Then about an hour later someone else insisted, “I am convinced this fellow was with him. Why, he is a Galilean!” “Man,” returned Peter, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crew. The Lord turned his head and looked straight at Peter, and into his mind flashed the words that the Lord had said to him ... “You will disown me three times before the cock crows today.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:59-62)
* * *
When they had finished breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others?" "Yes, Lord," he replied, "you know that I am your friend." "Then feed my lambs," returned Jesus. Then he said for the second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord," returned Peter. "You know that I am your friend." "Then care for my sheep," replied Jesus. Then for the third time, Jesus spoke to him and said, "Simon, son of John, are you my friend?" Peter was deeply hurt because Jesus' third question to him was "Are you my friend?", and he said, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I am your friend!" "Then feed my sheep," Jesus said to him. (John 21:15-18)
* * *
"…Christ’s life is the only instance in which it is seen that a teacher, in the moment his cause together with his life is lost and everything is forfeited in the most appalling way because of the denial by his disciple—that a teacher by his glance wins in this very moment and in this disciple wins his most zealous follower and thus in great part wins his cause, although it is hidden to all.
" Christ’s love for Peter was so boundless that in loving Peter he accomplished loving the person one sees. He did not say, “Peter must change first and become another man before I can love him again.” No, just the opposite, he said, “Peter is Peter, and I love him; love, if anything, will help him to become another man.” Therefore he did not break off the friendship in order perhaps to renew it again when Peter had become another man. No, he preserved the friendship unchanged and in this very way helped Peter to become another man."
Works of Love
9 May we take all this to heart, appropriating what is ours, and thus show the world His righteousness and wisdom, and the wonder of His works. Whether we are loved or hated, it doesn’t matter; all must see Jesus. And our hope is the same for everyone, especially since it already happened with us: that every man and woman, whether good or evil, interested or disinterested, spiritual or not-seeking, would see Him; that His goodness to the sinner—His covenant with the lost—would become known. This is the glory of all the Son has already done: anyone may hear, repent and believe. So, our call is to show the difference in our hearts, and the joy and peace He brings, and to live once again His earthly life. For we who know the Living One have an everlasting hope; a Resurrected Savior is everything in the midst of a dying world. For all men and women are clearly destined to die, all life is tinged with death, and what a strange experience it is to live forever within its shadow. Is death the only outcome of our destiny? Can there be anything else? For to watch the course of history is only to see the stories of our loves, hates, passions and sinfulnesses, all eventually disappearing into the darkness of death. This was always the way of man before the Son.
But, now, there is joy and peace, the New Wine of His Spirit, the ever-present experience of the ever-present God!
Now there is holy blamelessness as our portion! And the oil of joy, poured over our heads!
Now there is love never-ending, every single day of the remainder of our earthly lives, all because of who Jesus is, what He has said, what He has done, and what is forever “finished!” And what He has given us to do, working with His strength, is the very work and words and signs and wonders that He Himself did, while walking the earth!
Again, I say to you that, because of the Son, we have already won “an overwhelming victory,” not due to our strength, or intelligence, or spirituality, or goodness, but all due to He Himself. It is He who holds our lives in His hands. He came to sweep us up in His arms, to hold us close to Himself, so that the sons of men might become the sons of God. And all this is already accomplished.
I would also repeat that He Himself is our wisdom, and there is no end to Him. He is our refuge: a place where we may run and always find His comfort. Whether rich or poor, wise or foolish, He calls us ever nearer to be delivered of our every trouble. Brothers and sisters, let us remember His living, alive presence! For I remind you that His “love is better than life,” and that His steady wisdom, joy and peace are our eternal inheritance.
Too, He never stops speaking to His children. How much better to walk with One who is ever ready to whisper to our hearts than to constantly listen to the shouts and clamorings of this world. His wisdom is better than anything it offers, and one word from Him is worth anything it costs us to hear it; to take it to heart.
8 Who looks like Jesus?
He who interprets all his existence through Him.
Daily experience of Jesus alters the outward countenance,
and His wondrous joy becomes our inner and outer life.
