Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Best Picture

The Best Picture

John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'”  From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
John 1:15-18 (NIV)

John gives us a clear view of the implications of the incarnation.  John the Baptizer recognizes the pre-existence of Jesus.  He understands and clearly shows us over and over again that, unlike other human beings, Jesus did not come into existence at conception.  Instead, He existed from before the world began (John 17:5), before time even existed, eternally one with the Father.

John also recognized that Jesus did not come as another mighty lawgiver, like Moses.  The law that God gave through Moses was enough; it did its intended job well.  Through it mankind had learned that a) God is a holy God, and as such, He requires that His people live up to the highest moral standards, and that b) people, due to their deep-seated sinful nature, are totally incapable of meeting the basic requirements set forth in the law.  At the time Jesus came on the scene, the people didn’t need more, or more stringent, laws and requirements; they needed grace, power,and cleansing so that they could keep the laws and requirements that were already in effect.  They didn’t need a single new written requirement to move them into holiness from the outside; they needed an inner transformation that would move them from the inside to follow God’s commands (Ezekiel 36:25-27).  And that is exactly what Jesus brought – what John calls “grace and truth.”  After He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to renovate His followers completely, melting, molding, shaping, and filling them so entirely that their old, stony hearts were burned away, and new, soft, responsive hearts were put in their place – a transformation that holiness people refer to today as Entire Sanctification, or the fullness of the Spirit.

But Jesus did even more than that.  He also brought the reality of God to His people like never before.  Moses saw God face-to-face (without, however, being allowed to see His full glory – Exodus 33:18-23), but few others were able (or willing) to come that close to the Almighty.  But when Jesus came, He made the Father real and knowable for every person on Earth in a very tangible way.  The Father and the Son are One (John 10:30), so to see the Son is to see the Father (John 14:9), and to intimately know the Son is to intimately know the Father.  As one fourth grader put it, “Jesus is the best picture God ever took!”

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The Rescue

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (NIV)

The Odessa American newspaper reported about the night of October 16, 1987:  “The world breathed a collective sigh of relief at 7:59 Friday night when Jessica McClure ignored the joyous cheers of hundreds surrounding her and wiped her eyes in the cool evening air for the first time in 58½ hours.”  Much of the world, or at least much of America, had been glued to their TVs, radios and newspapers, powerfully drawn into the drama unfolding just outside Midland Texas.  Eighteen month old Jessica McClure, quickly known around the country as “Baby Jessica” had been playing with her siblings when she suddenly dropped out of sight, falling 22 feet down a narrow abandoned well.  A microphone dropped down to her showed that she was conscious, singing, screaming, and occasionally reciting snippets of nursery rhymes.

The situation was dire.  How do you reach a baby 22 feet straight down a hole that is barely bigger than she is?  Ropes wouldn’t work – there was no one down there to tie it to the baby.  Hooks wouldn’t work – they could easily harm the child.  They pumped warm air and oxygen down into the well while they strategized.

They quickly reached the decision that the only way to save Baby Jessica was for someone to go down after her.  Since no adult could fit into the well, they quickly dug a larger, 30 inch diameter shaft 5 feet away from the well.  When they got to a level just below Jessica, they dug a horizontal 2×2 foot hole that intersected the well shaft.  They greased the well shaft with Vaseline, shoved Jessica slightly upward to free her knee that has come up and jammed her in place, and pulled her out of the well.  When she emerged from the rescue shaft just a few minutes later, wrapped in gauze and tied firmly to a backboard for the trip to the hospital, prayers of thanksgiving went up all over the country; all over the world!

At the time of mankind’s fall in the Garden of Eden, God already knew that there was going to have to be a rescue.  And He knew that, with us stuck in the deep well of sin, the only solution was going to be for Him to come down after us Himself.  Throughout many centuries, He groomed a people group to receive Him when He arrived, even telling them through prophets when He was going to come and how He needed them to prepare themselves.

Finally the time came, and the Word of God, the One and only Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, made His appearance on Earth, being made flesh, just like John says.  He was born to humble, godly parents in the village of Bethlehem right on schedule.  About 30 years later, the time arrived for Him to be revealed to the people of Israel, the people that God had prepared for all of those centuries.

