“I SEE NO GLORY!”

God continue to bless you and yours. He has promised and He continues to fulfill such a purpose. The promise of blessing is never to obliterate trouble, since He insists on working in an incarnate way through you in a world that hurts; as He has done in Jesus Christ and continues to do in you. He promises He will be with you in any and all anguish and that He will neutralize it as a destructive force. (Reflect on Isaiah 43:1-4 a while.)
My friend asked about God’s glory particularly in John 17.22, 24 and I thought you might think some of this helpful.
In blessing us (in a multitude of ways) He glorifies us and in this way He glorified Himself. At such times we are in “a place” of refuge, peace with Him because we are “in Christ” (John 16.33) and we are where Christ is (14:3 with 12.26 with 8.21 in contrast).
Christ’s People are glorified with the glory that attaches to Him and that glory is the glory that attaches to God and that glory is fathomless; there’s no grasping all the angles but it is reflected in how He has revealed Himself to and in the human family (of which Christ is the supreme exhibition—Colossians 1:15, “first born of every creature (human),” also 1:18 where we’re told that He who became a human like us was raised from among the dead that in all things (and everywhere) He might have the preeminence.
He is now the representative glorified human and in the finale we shall be “like Him” (1 John 3:2). Rom 8:17-39 (a section on assurance of God’s faithfulness despite trouble) we’re told that the people of God are to be conformed to the image of Christ (suffering and then glory) who in “all things” is to be the firstborn among many brothers/sisters—8:29. The People of God of all the ages are those who have shared and do share the suffering of the world as like their Lord they journey on their way to final glory. In this they reflect the glory of God that has been reflected in His Holy Son. God’s elect people are created “in the image” of Christ. As His Body they are the extension of His own life and character—incarnation, suffering and glory. The glory of God seen in Jesus Christ includes His eternal purpose to redeem His creation by sharing their suffering and fallen state and rising to immortal glory in eternal righteousness. (Paul’s call to image him as he images Jesus includes his own life of suffering on its way to glory—Philippians 3:4-11 compared with 2:5-11.)
Before that fullness of glory is reached in the resurrection life those who are blessed to be “in Christ” share his glory by faith—a faith that embraces Him and His agenda and finally his “method”.
It’s in this way that His followers are “where He is” (John 12:26). “Where I am” is a spatial metaphor and like so many spatial metaphors they speak of a relationship or a life-situation. We hear it fairly often today though I don’t remember hearing it when I was very young. “I’m in a bad place right now” someone might say. They’re speaking of their current condition or situation in life. There is also a “good place”; a good state or condition or situation. That “place” is “in Christ” which is “in God” (John 16.33; 17:21 and elsewhere). Those who reject Christ cannot be “where He is” (John 8:21).
Where Jesus “is” is always in relationship with His Holy Father but that is experienced in a situation of suffering and rejection as well as in an exalted and glorified state. He is never out of the Father’s favor or presence (see John 8:16, 29) but sometimes this means suffering and at other times the idea is exaltation and sometimes both are embraced (see Acts 2:24-28; John 12:23-33). Both are glory within the will of the Holy One who is on an errand of salvation. (Christians who suffer greatly must be helped to see and believe this—they share the world’s suffering and in them the Lord Jesus’ person, life and work is revealed. See Colossians 1:24with Matthew 8:16-17 which uses Isaiah 53.)
When Christ shares His glory with the disciples (John 17:22) He is in fact sharing the glory of God. Sharing the glory of God has nothing to do with our sharing the essence of God. It’s has to do with us sharing the gift of Himself in any or all the ways we are able to do that. It isn’t His essence, it would be (I would say) His character, His way, His joys and purposes.
