We live in a world today much different than even sixty years ago. The general world view and culture identifies reason with naturalism and faith with feelings—and never the twain should meet! And this great divide is in all churches as in virtually all academic institutions.
In other words our “hearts” are our factories where we build our own towers of Babel—where we climb up the steps of our own reason, feelings, morality, experience—our own spin factory. We tell ourselves, if we really want to know “truth” we must check the latest “discoveries” in physics, philosophy, astronomy, archaeology, etc.
But all that changed that night in Bethlehem when a babe was born to Mary. That baby changed our calendars (BC and AD), planted the idea that hospitals were a great idea, and inspired many through the years to be strong, even unto death, for the sake of principles. Principles that many times defied “commonsense!” He put fresh meaning into the word “Hope”!
But is that all? Hardly! Jesus of Nazareth has taken the “spin” out of human pomposity! He divided more than the calendar. He was more than a Good Man who was unjustly treated. He was God Himself!
Why? Bethlehem 2000+ years ago was Ground Zero in the unfolding of the Great Controversy Drama. The heavenly revolt before this earth was inhabited had been a face-to-face stand-off between the Creator of the universe and His Chief Communication Czar. Face-to-face—the Creator and His Creation with no holds barred!
But in Bethlehem, more than 4000 years later, it was face-to-face time again! Showdown time—who was right about how to run the universe? Who really understood the cry for freedom burning in the hearts of all created intelligences? Who really cared the most for the Created?
When Jesus was born, it seemed that God's Communication Czar was winning! Of course, some discovered that he was also the Arch Deceiver and not their best friend! But only a few!
But when Jesus was born, all the inhabitants in unfallen universe held their breath. The Arch Deceiver, majestic in persuasive skill, in control of kings and princes, surely held all the cards!
Ah, we all know how Baby Jesus was hounded from birth by hell-bound kings and later by religious leaders who were paid, composedly to be loyal to their Lord's carefully crafted Way of Life. Some showdown! He took all that the fiendish mind could throw at Him, He lived long enough to see most everyone who had given him lip-service turn their faces when He needed them the most..
But though it all, for all those watching and for those later who would hear This Story, the Bethlehem Babe had won the greatest battle of all time--He proved His Arch-Deceiver wrong: God is fair, He doesn't separate justice from mercy. God is worth our trust! God had been very clear about consequences of disobedience, even as any parent warns his/her child that the stove is hot!
Now, all that above does not arise out of reason, historical research, or scientific discoveries. We learn it by listening to His side of the Controversy that split heaven long years ago. The story comes to us by watching history unfold. It comes to us when we listen to the great minds of all ages as they attempt to figure out the meaning to life, what to do with human suffering and death—and we see how clearly and adequately God's explanations answer these questions and pleas.
In other words, Jesus is that External Word outside of our minds/hearts. He stops our spin when it comes to issues that matter most. Generally, most Christians have believed this for centuries.
But we hear a different chorus these days! In many church discussions or classrooms! It seems we assume that reason is unbiased. When asked for evidence, one gets more naturalistic explanations. In other words, today, reason rests on public facts; faith rests on private values.
In fact, it is easier today to discuss one's religious values because everyone is entitled to believe whatever he wants. Supposedly, that shows conviction, etc. Just as long as we don't think it is true for everyone else! Salute to post-modernism!
But no one should think that this kind of gracious tolerance does not pervade the Christian church, even our own! Whenever we hear, “doctrines divide but Jesus is the answer,” something is happening. For instance, to sing catchy choruses about “Jesus in my heart” sounds wonderful but “don't presume to evaluate what I mean. It's personal.”
What I am getting at is that when we retreat to our own little island of subjective experience, what we call “faith” is no more than childish wishes, or self-help therapy, or even a leap into the dark. But that is not the faith that sent William Carey to India, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the gallows, or Apostle Paul to the chopping block, or Ellen White to stand up to a room full of General Conference delegates in 1901—to fundamentally change the course of the world church.
Subjective faith turns prayer into “practicing the silence.” Or some kind of compulsion or manifesto to change the world through social reform. But biblical faith is more than good advice and wonderful good deeds. More than the satisfaction of getting into the “conversation” about what happens to be the flavor of the month on any particular religious topic. More than joining the river of experience we know today as Spiritual Formation or the Emerging Church.
Biblical faith is listening to and following closely that boy who became man and known as Jesus of Nazareth. Something about this Boy from Nazareth attracted young and old, male and female because He gave them a picture of God that first startled, then amazed; first a few, and then soon thousands around the Mediterranean basin called Him “The Way.”
What had they heard? “I come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). What was the secret of their new answers they heard? “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:3.
Really, what do those words mean today? We talk easily of Jesus being our Provider and Sustainer as we would a father or mother. Or possibly the US Government! In a way, our focus is on whatever we are entitled to! Not its cost to someone else!
But not our Lord Jesus. When He became man, he opened up a whole new dictionary with completely fresh definitions for such words as love, suffering, obedience—all being synonyms for each other.
Listen to Paul describe the Big Story: He “made himself nothing” and “being found in human form, he humbled [emptied] himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7, 8, ESV) The Cross is the place where love, suffering, and obedience is unmistakably revealed and demonstrated. Submitting to the cross was an act of loving obedience on the part of Jesus.
Think of it, God, the second person of the Heavenly Trio, through whom allthings were created, made Himself nothing. Not just at the Cross—He was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:4).
He emptied Himself when He lowered Himself to become an Angel—to reveal love, suffering, and obedience to all the angels, especially those who were raising questions about God's love and fairness.
He emptied Himself even further when He became man, not as perfect Adam, but with all the inherited weaknesses and propensities of more than 4000 years of sinful choices. Why? For the same reason He humbled Himself to become an angel!
Jesus had to make a decision. We see love in action when we listen in on His Gethsemane surrender where “being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44, ESV). How does that compare to our struggles? “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42).
Here Jesus showed us the anatomy of obedience. Not the legal obedience of clinched teeth! Jesus here showed us that which makes genuine obedience possible: not His will but His Father's. Believing faith always puts God's will first! No whining or complaining—compare it to our Lord's obedience in Gethsemane!
This week's lesson carries with it what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He pointed the Way—Gethsemane, Calvary, Faith, Love, Suffering, Obedience.
Which, of course, raises the question: When did Jesus learn obedience? Paul wondered too and learned that “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9, (NIV).
Obedience is learned behavior. How is it learned? Through suffering that is inevitable when we take the Christian life seriously. It is just as serious for us, at times, as it was for Jesus in Gethsemane.
One of the reasons why we are ruined by ease and pleasure is because self-denial is disagreeable. And so we seek to escape decision-making when the Christian walk is, by definition, a life of choices.
Obedience is not a favorite word today, rather unpleasant for most. Why? Because when we acknowledge obedience, we are also acknowledging the reality of disobedience, But disobedience is the red flag for post-modernists! In fact, it raises another red flag—that of authority. And that is a “redder” flag for most today!
No ultimate truth, only relative! No ultimate authority! We are answerable to no one but ourselves? Yet we wonder why even once respected common sense cannot solve social, financial and geopolitical problems that burst into the future as if humans had no choice in the matter!