As He began His earthly ministry, He revealed His glory to His disciples.  Some of the inner circle, Peter, James, and John, actually got to see His divine glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).  But John doesn’t even include the transfiguration in his gospel.  Instead, he points to seven miraculous “signs” that, to him, conclusively demonstrated the glory of God’s one and only Son, the Word made flesh:  changing water to wine (2:1-11); healing the official’s son (4:43-54); healing the disabled man at Bethesda (5:1-9); feeding the 5,000 (6:1-13); walking on water (6:16-21); healing the man born blind (9:1-7); and raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44).  John carefully chose which of Jesus’ miracles most clearly revealed His glory and demonstrated who He really was.  In fact, he tells us clearly in 20:30-31, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John’s overriding concern was the same as that of God’s people today:  that people everywhere, come to understand, through the testimony of what we have experienced of Him in our own lives, that Jesus was no ordinary man, not merely a great moral teacher or learned holy man.  He was nothing less than God Himself, the Word made flesh, come down to pull us out of the deep well of sin and death that we had fallen into; to climb down to where we were, and to pull us up into the bright light and fresh air of God’s love.

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The Builder

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
John 1:10-13 (NIV)

Imagine the scene:  It is a cool summer evening; the sun is just setting.  Thousands of people are gathered outside of the brand new Johann Smith concert hall, fortunate enough to have gotten tickets for the opening night concert.  Some big names are in the crowd, and some even bigger names are on the program.  This multi-million dollar concert hall is named for Johann Smith, the man who provided all of the funding for the structure and its operation, believing that no city should be without a beautiful, acoustically excellent place to present and hear fine music.  And Mr. Smith is no huge celebrity.  He is a simple man who had conscientiously put aside and wisely invested savings during his 46-year-long career with the railroad, and who, after his retirement, just wanted to do something really nice for the city that he loved.

As the doors open, the crowd begins to move into the magnificent foyer.  The line starts to back up a bit as a short old man with a walker gets it stuck on the threshold of the doorway.  He tries to get it loose, but the crowd is impatient, wanting to get in and see this wonder of engineering.  Several people make rude remarks, and a few start to jostle the old man trying to move him out of the way so that they can get inside.  The more the crowd pushes against him the more anxious the old man gets, and the less he seems to be able to do with his walker.  Finally a few people manage to squeeze between the old man and the door jamb, and then more, and finally the crowd starts to surge past him.  Nobody remembers seeing it happen, but as someone pushes past the old man, he falls to the ground, and is stepped on, tripped over, and crushed by the rushing crowd that follows.

The next morning the papers carry the tragic story of Johann Smith, who was crushed to death by a crowd trying to get into the concert hall that he had built for the city.  The people were incredulous, especially the people who had seen him struggling with the walker, who had brushed by him, who had maybe even been among those who caused his fall or been part of the crushing crowd that had caused his injuries.  They had no idea that that was Johann Smith.  He looked just like a plain old man with a walker.  If they had only known who he was they surely would have treated him more kindly.  They probably would have helped him with his walker.  And they definitely wouldn’t have said the things that they had said to him or about him.

The fictional story of Johann Smith is tragic.  But the tragedy of that story pales in comparison to the real-life tragedy that John tells us about in verses 10 and 11 above.  Jesus Christ, the Word of God through whom the world and everything in it was made, came to earth that He had created, to the people that He had made.  But, instead of being warmly welcomed, worshiped, and adored as the creator, the people to whom He came rejected Him, beat Him, and crucified Him.

John is, I think, very charitable in telling us that the reason that they rejected Him was that they didn’t recognize Him.  He looked just like any other ordinary guy; who knew that this was God in the flesh!  If they had only known, surely they would have treated Him better!  But I don’t think they would have.  Jesus told them repeatedly and quite clearly exactly Who He was – that He and the Father were one.  He clearly and powerfully demonstrated it by performing miracles among them that no one had ever seen before.  He spoke to them of heavenly things as one who had first-hand knowledge of them.  And He reached out to all people, from the highest religious authority to the lowliest outcasts, with a powerful love, pleading with them to turn to the God who loved them and wanted to draw them close to Himself.  But too many of the people were not willing to receive Him for who He was (cf., Matthew 27:37).

But, thankfully, verse 13 gives us the other side of the picture:  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  Jesus was rejected by the majority of the people that He tried to reach – they just couldn’t receive Him for Who He really was.  But there were some who did receive Him, and they became legitimate children of God, and the core of believers through whom the Christian Church would grow and blossom and spread throughout the world.

Today the two viewpoints on Jesus are still alive and well.  There are many people who still reject Jesus, refusing to receive Him for Who He is, willing only to accept that He was a good man or a great moral teacher, but definitely not God in the flesh.  And in the process they end up putting themselves solidly outside of the grace of the loving God Who gave His very best to save them.  But there are also people today who receive Jesus for Who He really is:  the eternal Word of God, one with the Father since before the world began – God Himself in the flesh who came to earth to die for the sins of all mankind.  And those people have received the right to become legitimate children of God, loving Him and living in His presence from now all the way to forever.

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