Friday, 21 June 2013

Do you know Him?

...Among you stands one you do not know... (John 1:26)

A wintry wind blows delicate bubbles past my window, reflecting the light in rainbow rays as they are carried  away. Two little faces are visible through the other window, lifted up to the sun, with pouted lips and soapy fingers. How I know and love those two faces, each facet becoming more dear each day. I can read every mood and wile, recognise their individual footsteps and each curve and angle of their precious bodies. I cannot imagine life without them. A heart can hardly bear the love for a child, from when life is woven together in the womb, to each incredible day their characters unfurl in front of our eyes. At the time of birth, when a soul from the heart of the Father comes into the world in the body of a newborn baby, heaven opens and we are given a glimpse of His glory.

I remember the days of falling in love again, so longing to know all about the man for whom my heart ached. Carrying the secret in my heart, but also wanting to tell the whole world about it. The joy of discoveries, growing closer, dreaming of a future together. Living that future together. Triumphs and disappointments. That same face becoming dearer with each added line and softening around the mouth and eyes. Love deepening with new hope in Him in whom our lives are hidden.

Then I read: "but among you stands one you do not know..." John the Baptist alluding to Jesus, while people were crowding to be baptised in the Jordan river. "...the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie" (v27).

Do I know Him? Would I recognise the voice and face of my Saviour in a crowd? Do I long to know Him? Is He dear enough to me that I want to spend my days and nights getting to know him? Not just following; knowing, as I am known. As I was known before I was knitted together in my mother's womb, in that secret place...

Who is this man Jesus, stranger to the world - which was created through Him and for Him? Who went out of His way to find the outcast, the broken and despised. The untouchables. We do not have the privilege to walk with him as his disciples did, be eyewitnesses to the miracles He performed. To hear Him teach, feel his love, the zeal he had to do His Father's will. To feel his dislike of the hypocrites, those who considered themselves to be all-knowing and important.

We know that He is seated at the right hand of the Father, that He intercedes for us daily, but how do we walk with Him, come to know all the facets of His being? 

I decided to look at some of the names given to Jesus by the "disciple whom Jesus loved" in the book of John, the man who was closest to Jesus while He was on earth. Writing this book as an old man, he reflects a special insight into the character of Jesus. He deals beautifully with the nature and person of Christ and the meaning of faith in Him.

John shows Christ as the divine Son of God in the following titles:

The Word was God (v1): - Pre-existent Christ. Word from the Greek "logos". To the Greek mind it expressed the ideas of reason and creative control. 

Six hundred years before John wrote this gospel there lived in Ephesus a man called Heraclitus - the so-called "founder of science". He concluded that the "logos" is "the reason why". Every branch of science is looking for the "logos", the reason why things are the way they are. John realised that Jesus is the ultimate "reason why" everything happened, and therefore called Jesus the "logos" - "the Word". (David Pawson - Unlocking the Bible)

He was the Logos long before there was anyone else to communicate with. The reason why we are here. It is all going to be summed up in Him. Jesus, through whom all things were made, for whom all things were made, in whom all things continue to exist. Who is all that God is, and the expression of Him. In communion, yet distinct from God, identical in essence to God the Father!

The Lamb of God (v29) - History, (the Passover lamb) of the Old Testament, and prophecy, the Messiah (v41) are linked in this metaphor. The Lamb who (through his atoning sacrifice) takes away the sin of the world. No longer just the sins of Israel.

The Son of God (v49) -  Not a son of God, as we are all sons and daughters of God the Father, but the Son of God: not as Mediator, but as the natural, essential, and eternal Son of God; who is fully and truly God.

The King of Israel (v49) - This is the messianic title of the One in whom Israel's true destiny is to be fulfilled. But His kingdom is not of this world; it is spiritual. He is a King over Israel in a spiritual sense, of all saints, whether Jews or Gentiles: whom he conquers by his power, rules in their hearts by his Spirit and grace - and protects and defends from all their enemies. At his return, He will rule as King in the New Jerusalem.

The Son of Man (v51) A title Jesus gives himself when He says to Nathanael: "You shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man". (Fulfilment of prophesy in Daniel 7:13: I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence).

The name that links Him to the earth and to His mission. It emphasises His lowliness and humanity, His suffering and death and His future reign as King. The "open heaven" is a symbol of the fellowship open to followers of Christ. Could there be a more beautiful invitation?

Saviour of the World (4:42) God appointed him as a Saviour; he sent him, and he came as such, and is become the author of salvation. And a great Saviour he is; both able, and willing. Of all God's elect, whether among Jews or Gentiles; of all that believe in him, of whatsoever nation, and in whatsoever state and condition: so that their knowledge of him, and faith in him, were beyond that of the Jews, who looked to a Messiah only as a Saviour of their nation.

John also uniquely records for us seven "words" which Jesus gave about himself. Each beginning with the Hebrew word for God YHWH, meaning "I am":

"I am the bread of heaven" - at the feeding of the 5 000 with five loaves and two fish.

"I am the light of the world" - after giving sight to the man born blind.

"I am the resurrection and the life" - as he brought Lazarus out of the grave.

He also said, "I am the door", "I am the good shepherd", "I am the way, the truth and the life", "I am the true vine". He knew himself to be God in human flesh. These seven "words" are deliberately placed throughout the gospel of John, showing us that Jesus IS worthy of our trust.

Jesus also said: "Before Abraham was born, I am!" John directly shows Jesus to be God, beginning with the statement: "In the beginning was the Word" and towards the end Thomas confesses Jesus as "my Lord and my God..."