I remind you: Follow our King’s words and Way, because of the New Covenant He has set with our Father. Be ever in His presence; never outside. Take the positions He Himself took in this world; never others. For the Way of our King is magnificent and unassailable, and none are those who can honestly say of it, “This is not the highest.” Each of us who keeps upon it, walking its straight narrowness, finds it daily to be life, and its footfalls to be the path unto wisdom and righteousness. For it is sweeping in its breadth of experience, because it is the living Way of a Man who Himself lived through all earthly trials. For He tasted every part of our existence; who can say that Jesus doesn’t understand us? No other has ever perfectly walked in obedience, guided perfectly by the Spirit of God, all the way to the point of dying a willed death. There was no shirking it: He died to free all people of their wickedness; to deliver mankind from the “vicious circle of sin and death.” (All this we know, of course, but what I’m endeavoring to do is draw these truths a little lower: all the way down from your head to your heart. I want to see you knowing these things, not knowing about them.)
Too, the Righteous One was buried for us. He who’d freely walked the earth, going in and out of towns, villages, synagogues, homes, was truly dead and gone. This was part of His most glorious glory. Because the sentence hanging over our heads—the penalty due for all who’d engaged in sin—involved our dying, He both died for us and was dead for us. And though a world of sinners continues on with their lives, we know the truth: it may be instantly well if they will only hear, turn, repent and believe. Yes, all mankind—from the saintliest earthly saint to the vilest wicked man or woman—is only a repentant half-turn away from the face of salvation. The Cross and Tomb are both right here: available.
This is the meaning of our heavenly-earthly lives upon this earth, that each of us is meant to live out His righteousness, in His love and mercy, so that all people, everywhere, can sense the goodness of His righteousness, love and mercy. I tell you, this is a wondrous purpose! And He has given us His own peace and joy, for all people need to see His heavenly attributes lived in regular human lives, just like ours. These attributes will always linger long after we leave them; His Way with them begins as they see Heaven’s ways right in their midst.
And as we give ourselves to knowing Jesus, and to carrying out His work upon the earth—hindered by nothing because He is limitlessly powerful—we will get to see the wonders of God in our day, and that there are no things impossible because of the Son and His Spirit. Indeed, the more we seek Him out, the more we find of Him. Even the simplest person can find untold riches of wisdom by simply seeking Jesus.
4 We have seen the way the Son bore all the embarrassments, indignities, and sufferings which are common to mankind. And look! He even shed tears with us in our pain, and was the comforter of all who mourned. Then He put Himself between the powerful oppressor of humanity, and defeated that one who’d robbed us of all comfort. And when that evil one thought that Jesus was dead—slinking off in his diabolical sense of cosmic triumph—he was in for the rudest sort of surprise, wasn’t he? For better than a martyr who’d die to set us free, leaving us orphans yet under the power of the evil one, is this One who’d die and return to us. That is the glory of this deed done by the perfect Son!
Now we see that all our lives and all the work intended for us is to acquaint mankind, all our “neighbors,” with the finished work of Jesus. This is our purpose and a work we do in tandem with the Holy Spirit.
The wise man gets to work on this, and abides in Christ.
What a joy it is to walk in perfect peace with the One who formed us by His hand, and now fills us with His own Spirit!
Again, I get glimpses of this great purpose of ours: one person may always help another, whether they be close acquaintances or strangers, for there is never any end to the people we’ll meet, and our eyes are almost always upon another who needs Him, so that we need never ask, “What is your will, Lord Jesus?” For there they are: people are the direction of God’s love: what a joy to partner with Him to reach everyone, everywhere, everyday.
And remember: We are never alone. We are forearmed with the power of the One who’s already lived this life. If we stumble, He is there to lift us up. Always. How foolish of us to forget He is ever with us or to neglect to call upon Him for the help that He so delightedly gives! Whether we are lying down, or rising up, or sitting at work, He is there beside us, and within us. And if we ever forget the nearness of His presence, He has given us an internal witness—His own heartbeat, the Holy Spirit, now lives inside us.
