Timeless

“Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’

“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’” (John 8:57-58). Jesus was around before Abraham existed – before the world was even created.

A favourite songwriter of mine is Michael Card and in one of his songs, “The Final Word”, he tells us: “Eternity stepped into time.” The awesome thing is that one day, we’ll do it the other way round. We who were once constrained by time will step into eternity. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Time loses its importance when I understand things from a heavenly perspective. “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). Every earthly institution will be done away with. There’ll be nothing left except those things which are eternal.

Have you thought about where you’ll spend eternity? Because Jesus spoke about everyone rising from their graves – some to eternal condemnation and others to eternal life (John 5:28-29). Eternal life is knowing God, and knowing Jesus whom God has sent (John 17:3). If you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that life is yours, and you’ll spend not only time but the whole of eternity with Him.

Servant

Have you ever felt like something was beneath you? I remember volunteering with an organisation once, and all they gave me to do was rip the edges off pieces of scrap paper. To this day I still don’t understand why I was there, but Jesus clearly understood His purpose here on earth. “If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be everyone’s slave. The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give His life to rescue many people” (Mark 10:43-45) or, as another version puts it: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Surely, that must have been a temptation for Jesus – to feel like this was beneath Him. He left the glory He had with God in heaven and came down here, to serve us. He taught; healed diseases; even washed people’s dirty feet, and it was after this that He said: “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:16-17). In other words, Jesus has served, so it’s up to Christians to do the same; we shouldn’t expect to get out of it. Jesus is our Master. Doesn’t any athlete strive to follow what their coach tells them? If you’re looking for true greatness, it may well involve humbling yourself, and being willing to start at the bottom.

Righteous One

In “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes”, there’s a great section about hungering and thirsting after righteousness and what righteousness actually is. The author, Kenneth E. Bailey, makes the point that righteousness isn’t a quest for perfection; it’s not just adhering to the Law, but it’s treating others the way God’s always treated His people – with kindness and compassion.

The ultimate Righteous One is Jesus, and His ultimate act of kindness and compassion happened on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. “Father, forgive them,” He said of those crucifying Him, and you don’t get kinder than that. Jesus took the punishment we deserved so we wouldn’t have to, and you can’t get more compassionate than that. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Quiet

“’Here is My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope.’

“This is what God the LORD says – the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“‘I am the LORD; that is My name! I will not yield My glory to another or My praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you’” (Isaiah 42:1-9).

Christians see those verses in Isaiah as a prophecy about Jesus. Prophecies are messages from God to those He loves, and I’d like to go through this one phrase by phrase:

  • God’s chosen Jesus, and of course He’s going to delight in His Son.
  • God’s Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus when He was baptised (Luke 3:21-22).
  • Jesus brought justice, but it wasn’t packaged the way His friends thought it would be. He didn’t come shouting out or aggressively raising His voice in the streets, keen to do battle with the Romans; His was a quieter and altogether different deliverance. He came gently, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
  • Jesus won’t kick you when you’re down. Maybe as a young Christian, you were fired-up, but life’s knocked you about a bit. You’re feeling bruised, or as if your candle’s been smothered. Jesus isn’t waiting to condemn you, or to replace your dying embers with a brighter flame. He wants to fire you up again – get you back in the race.
  • During His life on earth, Jesus was in constant communication with His Father, holding His hand in prayer.
  • God sustained Jesus, and yes, He has become the New Agreement between God and His people. Whereas beforehand the Jewish High Priest would offer sacrifices to make the people acceptable to God, now Jesus has sacrificed His life as the peace-offering for all who will believe in Him. “In the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new agreement that God makes with His people. This new agreement begins with My blood which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20).
  • Jesus came into this world as the Light for everyone – to open eyes, physical and spiritual; to free from prisons, real or imagined.
  • God gave His glory to Jesus, and told us about Him centuries before He was born – this quiet Deliverer of ours: Not aggressively raising His voice in the streets; just inviting all those who are thirsty to come and be satisfied.
  • Peace

    Holy infant so tender and mild,
    Sleep in heavenly peace
    , the Christmas carol says. Had that been sung over Him when He was born, it could have been prophetic. Jesus was able to sleep in heavenly peace not just when He was an infant, but throughout His earthly life. Even when a storm swamped the boat He travelled in, Jesus could sleep (Matthew 8:24).