We meet the passionate Jesus, consumed with "zeal for His Father's house" as he drives our the vendors from the temple. The gentle Jesus leading His sheep home. The compassionate Jesus, bringing Lazarus back from the dead to his mourning family. The Lord of the Sabbath, healing the sick on the day the Pharisees perceived the law to forbid it. The Jesus who does not see race, colour, caste or creed - talking to the Samaritan woman. The despised and rejected Jesus on the cross, his head bent in surrender to His Father's will and His wounds bleeding with the precious blood that gave us life. The Jesus who conquered death and the grave and put the world and Satan under His feet. The Jesus who had a fish braai with His disciples on the beach, reinstating the same Peter who denied Him three times.

John is but a small segment of the rich and wondrous Word of God, pointing towards Jesus of Nazareth from the first words of Genesis, to the last words crying for his return. Maranatha - come, Lord Jesus!

On the pages of the Bible we can come to know all about Jesus. This knowledge can be given life through His Spirit. But the only way we can truly know Him, is to die to ourselves and be reborn in and through Christ. For our lives to be hidden in Him and his Spirit to permeate every aspect of our lives. To walk in obedience to Him, hope and trust in Him, do all things with His strength, suffer with Him and have our joy completed in the knowledge of who we are in Him. Then we will shine with the evidence of changed lives through Him.

I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Gift of Life after Life

"But the gift is not like the trespass" (Romans 15:5)

The view from my window is a gift. Snow-flanked mountains lie distant and still, their brilliance set off by the deep evergreens below. The skies are drawn out as an endless dome over it all, cloudless and wintry pale. A hush has settled all around me, and as many times before, I close my eyes to drink in the moment. It is so still, I can hear the scurrying of the small field mouse that lives in the kitchen garden, the flutter of a humming bird in the pine-apple-sage bush.

At times it is sad to think that this is all temporary. When pain and hardship seem so distant and the moment so precious, that I want to hold on to this life with all my might, not wanting the sand of time to slip through my fingers.

This morning I came to a halt at this single sentence in Romans: "The gift is not like the trespass". Reading Romans is always a challenge to me. I am drawn to prose and promises in Scripture and in this letter, there seems to be so much doctrine, reasoning and analysis that I sometimes miss the beauty and truth of the message. 

First of all, I had to go back to see why the apostle started the sentence with "But"; this surely meant there had to be another reasoning that came before this little gem. I kept on going further back, for each time a section started with "therefore" and so there had to be a "before" the conclusion; so I ended up reading scripture backwards before I could go forward...

This is what I discovered:

Starting from the back of the sentence: The trespass. Other translations say "offence, sin, fall, failure, transgression". 

This implies the first sin of the man Adam; when he disobeyed and offended God. As a result he fell from the perfect love relationship with God in which he was created, and all his descendants with him.

The gift is the righteousness of Christ, justification for that first sin and all other offences to follow.

I don't find the concept of righteousness an easy one to understand. But it is something that God wants to give us by faith - followed by repentance. Not only of all the "bad deeds", but also the "good deeds" that we think can make us righteous!

David Pawson says: "We must never forget that the cross was a double substitution. Jesus not only took our sins, but also imparts (gives) His righteousness to us. The cross was not merely a transaction whereby we escape hell".

I wondered why a likeness is drawn between Adam and Christ in this section...

(v. 15b: "For if many died by the trespass of the one man (Adam), how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!")

Both are men, the first Adam is called "the one man", and so is the second Adam: Jesus Christ - to express the truth of His human nature; and because the Redeemer ought to be a man, though not a mere man. A man without flaw.

Both are sole authors of what they leave to their "children", Adam of sin, Christ of righteousness. Both convey single things. Adam that one first sin, through which he broke the covenant made by God with him and his descendants.

Christ leaves to us the inheritance of his righteousness, without any additional works of righteousness (good deeds) of ours to complete it.  
Both convey what they do, "to all" their offspring: but here is a difference between them: The offence or sin of Adam is conveyed in a natural way, to all who descend from him. 

The righteousness of Christ is conveyed in a way of grace, to his spiritual offspring. That is why it is not only called the "free gift", but "the grace of God". 

"The gift by grace", which is "by one man, Jesus Christ"; came to us because of the grace of the Father.

This grace fixed and settled the need for justification. In this lies the wonder: Because of the grace of the Son in becoming man, in being made (under the law), sin and a curse, we are made "right" before God.

The grace of the Spirit reveals this to us, and works faith to receive it. Just as the righteousness itself is a free grace gift, given to unworthy people, so is the faith through which we embrace this.

Through the offence of one man Adam, death came.

Through the death of another man, Christ Jesus, came the free gift of life.

Life to His children, not barely such a life as Adam had in innocence, the life he lost by the "trespass", but a spiritual and an eternal life.

The abundance of this grace, secures for us a far better life than what was lost by the fall.

Life in paradise, before the fall, in all its perfection, when man walked with God in the garden of Eden, cannot begin to compare with the life that we are to inherit through Jesus. 

In my very limited understanding I cannot begin to fathom the fullness of this gift.

In moments when the promised land seems elusive and far, I like to remind myself that God never exaggerates. 

In fact, His promise is always greater than our expectation, His answer always more generous than our prayers and the riches of eternal life in His presence, far greater than our wildest expectations.

What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see
And I look upon His face
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand
and leads me to the promised land
What a day, glorious day that will be! (Jim Hill)