How much better to be “poor in spirit,” possessing the Kingdom of Heaven today, than to live like the king of a land whose boundary-lines are ever encroaching; diminishing. For it is a form of imprisonment to try to found a life upon this world; it is a poverty-existence to found your hope upon this kingdom of sand. You and I may rise and live—we may follow after the Son with our everything today: He is the only King who stooped to save His every subject. And there’s no end of Him: He is infinite in His love and loveliness. Those who’ll follow after us will know Him by how we know Him today. Surely this, too, is our purpose and a joyous pursuit of His glory.
3 Under the new economy of Heaven, there is a new season and a new Way for every matter upon the earth:
an opportunity to be reborn, and a chance never to die;
a call to plant seed, and a sending-out to reap the harvest;
a cheek to learn to turn; and His touch, through us, to heal;
an enemy already vanquished, and a Kingdom to upbuild;
a heart to weep with those who mourn; joy to laugh an honest laughter;
a comfort, within, everyday; a dance prepared for the Wedding Feast;
a freedom from judgment, and freedom from the need, ever, to judge;
a love that embraces all, and arms to be His own embrace;
a seeking that always finds, a losing-all that wills to gain all;
an eternal invitation, never to be lost, and no time to be lost in its enjoyment;
a Voice that calls away, and the same Voice who sends out;
the joy of His quiet presence, and the ecstasy of His alive life:
ever loved, freed from all hate and hatefulness;
sent to a cosmic battle that is only to be won through His peace.
What an unbelievable gain has the disciple in what he does for Jesus! I myself have experienced the joy that He has given to His sons and daughters, when consumed with that wondrous work. From within, He makes each of our days a journey with Himself. Yet, even still, He has made this Way an eternal pursuit: the day-by-day of life is swallowed up in the everlasting; the infinite. And I have learned that there is nothing higher, nothing better, than for us to live out His joy, His peace, so long as we live; also that we should learn, in quiet trust, simply to wait upon His provision—it is His promise unto us.
I have found that everything Jesus has done is “finished,” accomplished; the reconciliation of God and man is complete in Him. Every man, woman and child stands at the precipice of salvation; that which is done for them abides: God seeks to save all--through us.
And under the reign of the Son, there is eternal justice by bestowal of His righteousness, even where there was only wickedness before. He says in our hearts, “I came, not to judge the world, but to save it”—this was the purpose of His time, His ministry, His work. Too, He tells us that as sons and daughters of His, He will use all of our circumstances to train us and to purify our hearts. What happens to us is never in vain; as tragedy strikes, or uplift comes, He is working out His will in us. All we’ll ever know will come to us through His hand; there will be nothing in our journey that lacks His purpose and meaning. For all of it leads us back to Him. We are His work, and we walk His Way in His direction. We know where His Spirit within us tends: following after Him is leading us ever Heavenward. Thus I know that there is nothing higher, nothing better, than that we should rejoice in Him today, for that is the true heart of abiding.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
2 He says in my heart now, “Come to Me; I will be your enjoyment; find your whole life in Me.” And look! I have found it to be true. He says of joy, “It is I Myself,” and of delight, “It is yours—come and take it.” I looked inside my heart to find the joy of His life—my heart the place of His personal residence—and I found His Spirit there, showing me what is good for His sons and daughters to be, and to do, during the fleeting days of their earthly lives. We are His great work. He is building us up as houses, temples, branches in the vineyard, of His own creation. He is making us into fruitful places, works of art, planting in us the virtues and beauties of His own virtue and beauty. He has filled us with “the oil of joy”—His Holy Spirit—so that our inner lives are ever watered; ever vibrant. We, His servants, are no longer slaves: we have been born a second time into sharing a place at the Family Table. All He has is ours: “the cattle on a thousand hills” belong to Him: now they belong to us. He will give us what we need—our daily bread—from the infinite storehouses of the same One who made manna. He will sing over us, we brothers and sister of His, and He will provide for us: He delights in His sons and daughters.
He is great, and He is beyond everything and everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth. And His Way and wisdom abide with us. And whatever we ask in His name He will not keep from us. He holds nothing back that is for our good, for His heart finds joy in our enjoyment of Him: this is our experience of the life of Heaven. Let us consider all that He has done for us, all the sacrifice and love He has already shown us, and remember! He is our meaning and our purpose within this life, and there is everything to be gained in the Son.
