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.
6 There is a joyous good that I have seen because of the Son, and it may be enjoyed by everyone: any man or woman to whom God gives Himself, so that they lack nothing, either spiritually or temporally, is also given the calling, and opportunity, to pass it on, even to a complete stranger. This is a marvelous thing for any disciple of His to do; it is a great miracle. If that man or woman lives seventy or eighty years, and continually shares the joy of Christ with others, just think of the brothers and sisters they will escort into the Kingdom of Heaven! What a joy! What purpose! For he or she “did not choose Jesus, but He chose them, and appointed them, that they might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” And here they are: knowing the Son themselves, finding rest in Him, and then extending the realm of the Kingdom during the span of their days. Even if their own life should be cut short, they may enjoy this glory today—changing the eternal life of another!
Every deed done for Jesus is of eternity; we may abide in Him, seek His Way, and always find our daily meaning. Every spiritual and earthly joy is already ours in Him! Whether rich or poor, the rule of life—the Way—is the same. So, how much better to fix our eyes upon the things that interested Him, to follow in His footsteps, than to give ourselves to the passing fancies of a dying age. We know the One on the other side of reality!
Indeed, He knows our every breath, He has numbered the hairs on our head, He has counted the course of our days; He knows exactly what we are—and loves us yet. The more of Him we receive, the greater glory; the higher advantage. For He knows precisely what is good for each one of us, having Himself lived this human life: He will teach us to live our lives like He did. Under the Son, we may rise to each new day and live it to the full.
5 Pay close attention to your life, for you are the Temple of God now. Others may draw near to Him by drawing near to you: you are the place where they may hear of Him; even hear from His voice. Therefore, be careful with your words, and let Him use your lips to speak of His glories, so that all on earth may be acquainted with His life in Heaven. Let your own words be few. For your best words are those from His Spirit, and your own voice—let’s be honest—has a way of sometimes getting in the way.
Where you’ve received a promise from the Lord, do not hesitate to trust Him, for He is ever faithful to make good on His every promise. He always does what He says He’ll do. Your life will be richer and better if you trust in Him with quiet confidence, and wait upon Him. Don’t doubt the wild ways He works, and don’t give in to that nagging question inside, But what’s taking Him so long? Be honest: His record with you is one of constant care, presence and blessing. Where your trust in Him is given room for increase, consider it a blessing; God is entrusting you with the opportunity to trust Him more.
Where you see examples of struggle, hurt and anxiety in the world around you, anguish amidst the depredations of sin, you are called not to judge but to go to work; for the God of all men has chosen you and I to be His ambassadors: we are the Body of Christ--we are Jesus!--for the men and women of our day, our time. This is our privilege: this is how highly our King thinks of us.
“The secret of never thirsting is ever thirsting”: he who always wants more of Jesus won’t be satisfied with yesterday’s experience of Him: he will always desire for more. Where encounter with His living presence increases, hunger is both sated and enlarged, and this is nothing but a glorious spiritual advantage. Our rest is only found in Him, whether we know Him a little or a lot, and the greater the experience of Him, the richer our rest in Him.
Here is another wondrous glory that I have experienced for myself: the splendors of the Kingdom of Heaven are meant by Him to be shared with us, and their riches seem to increase as we share them out with others. This is the nature of this Father with His sons and daughters; everything we have comes from His hand. As we were first born of Him, brought along through life through Him, redeemed from death by Him, we now find our whole life in Him. This is our greatest joy: just as He’s always done, He’ll always do. We know He’ll never change in our direction. Moreover, all our days He’s available to us and wants to walk along the way with us.
Look! there is nothing higher or better--or more reasonable—than for you to eat and drink of Him, to abide in Him, to enjoy Him, to find your entire life in Him, for this is the meaning of your whole human life. You have already been given the keys of the Kingdom, all its inheritances, riches and splendors, and you are simply called to humbly accept—this is what’s required of you.
So, today, will you remember this One whose own joy fills your heart?
“St. John lived to about the age of a hundred. He was at last so weak that he could not walk into the church; so he was carried in, and used to say continually to his people, 'Little children, love one another.' Some of them, after a time, began to be tired of hearing this, and asked him why he repeated the words so often, and said nothing else to them. The Apostle answered, 'Because it is the Lord's commandment, and if this be done it is enough.'”
Sketches of Church History
“The true understanding of Jesus is the understanding of will acting on will. The true relation to Him is to be taken possession of by Him. Christian piety of any and every sort is valuable only so far as it means the surrender of our will to His…
“What Christianity needs is that it shall be filled to overflowing with the spirit of Jesus, and in the strength of that shall spiritualize itself into a living religion of inwardness and love, such as its destined purpose should make it. Only as such can it become the leaven in the spiritual life of mankind. What has been passing for Christianity during these nineteen centuries is merely a beginning, full of weaknesses and mistakes, not a full-grown Christianity springing from the spirit of Jesus.
