It took a year of unemployment back in 1997 for me to take the time to sit down, set my Christianity in front of me, try to peer through all the cultural haze, ask myself the hard questions, sort faith from fantasy, hoping to discover a theological core that I could build my life around. Instead, I found a person.
I talked a lot about Jesus back then, but if pressed I would have to admit that I didn’t understand the relationship. I knew that he accomplished something for me 2,000 years ago, went back to heaven, sat beside his Father, and was coming back someday. He wasn’t sitting around in my heart waiting to bless me. Not really.
The Father was a sovereign mystery. Someone to be worshipped, but never understood. In fact, it was almost sinful, or at least arrogant, to try. Unless you’re A.W. Tozer. Or C.S. Lewis. Or other double-initialed theologians.
The Holy Spirit was . . . . . well, if I had to put it in a phrase, God for emotional people.
After a turbulent and enlightening 1998, which included leaving the country for six months of Bible school, I discovered the connection that I’d been searching for. Actually, the Bible is pretty straightforward: The risen Christ is in heaven with his Father, continuing what he started at the Resurrection through his Church by the Holy Spirit.
We are given some pretty clear analogies: Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. Jesus is the head, we are the body. Jesus is the husband, we are the bride. This relationship is bedrock of the Gospel, and things like forgiveness, love, righteousness and hope grow out of it.
Why Jesus? Why not the Father or the Spirit?
Jesus gets it:
Jesus was the only person of the Godhead to enter the human experience. He got splinters. He had stomachaches and tripped over things. He had struggles with his family. He was frustrated with the people that misunderstood him. He was afraid to die.
The Bible says that he was tempted in all things, and could sympathize with our weaknesses [Heb. 4:15]. That suggests that he was actually vulnerable. Not only do we know that he had stomach cravings when the devil tempted him with bread, we can assume that, like any other physical being, he had sexual desires and instincts toward self preservation. Why else would he mention that he could have called 10,000 angels to defend him against the cross? He must have entertained the idea, even if he knew what he had to do.
Jesus is not some cold deity in outer space. He knows what it’s like to struggle year after year in a fragile human body. Yet Scripture said that he made it through without sin, obedient to the point of death. In a sense, when we approach him, we are talking with someone who knows how to negotiate this challenging and turbulent existence, and get safely to the other side.
Jesus earned it:
Branches don’t deserve water or nutrients, hands don’t deserve to play piano, and Julia Roberts didn’t deserve Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. This is grace. Everything that Christ earned in his life, death and resurrection are made available to those who have accepted the honor of taking up their crosses and following him so they can share in the Resurrection together.
When Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, he said, “Why are you persecuting me?” Me, not them. From God’s perspective, Christ and his body are one. What is true of the head is true of the body. The benefits are shared.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Rom. 8:17
Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples . . . and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:18-20
The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Rom. 6:10-11
Jesus does it:
If the Church was a corporation, with Jesus as the CEO and pastors as managers, we would have a lot of pressure and responsibility, especially knowing that our employee interview is coming up. We don’t want to fired. Literally.
But the Church is not an organization. It is an organism. We are a living body connected to a living head by a living central nervous system, the Holy Spirit. Not only does the Spirit speak for Christ [John 16:12-14], he gives us the insight and power to accomplish whatever Christ asks us to do. There is a reason that Jesus told his disciples to stay and Jerusalem and not do anything until he sent his Spirit.
Apart from him, we can do nothing. Though we try to give it our best shot.
Jesus will do it:
Now, and not yet. That’s the Christian experience. Though we have access to the heart, mind and strength of the risen Christ by the Holy Spirit, Jesus himself is still absent.
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. II Cor. 5:4-9
In my last post I wrote some thoughts about what this “heavenly dwelling” might be. According to Scripture, whatever Jesus was when he stepped out of the tomb is what we will be when he comes. That’s part of our inheritance, our guarantee.
The beauty of a relational gospel is that it gives us all the wisdom, power and direction we need to make our way through this challenging life, but it also promises to escort us safely into the next, whatever that is.
That’s my next post . . .