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?

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Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 20

 

IMGP0068.JPG‘Tsadhe’

Get rid of religion and the world will finally be at peace’ say some. ‘There are no moral absolutes; even if God does exist, it is narrow-minded and socially repressive to believe his way is the right way’ they continue.

Let’s stop for a moment. On the surface these statements seem to have merit, but let’s go deeper. The great social experiment of Communism has sought to eradicate religion. According to Stéphane CourtoisThe Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, no less than 94 million deaths have occurred under the regimes of China, the USSR, and other communist countries which determined, among other goals, to get rid of religion. It would be difficult to support the ‘no religion—no conflict’ thesis based on the results of communism.

And take another look at the ‘no moral absolutes’ premise; isn’t insisting there are no moral absolutes a statement insisting a morally absolute claim? It is fallacious to use an argument already undermined.

Perhaps the better approach is to be open to exploring God’s existence. See what the Bible says about Him, about His right to be sovereign, His expectations for humanity, and His unfailing involvement in people’s lives. Take on the role of objective investigator. The psalmist does.

“Righteous are you, O LORD, and your laws are right. / The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. / My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words. / Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them. / Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts. / Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true. / Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight. / Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live” (Psalm 119:137-144).

The psalmist is awestruck as he considers the absolute integrity of God. His very first word in the Hebrew, ‘tsadaq’, describes a character trait of God known as righteousness. Righteousness means ‘to have a just cause’, ‘to be in the right’, ‘to be just (in conduct and character)’, ‘to bring justice’, ‘to be proved right’, and even ‘to make someone else righteous’.

Our human concept of justice, equity, and rightness comes from this foundational divine trait featured in the psalmist’s prayer. What the psalmist is considering is that God does nothing from arbitrary whim; having the advantage of omniscience, everything that exudes from Him comes from His eternal innate sense of justice. Think on that thought for a moment. Consider the breadth of the justice that is embodied in God, the one eternal Being. An eternity of justice—the extremity of its reach—is contained in the One the psalmist breathlessly addresses as ‘LORD’, Yahweh, the Great I AM. And so, from His being right and righteous flow actions that are equally right. Similarly, His standards and expectations for His creatures (us) are completely right.

This concept challenges the pervasive worldview of Moral Relativism which says ‘There is no objective standard. I can live the way I want. What works for me is what counts.’ But is this philosophy one that can be truly lived with integrity? Extrapolate that worldview to its extremes and we would find society breaking down, selfishness–not tolerance–pervading the human race. Anything less than mercenary egocentricity would not be consistent with the philosophy.

But accept the initially more challenging worldview—that God exists, reigns in justice, loves us immeasurably and knows how our lives work best—and we find we can live with complete integrity. By increments we learn to trust God’s character to be fully righteous, to appreciate how trustworthy His ‘statutes’ are. Seemingly contradictory and impossible commands like “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you” prove God’s wisdom as we learn to obey them.

Jesus lived the perfect example of a life of integrity by unflinchingly obeying His heavenly Father’s precepts. The task prepared from eternity past for Him to accomplish involved submitting Himself to an unjust earthly execution, and—more importantly—accepting an immeasurable weight of divine justice against humanity’s rebellion. In doing so He bought back every individual’s life from an eternal separation from God—an eternity where Moral Relativism would reach its full and horrible potential.

Remember the last part of the definition of God’s righteousness? It was ‘to make someone else righteous’. Here, In Jesus’ role as substitute penalty-taker, God grants us a concession in an eternally binding covenant; we become completely right in His sight—not by what we do but by humbly accepting what Jesus has done once-for-all for us.

So today, as we think rightly about God’s righteousness, everything changes for us. See if thankfulness doesn’t begin to surge through our souls, love for the One who loves us doesn’t grow greater every day, and integrity doesn’t become our defining trait of character. All because of ‘tsadaq’.

 

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)