    Jesus isn’t just some historical figure; He’s an example to His followers, so we can expect that kind of peace to be available to us. He said these words the night He was arrested: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). This world’s peace is an absence of war; an absence of conflict; an end to turmoil, but Christ’s peace comes in the midst of difficult circumstances. Psalm 127 tells us God “gives sleep to those He loves.” “When you lie down, you won’t be afraid; when you lie down, you will sleep in peace” (Proverbs 3:24). Why would God say ‘You won’t be afraid’, if there was nothing to be afraid of? What He wants is for His people to be set apart – to lie down and sleep in peace, despite what’s going on around us. Knowing that God’s in control of everything makes a difference. “Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered for ever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD” (PSALM 112:6-7).

    Oneness

    “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). As God’s Son, Jesus was at one with His Father. He even said: “I seek not to please Myself but Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).

    This is awesome in itself – the fact that God and Jesus are one and the same, but even more mind-blowing is the standing it can give us. Jesus became one of the human race. He came into the world, and this is what He says about it: “‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him” (John 17:1-2). Jesus’ prayer for all those He has authority over, present and future, is “that all of them may be one … I in them and You in Me so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (John 17:21, 23). Not only is Jesus God’s beloved Son – at one with Him, He wants us to have that same status! Adored children at one with our Father, as our hearts become His heart. The things He desires become the things we desire – justice for the poor; companionship for the lonely; comfort for the sorrowful. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

    Nazarene

    “After Herod died, an angel of the LORD spoke to Joseph in a dream while he was in Egypt. The angel said, ‘Get up! Take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, because the people who were trying to kill the child are now dead.’

    “So Joseph took the child and his mother and went to Israel. But he heard that Archelaus was now king in Judea since his father Herod had died. So Joseph was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the area of Galilee, to a town called Nazareth, and lived there. And so what God had said through the prophets came true: ‘He will be called a Nazarene’” (Matthew 2:19-23).

    I’m reminded of a song we’d sing at my local Pentecostal church when I was a young Christian. I tried to find a rendition that included all the verses, and this one is absolutely great; you can tell their hearts are in what they’re singing. It may be an old song, but it’s timeless I think.

    * * *

    I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
    And wonder how He could love me – a sinner, condemned unclean:
    How marvellous, how wonderful,
    And my song shall ever be:
    How marvellous, how wonderful
    Is my Saviour’s love for me
    .

    For me it was in the garden, He prayed ‘Not My will, but Thine’;
    He had no tears for His own griefs, but sweat drops of blood for mine:
    How marvellous

    In pity angels beheld Him, and came from the world of light
    To comfort Him in the sorrows He bore for my soul that night:
    How marvellous

    He took my sin and my sorrows; He made them His very own –
    He bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone:
    How marvellous

    When with the ransomed in glory, His face I at last shall see,
    ‘Twill be my joy through the ages to sing of His love for me:
    How marvellous, how wonderful,
    And my song shall ever be:
    How marvellous, how wonderful
    Is my Saviour’s love for me
    .

    Messiah

    “A man named Simeon lived in Jerusalem. He was a good man who was devoted to God. He was waiting for the time when God would come to help Israel. The Holy Spirit was with him. The Holy Spirit told him that he would not die before he saw the Messiah from the Lord” (Luke 2:25-26). Messiah is a Hebrew word. Christ is its Greek equivalent, and both mean the same thing: Anointed One.

    In the time before Jesus was born, the Jews used anointing oil. It was a sign that God had chosen someone (or something) for a task and they were fit for purpose, but the anointing oil was just that – a sign. Now, we no longer need oil to be anointed because we have the Holy Spirit.

