The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 3

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Love.

We left the rich young man after hearing Jesus give him the terrible diagnosis of his life: in order to follow Jesus he must discard his competing loyalties. In his case it was wealth. In our case it can be any one (or more) of a vast number of things: anything that puts something else before our loyalty to Christ.

But let’s go back one step in this story. The young man has just claimed he is living what he considers to be a good enough life; he maintains he has kept all the requirements of the Jewish Law. He wants confirmation from this rabbi that he can claim eternal life as his just deserts.

How does Jesus respond? Here in Mark 10:21, Mark describes Jesus’ reaction from a point of view that invites us right into Jesus’ heart. It is a moment that deserves our full attention, because it is the story of humanity in a nutshell. We, too, each live our lives by an ethical scale of sorts; we have either transposed it from the principles that our families, our traditions or our society have established, or we have created it from an eclectic collection of any of the above. We may even claim we reject any concept of right and wrong, but honestly, we don’t live that way do we? We all live by some internal classification system of right and wrong.

So here is Jesus, God in the flesh, the One whose character is the basis for all moral excellence —listening to this young man’s proud assertions that he has followed moral law to the letter. How will He respond? –By congratulating the young man? –By slamming him for his pride? –By laughing at him?

We’re told, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

This is how Jesus looks at each of us. We may prattle on about how good we are, or we may keep silent about our personal convictions. We may regularly leave hints for others to observe and come to the conclusion that we are pretty good people. Or we may march in parades proudly displaying our ideologies and daring others to contradict us. It doesn’t matter. Jesus still looks at each of us and loves us. Does that mean He condones our self-made rules for living? No.

Jesus knew that not many days after this meeting with the rich young ruler He would be walking the path from Jerusalem’s Praetorium, his back in bleeding shreds from a scourging, his scalp dripping from the piercing, humiliating crown of thorns. He would be walking toward the most egregious form of execution the Roman Empire could devise, and He would be taking the punishment the totality of humanity deserves for the crux of our moral flaw—our hatred of God and His sovereignty. He would be buying our freedom from an eternity of self-destruction each of us face upon our own deaths. And it was in this knowledge that Jesus looked at the rich, self-satisfied young man and loved him.

What do we do with this? How do you and I respond to this same Jesus who even now looks at you and me, and loves, loves, LOVES us? This is the quintessential issue of life. Nothing else matters but this. Jesus knows about our foolish attempts at morality (mostly used by us to earn a sense of self-esteem). He knows only His ransom-paying death and death-defying resurrection can supply us with the eternal life we all ultimately long for. And He longs to love us into His kingdom of eternity.

But it comes down to this: Do we look at Him and love Him in return?

A NEW CREATION, Part 8

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New Life

There was no morphine for the pain. There were no antibiotics for the infection. The discomfort of his dehydration could not be remedied by intravenous saline. There were only herbal remedies, and these had proved ineffective. As he lay there dying, one hope came to his mind, hazy with fever; he tried to whisper it, but by then his throat was so swollen no sound would escape from his parched lips. So he died. His family buried him in the customary way, and life for everyone else would have just carried on if it weren’t for his friend.

The friend arrived by everyone’s reckoning four days too late. He had missed the final rites, the cave-side burial, and the wailing lament of the mourners. He had missed the final moments when the unspoken hope of the dying man might have been voiced. Instead, he was greeted with the family’s accusation.

“If you had been here, (our) brother would not have died.” They believed he could have prevented their brother’s death somehow, but with his death that hope had evaporated. Taking their friend to the burial site they showed him their brother’s tomb, a stone-blocked cave, cold, silent and hopeless. Deeply moved, the tears began to flow down the friend’s cheeks and sobs shook his shoulders. There was no doubt he had loved the brother, but death had had the upper hand.

“Take away the stone”, he said. And then called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Do you remember the story now? The authority of Jesus’ command broke the spell of death. Lazarus’ life was returned to him and his family was overcome with joy.

