The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 8

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Longing.

Sometimes the surest argument for the existence of something is to see the existence of its opposite, the twisted and distorted version. Suffering the discomfort of wearing poorly made shoes heightens our desire for well-fitting, high quality footwear. Ownership of a lemon of a car reminds us painfully that not all vehicles are equal. Obsessions and addictions remind us that healthy appetites can become deformed and contorted until they destroy us. Some enterprises derive their profit by deliberately twisting wholesome longings to create in their clients insatiable desires. If we are honest, we’ll recognize the dark side of desire—that when desire is corrupted it begins to rule us.

We all have desires. But by untwisting the distortion of consumer-mentality-gone-wild cravings, we can imagine that the capacity to desire in its purest form is something God gives us for our good. There are clues. Have you ever sensed a longing arrive like a mist and then disappear as suddenly, hinting of something good—really good—that you failed to fully grasp or realize? Sometimes it rides on the heels of a glance at a majestic mountain, or in the smell of spring, or in the sound of a child’s voice. Many have experienced it.

“We are homesick most,” muses author Carson McCullers, “for the places we have never known”;

“It is a longing for home,” adds poet and Nobel Prizewinner Hermann Hesse;

The author of Hebrews 11 recognizes this phenomenon in each of the women and men of faith who opened their hearts, minds and ears to the call of God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died,” narrates the first century author. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

God is not ashamed to be called their God. What an amazing thought. A longing for something and Someone much bigger than ourselves is exactly what God created us to pursue. That longing is God calling to each of us, “Come!” King Solomon once mused that God has “set eternity in (our) hearts;” it delights God when He sees people track that heart-deep longing to its supernatural end—eternity. It is obedience to God’s most primal call in its most essential form.

Obeying this call of God, this desire to be brought into community with Him, is not only delightful to Him, it is essential to our completeness as human beings. All these people were still living by faith when they died, narrates Hebrews. They died. The great and final disquiet that each of us must face is our own personal, physical death—we cannot escape it. We must face it from one of three perspectives: We can devise a story to camouflage the problem of death; we can own the problem of death, yet see no solution; or we can admit the problem of death and accept God’s solution.

The first perspective, says D.H. Lawrence, is a lie, “…which brings us to the real dilemma of man in his adventure with consciousness. He is a liar. Man is a liar unto himself.” Os Guinness adds “the folly of the modern mind is to make the precision of scientific thinking the model for all human thinking, so as to forget the bias, self-interest and moral defect at the heart of all thinking.” We tell ourselves the story that after death we will cease to exist, or reincarnate as a greater or lesser being, or become part of the vast ocean of divinity, or something like that—anything to still our restlessness.

The second perspective, although rarely held, leads to insanity. “God is dead,’ moaned Friedrich Nietzsche. “God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves…?’ Nietzsche spent the final 11 years of his life in a state of mental insanity—the only possible outcome for the problem of considering an existence devoid of God and morality.

The third perspective is to trust God and the revelation of His Word implicitly—to trust that God created us as His image-bearers; to believe the revelation that we all have hearts bent in rebellion against Him; to believe that our rebellion leads us to become godless, Hell-bent and Hell-bound; to trust that Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and unique resurrection is our only hope to regain community with God and a solution to our dis-ease with death and longing for eternity. This perspective alone relieves us from the restlessness of the death dilemma. This is the outcome of listening to God’s call. It gives us rest. The list of men and women of faith is a list of many who listened, longed, died, and are with God.

“You have made us for Yourself,” prays St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

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WHO IS JESUS? #11

balloon

Knower of the Father.

Some things can be separated and still maintain their unique characteristics: a deflated balloon is still a balloon—even without air in it; separate bees from flowers and they will still be bees and flowers, although eventually both will die without the other. But some things cannot be separated and maintain their coherence: split the nucleus of an atom and see what happens.

In a similar way, everything Jesus claims about Himself is inextricably tied to God the Father. Jesus’ glory is tied to the Father’s glory; Jesus’ honouring of the Father is in balance with the Father’s honouring of Jesus; even the sovereignty of Jesus is inseparable from the sovereignty of the Father. So it’s no surprise that in this passage of John’s gospel (8:12-59) Jesus references the Father twenty-eight times. In a word, He is obsessed with Him. The centrality of the importance of the Father to the Son’s identity is summed up in the phrase Jesus now proclaims, “I know him.”

On the surface, to say we know someone is simple enough. We use it quite commonly in day-to-day life referring to family members, friends and even acquaintances. At some point, though, we recognize we can’t honestly apply the phrase to a relationship unless there is a certain level of mutual knowing involved. We may know about our country’s Prime Minister, or its President, or about other famous and infamous people, but we can’t sincerely say we know them unless we have connected at some level of intimacy.