    We’ve seen that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, so from day one, Jesus was anointed, but when He was baptised by John, His anointing became visible. “I also did not know who the Messiah was,” says John. “But the One who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘You will see the Spirit come down and rest on a man. He is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen this happen. I saw the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove and rest on this man. So this is what I tell people: ‘He is the Son of God’” (John 1:32-34).

    Nowadays, although the Holy Spirit anoints Christians, oil is still used within the church. “Anyone who is sick should call the church’s elders. They should pray for and pour oil on the person in the name of the Lord. And the prayer that is said with faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will heal that person. And if the person has sinned, the sins will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15). Oil, and a prayer said in faith. In other words, we’re acting as people have for thousands of years. The oil is a sign that we welcome the work of God in someone’s life. When Jesus taught His followers to pray, one thing He said to ask for was that God’s kingdom would come on earth, as in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

    Jesus, I welcome You and Your kingdom. I welcome You as my Anointed One – my Messiah.

    Lord

    “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Saviour was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).

    The story of the shepherds is well-known, but God sometimes surprises me when I think again about the familiar. This verse seemed to jump out at me recently: “When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem. Let’s see this thing that has happened which the LORD has told us about’” (verse 15).

    I’ve often heard those shepherds referred to as the lowest of the low. Jewish maybe, but nowhere near Rabbi status; undoubtedly smelly; considered nothing more than outcasts, and yet … ‘Let’s see this thing which the LORD has told us about’? They didn’t say ‘God in heaven’, or even ‘The God of our ancestors’; they called Him LORD. Here were this group taking care of their sheep, and already under God’s authority – so much so that when a prompting came from Him, they hurried to follow it.

    I really want to be like those shepherds – quick to obey, and quick to praise. After their time with the baby Jesus, Luke tells us: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Wouldn’t it have been great to be in the fields near them? I wonder what the sheep made of it all.

    King

    I’d like to focus on an encounter Jesus had just before He died. My loyal blog-readers might know that one of my favourite books in the Bible is the gospel of John. I love the detail John goes into and how he takes the time to find the good in people.

    * * *

    Jesus is brought before Pilate – the Roman governor. After some protest, he takes Jesus into his palace and asks: “Are you the king of the Jews?”

    “My kingdom is not of this world,” says Jesus. “If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders.” Just these couple of verses highlight how much it cost for Jesus to sit on that heavenly throne. In order for God to lift Him up, He needed to lower Himself and die a barbaric death on a cross. He needed to do that to bring people into His kingdom. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32).

    “You are a king, then!” I imagine Pilate sneering.

    “You say that I am a king,” Jesus responds. “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” Not only did Jesus pay a high price for His kingship, He was born with that price on His head.

    I could leave you there hanging, but I’d rather share Pilate’s change of heart. Having had Jesus beaten, Pilate returns to the Jewish leaders and washes his hands of the case. “I find no basis for a charge against Him.”

    But the leaders insist: “He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God.” Now any sneer is well and truly wiped off Pilate’s face, and it’s back inside with Jesus for more questions.

    “Where do You come from? … Do You refuse to speak to me? … Don’t You realise I have power either to free You or to crucify You?”

    “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed Me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” I believe that was the moment when Pilate was transformed – when he realised Jesus was more than just an exceptional human being.

    John confirms it was at that point that Pilate tried to have Him released, but the Jews are firm. “Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” Pilate may have had run-ins with his employer in the past. Perhaps knowing his job was on the line was enough to tip him over the edge. Whatever the reason, he allows Jesus to be crucified, but has a sign fastened above the cross which reads (in several languages): Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.

    The priests aren’t in favour of this and try to contest it, but finally, Pilate stands by his principles. “What I have written, I have written.”

    * * *

    The full dialogue is in John 18:28-19:22. Perhaps it can encourage you that even if fear or pride have got in the way, God’s forgiveness is on offer. It’s not too late to turn around, and stand up for what you believe in.