WHO IS JESUS? #8

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Sent One.

There have been some unusual gifts sent over the years: the Greek Trojan horse sent to the city of Troy, the white elephant sent by the king of Portugal to a Pope, and Cleopatra rolled in a carpet sent as a gift to gain an audience with Caesar. Anything sent carries with it the intentions of the sender—an idea that takes on flesh in order to convey some particular meaning.

As Jesus addresses His antagonists in a verbal parlay recorded in the Gospel of John, He adds yet another claim to His list of self-descriptions. He describes Himself as sent from God. It’s another facet of the recurring theme Jesus claims about Himself; He self-identifies as uniquely connected with God with a distinctive task to be accomplished. He is up front and unmistakably apparent with His listeners, but He knows they don’t really hear Him.

“Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say’” (John 8:42,43).

This is not the first time Jesus has described Himself as sent by God the Father. In a conversation held one late night between Jesus and a cautious seeker—a member of the Jewish ruling council who needed to find out from Jesus some answers to important questions—Jesus reveals a similar claim. Again He refers to Himself as sent by God. To this seeker Jesus voices a claim that has become the most well-known verse in Scripture: “For God so loved the world,” He explains, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In the next verse Jesus continues, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Did you hear the actions Jesus applies to His Father: loved, gave, send, not condemn, and save?

In claiming to be the Sent One of God, Jesus is explaining that God’s idea of loving people is not an existential notion limited to the vast domains of God’s psyche. It’s not just a thought or even a fleeting emotion. Jesus is saying that as God loves His world perfectly—every person ever conceived—He has determined to express that love by sending the perfect gift: Jesus. Jesus is uniquely able to communicate the love of God to us because He knows what it is like to be both God and human. He is saying, I am the love of God here in human form to bring you back into relationship with God, to save you from perishing if you’ll have me. But there’s the rub: ‘If we’ll have Him.’

Sadly, Jesus’ antagonists could not hear what He was offering them because they refused to listen. Rather than hearing love, they heard offense. He wasn’t the gift they wanted. They dismissed this claim as they had His others with slurs and denouncements: “You are demon-possessed!” they sneered. “Who do you think you are?” they spat. They had their own agenda and it didn’t include a God-man sent from beyond earth to do anything for them let alone be a gift to them. So He could not rescue them from their perishing, much as He would have loved to. The hand He reached out to them as they tottered on the brink of disaster was despised. The gift was rejected. The choice was theirs.

The choice is ours too. With each of Jesus’ claims, we have asked how we ought best to respond. Here Jesus tells us that our search for love ends in Him. He is the one sent from God—God in the flesh, love in action—who meets our deepest needs. There is nothing we can do to merit this gift. It’s harder than that. We must receive it with open hands and heart.

Each of us knows the areas in our life we have held Jesus’ love at a distance. He continues to offer His love to you and me, giving us every opportunity to open our ears and hearts to His offer. And how are we to express acceptance of His offer? He tells us. He says, love me in return; that’s why I was sent. So let’s begin each day by saying, “I love you, Jesus,” and follow that up by exploring His Word for more ideas on how to demonstrate that love.”

 

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Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #27

Prayer of Refuge (Paraphrase of Psalm 141)

Great Father hidden from our eyes but not from our hearts, our prayer is a cry to You: reveal Your presence here with us. We need You now more than ever. With uncommon speed come into our conscious awareness and fill it with Your trueness and love.

Like fragrant incense bringing You a pleasing aroma, may our prayers proclaim our worship of You, God above all. May our hands lifted to You in praise fulfill our greatest purpose—accepting who we are today by admitting who You are in infinity.

We need divine help if we are ever to gain victory over our own mouths, LORD. We find ourselves saying false and hurtful words that cause conflict and injury when our words ought to bring life and light and hope. Be the guard over our mouths that we need, LORD. Keep the door of our lips under lock and key when in our passion the barbed remarks threaten to erupt.

Our words reflect our hearts, LORD, so we need Your discipline there too. Protect our hearts from being drawn to evil. Keep us true to You, to Your love and light that motivate godly living. Guide our eyes and ears, our hands and feet by hearts obedient to You, Holy One.

May we accept correction and rebuke from Your Word and from each other as a precious gift. May Your discipline fill our hearts and flood every aspect of our being so we are truly ruled by You and for You. We’ve seen the results of lives that reject You—bones scattered around open graves.

So we fix our eyes on You, O Sovereign LORD; we take refuge in You. Only You can spare us that end, You Who give life beyond earthly struggles and beyond the grave. Our lives are in Your good and faithful hands.