Jesus makes this distinction in His discussion with the sanctimonious Jewish ruling class that have been challenging Him. He highlights the uniqueness of His claim to know the Father against the sham of their claims.

“Though you do not know him, I know him,” Jesus asserts. “If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word.” Sharp contrast. Jesus does not mince His words when He wants to make an important point. He is saying, ‘you lie when you say you know the Father; I would be lying if I said I didn’t.’

The more we think about that claim, the more fantastic we realize it to be. Who can truly know God? Eight centuries earlier, Isaiah, God’s hand-picked prophet, had quoted God saying, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9); and a little later a prophet named Jeremiah quoted God as saying He is not impressed by human power, “but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me…” (Jeremiah 9:24a). The implication is that this lofty goal of knowing God can never be fully achieved by created beings.

So a claim to know—to fully and completely know— the Father is a claim of something at the level of equality with Him. It is a claim of cognitive intimacy that puts Jesus in a unique relationship and on par with the Father. But then Jesus is not a created being as we are; He is the “only begotten”, the “one and only” Son of the Father (John 3:16). His essence is eternally and inextricably bound up in the essence of the Father. We cannot fully know what that means—we have nothing in our experience that corresponds to that kind of knowing of God. At least, not yet.

Fortunately for those who choose to follow Jesus, to accept His offer of relationship, something amazing happens; we are brought into an intimacy with God that is foundationally one of mutual knowing. Jesus explains to His disciples (and by implication, to all throughout history who have looked to Him), “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). So the Apostle Paul extrapolates this idea by saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). The author of Hebrews explains that this new thing—this new kind of knowing of God—was in the mind of God to produce in humanity when He conceived of us. It takes time, and it takes the unsurpassed power of God to create the right conditions for it to happen, but without a doubt it is happening.

“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts,” Jeremiah quotes God saying. “I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:10-12).

Amazing news. Our best response to this news is to commit every day to spending increasing time with Jesus; we can read His Word, incorporating what we learn about Him into our lives; we can commit portions of that Word to memory, recalling them in times of need; and we can converse with Him—a process we call prayer. That is our part now in the glorious adventure we will spend eternity exploring—that of knowing God. There will be more when we finally see Him face to face. For now, know and be known.

(Photo Credit: [[File:NNSA-NSO-504.jpg|NNSA-NSO-504]])

WHO IS JESUS? #11

Balloon.jpg

Knower of the Father.

Some things can be separated and still maintain their unique characteristics: a deflated balloon is still a balloon—even without air in it; separate bees from flowers and they will still be bees and flowers, although eventually both will die without the other. But some things cannot be separated and maintain their coherence: split the nucleus of an atom and see what happens.

In a similar way, everything Jesus claims about Himself is inextricably tied to God the Father. Jesus’ glory is tied to the Father’s glory; Jesus’ honouring of the Father is in balance with the Father’s honouring of Jesus; even the sovereignty of Jesus is inseparable from the sovereignty of the Father. So it’s no surprise that in this passage of John’s gospel (8:12-59) Jesus references the Father twenty-eight times. In a word, He is obsessed with Him. The centrality of the importance of the Father to the Son’s identity is summed up in the phrase Jesus now proclaims, “I know him.”

On the surface, to say we know someone is simple enough. We use it quite commonly in day-to-day life referring to family members, friends and even acquaintances. At some point, though, we recognize we can’t honestly apply the phrase to a relationship unless there is a certain level of mutual knowing involved. We may know about our country’s Prime Minister, or its President, or about other famous and infamous people, but we can’t sincerely say we know them unless we have connected at some level of intimacy.

Jesus makes this distinction in His discussion with the sanctimonious Jewish ruling class that have been challenging Him. He highlights the uniqueness of His claim to know the Father against the sham of their claims.

“Though you do not know him, I know him,” Jesus asserts. “If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word.” Sharp contrast. Jesus does not mince His words when He wants to make an important point. He is saying, ‘you lie when you say you know the Father; I would be lying if I said I didn’t.’

The more we think about that claim, the more fantastic we realize it to be. Who can truly know God? Eight centuries earlier, Isaiah, God’s hand-picked prophet, had quoted God saying, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9); and a little later a prophet named Jeremiah quoted God as saying He is not impressed by human power, “but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me…” (Jeremiah 9:24a). The implication is that this lofty goal of knowing God can never be fully achieved by created beings.

So a claim to know—to fully and completely know— the Father is a claim of something at the level of equality with Him. It is a claim of cognitive intimacy that puts Jesus in a unique relationship and on par with the Father. But then Jesus is not a created being as we are; He is the “only begotten”, the “one and only” Son of the Father (John 3:16). His essence is eternally and inextricably bound up in the essence of the Father. We cannot fully know what that means—we have nothing in our experience that corresponds to that kind of knowing of God. At least, not yet.