So let us turn to consider His wisdom and Way and righteousness. For what else can the man do who follows after the King of Kings? Only what he sees the Son doing—who thus watched the Father. And thus we see that there is infinitely more to know and gain of Him; there is no end to One who is both light and life. It is our wisdom to watch Him; we walk His Way by following Him. Abiding in Jesus is the heart’s highest sense of perception. Then He may say to our hearts, “What I have done, you may do. I will be your wisdom, and I will make you wise.” And I have found this to be true in my own heart. For if I remember and encounter Jesus, both historically and contemporaneously, I see that the days are rich and robust with His presence. His life and death become wisdom and joy to me! Oh, I love Him, because what the Son is doing in me is glorious beyond all telling, for it is His life and death and resurrection all over again--in me.
Too, I love the work He’s calling me to, seeing the way it spreads His Way to the generations who’ll come after me—who knows how far my life’s work may go? Those to come, the ones to whom I’ll carry the Gospel, may come to know the Son even better than I. Isn’t that wonderful? And it is for that reason that I rise to each new day and give my heart to Him who is the purpose of each new day, for in this way another who is struggling to find wisdom and a way to life may find them—through me—by observing my own pursuit. Isn’t that the highest version of my human life? In the end, what will any man or woman hold in their hands but those strivings and pursuits that have followed in the Way of the Son? Our days with Him are joy; our work for Him is life. Even in the midst of the darkest night, He is with us. For this too He promises.
There is nothing finer for a man or woman than that they should eat of Jesus, drink of Jesus, abide in Jesus, and follow Jesus. His is the hand of God, and, of Him, we may eat and drink and abide and find our full enjoyment. And from this One who perfectly pleases His Father—who has fulfilled all righteousness—we receive all wisdom and knowledge and joy, and this to sinners like us! Yes, to “those who needed a doctor,” He has given the business of knowing Him, following Him, coming into the full pleasure of God. This is our life’s meaning and purpose—and God’s plan.
"...this is one of the most crucial definitions for the whole of Christianity; that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith."
The Sickness Unto Death
* * *
"We, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, know that a man is justified not by performing what the Law commands but by faith in Jesus Christ. We ourselves are justified by our faith and not by our obedience to the Law, for we have recognised that no one can achieve justification by doing the 'works of the Law.' Now if, as we seek the real truth about justification, we find we are as much sinners as the Gentiles, does that mean that Christ makes us sinners? Of course not! But if I attempt to build again the whole structure of justification by the Law then I do, in earnest, make myself a sinner. For under the Law I 'died,' and now I am dead to the Law’s demands so that I may live for God. As far as the Law is concerned I may consider that I died on the cross with Christ. And my present life is not that of the old 'I,' but the living Christ within me. The bodily life I now live, I live believing in the Son of God, who loved me and sacrificed himself for me. Consequently I refuse to stultify the grace of God by reverting to the Law. For if righteousness were possible under the Law then Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:15-21, Phillips)
It is a warm languid early-afternoon; you are sitting amidst the trees and flowers in a slight clearing. The ground is nearly flat; it rises just above you, following the climbing of the Mount of Olives; Gethsemane is just below. A patchwork quilt of patchwork quilts carpets over the meadowgrasses; all the followers of Jesus have carried up their lunches. The sun is just past the meridian point; the warmth of the air is restful; everyone is eating; it is a lovely sort of early-afternoon.
Jesus sits near the center of these concentric picnickers.
He is eating some bread and meat, holding them with His nail-scarred hands...
* * *
When was the last time that I simply sat with Jesus—out in the open air, under the trilling of the birdsong, in the wash of the sunlight, breeze, and bright blue skies—and relished how wonderfully alive and present to me He is? Is that the look in the eyes of my “Christianity”?
He appears to His disciples—Thomas is gone
Luke 24:36-49 & John 20:24-25
AND WHILE THE TWO from Emmaus were still talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be to you all!”
But they shrank back in terror for they thought they were seeing a ghost.