The amazing thing that comes out of all this it that divine “muscle” is never in view. (He has plenty of that, Isaiah 40 and Genesis 1, passim but the self-revelation of God in relation to and in humans reveals Him as loving humans beyond imagining—John 1.14 illustrates.)
There are varied levels of our experiencing the glory of God. We don’t “get it” completely, now or ever. Some aspects of it we sense but when we dive down into it we return quickly—there’s no bottom. Even the wonder of Jesus Christ isn’t enough to revel all—this He said Himself in John 14:28. “My Father is greater than I.”
The more we become like God by becoming more like Jesus Christ the more we will sense Him and the deeper we’ll be sharing His glory. God’s glory is Himself and He is ceaselessly revealing Himself and we share in that glory as we enter deeper into His image! (1 Corinthians 11:7) As humans we have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23; Psalm 8:5)—the fullness of that glory was/is seen in the face of Christ and not Moses (John 1:14-18; 2 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus is the last & new Adam who is the image of God (Colossians 1.15; Hebrews 1.3; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49). It’s in humanity God is glorified, it’s in Jesus Christ who is God being a human that we see what humanity was created to be and it is in Christ, the glorified human that we see what we are what we will be.
(Glory is used in so many ways and one of them is in how God exercised His dominion, in creation, and we were created to reflect that—Genesis 1.26-28. The Hebrew writer says we don’t yet see the dominion by humans—using Psalm 8—but we see Jesus, who shares our humanity, crowned with glory and honor but experiencing death for everyone (2:5-9) and, astonishing thing, this was all experienced by Christ because it suited God, it looked God on God, it was the appropriate thing for God to do and this God is the source of everything that is wonderful and glorious–2:10ff. Who can fathom the depths of the glory such a One?
It’s possible that John 17.24 speaks of the depth of the glory Jesus in his pre-incarnate state shared with the Father. We know the man Jesus Christ did not exist prior to the creation but prior to His birth as a man the one we know as Jesus was/is the Word who was God and with God (John 1:1-12).
A difficulty with that view is that the glory Jesus wants them to see in 17:24 is “given” to Him by the Holy Father. If we’re thinking about Jesus’ pre-incarnate glory as God—He was God—it’s a bit difficult to see how the glory could have been “given” to Him by anyone. Perhaps the glory He has in mind in 17:24 is the purposed glory that God had in mind for the incarnate One. If that is the case then Jesus might have in mind His complete exaltation—which was the eternal plan of God—and Christ wants the disciples to see that and enter into that grand enterprise with Him (see Acts 2:33-36) in a fuller way than they currently can and in that way they would be “where He is.”.
John’s [Jesus’] point would then stress that the glory the human Christ rejoiced in—His likeness to the Holy Father and His exaltation as Lord of All—was not a chance occurrence or divine reaction to the world’s rejecting Him but was eternally purposed and Christ and His people would share in that purposed glory through suffering.
I was told a few years back that we must be careful what we say about the suffering of Christians. I think that is profoundly true! I think we’re not to reduce it but give it it’s full import. God came into the world in and as Jesus Christ to redeem the world and in order to do that by becoming a human He took on Him all that humans suffer (pay attention to Matthew 8:16-17), and He came through it and came out into glory and said to the human family: “The glory of God is seen in His love of the entire human race and I have come to tell you that the agony of the world that has been triggered by the Fall is not the last word! The Holy Father’s purpose is to bring you out of all the Sin and anguish and bring you through to glory! And I am the revelation of all that! I came through personal suffering to glory and I continue that experience in your presence in and through the Church which is my Body and which rehearses My Story before your very eyes.”
Shrugging. Walking off. “I just don’t get it. Do you? Where’s the ‘glory’?”   Sigh.

