wasn’t enough to stun your sensibilities, you may ask whatever you wish of the Father in Heaven—the Heavenly Father--and He will give it to you.
Now what do you think of all that?
Isn’t this promise absolutely awe-inspiring?
“During our short lives the question that guides much of our behavior is: ‘Who are we?’ Although we may seldom pose that question in a formal way, we live it very concretely in our day-to-day decisions.
“The three answers that we generally live—not necessarily give—are: ‘We are what we do, we are what others say about us, and we are what we have,’ or in other words: ‘We are our success, we are our popularity, we are our power.’
“It is important to realize the fragility of life that depends on success, popularity, and power. Its fragility stems from the fact that all three of these are external factors over which we have only limited control. Losing our job, our fame, or our wealth often is caused by events completely beyond our control. But when we depend on them, we have sold ourselves to the world, because then we are what the world gives us. Death takes it all away from us. The final statement then becomes: ‘When we are dead, we are dead!’ because when we die, we can’t do anything anymore, people don’t talk about us anymore, and we have nothing anymore. When we are what the world makes us, we can’t be after we have left the world.
“Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity, and power is a false identity—an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.’”
Henri Nouwen, Here and Now
Now a word to you who are Gentiles. I should like you to know that I make as much as I can of my ministry as “God’s messenger to the Gentiles” so as to make my kinsfolk jealous and thus save some of them. For if their exclusion from the pale of salvation has meant the reconciliation of the rest of mankind to God, what would their inclusion mean? It would be nothing less than life from the dead! If the flour is consecrated to God so is the whole loaf, and if the roots of a tree are dedicated to God every branch will belong to him also. (Romans 11:13-16)
Two of the things I maybe most admire about Paul are his spiritual eyes for the outsider, and, just as important, this gift he has for envisioning heavenly potential in others. He will not give up on anyone -- that's the first thing -- and, imagining them "in," he just can't stop thinking of what that might mean. How their salvation might be a first glorious domino to fall. How their inclusion might open the door to so many others.
But there really is a nexus point for both of these things: a place where eyes for the lost and vision for heavenly potentiality meet.
We together -- the Body of Christ -- are meant to be the living invitation and the limitless picture of what this whole thing is.
Do you ever stop to think of what it would mean, how the world around us would react, if, even just for a week, we all lived up to our heavenly privileges? I like the word Paul uses here: "jealous." Because think about people actually seeing this:
Men and women strangely unconcerned for their temporal needs: as if those things are already, forever, accounted for.
People who are totally unafraid.
Men, women and children so lost within a heavenly love that all other loves, likes and relationships are just saturated with the flavor of that love.
People, secure, respectful and self-respecting, with no need for earthly accolades or any sort of spotlight.
A segment of humanity who are already one with God—exhibiting His own personal character—and, thus, are already one with each other: filled with an active, observable affection that seems otherworldly.
If those were the "flour" and the "roots" of our fellowship, don't you think we'd be drawing a whole different sort of attention to Him? Isn't it possible that if you and I abide in Jesus -- if we really enjoy what's ours in Him -- that we might fill the world's heart with a heavenly jealousy?
I'd say there's only one way to find out...
This week, let's live it!
In The Confessions, Augustine of Hippo will occasionally break out into spontaneous, lovely, uplifting prayers of personal gratitude. I so appreciate his modeling of how, right in the midst of telling a story, one may turn aside to a separate conversation with Heaven. Isn't that how we want to learn to live?
Here are a couple of my favorites of those:
"You are there to free us from the misery of error which leads us astray, to set us on your own path and to comfort us by saying, ‘Run on, for I shall hold you up. I shall lead you and carry you on to the end.’"
"Come, O Lord, and stir our hearts. Call us back to yourself. Kindle your fire in us and carry us away. Let us scent your fragrance and taste your sweetness. Let us love you and hasten to your side."
This week, for myself and you, I pray we run along His path, letting Him hold us up, being led by Him and carried by Him toward His own ends. And, as we live each day, that He'd personally stir our hearts: drawing us nearer, kindling a heavenly fire, giving us scents and tastes of Himself. Friends, let's use these days - fleeting as they are! - to learn to love Him more and to hasten into more experience of His nearness.
"And, while Christ was actually taking upon himself the sins of men, God condemned that sinful nature." Romans 8:3b
Did you know that, from the very beginning of the Church, all the way back to the Early Church days, up till now, there has never been one clear theology of the mechanics of the atonement? There are all kinds of opinions about how it all works - how our sin was covered by His blood, His death - but there has never been one overriding, agreed-upon "THIS IS EXACTLY HOW IT HAPPENED" sort of statement, even all the way back in the writings of the Early Church Fathers.
So I delight in the simplicity of Paul's statement - "Christ was actually taking upon himself the sins of men" - and its corollary - "God condemned that sinful nature." To put it in even simpler terms:
Our sin was put upon Jesus.
He died with it.
It died with Him.
You and I stand on the other side of history from the sinful nature; between us and it is Jesus, there, on the Cross.
I was reading this week (and perhaps you've already heard something like this before) where the writer very clearly made the following point: No matter how people explain their theology of the mechanics of the atonement, the important thing is that we all agree with the definition found within the spelling of that word in English:
What Jesus did on the Cross has forever set us free from sin and has given us opportunity to be "AT ONE" - in union - with God. The Cross re-bridges the divide started in Eden. For us, the Cross begins a new existence: a Union-Eden.