“Why are you so worried?” said Jesus, “and why do doubts arise in your minds? Look at my hands and feet—it is really I myself! Feel me and see; ghosts have no flesh or bones as you can see that I have.”
But while they still could not believe it through sheer joy and were quite bewildered, Jesus said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of broiled fish and part of a honeycomb which he took and ate before their eyes. Then he said, “Here and now are fulfilled the words that I told you when I was with you: that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must come true.”
Then he opened their minds so that they could understand the scriptures, and added, “That is how it was written, and that is why it was inevitable that Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead on the third day. So must the change of heart which leads to the forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
“You are eye-witnesses of these things. Now I hand over to you the command of my Father. Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with power from on high.” …
…But one of the twelve, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples kept on telling him, “We have seen the Lord”, but he replied, “Unless I see in his own hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe!”
In the moment…
A MAN IS WALKING the narrow alleyway that ends at the base of an outside flight of stairs; he is arms-full with a load of food, bread, wine. His inner biceps strain near the elbow with the weight of it all. He begins climbing the stairs, unseeing of each step: the breadloaves blocking his view: up he goes. At the landing he knocks the door with the top of his forehead, awkwardly. The door swings open, inwardly.
The man is absolutely unprepared for what he sees in this upper room.
Faces full of shock.
Eyes weeping happy tears.
Men, women and children all embracing.
A familiar personal scent seeming to hang in the air.
The man sets his load on the table at the center of the room.
“Well,” he says, “—what is it that I’ve missed?”
* * * *
He appears to Thomas & the other disciples
JUST OVER A WEEK LATER, the disciples were indoors again and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood in the middle of them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your fingers here—look, here are my hands. Take my hand and put it in my side. You must not doubt, but believe.”
“My Lord and my God!” cried Thomas.
“Is it because you have seen me that you believe?” Jesus said to him. “Happy are those who have never seen me and yet have believed!”
Forty years later…
HE CAN FEEL THAT THE END is drawing near. The crowds breathe it. They press closer and closer; their eyes lit with growing rage. Some have spears and short daggers in hand. The tips of the spears and blades of the knives flash with sunlight. Their robes are peculiar and multicolored. They flap like butterfly wings, snapping loudly, whenever they raise their arms.
The man begins to pray in his spirit:
“Lord, I am prepared today to come to you—receive me. Let these, my killers, see the grace of a death died in you. Forgive them. May they all come to know you; to receive you. Let them know your face without seeing. May their faith trump mine.”
As he prays, he is looking past the crowds at the waters of the Kalinga Sagar: turquoise blue, with low white-topped waves coming in, row on row. It is an infinite sea compared to the little one where this all started…
He feels the crowd drawing closer…
He raises his hands, as if to bless, as they begin to strike him…
“To be conformed to the image of Christ is not an ideal to be striven after. It is not as though we had to imitate him as well as we could. We cannot transform ourselves into his image; it is rather the form of Christ which seeks to be formed in us (Gal. 4.19), and to be manifested in us. Christ’s work in us is not finished until he has perfected his own form in us...
“His life on earth is not finished yet, for he continues to live in the lives of his followers. Indeed it is wrong to speak of the Christian life: we should speak rather of Christ living in us. ‘I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Gal. 2.20). Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and glorified, has entered my life and taken charge. ‘To me to live is Christ’ (Phil. 1.21). And where Christ lives, there the Father also lives, and both Father and Son through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Trinity himself has made his dwelling in the Christian heart, filling his whole being, and transforming him into the divine image.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“It is by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ that death is trampled underfoot, [and] it is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power. Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Saviour and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally. When the sun rises after the night and the whole world is lit up by it, nobody doubts that it is the sun which has thus shed its light everywhere and driven away the dark. Equally clear is it, since this utter scorning and trampling down of death has ensued upon the Saviour’s manifestation in the body and His death on the cross, that it is He Himself Who brought death to nought and daily raises monuments to His victory in His own disciples. How can you think otherwise, when you see men naturally weak hastening to death, unafraid at the prospect of corruption, fearless of the descent into Hades, even indeed with eager soul provoking it, not shrinking from tortures, but preferring thus to rush on death for Christ’s sake, rather than to remain in this present life? If you see with your own eyes men and women and children, even, thus welcoming death for the sake of Christ’s religion, how can you be so utterly silly and incredulous and maimed in your mind as not to realise that Christ to Whom these all bear witness, Himself gives the victory to each, making death completely powerless for those who hold His faith and bear the sign of the cross? No one in his senses doubts that a snake is dead when he sees it trampled underfoot, especially when he knows how savage it used to be; nor, if he sees boys making fun of a lion, does he doubt that the brute is either dead or completely bereft of strength. These things can be seen with our own eyes, and it is the same with the conquest of death. Doubt no longer, then, when you see death mocked and scorned by those who believe in Christ, that by Christ death was destroyed, and the corruption that goes with it resolved and brought to an end.”
