Sunday, September 28, 2008

Jesus: The Son of the Father

The most significant thing that is said about Jesus Christ in the Gospels is that He is the Son of the living God. His identity is proclaimed in His Sonship. Central to our understanding of Jesus is His relationship with His Father. So close is His relationship with the Father that He can say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and again, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

His relationship with the Father is the wellspring of all that He says and does. When the Pharisees question His identity Jesus replies, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. . . I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:25-26, 28b-29).

In the first public act at the beginning of His ministry the Gospels testify that Jesus is the Son of God. That is His identity. God the Father Himself speaks from heaven and says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17b). He who is the Son of God is the Lord for Whom John the Baptist came to prepare the way. This Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. This Jesus, Who is the Son of the Living God, is the Lord of lords, He is the King of kings.

As a Son, Jesus lives in response to the will of the Father. When challenged by John the Baptist regarding who should be baptizing whom, Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus has come to do His Father’s will and so He allows Himself to be baptized. In doing so He who is sinless descends into the waters of baptism and death to self, bearing our sins upon His own shoulders. He rises from the waters bringing us with Him. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”(Romans 6:4).

This is not merely an academic and theological proposition. This is a personal and immediate reality. When He was baptized He bore your sins and mine on His shoulders and stepped down into the waters of baptism. That baptism is a baptism of repentance and the implications are clear. If we acknowledge that He was baptized for us, that He bore our sins on His shoulders and completed that identification with us by offering Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, then the message is that we should turn from our sins and go and sin no more.

Jesus’ life and ministry is defined by what happens next. As He comes up out of the waters of baptism He sees the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descending on Him “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). This outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace marks forever the character of His ministry. The event, however, is incomplete without the words of the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” It is the repeated proclamation and reality of His Sonship by God the Father that establishes the identity and ministry of Jesus.

But where are we to find our own identity? Can we find our identity as men and women in our relationships as sons and daughters with our own earthly fathers? Isaiah the prophet says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1). If, in a shallow human fashion, we look to the quarry from which we were dug and assume that what is meant is our personal family backgrounds we will not find all that we need. Instead Jesus invites us into relationship with His own Father. “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). That prayer invites us to share with Him in His relationship with the Father, but even a we pray we say “our Father,” which is a tacit admission that we are all brothers and sisters of one another.

Our adoption is necessary because the starting place for our identity is quite different than the starting place of Jesus. Paul says “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Having Adam as a father is a mixed blessing, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The result is that none of us have received perfect fathering, neither do we give it.

We are offered adoption as sons and as daughters of God the Father. John the beloved disciple says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). The acceptance of Jesus as both Savior and Lord is central to our relationship with God the Father. Jesus cries out, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me, sees him who sent me.” Again in his first epistle John says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). The call to accept Jesus as Savior is inseparable from the call to accept Him as Lord. You can’t have one without the other!

The gift of the Spirit that comes with baptismal faith bears the privilege of a special relationship with the Father. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). That promise is the promise of our own sonship, “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6, see also Romans 8:15). Immersion in the Holy Spirit opens for us the door of sonship. God is our father, and by adoption and the sealing of the Spirit, we are His sons and daughters.

Paul makes the same point when he says “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15).

There is another important promise regarding the establishment of our relationship with the Father, in the teaching of Jesus at the Last Supper, “ Jesus promises us, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). In, and through, Christ Jesus we have intimate access to the presence of the Father. How much time do you think you ever needed from a father? Your Father in heaven has all the time for you that you think that you need. Here comes an important question. How much of His time are you willing to enter into? Note also the special condition that Jesus gives, the promise is for those who will keep His word.

From a biblical perspective our adoption and renewed relationship with the Father is the fruit of the experience of the Spirit of His Son in our hearts. Be careful not to banalize it. “Abba”, on the lips of Jesus, and on our lips, is not the childish cry “Daddy”, but rather the intimate response of the adult child to a Father who is sovereign in power and awesome in majesty. It is with that in mind that Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). Intimacy is mingled with awe, and like Jesus, we immediately begin to learn to pray, “Your will be done.” True sonship brings with it surrender to the will of God our Father. That is one of the abiding characteristics of the ministry of Jesus who says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19-20a).

