Faith


And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Luke 2: 47

Jesus was mature for His age. He was in the temple talking with the teachers, asking questions, and entering into the ongoing discussion of God’s Word and the Law with the wise men of Israel. Yet, He was only twelve. His knowledge and understanding came from a place far beyond the usual teaching that a boy in those days received from the rabbi who served the local community. Deep within Jesus held the wisdom of all time, and He also heard God speaking to Him with guidance and with counsel that was pertinent to all matters and situations that the young Jesus encountered. It is admittedly hard to grasp what it must have been like to live with Jesus as He was growing up, but this glimpse into His early adolescence suggests just how special He must have been. 

This extraordinary understanding of things that were pertaining to God and to the application of His Word in life is something that people do not always seem to appreciate. In this we are not all that different from Jesus’ parents. If I think about this scene, I am taken aback at the surprise that Mary and Joseph exhibit here, for they were there from the beginning of the story when the angel came to each of them to explain how a young virgin woman would conceive a child and the role that her fiancé was to play in this grand miracle that God was starting to carry out in the history of creation. Now, all of that seems to have become a dim and a distant memory, and the realities of raising a boy into manhood had taken over their thinking. Whatever the thoughts and the feelings that Mary and Joseph may have had, they were as equally amazed at Jesus’ capacity to think and to discuss matters related to God as they were also worried about the safety of their son. They did not seem to fully appreciate who and what Jesus was about in this world.

Most of us have heard the story of Jesus’ miraculous beginning on earth, and we have been exposed to the way that He conducted Himself during those thirty plus years of life that God allotted to Jesus as He lived among us. Yet, we too often fail to grasp how significant His wisdom and understanding truly are to us. The twelve year old who was leaving the wise men of His day in a state of awe and wonder did mature into the man whose life gave us the perfect picture of righteous and just living, whose death brought about the possibility of acceptance for each of us in the presence of a holy God, and whose resurrection overcame the oppression of sin in this world. We too can sit at the feet of Jesus and hear the same sort of counsel that is wise in all matters and that is more than sufficient for any situation or circumstance that we might be encountering. Jesus speaks to us out of God’s Word, He counsels us and leads us into the deep places of understanding as the Spirit speaks to our hearts and minds, and Jesus is also present in the conversation and the prayer of His body, the fellowship of believers. So, let us cease to be amazed at the understanding that comes from the mouth of Jesus, and instead, draw near to Him and seek out that same wisdom as it applies to all that we think, say, and do in life.  

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And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the roster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Mark 14: 30, 31

This is a very familiar story, and most of us are probably aware of this time when Peter spoke out of his impulsiveness and in his passion. Of course, he was not able to follow through and stick with Jesus through the Lord’s arrest and trials. Just as certainly, Jesus was exactly right in foretelling how it would all take place. Peter made promises that he could not keep, and he entered into commitments that he would not fulfill. So do I, and in all probability, so do most of you, too. This is our nature as humans. We say things that are not well thought through, and we fail to stick to the course when that path becomes too hard for us to handle. Like Peter, we attempt to go through life operating out of our passions with promises too easily given and without the resources to do what we swear that we will do.

Peter had available to him everything that he would have needed to remain strong, faithful, and true to his word, but he didn’t yet realize that it was so. Peter was standing in the presence of God in human form. He was serving Jesus, and Jesus was generous with gifts of courage and strength that exceeded anything that people could summon up from within their own resources. Still, Peter decided to do it all in his own power and out of his considerably more limited capability and capacity. When I look at Peter, I see myself. I see a stubborn unwillingness to admit when I am frightened by the situation at hand. Peter provides me with a look into a heart that is like mine in that it is uncertain and not willing to admit those areas of doubt in public for fear of looking less than competent and capable. In Peter’s story of gross failure, I see an example of the sort of thing that I have experienced in many settings over most of the years of my life.

So, in this same story, I also see something that gives me great hope, for Peter is not left to suffer in his failure and to live out his days in the misery that he was feeling in these hours right after Jesus was arrested and he refused to acknowledge that he even knew the Lord much less that he traveled with Him and served Him. Jesus sought out Peter, and He brought grace and redemption to the fallen disciple. Christ granted forgiveness to Peter, and then the Lord commissioned Peter into service to Him and in the newly formed Kingdom of God now established on earth in the form of Christ’s church. The setting is not as dramatic as was the one by the seashore when Jesus interacted with Peter, but the result has been the same for me, and this story of redemption and purpose are repeated continually in the lives of other people too. Jesus grants infinite grace to His stubborn, overpromising, and fallen sheep. His love and mercy are unceasing despite all that we might do or fail to follow through with. So, it is important to remember that when I fail, and I know that I will again and again, Jesus is ready to pour out forgiveness on my spirit as He is also there to send me out again into service to His Kingdom.  