(Holy One. We apologize.)

 

A GLIMPSE, AT LEAST A GLIMPSE

There’s always “more to be said” and there’s certainly more to be said than I’ll be saying here. You balance what I’m not balancing or take issue me if you think I’ve distorted the picture too much.
It isn’t mere fickleness that makes a child weary of its toy; it’s also the sight of something more attractive, more appealing. In many cases unrest is born of clearer brighter vision though there is a difference between better vision and a hunger for novelty, still, it isn’t always easy to know what that is—the hunger for novelty, I mean. There’s little point in denying it that while familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt it certainly takes the edge off awe. I don’t say this was His point but Jesus does take note of a wise student of Holy Scripture and says out of his treasure he brings things new as well as old (Matthew 15:32).
I’ve not made a survey and I’m sure I never will but I’ve seen and heard enough to lead me to believe that boredom is killing a lot of our young people. They might have thought they were being offered adventure, a part in the war of worlds, and what they get is the one voice from the pulpit , month after month, droning out the same moral maxims, pulpit and lectern, youth ministers learning their trade from the same single voice. Then we wonder why they’re bored. Add to that a new perspective on how we should be responding to God’s love for the world and off the young people go to build houses, dig wells, plow fields and do other lovely things in His name and (sadly, maybe tragically) lose touch with “organized religion” as it comes to be known. And that title isn’t always off the mark.
So what are we to do? Is there a “cure”? I know that Jesus did all things perfectly and many, though they gave Him a hearing at first, still walked away. “Nothing worth anything there,” they said, “just a lot of words attached to some extraordinary works.” If people, for one reason or another, can resist the Lord Jesus they can resist anyone (see also Acts 7:51-52); if His life and words didn’t set the hearts of His hearers on fire we shouldn’t be surprised if what we say and do fails to enthuse them. But whatever else was true of Jesus—He wasn’t a bore. Author Dorothy Sayers in that trenchant way of hers said she understood that Jesus would not be believed but that preaching or teaching should make Him appear dull was beyond forgiveness. If people are to reject Him it would be best if we offered them the real Lord Jesus rather than weekly moral or informational bulletins.
Still, Jesus didn’t think His ministry a failure, even when they hung Him on a tree (Acts 5.30) and there were times when He did set hearts on fire. Two men on the Emmaus road swore to it. And wasn’t it interesting what Jesus talked about that lit them up like a glorious summer morning? He talked about Himself! He had a habit of doing that and so did the Holy Spirit. (Luke 24:25-27, 32; 4449; John 5.39; 16:12-14; Acts 26.22-23; 1 Peter 1:10-12 and elsewhere).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got that habit? Can you imagine, just once, once would do, bumping into someone who’s leaving the church building and being startled because she/he is too hot to touch? You ask for an explanation and wide-eyed she says, “I was just confronted with the Lord Jesus.”
Once we see Him—truly see Him, once we get even a clear glimpse of Him, for better or worse, nothing will be the same. It’s true we may be more easily fretted than in time past; but in some ways for the love of God, maybe we should be. Our unrest is in proportion to our standard.
Oh, Son of Man, this is the vision that now and then we glimpse and we’re profoundly grateful for a glimpse but we seek more—more, that will shape and inspire us an lead us to speak in your name.
We can’t look at you without being disenchanted with less than you even while we see something of you in countless people around us. Before your coming we settled for less; by your beauty you make us know our deformity and make us hunger for loveliness. By your life you have made us realize what it is to be dead and hunger for life—for fullness of life. By your gallantry you have made us admire cheerful courage and inspire to us want to live and speak against injustice and for fairness. By your glad race to the cross to redeem a world from Sin (Matthew 16:21-23; Hebrews 12:1-3) you have shown us to look less at what we’re running from and more at what we’re running to—who we are running to—your glorious self. Not only have you brought new things you have set the world on fire with glory and it’s the warmth and brightness of your coming that has consumed our petty little fires (Isaiah 50:10-11).

(Holy Father, as your People we need more of Him that we might be more, more to you and to the world that is in such desperate need of Him. A glimpse, a real glimpse, at least one sustained glimpse of Him…How will we gain blessing that we might be a blessing if you don’t open the eyes of your churches and their leaders? If they don’t see, how will we who listen come to see? Come to our aid Holy One. This plea in Jesus name.)

 

ROUGH JUSTICE UNTIL THAT GLORIOUS DAY

 Here’s Harriet, she’s a single mother and a cocaine addict and she abuses her children severely and often. Here’s Henry, he’s ill and mentally challenged. He carries an iron bar and has taken to beating people with it.
What are we to do with them? We may not be sure but we are sure that we should do something to protect the defenseless and innocent and it doesn’t matter that Henry and Harriet are not in (complete) control of their actions. Harriet’s horrific background and Henry’s mental disability matter—of course—but these things have to be put aside until we deal with the very real danger these two people are to others.

“The standards of the law are standards of general application. The law takes no account of the infinite varieties of temperament, intellect, and education, which make the internal character of a given act so different in different men. It does not attempt to see men (humans) as God sees them, for more than one sufficient reason. In the first place, the impossibility of nicely measuring a man’s powers and limitations is far clearer than that of ascertaining his knowledge of law…When men live in society, a certain average of conduct, a sacrifice of individual peculiarities going beyond a certain point, is necessary to the general welfare. If, for instance, a man is born hasty and awkward, is always having accidents and hurting himself or his neighbors, no doubt his congenital defects will be allowed for in the courts of Heaven, but his slips are no less troublesome to his neighbors than if they sprang from guilty neglect. His neighbors accordingly require him, at his proper peril, to come up to their standard, and the courts which they establish decline to take his personal equation into account.” Supreme Court Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes said that.

