Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 25

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The Seen and the Unseen.

Our world is full of mysteries, of things we can’t see, of things we don’t know or can’t fully understand. We don’t generally like unknowns, though, so we tend to do what we can to fill in the blanks, to have the information we need to make our decisions, to live our lives.

This is the basic premise of our western philosophy of human reason: we are faced with a world of external and internal mysteries—from forensics to finance, from meteorology to astronomy to astrophysics, from psychology to sociology—and we use our human capacity for reason to solve these mysteries more or less successfully. We do it by using the known to help us explore the unknown; we employ the seen to envision the unseen.

We ought not be surprised to discover, then, that God’s plan for the world from the moment of its conception would include both the seen and the unseen. He Himself is Spirit, invisible to eyes like ours, eyes designed to capture only objects within the physical realm. Yet, His plan involved expressing Himself in human form for roughly thirty-three years—a tiny blip on the map of human history—using that moment of His visible presence to explain the millennia before and after it when His presence has been invisible to human eyes. He expects us to use our God-given aptitude for reason to fill in the blanks so that our lives are congruent with reality—the reality that He still exists, He still inhabits our world even though He is unseen by us just now.

In Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel we are given a glimpse of how the seen and the unseen are going to cohabit in our world until the time God brings a conclusion to this era.

In this chapter, Jesus tells a parable. He describes a scene, a social panorama of in-group and out-group members, of people today we would call ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. The ‘have-not’ individuals are described as wounded and needy people. They are those who are hungry and thirsty, strangers, disenfranchised, impoverished, sick and unfairly imprisoned. The ‘have’ individuals are us, you and me.

Jesus explains that in each of our lives we will rub shoulders with people who, in comparison to us, will be ‘have-nots’. They will have fewer resources than us, fewer social or emotional supports and less financial freedom. They will have suffered under more unjust systems, or they have been more carelessly treated by society as a whole than we have been. How we treat the ‘have-nots’ of our world matters, because Jesus says He sympathizes and identifies with them.

“Whatever you (do) for one of the least of these brothers of mine,” explains Jesus, “you (do) for me.” In fact, caring for others’ needs is both descriptive and prescriptive of accessing a full and eternal relationship with our Creator. Listen:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

This doesn’t negate the need for us to accept Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on behalf of us—that was the purpose of his 33-year sojourn on earth. But having become ‘righteous’ in God’s eyes as followers of Jesus, we must show proof of our faith extending into every part of our lives. We must live out our redeemed lives, giving of ourselves to our unseen Master by serving His precious ‘brothers’, the needy in our world.

We can’t excuse ourselves from reaching out to our needy neighbours, the hurting and hungry world of people around us. We can’t expect amnesty from responsibility stating that Jesus is ‘unseen’ in our generation. Jesus tells us to open our eyes. Loving Him and serving Him by loving and serving the needy go hand in hand. There’s no excuse for being short-sighted, is there?

(Photo Credit: By Nevit Dilmen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3894055)

 

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 11

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Invitation.

Locked in prison awaiting execution was not what John the Baptist had expected. It’s not that he minded spartan fare—he had been living in the desert off locusts and wild honey for years. But when a vocation like John’s is disrupted and replaced with weeks in dank, dark confinement it can cause a body to doubt.

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John directed his followers to inquire of Jesus.

Do you hear the confusion in John’s voice? From conception John had been set apart for a specific purpose: to fulfill an ancient prophecy to be “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’.” John understood it as a calling to prepare the people for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah by urging them to humble their hearts in repentance. But one too many calls to repentance had landed him in prison, and a niggling thought was pestering him: was Jesus not the Messiah? How could Messiah’s messenger end up here?

Jesus’ reply is equally thoughtful and combines both a warning and an invitation.

“Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me,” He begins, and then finishes with “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus knew this was exactly what John the imprisoned needed to hear. John was feeling discouraged and maybe even on the verge of doubting. Things weren’t going well for him and in situations like his it is natural for feelings to begin to usurp conviction. Have you ever felt like John?

Jesus responds to John by encouraging him to face the facts—Jesus is the great Realist who knows the havoc our fears and delusions can wreak in our lives. In effect, Jesus is saying, ‘You are not in prison in spite of being my messenger—you are there because of me.’ Jesus’ work on earth paralleled a work in the unseen realm where righting a human wrong requires divine arbitration. The Apostle Paul would later describe this as “a struggle not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph. 6:12).

Following Jesus is not about taking the easy way out; it’s about taking the true way to real life, which, He warns, won’t always appear attractive on the surface. It means choosing to ally ourselves with Jesus in a world where dark earthly authorities and evil spiritual forces will focus their power against anyone in Jesus’ service. Those who do not crumble under the assault, says Jesus, are blessed—are doing the right and reasonable thing in terms of eternity.

But He doesn’t stop there. It’s not just a warning that He gives; it’s also an invitation.

Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us. He’s referring to the practice of harnessing beasts of burden together to allow them to pull a load more easily than one alone could have done. He’s saying that yes, those who ally themselves with Him will be—for a time—in the line of fire from earthly and spiritual forces opposed to Him, but He will make the burden bearable and even restful for our souls. It’s an oxymoron we find hard to conceive of until we actually choose to obey it. But it is a promise made by the One who would go on to bear the weight and burden of the guilt of all our trespasses against God—who rose from the grave that evil men and dark demons had hoped would swallow Him up and now stands at the Father’s side awaiting the right time to bring final justice to every created being.

“Come to me,” Jesus invites. Join my team; pull with me as I till the land and plant the seeds that will grow into an amazing harvest. Then join me feasting on the abundance that my hard labour will have produced.

So when (not if, but when) we feel tempted to fall away from our alignment with Jesus because we seem to be paying a higher price than we imagined and the turmoil we face is anything but restful, we are invited to quiet our soul and just come to Jesus. Even, come back, if we’ve strayed far. We’re not too far to turn our hearts back toward Him, find our rest in Him and learn from Him. Imagine a King and Master who calls Himself “gentle and humble in heart”—can you come to a God like that and trust Him to ultimately do right by you?

John the imprisoned Baptist did turn away from his doubts and rest in Jesus, as have untold other followers of Jesus through two millennia so far. Let’s heed the warning and accept the invitation to be part of the team of those who choose to be yoked with Jesus through thick and thin. Be assured we will find what our soul longs for. Rest.

(Photo Credit: Abdalian, Leon H.,[[File:Pair of oxen at the Clinton Fair.jpg|thumb|Pair of oxen at the Clinton Fair]]