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

John 4: 25, 26

It is very likely that you have known someone who acted as if they did truly know it all. This is the sort of claim that is very hard to sustain. Most people who act as if this were true for themselves are portraying a form of arrogance that is often mixed with some strong internal doubts. I would guess that this Samaritan woman had encountered a few people during her life-time who had acted in this manner, but this encounter with the Jewish stranger was different. He knew things about her that were not His to know, and He spoke with a form of authority that pierced through her protective outer shields in a way that allowed His words to penetrate to the center of her heart. This man knew her in a way that was both terrifying and exhilarating. A simple and routine action of going out to the community well to draw water had become the point at which her entire life was being transformed.

This woman had encountered a very practical and direct form of knowledge that Jesus had regarding her, for He knew all about the rather sordid and difficult life that she had lived up until this time. He both knew and understood why she was out at that well when no one else from her community was there. Jesus understood the hurt and the pain that filled her days as He also recognized her heart’s yearning for salvation from the burden that she carried with her every moment of her life. Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s story without her needing to say anything, and He had answers for the real questions that her heart was asking. This Jesus who just happened to be waiting at a particular well at a time of day when most people would have been indoors was seeking after this individual because He was attuned to the deep longing of her spirit. The Christ came to her just as He is continually seeking after all people.

Jesus does know all. He, as God, sees everything that we think, say, and do, and in an even more powerful demonstration of His complete knowledge and understanding, Christ is aware of the condition and the intentions of our hearts. He comprehends the pain and the hurt that we experience deep inside of our being, and He has the answers for us that will bring about true and lasting healing for those wounds and for the struggles that come about in life because of them. Most importantly, Jesus is the answer to the greatest questions that exists in all people’s lives, which are those of my own identity, my value and worth, and my purpose in being here. Jesus takes everyone who responds to His offer of answers into the presence of our Creator, God Himself, and Christ then opens our minds and our hearts to hearing the truth about all of these vital questions. Jesus comes seeking after everyone on earth, He waits for us at our own well of questioning, and He answers all of the doubts and fears that we may possess with His unfailing comprehension, grace, and love.     

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways”, declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55: 8, 9

The term transcendence is used in the world of theology to try to describe the way that God is above all else. It helps our minds to grasp the fact that our God is often unknowable and that His way of viewing life does not always seem clear to us. This is the characteristic of God that Isaiah is attempting describe here. He has heard the voice of God call to people to leave behind that which comes so naturally to us, as the country preacher would have put it, “Leave your sinful ways and follow Jesus.” Yet, if God is so unknowable, and it seems that with the wisdom of our humanity He is absolutely unknowable, then how can we even begin to hope to leave what is our native bent and follow that which is beyond our understanding?

Well, let’s go back to that country preacher, for he said it all. Follow Jesus. I could just stop right there, let that thought sink in, and call it all good; but, I am writing this and I’m not finished. Jesus is the game changer in our ability to actually know this transcendent God. He traveled in the opposite direction. Jesus came into our world and joined us in life in order that we could know God and experience relationship with Him. He made God truly immanent, this is, Jesus Christ brought God in total into our world and is absolutely present with us in it. For even as He was departing from this life Jesus made the promise that His Spirit would be with us in and through it all and for the rest of time.

Christ grants us the ability to know God. He gives the way and the means to start to grasp the otherwise impenetrable truths of the transcendent God. Christ in our world leads His followers into a new way of viewing life that places the highest priority on entering into an ever growing and deepening relationship with God. Then it is this relationship with God that should compel us to live with the same values and priorities as God holds. As Christ takes His followers into the realm of the transcendent we learn to love others and to seek their well being above our own. The transcendent God sacrificed all for us, and Christ shows us how to lay down all that we hold as dear in this life in order to bring others into the presence of that same holy God.  

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

1 Thessalonians 2: 13

All of us are subject to various types of authority. It comes in the form of people who have power over our livelihoods or at least our success and advancement within a chosen occupation. Most of us live in communities within countries where there are laws of the land that rule over us and that direct and define what actions are acceptable and what ones will result in censure or worse. Sometimes we accept the rule of authority and at other times we struggle with it or even fight against its presence in the course of our days. Paul is immensely thankful that these people to whom he had communicated God’s Word had accepted it and its author’s authority so readily. They had not only accepted it, but they also knew and acknowledged the fact that there was a supernatural aspect to what they had received from Paul as this word from God.

Thus, the Gospel of Christ and the rest of the divine truth that was given to them has a sort of power that is far superior to any other form of wisdom, logic, or law that they may have heard or have access to. This word of truth and life comes out of eternity and into our world bringing with it the lasting wisdom of the Lord and providing guidance for all aspects of life. Now God has called people into service to Him by means of gifting them with deep comprehension of His Word and by granting to them the ability to explain both its meaning and its application to the various situations and circumstances that are encountered in living out our days. Yet, unlike any other form of instruction that we may receive, when we are taught from God’s Word we hear words that are spoken by humans, but we are listening to and assimilating concepts, ideas, and precepts that come from the mouth of God.