Athanasius of Alexandria
Early 4th Century
“Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture tomorrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare tomorrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
* * *
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...” (Hebrews 1:1,2a)
* * *
I’ve been thinking about that Chesterton quote for the last couple of weeks. And thinking, in light of Hebrews 1, of how it might most clearly read for us:
“Jesus is the truth; and Jesus is alive. Jesus has startled us by being the image of the invisible God; and Jesus may startle us at any time and in manifold ways. Just imagine that we may live with such a Man living, and know that He is always speaking, always teaching, and that at any moment He can shatter everything with a single word. The man or woman who lives in contact with what we know to be a Living Christ is a man or woman expecting Him today and tomorrow at breakfast. He or she is always expecting to see Him, to hear Him, just as clearly as those disciples did at the beginning.”
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 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
I have continued writing "glimpses" -- little imagined moments before, during, or after each narrative from Jesus' ministry years -- and continue loving the experience and the feeling of encountering Him. Here's one that I really enjoyed from a couple weeks ago (with the scripture first) -
Jesus is resurrected
…There was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven, went forward and rolled back the stone and took his seat upon it. His appearance was dazzling like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards shook with terror at the sight of him and collapsed like dead men…
* * * *
In the moment…
An old gray-haired shepherd is asleep at the mouth of a bramble-pen, built by his own hands, in which are sleeping his small herd of sheep. His body lies across the narrow opening. He sleeps on his side in the dirt. His heavier winter cloak is his pillow. The old man is firmly, fastly asleep. The sheep breathe quietly behind him. The flowers and trees drowse on this reverse slope of a garden hill. The dawn is considering breaking.
The earth begins to quake.
The shepherd is shaken awake; glances at his flock (who are just beginning to bleat wakingly); wincingly rises to his feet; holds himself steady amidst the shaking of the hillside. He reaches down to take up his staff. He pulls the bramble-pen closed at the mouth, whispering the name of the lead ewe to hand her authority; walks through the olive trees as the ground continues to shake.
Then, just as suddenly as starting, it stops.
He goes over the crest of the slope—in the direction of the city-view—and looks down to see how the city fares with the earthquake. Nothing appears to be happening down there, yet.
His eye is caught by a scene in the middle distance.
There are a group of Roman soldiers, dressed in the armor of the Governor’s Guard, lying—seemingly dead—on the ground at the mouth of a cave…
There is a giant--literally gigantic—figure perched atop the tombic sealing-rock, glowing with the pulsing warm glow of a sunset sun…
There is a man walking out of the tomb—his head stooped low with the inside ceiling’s height—and he enters the cool air of the garden; looks around…
The shepherd crouches low amidst some bushes. He is terrified; afraid of being seen above.
The man below, the one who exited the cave in the hillside, nods at the glowing giant and walks off into the trees.
The soldiers lie there, appearing dead.
From the city-side, women approach…
"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
In the last two weeks, the final version of my children's Bible, Moments with Jesus, went through its last revisions and is on its way to production for a fall release. Friends, I'm very excited about this! It's been such a joy to get to look at these files in final form.
I wanted to send you a two-page spread as my weekly "thought" this week--the moment when Mary Magdalene runs into the risen Jesus near the tomb. I pray these words and visuals are a sweet reminder of His Resurrection for your Monday!
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.
Most Christians, most "evangelicals," would think they're agreeing with Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, when they say that "the Gospel" reads as such:
Jesus rose again.