Many sons have never heard their fathers say, “You are my beloved son.” We may need to be re-parented, but no re-parenting from earthly father figures can bring the healing that can come to us through the anointing of the Spirit and the loving adoption of our heavenly Father. “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Our new identity is to be anchored in the identity of Jesus the Son, and in our relationship with Him. In this adoption, re-parented adult sons and daughters of God can find re-formation in the parenting of their own children. You can’t give what you don’t have, but on the other hand you can give what you are receiving.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Intimacy With God

What a privilege it is to pray; but to contemporary ears the very word “prayer” tends to formalize what is in essence a very intimate act. At the basis of prayer lies the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit given through the Son. Through the gift of the Spirit of God we have a direct relationship with the Father and the Son. Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

John the beloved disciple testifies “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3). Implicit in that remark is the reality that this fellowship, this intimacy with God, is not only personal, it is also corporate. It is fellowship with God in the Temple which is the Body of Christ.

The gift of intimacy with God does not come with cheap benevolence that ignores the justice and holiness of God. This intimacy is blood bought. The way to the Father is through the wounds of the Son.

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Jesus Himself is the new and living way into the heart of the Father.

The key to the identity of Jesus is His intimacy with the Father. His custom was to spend time on the mount in intimate prayer with the Father, so intimate that He can say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and again, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The character of the Father is indelibly stamped on the face of the Son, and the intimacy that we experience with the Father and the Son is the work of the Spirit Who gives us the gift of Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

This intimacy with God has also its costs to us. With Him there are no secrets. There are no closed doors within us that He will not enter. True intimacy demands vulnerability. When the light of His countenance shines upon us nothing can remain hidden. Self-discovery comes hand in hand with the knowledge of God. The self-revealing God elicits through love the revelation of our secret thoughts and intents and desires of our hearts.

Our souls, our very inner being, cries out to Him, “ 2 O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine, 3 your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is as ointment poured forth” (Song of Solomon 1:2-3). What in our clouded vision we often miss is the intensity of His desire for us. “My beloved speaks and says to me . . . O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”

Such dialogue in prayer is not always talking, but often, “being,” just being with Him whom we love. Intimacy at its deepest is beyond words. Here confession drops away, intercession fades into the background, even praise is stilled and if we speak at all it is only to lovingly utter His Name, just enough to keep our focus on Him whom we love. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, in almost wordless adoration. And in that Holy intimate silence there is only Him, and around you both the weary world spins away unheeded.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Anima Christi and Commentary

Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Jesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te.
In saecula saeculorum. Amen

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
In the hour of my death, call me.
And bid me come to Thee.
That with Thy saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever. Amen

This ancient prayer has long been one of my favorite devotional poems, and while its author is unknown it appears in various documents around the end of the fourteenth century. You will notice just by casual observation that the original Latin form has both a poetic form and rhythm not captured by the English translation, yet the English translation carries well enough the power and inspiration of the original prayer.

Soul of Christ, save me. Anima Christi, sanctifica me. Do you think in terms of Christ Jesus having a soul? Of course He does, we’re just not very analytical when we think of Him. The soul is the interior core of our nature that responds to God, even as Christ Jesus responded to his Father and exulted in the Holy Spirit. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. confesses that Jesus Christ is “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body.” He is God through and through, and man through and through, He is truly God and He is truly man, and He has a reasonable soul and a body. If He didn’t He wouldn’t truly be man. When we pray “Soul of Christ, save me,” we are acknowledging that His suffering on our behalf was not just a suffering of the exterior body, but an agony and dying of the inner man. What an awesome thing He has done for us in giving Himself, soul, blood and body, that we might be reconciled to God.

Body of Christ, save me. Corpus Christi, salva me. We are now on more familiar terms. The body is a precious thing to us. I mean our own bodies, and when we suffer in the body it affects not only the physical realm but also the interior person. He gave His body to be nailed to the tree. A late medieval poem, the Holy Rood, is written as a memoir of the Cross itself as it recalls the horrifying events:

I saw the Lord of the world
Boldly rushing to climb upon me
And I could neither bend, nor break
The word of God. I saw the ground
Trembling. I could have crushed them all,
And yet I kept myself erect.
The young Hero God/
Himself, threw off his garments,
Determined and brave. Proud/
in the sight of men He mounted
The meanest gallows, to make/
men’s souls eternally free.
I trembled as His arms went round me./
And still I could not bend,
Crash to earth, but had/
to bear the body of God.

What is captured here is the utter willingness of Jesus Christ the Hero God to die for you and for me. O, how He loves us so.

Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Sanguis Christi, inebria me. Christ Jesus says to those who would follow him, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”(John 6:56). Many of his earlier followers said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60b). But what Jesus is referring to is that deep koinonia, fellowship, intense intimacy between Himself and those who love him and are one with Him. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:16-17). That is why it is such a grievous thing to break the unity of the body of Christ. John, the beloved disciple testifies, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). There is in this loving union with the Father and the Son an intense intimacy, and intoxication of love priceless beyond all measure. Drink deeply and be intoxicated with the love of Him who died for you.

Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Aqua lateris Christi, lava me. It was embarrassing for Peter and perhaps for some of the other Apostles to have Jesus lay aside His outer garments, take a towel and tie it around his waste, and begin to wash his disciples feet and dry them with the towel. Peter cries out, “You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8). Jesus responds, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Surrender yourself and stand under the cleansing stream water and of blood that flows copiously down from the side of the crucified Lover of your soul. Humble yourself. Be cleansed. But not all whose feet are washed are automatically cleansed. To be washed by the water from the side of Christ is to be truly penitent, surrendered, and aware of both who you are, and Who He is. It is the Lord God Jesus Christ who seeks to wash you.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me. Passio Christi, conforta me. Let the testimony of St. Paul be your testimony, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live . It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. By faith we acknowledge that we have been crucified with Christ and our life is hid with him in God (Colossians 3:3). Only in the strength of that can we take seriously to heart the exhortation of James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I have discovered the fundamental spiritual truth, that I am shut in so that I cannot escape, that I am a man who has no strength, and that I am helpless. Initially no-one really wants to go there, but lay your hands to the wood and be one with Him. After you have died once, or twice, or a dozen times or more, you will discover what a relief it is not to have to control everything. Carry the yoke with him, His yoke is easy. His burden is light. That is when you will say with the Psalmist, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased” (Psalm 138:3). Strength is given only to the surrendered heart.

O good Jesus, hear me. O bone Jesu, exaudi me. The petition is warm and personal. This Christ who surrenders His soul, whose Body was broken, whose Blood was shed, is after all my Jesus. My friend and my familiar companion. He has sworn His love to me, and I trust His words, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). He who died for me is alive, He has taken His place at the right hand of the Father and through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit, He is with me always. I am not berift or alone. He is the Vine, and I am a branch. O good Jesus, none is good but God alone, and You are my God. I know that You hear me!

Within Thy wounds hide me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me. Why should we pray to be hidden within the wounds of Jesus the Christ? There are three reasons that immediately come to mind; and the first is perhaps the most important. It is the heart’s desire of the lover of God to see His face, indeed we are commanded to do so. “You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek." But like Moses we are faced with a very real obstacle. Moses says to the Lord, “Please show me your glory,” the Lord replies, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” But, "behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen" (Exodus 33:18-23). We have lost the sense of reverent awe before the Sovereign and Holy God. The simple truth is, that in our flesh, we cannot see God, save for being hidden in the cleft of the Rock. That leads to the second reason; we desire to be hidden in the wounds of Christ Jesus that our sins may be covered, indeed for that purpose he died so that we may be forgiven and reconciled to the Father of Lights. The third reason has to do with a very simple safety factor. There is an enemy that pursues our souls (Psalm 143:3) who seeks our very life. He is a liar and a murderer and desires nothing better than the death of our peace, the death of our joy, the very death of our souls. Within Thy wounds hide me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me.

Suffer me not to be separated from Thee. Ab hoste maligno defende me. There was a time when “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9). “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (Revelation 12:12 ). There is a reason to be hidden within the wounds of the Christ. There is a reason to put on our Holy armour. There is an Adversary, an Accuser. and that wily one is a schemer, a trickster who never tells the truth except to turn it into a lie. The enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). You just might be his favorite meal.

In the hour of my death, call me. In hora mortis meae voca me. There will come a time for each of us when the race will draw close to the goal. Not only are we called to die now to self-centeredness, we will eventually be called die to our bodies also. We will take nothing from this life to the next that has not been founded upon the Rock. At the hour of my, death call me. And bid me come to Thee. Et iube me venire ad te. I long to come to Thee. All the days of my life I have longed to come to Thee. Before I knew Thee, even when I fled from Thee, I longed to come to Thee. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides Thee” (Psalm 73:25). But there is more that You give to us, more than we could have dreamed.

That with Thy saints I may praise Thee. Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te. So often we have a limited idea of whom we will see in heaven. Certainly there are some saints of our own from our faithful families and friends who have gone on before. Beyond that a few of the saints from the history of the Church may come to mind. But the roll call of the blessed is more glorious than we could ever imagine. A hint of the awesome prospect ahead is given in the Letter to the Hebrews, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Forever and ever. Amen. In saecula saeculorum. Amen. There we will dwell with blessed for endless ages. Forever and ever hardly brings into the focus the endless ages rolling down through eternal time. There we will see “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. There He will dwell with us, and we will be his people, and God himself will be with us and be our God. There He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away, and there love and joy will abide forevermore (Rev. 21:2-4).

Amen. Amen. So be it. So be it.