There must come a point when we render judgment because however disabled a transgressor is we simply can’t allow him/her to hurt their neighbor at will. At one level our response against sin/crime must ignore what motivates or what shaped the sinner/criminal. We have to develop, as Walter Moberly would put it, “a certain myopia” and get on with dealing with the case. He who knows all and knows how to judge all does not hold us responsible because we are not Him and He expects us to judge within our limitations.
Explain it how we will, or for as long as we might, there are in fact those who are predators that hunt the defenseless. What the predator might have been or what he might be under other circumstances who can say? The man/woman before us is the one we have to deal with and not the one who might have been or might later be. When we deal severely (as we sometimes must) with transgressors we recognize our limits but we can do no other than to think that dispensing a rough sort of justice is better than dispensing no justice at all. And if we’re sensitive to the fact that we too are under the Holy Father who judges all persons and takes into account all the factors that conspire to make a life then we’ll bear Matthew 7:1-5 in mind.
Aren’t we pleased that Christ is a great Savior?! The more complex and convoluted the entire human situation becomes to our eyes the more wondrous He has to be in order to save any of us. “For such a high priest is suited to our needs,” the Hebrew writer said. Pascal had good reason to say, ”It is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness as it is to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it.”
But in saying Jesus Christ has to be great to save “any” of us I’m not suggesting we’re all equally bogged down in sins (plural) for manifestly we’re not. Or that we were all equally bogged down in sins (plural) because I know my record is in every way more littered with failures and positive trespasses than many people I know. But whatever our individual differences are they came to us because we are part of a single human family.
Neither sin nor righteousness began with me though they continue with me and whatever differences there are in the number of our sins or the grossness of our particular sins we’ve all been involved in the same uprising against God at some point and we bear the sign of rebel on our forehead.
But I suspect if we had a richer biblical anthropology and a richer sense of human solidarity and if we were more enlightened about our limits as judges we could live more contentedly with “rough justice” and think we were being treated as well as is possible. Maybe resentment would be less of a hazard and we’d “do our time” with a freer heart.
I’m certain that if our human judges do their needed duty without arrogance and with some residue of good will toward us that we’d “take what’s coming to us” in a better spirit. Then, again, even our judges have been shaped by that universal uprising against the Holy Father. Knowing what it was going to lead to in 70 AD, from the cross Jesus looked at His nation and said to His Holy Father, “They don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:14.
Only a God can judge well and perfectly—only a God like Jesus Christ can judge well and perfectly. Until the day He does that and rights all wrongs [Acts 17:31] in this life we’ll have to bear with rough justice or none at all. We’ll also have to recognize that even at our best we only hand out rough justice. I’m taking it that this is part of the reason Jesus uttered Matthew 7:1-2. Is it not?

(Holy Father, we’re glad that on that coming Day he entire human family will be judged in righteousness by the Son of Man because He is a Son of Man as well as the Son of Man. We’re happy to believe that exultant tyranny and heartless cruelty will be dealt with and that you will know how to deal with all those we cannot or fo do not want to help with be gloriously and lovingly dealt with. We who have been blessed to come to know Jesus Christ cannot believe otherwise since He taught us, “If you know Me you know the One who sent Me.” How happy we are to know that any hope the plundered and abused have rests in you and not even the best of us.)

 