Fortunately for those who choose to follow Jesus, to accept His offer of relationship, something amazing happens; we are brought into an intimacy with God that is foundationally one of mutual knowing. Jesus explains to His disciples (and by implication, to all throughout history who have looked to Him), “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). So the Apostle Paul extrapolates this idea by saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). The author of Hebrews explains that this new thing—this new kind of knowing of God—was in the mind of God to produce in humanity when He conceived of us. It takes time, and it takes the unsurpassed power of God to create the right conditions for it to happen, but without a doubt it is happening.

“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts,” Jeremiah quotes God saying. “I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:10-12).

Amazing news. Our best response to this news is to commit every day to spending increasing time with Jesus; we can read His Word, incorporating what we learn about Him into our lives; we can commit portions of that Word to memory, recalling them in times of need; and we can converse with Him—a process we call prayer. That is our part now in the glorious adventure we will spend eternity exploring—that of knowing God. There will be more when we finally see Him face to face. For now, know and be known.

(Photo Credit: [[File:NNSA-NSO-504.jpg|NNSA-NSO-504]]

WHO IS JESUS? #4

Deity

Who in this entire world, foolish or wise, can say with complete sobriety and truthfulness, “My decisions are right”—always right? Never wrong, never contestable? In John’s gospel (8:16) the Apostle records Jesus making just such a claim. “(My) decisions,” says Jesus, “are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father who sent me” (John 8:16). It’s a bold claim—and offensive if it is not true. Beyond that, isn’t it a bit confusing to hear Jesus defending the validity of His decisions based on the company He keeps?

The fool thinks he is right—and surrounds himself with like-minded friends—but finds himself amid a cluster of falling dominoes because he has not truly considered the consequences of his thoughts. The madman thinks he is right because his rationality is based on illusions of identity—of grandeur, victimization, or some other self-deception—and has a somewhat more limited scope of friends perhaps because his grasp of reality obstructs relationships.

C.S. Lewis’ memorable alliteration concludes that to make such a claim as “my decisions are (always) right” a man must be either a liar, a lunatic, or—the only other option—Lord. Jesus is claiming to be LORD—Master of omniscience and supreme authority on everything from environmental to ethical decision-making. He is claiming deity, isn’t He?

With complete candour, Jesus gives this alibi as His defense: “I am not alone. I stand with the Father who sent me.” It’s an interesting defense. Let’s take a deeper look at what Jesus is saying here.

Firstly, Jesus is saying that He has the complete endorsement and corroboration of God the Father authenticating every thought, word, and action He undertakes. Every intention of the Father for earth and its inhabitants, claims Jesus, is embodied in me. Taken in context with everything else we know about Jesus through the gospels, it is not incoherent to believe He is speaking the truth. We ourselves cannot imagine claiming that role, but it is not inconceivable that Jesus can and does.

But secondly, Jesus is not only the absolute representative of the Father—in office and in character—but He is saying He is deity Himself.

“I and the Father are one,” Jesus would later spell out, and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The Apostle Paul would also explain it this way, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15). In declaring that He stands with the Father, Jesus is asserting His privilege as the visible second Person of the triune God. As the Son, He is inextricably bound to the Father and the Holy Spirit as a member of the incomprehensible One God.

The Jewish rulers understood what Jesus was claiming by saying He stands with the Father. Their attempts and eventual success in killing Jesus was their response, in their words, “because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). They displayed the ensuing results of disbelieving Jesus’ claim to deity—they attempted to completely remove Him from their world. The modern expression of this reaction is to maintain that He never existed, He was merely a good man, or that He is dead and irrelevant to our present world.

But if we choose to accept that Jesus’ claim to be the visible image of the invisible God is believable, how will that affect our lives? There is no guesswork left but to determine that our full loyalty, obedience and worship should be focused upon Him.

The gospels are rich with Jesus’ wisdom, practical guidance and overt commands waiting to be applied to our hearts and lives. There are more than enough to keep us busy for the remainder of our earthly days. It will not be a burden, but rather a joyful process enabling us to gradually build lives of Christlike character. This is what Jesus intended by coming to earth. This is how He wants to bless each and every one of us. So let’s pick up our Bibles, dust them off if necessary, and begin to pour over, reflect upon and apply everything the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) record Jesus as saying. If He is God, we owe it to Him.

(Photo Credits: By Famartin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29114992; By ESO/A. Fitzsimmons – http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1320a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26190225; By Hernán Piñera from Marbella – Locked in his world, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42201535)