The source of these utterances is what matters when God’s Word is opened and taught. It is essential for people who teach from God’s Word to be humbly submitted to the Lord’s will as they are led by His Spirit into understanding its deeper meanings and its application in the lives of the specific audience at hand. As hearers of the Word of God we need to bear in mind the fact that it is something much greater than any literature that has come to us through human hands as these words are the utterances of God, Himself, that have been given to us through the hands of divinely inspired writers. Even that inspiration would have left us with nothing more than an exceptional work of history and philosophical wisdom if it were not for the connection that God makes with His people through the presence of the Spirit of Christ with and within us. The Spirit brings the written and the spoken Word of God to life, and He guides our minds and our hearts into forms of understanding that would not be otherwise possible. Thus, through the work of the Spirit within and upon us, we are continually transformed by God’s Word into people who more and more fully reflect the glory of the Lord.   

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10: 31

This is one of the most inclusive statements in all of Scripture. Yet, it has a very narrow focus at its conclusion. Paul had lived out of a very ridged and fully articulated form of rules and regulations regarding what he could eat, how it was to be handled and prepared, and who he could take meals with. Now, in Christ, he had a form of freedom that he would have never experienced before. Still, he was a man who understood the importance of self-control, and he also understood that this self-discipline was a product of Paul’s submission to Christ and to following God’s will in everything. Thus, he comes to the broad and highly inclusive aspect of the statement in his letter to the church in Corinth when he tells them to “do all” to the glory of God.

This all is very big word, for it does not leave much out of its boundaries. There is no space for personal beliefs or for secret passions. This idea of living out each and every moment of life for the glory of God is not one that Paul invented, either. It is as old as is the existence of humanity, for fully engaged, all-in worship of the Lord a part of the way that we were created to exist. Thus, when we hold back parts of our lives or determine to live out aspects of it outside of God’s will and righteousness, we are actually setting a course for ourselves that is at odds with our deepest nature. People are most at peace in our souls when we are living in obedience to God’s Word and in harmony with His will. So, in order to do this with the totality of our beings, there is no area of life that we do not surrender to Christ and live out in the full instruction of the Word and the on-going council of the Spirit.

At the end of his thoughts, Paul takes us to the truly narrow and singular focus of what it means to “do all” in this context. God’s glory is made visible by the manner that His people live out our lives. When we pour out the presence of Christ into the world around us, we are reflecting that glory. This is seen in the form of sacrificial love that reaches out to others and seeks to uplift and care for them even when that means giving up something of importance to ourselves. It is also demonstrated when we are more concerned with justice and with mercy than we are with safety or gain. Christ’s presence is brought into the public square when we hold up righteousness as the standard for behavior and as the foundation for all forms of policy and practice in our society. There are many other situations and instances wherein we can choose to bring glory to God or to deny Him through our thoughts, words, and actions. Paul tells us to choose to do it all for God’s glory.     

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see the great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Mark 13: 1, 2

The temple in Jerusalem was impressive. There were beautiful finishes throughout its interior, and the outer walls were constructed by skilled stone masons and stood in proud relief against the surrounding city. As it was constructed upon a hill, it looked out over the city as a form of both guardian sentinel and also as a beacon to guide those who were seeking God into His presence. At least that was how it was supposed to function. In fact, the temple was just a building. Its impressive architecture and its grand furnishings did absolutely nothing to bring people any closer to knowing God. The leadership was too far gone along a path of corruption to care about what God wanted, and they were so consumed with the pursuit of personal gain that they failed to seek to truly serve His purposes on earth much less to aspire toward heavenly things. As regarded the temple that Jesus and His disciples were visiting that day, it would be gone in only a few dozen more years. Yet, Jesus is looking far beyond that moment, and He is speaking to an audience that was not contemplated by His hearers that day, either.

We, too, are builders. We plan and fabricate wonderful buildings with amazing details and with feats of engineering that would amaze those earlier workers in stone. We also put together plans and ideas in ways that bring into existence entities and organizations to provide order and structure to our worldly and sacred endeavors. As was true of the temple when Jesus was looking upon it, so it is still true today; there is nothing inherently wrong with putting up buildings or with developing systems and structures to operate our businesses, governments, and ministries. When Jesus was looking upon the temple, the problem was not in the structures; rather, it was in the hearts of the people. In our times, the same thing is true. We can also become worshipers of stone and brick idols that are in name alone places where God is to be found. We can craft governance systems and leadership models that make everything work smoothly and that contemplate every possible contingency or issue that might arise, but if these rules and regulations do not direct us to the foot of the cross, then they are worth nothing beyond the ashes that will remain at the end of days.

God desires that everything that we do, each thought that we have, and all of the plans that we devise be focused upon and committed to Him. He does not leave permission or allowance for there to be anything held out or reserved for our personal or secular lives. As we go about our business enterprises, they should operate as if Christ were the final authority in all of the decisions that are made. When we dwell among our neighbors, Christ wants us to place Him fully and clearly on display in that community. The government that we permit and the one that we encourage is to be run out of righteousness, with justice as its great concern, and in a holy fear of the Lord and with regard for the way of the cross. Finally, Christ calls upon us to gather in the fellowship of His Word with grace, love, and peacemaking as our unbreakable bond and with service to Christ as our greatest mission. When these things are true, the temple that is constructed is built up out of eternal materials as it is formed in the hearts of people and is held up for all time by the spiritual bond that is created by the hands of the Master Builder.   

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