INFECTION, CONTAGION & CURE

Pip’s sister married Joe Gargery the blacksmith, and since their parents and all the other siblings were dead Pip’s sister took him to live with them. Maybe she cared for her much younger brother but it’s hard to tell since she mistreats him a lot and in the story—Great Expectations—we never hear her speak a good word of or to him. She’s a bitter young woman who is forever complaining and bullying both the boy and her husband. Joe is easy-going, a good man in the richest sense of the word and he’s the boy’s dearest friend who makes his life easier and bearable. Pip eagerly looked forward to the day when he would be Joe’s apprentice and Joe shared his feelings because, as Joe was always putting it, he and the boy “was ever the best of friends” and they’d be “having such larks.”
In the meantime Pip helped around the forge, usually covered in soot and cinders, his heavy and clumsy boots taking a beating and his hands becoming rough like his friend Joe’s. This was life and the boy loved it—working with and being around Joe, that is.
It came to pass that for some unknown reason the boy was invited to a Miss Havisham’s big old house (an offer he couldn’t refuse since his sister wouldn’t hear tell of him refusing) and it was there he met a girl of his own age, the very pretty Estella, the adopted daughter of Miss Havisham who was a hater of men since one jilted her hours before the wedding that was to take place on her birthday.
Right from the start Estella treated Pip scandalously and repeatedly reminded him that he was a stupid, clumsy, laboring boy! The girl Pip so badly wanted to impress was heartless and ashamed of him and soon he was ashamed of himself. While playing cards she sneered, “He calls ‘knaves’ Jacks, this boy! And what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots.” Pip confesses to the reader, “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious and I caught it.”
And the contagion spread!
Outside while he waited like a dog to be fed he had a long look at his hands and boots and admits, “My opinion of these accessories was not favorable. They had never troubled me before, but they troubled me now, as vulgar appendages. I was determined to ask Joe why he had ever taught me to call those picture-cards, Jacks, which ought to be called knaves. I wished Joe had been rather more genteely brought up, and then I should have been so too.”
And the infection deepened.
Later, when the simple and good-hearted man was required to go with him to Miss Havisham’s, Pip was embarrassed at his appearance and his way of speaking. Much later still when Joe showed up at Pip’s London flat—having gone very much out of his way to do his young friend a service—the young man’s first fear, he confesses, is that any of his friends should see him. He finds it difficult to give him a civil much less a warm greeting and when Joe (because Pip is now a gentleman) takes too much trouble in wiping his feet before entering the apartment, Pip’s irritation with the poor man who raised him and now seeks to do him a great service at great cost to himself—his irritation and embarrassment spills over and he virtually drags the man into
the house.
The story is so well written and so true to life, the entire matter is painful to read and it must cut and convict a host of us.
In stark contrast, and in a few words, in 2 Timothy 1:15-18 we have the picture painted of a man called Onesiphorus. Here’s the text: “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me…You know very well in how many ways he helped me
in Ephesus.”
There was Phygelus and Hermogenes and Pip but there was also Onesiphorus!
Many years ago in America I used to visit an assembly as regularly as clockwork and always found it a source of joy and encouragement. The treatment wasn’t lavish or saccharine but there was a genuineness in the warmth and kindness with which
I was treated that couldn’t be mistaken and it led me to say to one of the shepherds there: “I do believe if I ever truly and publicly shamed myself that I would still find a welcome here.” I was immediately and smilingly embraced and assured that it was so.
 It’s wonderful to imagine Onesiphorus searching all over Rome, asking here, there and yonder at the various prisons and official centers how he could find a Jewish man, a jail-bird, called Saul of Tarsus. He refused to be discouraged in his search and when he found Paul, the chains meant absolutely nothing to him. Paul, now in prison for the last time, would have let his mind roam over many things, and from a host of experiences and memories he reaches in and takes out this one that he feels must be included in his final letter. He remembers and thanks God for a man who refused to be ashamed of him.
Such people are the cure for the infection Pip and others catch and spread. Oscar Wilde could never rank high as a fine human and while he could whine and blame others for the trouble he found himself in, he also had it in him to confess, “I ruined myself.” In his De Profundis (written while in Reading jail, argued about and included in a compilation of his writings), which I take to be a true and sincere account even if there’s plenty of self-pity in it) he tells us this: “A great friend of mine—a friend of ten years’ standing—came to see me some time ago, and told me that he did not believe a single word of what was said against me, and wished me to know that he considered me quite innocent, and the victim of a hideous plot. I burst into tears at what he said, and told him that while there was much amongst the definite charges that was quite untrue and transferred to me by revolting malice, still that my life had been full of perverse pleasures, and that unless he accepted that as a fact about me and realized it to the full I could not possibly be friends with him any more, or ever be in his company. It was a terrible shock to him, but we are friends, and I have not got his friendship on false pretenses. I have said to you to speak the truth is a painful thing. To be forced to tell lies is much worse.”
Prison was utter agony for Wilde and being used to life as a dandy and one courted by high-society, the entire experience of a public trial on charges of moral corruption, indecency and of corrupting others made him writhe inside. Understandably many who oohed and aahed over him in his glory days vanished when his sordid behavior
was paraded before the world when in his arrogance he insisted on a public showdown with the Marquis of Queensbury. The courteous and soft treatment he had become used to was in savage contrast to his being roughly shoved here and there in handcuffs along with the common criminals, in and out of dismal rooms and stinking cells. It was in the early days when the nightmare was at its agonizing worst that this happened.
“While there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means…When I was brought down from my prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen————[here he alludes to a friend he doesn’t name] waited in the long dreary corridor that, before the whole crowd (whom an action so sweet and simple hushed into silence), he might gravely raise his hat to me, as, handcuffed and with bowed head, I passed him by. Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than that. It was in this spirit, and with this mode of love, that the saints knelt down to wash the feet of the poor, or stopped to kiss the leper on the cheek. I have never said one single word to him about what he did. I do not know to the present moment whether he is aware that I was even conscious of his action. It is not a thing for which one can render formal thanks in formal words. I store it in the treasure-house of my heart. I keep it as a secret debt that I am glad to think I can never possibly repay…
When wisdom has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, and the proverbs and phrases of those who have sought to give me consolation as dust and ashes in my mouth, the memory of that little, lovely, silent act of love has unsealed for me all the
wells of pity; made the desert blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world.”
And, Pip? Some time later Pip’s expectations go into a steep decline from which they never really recover and he becomes ill for a long time. A deep sense of guilt hangs over him for the way he has treated the convict Abel Magwitch and especially Joe and
it drives him to despair. In his shame and illness he loses consciousness only to waken in Joe’s house with Joe at the bedside looking after him.
Such people are the cure for one of the world’s awful infections.
To find yourself named (or not named but there) in someone’s final word to the world and to discover that the little you did meant so much, surely that would be a precious thing to know as you come to the end of your own days.
Makes you want to be unashamed, doesn’t it?