Actually, that's not quite correct.
The Gospel Paul was always talking about, the Gospel that actually changes hearts, the Gospel that irrupted with such force into the world of the First Century, is this:
Jesus rose again.
Our emphasis must ever be the Man, not the mechanics: we are following, in the line and Spirit of, Jesus. Let's go follow Him today, and this week.
"What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law. And God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, let us be quite clear about that! The same God is ready to justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith also. Are we then undermining the Law by this insistence on faith? Not a bit of it! We put the Law in its proper place." (Romans 3:27-31)
And what is the "proper place" for the Old Covenant Law? By faith, where does it most properly, and permanently, live?
In the mind, body, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth who, daily, perfectly, walked it out, and thus invalidated the power of sin by obeying that Law faultlessly.
In the offered-up life of Jesus, on the Cross, shedding His blood to forever free us from the curse of sin, which was all tangled up in the curses of the Law.
Behind the risen Jesus, left like His burial garments in the abandoned tomb, "finished" in favor of the New Covenant He now offered.
Under the feet of Jesus, as He sits upon the Throne of Heaven, King of Kings of a Kingdom that is founded within all remade hearts.
The Law has been fulfilled forever - in Jesus - and, by following Him, by His Spirit, we too may "put the Law in its proper place." Its proper place is in Him.
By His life, in His death, because of His resurrection, and now, forevermore, as He sits upon the Throne, we are free with the freedom He's earned for us. All life is lived upon "a different plane."
This letter comes to you from Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called as a messenger and appointed for the service of that Gospel of God which was long ago promised by the prophets in the holy scriptures. The Gospel is centred in God’s Son, a descendant of David by human genealogy and patently marked out as the Son of God by the power of that Spirit of holiness which raised him to life again from the dead. He is our Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom we received grace and our commission in his name to forward obedience to the faith in all nations. And of this great number you at Rome are also called to belong to him. To you all then, loved of God and called to be Christ’s men and women, grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7)
It strikes you, as you read the very first words of this wondrous epistle, what Paul is up to in this opening: he wants the fellowship at Rome—and all of us—so inextricably tied up and tied into the Name and Person of Jesus that there’s nowhere else for us to go. Consider his preamble in this way:
Jesus… whose servant Paul is… as an appointed messenger of the Gospel… which, for ages past, had been promised by the prophets, in the holy scriptures, who were all of them looking only to--
Jesus… who is God’s Son… and the very center of the Gospel’s good news. Really, the Gospel itself is--
Jesus… that descendant of King David… clearly marked as the Son of God--how? By the power of the Holy Spirit, who, seeing Him dead in our sins, raised Him up to life again--
Jesus… who is our Lord… and who personally brought us grace…and who commissioned us each, personally, to bear His name and His Way to all the nations.
Friends, our belongingness, our position as those beloved by God, our calling as men and women, the grace and peace of God the Father all come from--
Let’s go see what He would have us do this day!
"The Master Plan which exists beneath the superficial activities of human beings is now becoming intelligible to them. The reconciliation between the holiness and perfection of God and the selfishness and evil of men has been unforgettably demonstrated. Death, the old dark bogey, has been exposed and resoundingly defeated. And as if this were not enough Good News for human beings to accept, they know now, by the acted parable of the Ascension of Christ, that God and man are eternally inseparable. Humanity is assured of its entry into the timeless life of God. A new dignity has been conferred upon the whole human race for God himself has become a man. New exciting possibilities appear as men begin to understand that the purpose of God’s descent to the human level is to enable them to rise and live as sons of God. And what is more, he is prepared to enter human personalities by his own Spirit to make such dreams come true."
J.B. Phillips, God our Contemporary
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27 (NASB)
Personally, I can’t recall another question spoken in the Scriptures that holds the same meaning and weight as the question with which this implied promise concludes: “is anything too difficult for Me?” Because if there’s any doubt in our minds as to His ability to encounter, overcome and, even, demolish any difficulty, then--what are we doing? Who do we think we’re going to follow, next, if this One, this God, can’t surmount any challenge, hardship, barrier or impasse?