Jesus’ claim to be “the resurrection and the life” is not idle talk. He chose to perform this miracle for this one family to illustrate for all what he offers every person on this planet.

“He who believes in me will live, even though he dies….Do you believe this?” he asks you right now. He’s talking about something more significant even than our earthly lives. He’s talking about that part of us that was designed by him to be eternal—our spirit. The sin that came into the world with our first parents, Adam and Eve, has brought mortality to our spirits and we desperately need a resurrection. His miracle illustrated for those people, in that community, what he would accomplish on a much grander scale with his own death, burial and resurrection: a new eternal life for anyone who chooses to believe and accept it.

What is the new life like? It’s full of hope, for one thing. No more fear of death; our bodies will eventually fail us, but that physical death is a great doorway to the eternal life Jesus has given us.

The new life is also full of love. We have a new ability to love God; to do what pleases Him also pleases us. We want to use our lives to further His good plans, to bring Him glory and honour. We also have a new ability to love people around us; not just our friends and family, but even our enemies. We find ourselves called to give up our own desires in order to bring good to others’ lives, to help them find new life in Christ too.

I like the end of this story found in John chapter eleven. Jesus’ command brings Lazarus back into the land of the living, but he’s shuffling out of the tomb because the grave clothes are still binding him. Strips of linen still entangle his hands and feet and his face is still covered in a grave cloth. Jesus wants his friend to live fully. Death has no place for a man given new life. The old rags have to go.

“Take off the grave clothes and let him go,” commands Jesus. He’s talking about you.

 

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 5: Eternal Life

Eternal Life: John 14:8-26              Vs.19 “Because I live, you also will live”.

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C.S. Lewis observes, “…You won’t get eternal life by just feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.”  He goes on to say,

If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die.

Jesus tells us in verse 19 that our access to life is contingent upon His life.  Knowing He was about to die, it’s an interesting comment He makes.  In fact, He’s revealing to His disciples (and us, by extension) the promise every person longs for.  He’s promising eternal life.

He’s showing us how life becomes Life; how the temporal becomes eternal; how creatures of God become children of God.  Tell me this earthly life is enough (that it’s a fluke of chance, and we must make the most of it) and I’ll ask you to explain why we are so bothered by death.

Lewis has understood something core to the concept of this eternal life.  It’s not obtained by talking oneself into the idea that peace and beauty bestow the Life. Eternal life is borne out of the eternal One. It is not an impersonal aura transposed from some cosmic source of energy. Jesus claims it can only be procured through Him.  He is Life.  His resurrection displays what we will someday experience.

But wait a minute.  Who is the ‘we’ that will experience this eternal life?

Jesus is very clear about the extension of His Life to people.  While it is freely given, it was purchased at a dear price (a costly ransom of forgiveness), and is not automatically dispensed at birth or any other time; it is available to those who want it badly enough.  It cannot be bought by money, good works, church attendance, knowing the who’s who of Christendom or any of this world’s religions.  But it will cost me giving up my own plans.  I must give up my own ideas for procuring eternal life and accept His.  I must give up my own ideas of what is sin and what is right. I must give up any hope of self-righteousness and accept that it is only Jesus’ life, given for me, that makes me righteous in the sight of an eternally holy God.

Unending existence is something every human soul is granted by God, but eternal life is His gift only a few will consent to accept.  He promises to give it.  It really is the keynote promise for the praying person.  By prayer we step into the realm of faith that says, “I’m trusting You, God, to make good on your promise. I want to be part of the Life that exudes from You, and I’m willing to give up my pride and independence in order to receive it”.

Amazing Life, this God-borne thing, held out to me, O gift of love. My every thirst and hunger deep, I see is but a symptom of my want of this Eternal Life. Because You Live, I also live, O Christ of God, O Life of life.  And as I take this gift You give, my soul is held in loving grip within Your Self, O Mystery!  Eternal Life, how broad and deep, I would but drown beneath its depth, except You breathe Eternal Breath in me. My Life’s first cry, “O God, I live!” will echo on eternally.