“Because I am devoted to Christianity in deep affection, I am trying to serve it with loyalty and sincerity. In no wise do I undertake to enter the lists on its behalf with the crooked and fragile thinking of Christian apologetic, but I call on it to set itself right in the spirit of sincerity with its past and with thought in order that it may thereby become conscious of its true nature.”
Out of My Life and Thought
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…
"Do not confound work and fruit. There may be a good deal of work for Christ that is not the fruit of the heavenly Vine. Do not seek for work only. Oh! study this question of fruit-bearing. It means the very life and the very power and the very spirit and the very love within the heart of the Son of God—it means the heavenly Vine Himself coming into your heart and mine.
"You know there are different sorts of grapes, each with a different name, and every vine provides exactly that peculiar aroma and juice which gives the grape its particular flavor and taste. Just so, there is in the heart of Christ Jesus a life, and a love, and a Spirit, and a blessing, and a power for men, that are entirely heavenly and divine, and that will come down into our hearts. Stand in close connection with the heavenly Vine and say:
"Lord Jesus, nothing less than the sap that flows through Thyself, nothing less than the Spirit of Thy divine life is what we ask. Lord Jesus, I pray Thee let Thy Spirit flow through me in all my work for Thee.
"I tell you again that the sap of the heavenly Vine is nothing but the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the life of the heavenly Vine, and what you must get from Christ is nothing less than a strong inflow of the Holy Spirit. You need it exceedingly, and you want nothing more than that. Remember that."
Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender
“If thou art a writer, write as if thy time were short, for it is indeed short at the longest. Improve each occasion when thy soul is reached. Drain the cup of inspiration to its last dregs. Fear no intemperance in that, for the years will come when otherwise thou wilt regret opportunities unimproved. The spring will not last forever. These fertile and expanding seasons of thy life, when the rain reaches thy root, when thy vigor shoots, when thy flower is budding, shall be fewer and farther between. Again I say, Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Use and commit to life what you cannot commit to memory.”
Henry David Thoreau, from his journals
* * *
I read those words a couple weeks back and was stirred by how readily they might be shifted—changed in their context—so that they ring with an even higher truth. Try this on for size:
If you are a follower of Jesus, live today as if your time is short, for it is indeed short—even at the longest. Improve each occasion, for His living presence dwells in your soul. Be the vessel of His direct inspiration to everyone you meet. Fear nothing but to be temperate when it comes to His Spirit, for each day of each year of your life is an improvable opportunity for His divine purposes. Your earthly life will not last forever. His presence and nearness in your life, when His Spirit reaches low inside you, when He is a wellspring, when you are bearing His fruit, is as available today as it’s ever been. Again I say to you, Abide in Him and He in you. Use and commit this day not to memories of Him, but to His alive life actually dwelling inside you.
“The Lord would have us to be walking epistles of His word. Jesus is the Word and is the power in us, and it is His desire to work in and through us His own good pleasure. We must believe that He is in us. There are boundless possibilities for us if we dare to act in God and dare to believe that the wonderful virtue of our living Christ shall be made manifest through us as we lay our hands on the sick in His name.
“The exceeding great and precious promises of the Word are given to us that we might be partakers of the divine nature. I feel the Holy Ghost is grieved with us because, when we know these things, we do not do greater exploits for God. Does not the Holy Ghost show us wide-open doors of opportunity? Shall we not let God take us on to greater things? Shall we not believe God to take us on to greater manifestations of His power? His call for us is to forget the things that are behind, and reach forth unto the things which are before and to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Smith Wigglesworth, Ever Increasing Faith
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
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
I've continued on with that writing project I told you about back in January, where, with every single slice of the four Gospels, I write an imaginative vignette that paints either the "before, during or after" of that moment. I was doing some editing this week and came upon one that I really enjoy. Wanted to post it here.
James & John ask for prominence in Jesus’ Kingdom
Then Zebedee’s two sons James and John approached him, saying “Master, we want you to grant us a special request.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” answered Jesus.
“Give us permission to sit one on each side of you in the glory of your kingdom!”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I have to drink? Can you go through the baptism I have to bear?”
“Yes, we can,” they replied. Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink the cup I am drinking, and you will undergo the baptism which I have to bear! But as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to give—such places belong to those for whom they are intended.”