WALK RECKLESSLY, REIGN DESPOTICALLY

“If you are the Son of Man you ought to enjoy yourself. You should have no shortage of bread, no dread of the kingdoms of the world and their glory; you should live sumptuously, walk recklessly, reign despotically and painlessly.” That’s what the voice of this “world” said and continues to say but it’s the voice of the god of this world.
Christ reverses all this. He says it’s precisely because He is Son of Man that He is bound to suffer to feel as a personal hunger the world’s want of bread, to share as a personal burden the world’s subjection to human tyrannies. And though He stands now as Lord of All, the Truth He embraced remains true for those who are climbing to meet Him. It’s true for all those who seek His likeness; it’s true for all those who have committed themselves in faith to His redeeming adventure; it’s for all who seek to liberate rather than dominate.
This speaks (I believe) with a sharper edge to those who wield the power, whether in a family, a village, a city, a state or a nation. It speaks to religious leaders who wield the power in a congregation or a province. It speaks to anyone whose use of authority means that they and those they favor are protected, exempted from hurt, humiliation and disappointment. Such people eat bread while others are hungry and lord it over kingdoms filled with the voiceless and the helpless.
That understanding of power, that pagan exercise of authority (Luke 22:24-27) is present not only in the corridors of power where decisions are made that affect tens of thousands or tens of millions—that pagan exercise of power occurs where nurses or doctors mistreat or consciously neglect patients, where landlords torment and frighten vulnerable renters, where salesmen virtually extort from the ignorant who don’t know what they’re buying. Where any child is dominated by a mean-spirited father or mother, anywhere a husband makes his wife daily miserable, anywhere a child turns the screws on parents to grieve them sore, anywhere where life is made daily misery or anytime a young man or young girl uses the love another has for them as leverage to dishonor them or make them cry—there the worst face of paganism is grinning at us.
There is a suffering which the good alone can know, said George Matheson. There is a furnace which is only heated for the people of God, a den of lions which only awaits the holy. Not every one can weep over Jerusalem; that’s a Divine gift of tears (and who wants it?). Men said of Jesus, Let God deliver him if he is delighted with him! If he is good, why is he so burdened?
“But had He been less good He would have been less burdened. His purity made His pain; His tenderness made His tears; His selflessness made His sorrow; His righteousness made Him restless; His luster made Him lonely; His kindness made Him kinless; His crown made His cross. It was because He was the Son of Man He had nowhere to lay His head.” (Matheson)
All this was and is true of Jesus Christ and it was and is true of Him not because God arbitrarily foreordained that humans should suffer anguish. God purposed fullness of life for the human family but because He is who He is and because that kind of life can only be experienced in relationship with Him. When we turned from Him and let loose satanic power of evil we re-visioned His world and acted accordingly. We made ourselves gods and sought and seek as much independence from Him as is possible and all we’ve discovered is that while we might make good servants we make ugly, brutal and incompetent gods and lords. Those of us who gained power corrupted the entire structures and we seek to cure that corruption and cruelty with more corruption and cruelty. We fight evil with evil, slyness with lies, bitterness with bitterness.