"As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth..." (Matthew 9:9)
And imagine him sitting there in the early afternoon light, tallying the morning's takings, thinking of his later supper and a walk up into the hills after he's done for the day. And imagine, suddenly, the center of town stops. Everyone's holding their breath; ceasing what they're doing; they are all watching the walk of that Man, Jesus, toward the tax collector's table. Matthew glances up from what he's writing. His brow furrows. He is studying the Man who, likewise, studies him. The Stranger leans with both hands on the desk and then, with both love and power in His eyes, says: "Follow Me."
A lightning bolt runs through Matthew.
In that moment, the past and future consider each other.
Matthew knows the pattern of his days -- the way this is destined to continue -- and, in the eyes of this Man, he sees something else. He sees a choice. Sonship. Brotherhood. Righteousness. And splendor.
He just doesn't know yet that the choice of a son to be a righteous, splendid brother is the foredecided choice of God...of him. Of Matthew.
Matthew, now the former tax-collector. The one now rising to his feet to follow.
The one who'll finish this day by banqueting with Jesus with all the other tax-collectors and disreputable folk, before, tomorrow, leaving it all behind.
The one who'll, 30 years after this day, be killed for the sake of the Good News of Jesus, 2500 miles away in Ethiopia.
The one who, right now, is still at the banqueting table, forever with Jesus, enjoying the eternal "splendor of life as one of God's sons."
Remember: The call of Jesus, to you, on this Monday, is ever always the same original call that He gave to Matthew on that day:
This week, I was reminded of where C.S. Lewis took his book title, Surprised by Joy, from: a particularly mournful poem by William Wordsworth about the loss of his daughter; the way all present and future joys would be tempered by his sadness. In some ways, it is a perfect poem to describe the disciples' anguish on the Friday and Saturday of the Cross and waking to a dead-and-gone Jesus: give it a read:
Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
But then came that Sunday--Jesus is alive! Then came the neverending realization that the human journey would never again be lived alone; that the life of God would always triumph over life, death, sin and the grave!
So, feeling a little poetical this week, I reimagined Wordsworth's words in the context of our new, never-to-be-forgotten Resurrection-Reality. Let's let this be our posture on this day:
Surprised by joy—inspirited by the Word
We turn again toward the the Living One—Oh! to Him,
To Thee, so briefly swaddled in the burial scrim,
Until your mortal ear heard Heaven's resurrection-word.
Love, faithful Love, recalls me to your heart--
You will never, ever forget me!—In your love,
Never for the least division of any part,
Have you been e'er distracted by your work above
To loose your eye from mine!—That knowledge's knowing
Is the greatest joy my heart forever wears,
My Lord, My God, forever, and ever, sowing,
And knowing my heart’s treasure I may always bear;
That in both present time, and those years unrolling,
Can my reborn sight to your heavenly face repair.
Yahweh spoke to Joshua, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Assign the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you by Moses, that the man slayer who kills any person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there. They shall be to you for a refuge from the avenger of blood. He shall flee to one of those cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declare his case in the ears of the elders of that city. They shall take him into the city with them, and give him a place, that he may live among them. If the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver up the man slayer into his hand; because he struck his neighbor unintentionally, and didn’t hate him before. He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days. Then the man slayer shall return, and come to his own city, and to his own house, to the city he fled from.’” (Joshua 20:1-6)
Did you know that you are meant to act like one of these cities of refuge to the world around you? You are meant to rise up each morning – a child of God set free forever by His blood – and invite all people to Jesus by the Spirit of Jesus within you. You are meant to so learn His gracious ways and presence that all men, regardless of their background, mistakes and worldliness, are drawn directly to Him by being around you.
Just consider how Jesus drew all kinds of people to Himself: “Jesus departed there, and came near to the sea of Galilee; and he went up into the mountain, and sat there. Great multitudes came to him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others, and they put them down at his feet. He healed them, so that the multitude wondered when they saw the mute speaking, injured whole, lame walking, and blind seeing — and they glorified the God of Israel.” (Matthew 15)
Now, almost identically, look at the attractive, gracious spirit of the Early Church: “More believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. They even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some of them. Multitudes also came together from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing sick people, and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed.” (Acts 15)
My friend, where you go today, Jesus goes today. How He attracted all people to Himself is how you’re meant to attract people. When the world around you is aflame with hatred, bloodguilt, division, confusion, anger, and wrath, you are meant to be a city of refuge for the hearts of men. Are you prepared, today, to be under His inviting yoke with Him? Are you prepared to give your life to this sort of appraisal –
The Father spoke to Jesus, saying, “Speak to the men and women you’ve redeemed, saying, ‘I have assigned you as the places of heavenly refuge, just as I showed you by my Son, that the sinner who sins intentionally or unintentionally may come to you in order to come to Me. You shall be to them a refuge from the grasp of Satan. They may come to you, and shall stand right before you, and declare their sin and brokenness before your non-judging ear. You shall take them into your heart, and show them Jesus, that they may live in Jesus as you live in Jesus. If Satan pursues them, then you shall not deliver the sinner back into his hand; because, before, he sinned unintentionally, and didn’t yet know of Me and My love for him. The sinner shall dwell in your fellowship until he stands before the congregation in repentance, set free by the death of the High Priest who is Jesus Himself. Then the sinner shall return, and come to the heavenly city, and to his own house Jesus has prepared for him, to the home for which he was first made.’”
Oh my friend! that you, that I, that our families, our friends, our churches, our fellowships would all exist for the sake of that paradigm of overwhelming, providential grace! That we would attract all men and women to the heart of Jesus today - this week! Let it be so!