Monday, December 12, 2011

The Eternal Gift

...we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ~II Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

As I closed the book, my mind pondered what I had read. It was a novel, fiction, but I was touched by several ideas contained within those pages. One particular portion impacted me. A main character was talking of his mother's struggle with ALS and his father's care of her.
He said:
"My mother's almost completely paralyzed now. She can no longer speak or write. The only thing she can move is the forefinger of her right hand. At night she taps her finger against the bedpost when she hurts. My father wakes up and gives her her pain medicine. He hasn't slept through the night for years...He's given up everything for what he loves most. Her.
...I asked him how he did it, how he could give up so much for her. What he said taught me more about God and Jesus than a thousand sermons ever could...He said love is stronger than pain." (1)

"Love is stronger than pain." (1) There are layers and layers of meaning held within such an idea, such a truth. I'm sure I have barely scratched the surface in my understanding of these powerful words -- but one thing I can say for certain: When Jesus gave His life for the sins of humanity, He did so completely comprehending the beautiful supremacy of love over pain.

Because of His love for God, because of His love for us, Christ took upon Himself the pain of sin and the brief separation from His Father that such sin ensued. He had never known separation from His Father, but He was willing to go to that point of pain and lack that we might know sweet union and precious communion with God.

With Christ's death, the sting of death was removed, the potency of pain was neutralized; for all who believe on Him, death has been swallowed up in victory. (I Corinthians 15:54)

Christ's love took Him to the deepest, greatest pain - separation from His Father. But His death ensured that such separation would never again be necessary, not only for Him, but for all who believe on Him. Once we are in Christ, nothing can separate us from God's love.

Because of Christ's great love for us, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God... (Romans 8:38-39)

When Christ was born of a virgin, when God became man to dwell among men, this is the gift that He came to give. This is the true Gift of Christmas: birth that provided a sacrifice, death that enabled union, separation that eliminated separation.

In light of such a Gift, the suffering and pain of this life is put into perspective. Oh yes, I see why we are encouraged to not lose heart. Outwardly we are wasting away, but because of Christ's love, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our troubles truly are light and momentary in comparison to what we have been given and what this Gift is producing for us, in us. The struggles, losses, disappointments and frustrations of this life are temporary, but the Great Unseen -- what we can never be separated from -- is Eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18)

Shepherds, told of Jesus' birth by an angel, rushed to glimpse the God-babe. (Luke 2:8-20) 
A star in the east compelled the Magi to come and see the God-child. (Matthew 2:1-12) 
As they looked into the face of the Eternal, time and space clashed -- their eyes saw past the temporal, and they worshiped.  They worshiped the Eternal.

What will we do with this Gift we have been given? Will we allow the eyes of our heart to see the wonders of the Eternal or will we hold to visions of the temporary? Will we worship the One who gave everything for what He loved most? He beckons us to follow His example and depend on His provision that we may see past the pain of this life.

Every day that we focus on the Eternal, every minute that we live for the Unseen, we celebrate the true Gift of Christmas -- and the Gift that can never be stolen, broken or destroyed, the Eternal Gift, reigns supreme in our hearts.

This Christmas -- and every day -- may our hearts and minds be captured with the Eternal,

(1) Evans, Richard Paul, The Sunflower.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Therefore Go

...All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. ~Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

All too often the "therefores" of the Bible are overlooked. In Matthew 28:19, there is a very powerful "therefore". In fact, this "therefore" is pivotal. It was pivotal for the eleven disciples to whom Jesus spoke these words and today, it is just as powerfully pivotal.

At the time these words were spoken, the hearts of the eleven had experienced devastation after devastation. Their Teacher and Friend, the Messiah, Jesus, had been captured, mocked and beaten, crucified and buried. Now, His tomb was empty. Some said they had seen Him, that He had risen from the dead. The two Marys told of seeing Jesus. They relayed His message to the disciples: "Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me". (Matthew 28:10)

So the eleven went to Galilee. Matthew 28:17 tells us, When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.   Jesus knew their hearts. He knew what they had witnessed, that they had experienced devastation after devastation. He knew their doubts. Soon, He would be going back to sit at the right hand of His Father, but right now He wanted to encourage them with His presence.

His presence proved the truth of His words. His life was His Word. By His very life, He was showing them His power, His authority over death. For He had died -- He was crucified -- and yet He was alive. Death had no hold on Him.

By His very presence, He showed them His all-encompassing authority. Then He told them: "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me." In that moment, He wanted them to be impacted by two things: the encouragement of His presence and the limitlessness of His authority. After showing His authority and voicing His authority, He gives them the commission to Go: Go to every nation and tell them what I told you. Go and teach others about Me.

But in between the voicing of His authority and the giving of His commission enters that very powerful and pivotal "therefore". "All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. Therefore go..." Because of my authority, Go. Because I have limitless power, Go. You see, He was not sending them empty or impotent, He was sending them in His power. He was not telling them to Go for Him, He was telling them He would Go through them.

As a reminder of the encouragement of His presence and the limitlessness of His authority, He says: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.". These words were a double reminder, for before His crucifixion He had promised them that in His physical absence His Spirit would come and live with them and be in them. (John 14:15-18, John 15:26, John 16:7-8,12-15)

It was very important for the disciples to grasp the limitlessness of Jesus' authority, for that very authority would live within them and would provide everything needed to accomplish all that had been commanded. If they were to "Go" without that authority, they would fail.

Before Jesus ascended to His Father, He expressed the crucial need for the commission to be worked out in His authority. He told his disciples, "I am going to send you what my Father promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) Jesus wanted them to do nothing apart from Him, just as He had done nothing apart from His Father. (John 14:9-11) In His physical absence, the disciples needed to wait for the Father to send them His Spirit, then the commission could be carried out as intended.

As I mentioned earlier, the power of that "therefore" was not just for the eleven. It is for every follower of Christ. We, too, have been given the commission to Go, but our commission must be coupled with the authority of Christ. Without such authority, the commission is worthless.

When we believed on Christ as our Savior, we were given the Spirit, but the Spirit does not make us walk in His authority. Walking in the Spirit's authority is something we must choose to do every moment of every day. It is something that can only take place through faith. By choosing to believe Christ's authority in this moment and every moment that follows, the product of the commission is solidified. Do I have limitless confidence in the limitless authority of Christ?

He is the Answer to His Commission, therefore, encouraged in His presence, confidently equipped by His limitless authority, Go.