My friends, I want us to truly know this God, this One: “the Lord, the God of all flesh” who is unstoppable in face of difficulty.. I want you so unshakably resolved upon His power and sheer dynamism that there’s never any more question for you in your day to day.
So, for that reason, I want to take you on a journey of His ability, over the aeons, to overcome every difficulty, every trial, every divide, every impossibility that might’ve seemed insurmountable. And, to do that, I want us to consider, in each era or day, His and our “state of existence”—Who He was and who we were—during that precise period of time (or, even, pre-time).
Before Creation – God was. We weren’t. He existed and we didn’t exist at all. And yet He manifested existence and time and space and being, and made the triune choice to make us “in His image.”
In the Garden of Eden – He was. We were now also. And He overcame any potential boundary lying between the Divine and those Made-in-the-Image-of-the-Divine, and He walked with us “in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8, ESV).
From the Fall until the Incarnation – He was God: perfect and holy. We were fallen: imperfect and broken. And yet, for the remainder of human history until His coming, He continued to manifest His grace and to reveal His voice across the divide. It was only by His grace that “history” didn’t end with the Fall: He might’ve scrapped the whole thing because humanity was no longer perfect.
The Incarnation – He was Himself and yet with us. We were still imperfect and yet with Him. He actually allowed humanity to see the very face of God.
The Cross – He was Himself and yet totally in our place, on our behalf. We were our broken selves, and yet our sin-existence hung suspended-in-time upon that Man on the Cross. And He personally overcame sin, that separating force that had destroyed mankind ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.
The Resurrection – He was alive again—God and Man—entirely by His own power. We were still imperfect, and yet now offered a new sinless, deathless, human existence. And He had permanently, once for all time, overcome death, “the last enemy” of mankind (1 Cor. 15:26, NIV).
The Ascension – He was Himself—Man and God—on the throne again. We were able, by His blood, to have direct access. And nothing can now separate our confident earth-to-Heaven approach: He has said “It is finished” to all human-to-God separation.
Pentecost until Today – He is with the Father--and with us: within our hearts. We are here on earth, as new Kingdom creations--and yet “raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6, NIV). His and our shared, bi-locational reality means there’s no difficulty unable to be overcome, no provision meant to be unmet, no spiritual deficit He won’t personally invade, overwhelm and conquer. He is there and here; we are here and there.
In every portion of history and pre-history, we have dealt with a God who is unable to be stopped, unable to encounter any natural or supernatural difficulty that has any ounce of power against Him. Let us say to our hearts today: Behold, I am following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing is too difficult for Him!
Lack of seeming substance? He created existence!
Lack of connection? He personally comes to encounter us!
Lack of holiness? He will never stop pursuing His people!
Lack of understanding of God? He has showed us His face!
Fear of the consequences of sin? He ended it!
Fear in the face of death? He has conquered it forever!
Desire to know God? He invites you into the throneroom of Heaven!
Desire for a new life? He invites Himself right into your heart!
Let me type it once again with confidence, from me to you: Behold, you and I are following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing in the heavens or the earth is too difficult for Him
"Certain people declared in my hearing, ‘Unless I can find a thing in our ancient records, I refuse to believe it in the Gospel’; and when I assured them that it is indeed in the ancient scriptures, they retorted, ‘That has got to be proved.’ But for my part, my records are Jesus Christ; for me, the sacrosanct records are His cross and death and resurrection, and the faith that comes through Him. And it is by these, and by the help of your prayers, that I am hoping to be justified.
"The priests of old, I admit, were estimable men; but our own High Priest is greater, for He has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies, and to Him alone are the secret things of God committed. He is the doorway to the Father, and it is by Him that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets go in, no less than the Apostles and the whole Church; for all these have their part in God’s unity. Nevertheless, the Gospel has a distinction all its own, in the advent of our Savior Jesus Christ, and His Passion and Resurrection. We are fond of the prophets, and they did indeed point forward to Him in their preaching; yet it is the Gospel that sets the coping-stone on man’s immortality."
Ignatius of Antioch
from his letter to the Philadelphian fellowship
ca. Early 2nd Century