And it was because God remained faithful to Himself and His glorious purpose that He came in and as Jesus Christ to rescue humans from the alienation and consequent suffering rising out of that alienation.  The Incarnate One entered this chaotic and sinful human family according to God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge to share all the anguish endured by sinners at the hand of sinners (see Acts 2:23). None of it was accident; it was purposed by the redeeming God. The Son of God who is the Son of man purposed to suffer with and from and for and as humankind. That incarnation, life, death, resurrection and glorification reveals mesmerizing truths about the one true God and exposes the true nature of the world we created and do now sustain (it’s anti-God, anti-life and anti-humanity). The only hope of the world is God Himself—the God who has revealed Himself in and as the person of Jesus Christ.
In every place where leaders exercise power at the expense of those they lead, everywhere a family member generates misery that makes a home a prison, everywhere a financial conglomerate bleeds a little nation white, everywhere a self-centered power-holder insists on domination we see the spirit of the world and we see Jesus hanging on a cross.
In every place or heart where we see someone hurt, humiliated, deprived and still maintains his or her trusting response in and commitment to Jesus Christ we see the resurrected and glorified Son of God and Son of Man until He comes.

Though there is hurt that the entire human family can experience there are forms of pain and loss that only sensitive believers in God can experience but there are certain joys that only they can know and there are songs that only they can sing (Revelation 14.3, with 1-5).

 

 

GARDENER, SPOOK OR…?

JOHN 20:10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
Anyone with a heart loves this scene. With a heart filled with love and arms filled with spices she came to do for her dearest friend what needed to be done and she was kept from it—her tears were inevitable. When the man asked her why she was weeping He wasn’t asking for information, He wanted her to know He saw it and He wanted her to have opportunity to say it. Allowing people to weep is a gift.
She was looking at Him.
Looking at Jesus.
But she didn’t recognize Him as Jesus.
“Thinking he was the gardener…” (20:15)
And when she finally recognized Him as Jesus she still didn’t know who He was.
She thought He was the same familiar lovely Jesus.
The truth is, for all the lovely truths she had always known about Him she didn’t know Him.
He was always more than she knew though like the gracious Lord he was and is He accepted it gladly.
Now she clings to Him, knowing this is her dear friend and supposing, I take it, that it was something like what Martha and Mary must have felt when their beloved Lazarus was back from the dead; the joyful days had returned, the harmless pleasures were within reach again and it was back to business as usual.
Then came His words, “Do not hold on to me…” (20:17).
Not hold on to Jesus? Not cling to her dearest Friend? Aren’t we urged, ceaselessly urged to cling to Him? How difficult it is not to cling to someone we cherish, someone who is our “other self”. The apostle John who knew very well the meaning of the depth of love and friendship (John 13:23; 19:26, John himself) isn’t interested in telling us how the Lord’s words must have devastated Mary. He is interested in telling us as Jesus was fervent about telling sweet Mary that Jesus is not to be narrowed, that He must not be confined to any given truth or person.
There were those who were privileged to know him in that very personal way, His own Jewish people, his own immediate friends and followers but the One they knew in this way was now making clear to Mary and so to us that He is greater than we know. If he is confined in the flesh as this sweet woman had known Him He could not be with and for all who need him. If He doesn’t go away the Spirit will not come by which He will indwell all who believe in Him and if there is no extension of His incarnation the poor world that needs His friendship will be robbed of His truth and presence (John 7:38-39; 14:16-18, 23; 16:5-22).