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #26

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Prayer for Help (Paraphrase of Psalm 140)

Rescue me, O LORD, from evil thoughts; protect me from doing violence to truth in the self-made courtroom of my mind where I set myself up as jury and judge. There I devise stories to defend my selfish behaviours. There I create rationales and retorts to support my man-made arguments. My tongue has become as sharp as a serpent’s when it ought to be as gentle as a lamb’s. I know, LORD, that the tongue is never tamed until the thoughts are held captive by the restraint of love.

Keep me, O LORD, from godless actions. Help me notice when my hands fall under the unspoken command of selfish thoughts. Help me attend to the direction my feet move me throughout the day, especially in moments of leisure. I catch glimpses of the snares about to trip me up as I push forward in my proud and selfish plans, yet I so often ignore them. Help me see the nets and webs and traps those paths hold.

O LORD, I hear myself saying to You, “You are my God,” but I wonder if I actually think and speak and live it. Hear, O LORD, my cry for mercy. O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who rescues me from myself. Do not grant me the prayers that arise from my selfishness. Cause my desires to grow out of a love and respect for You and for every person You created, for Your glory and their good.

I know You uphold the cause of the needy—I am that person, Father. Change me. remake me according to the pattern of Your True Son, Jesus. Then I will be able to praise Your Name with a tongue that is not forked. And then my upright living will not be skin-deep but rather be genuine to the core. You, God, are my only help.

(Photo Credit: By Chris Paul from England – CNP_3289, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25737936)

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 15

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Nature or Nurture?

There is a debate within psychology concerning you and me. Are we the product of our genetic/biological pre-wiring, some ask, or do our behaviours stem from external influences in our environment? Is it nature or nurture that makes us do what we do? Francis Galton (a contemporary and cousin of Charles Darwin) was convinced it was all nature, suggesting society could be improved by “better breeding.” Studies such as Bandura’s ‘Bobo Doll Experiment’ of the mid-twentieth century supported the theory that social behaviour is learned entirely through observation and imitation. Current thought is that neither heredity nor the environment act alone to make us behave the way we do—but rather they interact in a complex manner not yet fully understood.

In the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus faced a similar controversy. With clarity that was both unorthodox and unflinching, He challenged the Jewish teachers of the day who had come to Him with acrid criticism.

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” demanded the Pharisees. “They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

This may sound anything but significant to us, but to theses Jews tradition was everything (Remember Tevye in ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’?). Jewish life was orchestrated around a complex regimen of rituals known as the kashrut or kosher law, including symbolic washing of hands before eating. The Jewish teachers were censuring Jesus for allowing—perhaps even leading—His followers to violate what was most sacred to them: tradition.

“And why do you break the command of God,” countered Jesus, “for the sake of your tradition?”

Jesus went on to give them an example of their hypocrisy and injustice. He quoted the fifth commandment given to the people by God—“honour your father and mother,” a clear, straightforward command. Yet, he observed, you ‘teachers of the law’ have twisted your expectations of the people so that they must support you financially rather than supporting their aged and needy parents. What kind of tradition is that?

But He was not done with them yet. He wanted to help them escape from the corruption and delusion to which their external traditions had bound them. Without internal transformation tradition was only lip service.

“Listen and understand,” Jesus articulated carefully. “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’.”

We may not understand at first how shocking and offensive this comment would have been to the Jews—to any Jew. He was saying that all the Jewish traditions that require cleanliness—the kosher and traditional cleansing rituals—are misused and misunderstood if people think by observing them they become ‘righteous.’ The core problem of humanity is not dirty hands or germs ingested when eating pork. It is a foundational problem of the heart.

“Don’t you see,” added Jesus, “that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Jesus is making a very clear statement about humanity’s condition in relationship to God. He’s saying that the nature of each of us is to reject God’s authority over our lives. All of us have deep within us a core of rebellion against God. Do you see that in your heart? I see it in mine. God is more concerned with that inner bent of heart than clean or dirty hands, good or evil deeds. The only solution—if we want to have that core problem corrected—is what Jesus offers. He offers the great exchange: we give up our autonomy, and He takes the rap for our sin. The kind of freedom we need comes at a cost.

But lives lived by that reality do begin to notice something: autonomy becomes increasing dependence upon God; selfishness gradually gives way to compassion for others; emotional chaos and confusion are more and more replaced by peace that passes understanding; internal commitment becomes authentic outward expressions of truth and goodness.

So we’re left with a choice. We can ride with the easy idea that if we do a few good deeds we can be ‘good enough’ for God. Or we can admit and accept what Jesus offers: a new heart. What do we want—external or internal?

(Photo credit: By T.K. Naliaka – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36622513)