When the other ten heard about this, they began to be highly indignant with James and John; so Jesus called them all to him, and said, “You know that the so-called rulers in the heathen world lord it over them, and their great men have absolute power. But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be the slave of all men! For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”
* * * * *
Many years later…
An old man sits on his stoop and looks out at the view. Below, the breeze is riffling the yellowish-greenish grass back and forth; here and there a stand of wildflowers likewise sways with its onshore gusts. The sun is still and set in its meridian brightness. Distant olive trees are thick with their clumpings of fruit. Even farther down, the land ends sharply at the drop of the cliffs; the color of the sea is as hauntingly blue as it always is. This old fisherman, too tired now to ever overnight again, wonders what this time of year produces for the village’s fleets. He can faintly hear the plash of the waters against the shoreline. It reminds him of the small lake upon which he’d grown up; the call of the sea.
Creakingly, he stands to his feet and returns inside his shanty house. He sits back down to the writing table in the corner. He reads again—still a bit uncertain of its contents—from the letter he’s considering sending out by seven different dispatches. He reads from the opening paragraphs:
Grace and peace be to you from him who is and who was and who is coming, from the seven Spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, first-born of the dead, and ruler of kings upon earth. To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins through his own blood, who has made us a kingdom of priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and power for timeless ages, amen.
See, he is coming in the clouds and every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him, and his coming will mean bitter sorrow to every tribe upon the earth. So let it be!
“I am Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.”
I, John, who am your brother and your companion in the distress, the kingdom and the faithful endurance to which Jesus calls us, was on the island called Patmos because I had spoken God’s message and borne witness to Jesus…
The old man leaves the letter and goes for a walk. He will consider its sending-out as he walks down toward the sea.
"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?
"...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?
"Now how can [the outsiders] call on one in whom they have never believed? How can they believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how can they hear unless someone proclaims him? And who will go to tell them unless he is sent? As the scripture puts it: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’" (Romans 10:14,15)
If you're into this kind of thing, what Paul just gave us is a descending deductive chain argument, where true premises link with each other toward a clear, logical conclusion. And I call it a "descending" deductive chain because it starts at the whole and descends to the level of the individual. Take a look at how it would read if he'd taken it in the reverse, ascending order:
Unless someone is sent, then they will not go, and nothing will be proclaimed, no one will hear, and none will believe or ever call on Jesus.
But let's flip that into the positive, shall we?
If one is sent, and goes, and proclaims, then others will hear, and believe, and call on Jesus.
So let's get down to brass tacks. Who are the ones whose "beautiful feet" are meant to bear the "glad tidings of good things," ie. Who has already been sent? (I'll give you a hint: They were looking at you in the mirror, this morning, while you brushed your teeth.)
You are a "sent" one - an apostle - and it's your beautiful feet that are called to carry forth the Gospel today. If you go, in the Spirit and Way of Jesus, your proclamation will be the actual way that others get to hear. And if they hear - and when they get to see it be true in your life today - there is a wonderful chance they'll believe. That they'll say yes for themselves and call on His name...
Let's let Him do His thing, in us, and through us today!
"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:
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!
"Christianity is not a doctrine, but an existence communication. (This is the source of all the nuisances of orthodoxy, its quarrels about one thing and another, while existence remains totally unchanged.) Christianity is an existence communication and can only be presented – by existing..."
Søren Kierkegaard, from his journals
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"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son."
1 John 1:1-3, Phillips
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Thought for this week: Our "witness" for Jesus is exactly equivalent to our experience of His existence. Nothing else - no "doctrine," no "orthodoxy," no "quarrel" - can stand against our first-hand, practical testimony to His living life. We must prove Him by our personal experience of His present existence.
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.
"A life… devoted unto God, looking wholly unto Him in all our actions, and doing all things suitably to His glory, is so far from being dull and uncomfortable, that it creates new comforts in everything that we do."
A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life
When we typically think of "evangelism"—of the commission we hold to tell everyone, everywhere, all the time, of the Gospel of Jesus—it's been my observation that we tend to then get strategic, carried away by logistics, and sometimes end up hamstringing our potential best efforts. It reminds me of a particular moment from history.
After the French Revolution had (mostly) solidified and was starting to find its legs, the other European nations began to want to fight France to ensure its revolution didn't spread further. And, for the most part, the revolutionary French army did fairly well. But then, as stronger, more strident French voices started calling for further outward battles of conquest, a gentleman named Vergniaud—a Girondist—said this:
"Citizens, let us profit from the lessons of experience. We can overturn empires by victories but we can only make revolutions for other peoples by the spectacle of our own happiness."
My friends, that is what we're after! To so enjoy the glory, honor and peace that Jesus so readily provides that we spark off revolutions "by the spectacle of our own happiness." That the look of the joy of our experience of abiding in Him is intoxicating, overwhelming, and eminently inviting. That everyone would want what we have.
Because we actually have what we actually have.