John would say this to Christ’s friends:

  1. He is your friend but He is more than that. He does care for you but He cares for a tortured world and will not be confined to love of you and in your better moments you wouldn’t want Him to be or do less than He is and does.
  2. He is the person you know as Jesus of Nazareth but Jesus of Nazareth stands for and is the revelation of truths and realities that that are cosmic in their implications and effects. To make Him just your friend is not to recognize Him as Himself and it is to make Him less than He is; it’s to make Him someone else.
  3. John would have Jesus saying, “I never sought exemption from my Father’s saving purpose nor would He grant it had I asked, so please don’t make our friendship depend on my giving you exemption from sadness and loss and pain.”
  4. Martha’s disappointment (John 11) and pain is easily understandable. To reduce Him to her localized friend or to a dehumanized spirit as the apostles did in Luke 24:37 is to reduce Him beyond recognition—He is no longer the Jesus of the Godhead’s eternal and cosmic purpose.
  5. To reduce Him to someone who is so sweet that He will not turn tables over and in moral outrage frighten traders out of the temple is to make Him less than He is. To say to Him, “Be my friend but keep everyone else at a distance; take care of my family, exempt all I love from pain and loss. I’m sorry about all these others but it’s me and mine I really want catered to. Help others if and when you can but do guarantee that I and those dear to me don’t hurt”—to say that would make Him some other Jesus, it would be to make Him your personal valet, maybe even a gardener.
  6. To reduce Him to one who died to forgive us of our sins—end of Story—is not the whole Gospel. He’s not less than that—He’s not less but He’s more!

IF THE DAY EVER COMES

If the day ever comes when the nations of the world honor the Church of God it will not be because many of its members were patriotic, were morally upright people or that they were very religious because all of these the nations of the world have felt and engaged in before the OT or NT Church came into being. No, it will honor the Church for exhibiting more than those.
If the day ever comes when the nations of the world rightly honor the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ it will not be because the Church has merely shown them how to appreciate the earthly beauties—gifts of God that the nations had grown content with as long as they got their share of them. It will be for more than that.
If the day ever comes when the nations of the world honor the Covenant People of God in Christ it will not be because it knows the language of the stock markets of the world. The shrewd, financial gurus of the world might give the Church a grudging respect because a few in it knew something of their ways and means. The skilled talkers who shape the world may nod approval at the acquired skill of the Church speakers who followed their lead but they would surely take note that many preachers and authors have only learned to say better the decent things that the world itself says and has been saying for so long.
No, if the nations of the world ever come to honor the Church for its service to a world that desperately needs to be served it will not be because the Church affirmed and approved of the world’s contentment with what it sees through social, economic, political or other eyes; a world without God or the need of God.
If the day ever comes when the nations of the world honor the Body of Jesus Christ it will be because it gospeled about the glory God offered to a world that cared too much for its body and not enough for its soul.
If the day ever comes when the nations of the world with God’s happy permission come to honor His believing People throughout the ages it will be because the Church like Moses in Hebrews 11 saw the invisible, like Abraham and others who looked for a heavenly country and for a city built by God Himself.
If the day ever come when the nations of the world come to honor the Church of God in Christ it will be because it carried itself honorably in the image of the Lord Jesus and with a gospel of divine rescue and enrichment in its heart and mouth. The sick and the dying, the heartbroken and the desperate, the burdened and oppressed will not have come to those who build houses on shifting sand for justice and hope and fullness of life but to the realist happy pilgrims of the earth who say goodbye to the world as it is with full assurance that there is life and more life after life. Pilgrims who without smugness or any sense of superiority call to their fellow-humans to come with them as they make their journey to life that is brimful of life, righteousness, peace and endless adventure with God their Pilgrim.
(Oh please, Holy Father, bring us to an unshakable assurance that in your love for the Church you are expressing your love for the entire human family. Bless her with a rich sense of your gospel what will make her honorable in the eyes of the nations. Forgive her of her sins, heal her of her busyness and her pursuit of a thousand little pursuits, remind her of her destiny and recommission her with her single task as she lives humbly and graciously among the nations. Rejoice, we pray, as she comes sincerely confessing her own utter need of you while she joyfully seeks the company of her brothers and sisters of the world to whom she sings of your love for and mercy toward them in and through Christ Jesus the Lord.)