Friday, April 19, 2019

“He’s got the whole wide world in His hands”

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The undesirable Jesus
Sermon by Henk Moorman
 
 
 
First of all I’d like to read a passage from Isaiah. Isaiah chapter fifty three verses one to three.
 
“Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground;
He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
And as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.“
 
John says in his gospel, in chapter one verse eighteen: “The Son has made the Father known to us”. So if you look at Jesus’  life, at the things He did and the things He said, his attitude to life and the way he treated people, then you will know what God is like. But not only that. If you look at Jesus, and how people treated Him, then you also know how people treat God.  Jesus’ life was an example for us, and He lived it out, to the full, accepting all the consequences.
But if, for a moment, you ignore all the fanciful ideas that people have conjured up about Him, then you see a Jesus that Isaiah  describes as undesirable. Despised even. And that’s how lots of people see Jesus. It happens time and again during his lifetime. For example: when one of the disciples says to his friend: “We have found the Messiah, it’s Jesus of Nazareth”, then the friend says: “Of Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”
 
Nazareth, you see, is in Galilee. And the Jews consider Galilee to be an inferior region. The “Galilee of  the heathens” it is called, with its second class citizens. Jews and heathens lived there together. And it wasn’t done forJews to mix with heathens, because the heathens were an inferior people. And you certainly didn’t sit down at a table and eat together with them. And if you did do that as a Jew, then you were considered more or less defiled and unclean.
 
So Jews from Galilee, they were second class citizens, inferior and looked down on. And it was from this region, that Jesus came. So you see that wasn ’t something to be proud of. Something that would make him popular. On the contrary, it meant people doubted Him: He can’t be anything special, they thought, because He comes from Galilee. He went unnoticed by the people who mattered.
People didn’t want to be seen with Him either, especially not if you wanted to be accepted by this group of so-called important people. So if you did want to speak to Jesus, then you had to do that after dark, like Nicodemus, who went looking for Jesus at night so that no one else would see him. Because that would make a bad impression, and people would gossip. And people were quick to judge. They accused Jesus of being a wine-drinker, and a friend of whores and tax collectors. A second class citizen, despised and unimportant.
 
Of course it was a completely different case for His followers, for the people who were inspired by Him. Inspired not so much by the miracles he performed, but by his way of thinking, his love and care for others.  These people left everything behind, because they recognised the voice of the Father in His voice, because they saw in Him the true light that enlightens all people.
 
But on the whole, wherever you go in the world, there is no place for Jesus. “Foxes have their holes andbirds their nests, but I have no place to lay my head” Jesus himself says.
 
It was like that even before He was born. For Joseph and Mary it was “No, sorry, there is no room, the hotel is full. Try somewhere else”. No room for Him.
 
 
There were plenty of people who followed Him around. Jesus was always popular with the crowds. At least as long as He did want they wanted. Because the crowds soon disperse when the novelty wears off. And when does the novelty wear off? When things don’t go as expected. When there is no bread and fish to be shared out, when there are no miracles, when Jesus doesn’t turn out to be the superman they want Him to be. And so the crowds soon turned against Him. It didn’t take them long to change their chant from “Hosanna” to “crucify Him”.
 
This happens again and again in Jesus’ life : at least if you look at it through the eyes of the world: there is no place for Him, He doesn’t fit in. And that is exactly what happens to God too, in the world of mankind. There is no place for God in people’s lives.
 
In John chapter eight verse thirty-seven we read that Jesus says: “You seek to kill me because my words find no place in you. You don’t accept me, or what I say.” But Jesus was the Word of God, John says. So if they reject Jesus, then they reject God too. God could say the same as Jesus.  “I can find no place among you”.
In fact what Isaiah says of Jesus could also be said of God’: “He is despised and rejected, He has become an outcast in our society, homeless, someone for whom there is no room, no place amongst the people.
There are times though when Jesus and God are at the centre of attention. At Christmas, for example. Then they suddenly become important. That is, everyone is moved at the sight of the baby Jesus. But who really lets him in. How much room is there for God….for God who is looking for a place to live, for a home among the people. Because that’s what God is doing. He doesn’t want to be homeless. He is looking for a home, a place to live.
 
Jesus says in the gospel of John chapter fourteen verse twenty-three: “”If a man 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.”
 
At last, a place for God amongst the people, at least amongst the people who open their door to Him. Because God is modest. He doesn’t force himself onto people. He doesn’t force His way in, He asks, and then waits until He is invited to come in.
 
I’m sure you all know the text from Revelation chapter three verse twenty, where the spirit of Jesus says to the church in Laodicea: “See, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him and eat with him.”
 
 
You may be thinking “are there really so few doors opened to Him, because a lot of people are religious”.  Well you’re right, there are a lot of religious people. Sometimes because of habit or tradition, sometimes because of fear, or for re-assurance, or even to secure a place in the after-life. Sometimes for the feeling of happiness their religion gives them. Sure, there are plenty of religious people. People who really do believe in God. By that I mean that there are plenty of people who believe that He exists. And that’s good, because that’s where it begins. The Bible says: “whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”
 
But believing in God is something quite different to putting your faith in God. Believing that He exists, does not mean that you open the door to God and let Him in to your life. Accepting the fact that He exists is not the same as opening up your life to Him and sharing it with Him.
Religion alone doesn’t give God a home. God is still kept at a distance, an onlooker in the lives of mankind. And that’s a real shame.
 
Whydo so few doors open? You know I sometimes think it’s because God’s power, His strength, is hidden by his seeming lack of power.
 
 
Because if you look through the eyes of the world then you think: What’s so special aboutHim. A simple carpenter, and whenever he gets into a difficult situation, or people want to hurt him, he doesn’t say: “and now I’ll show them that I’m the Son of God, and I’ll call fire to come down from heaven to prove it”.
No, rather than do that, He avoids his enemies, and disappears into the crowd. Is that the Son of God, clothed with power and majesty? It looks more like lack of power. Strange, because He was clothed with the authority of the Father, wasn’t He?? Yes, He was. Jesus had divine authority, authority from the Father to enable Him to rebuke evil spirits and eventually to dethrone Satan.  But the point is, His glory is hidden in simplicity. His greatness is hidden in modesty and humbleness.  His power hidden by his reluctance to manifest power. I think that that’’s why so few doors open. Because most people want to see Him manifest His power, especially in the form of miracles. When the signs and miracles stopped and Jesus turned out to be someone who was destined to suffer, then the love and enthusiasm of the crowd for Jesus was soon over. That became painfully clear when the crowd had to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, the murderer. Only those who had tasted His goodness and experienced His love stayed with Him.
 
 
 
And as we have said, Jesus’ appearance was nothing special either.
“He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him”, Isaiah says. Not a dynamic figure who immediately stands out in a crowd as someone special. When Judas betrays Jesus, he even has to arrange with the soldiers that he will give Jesus a kiss, so that they will know which one he is.
It seems that Jesus was so ordinary and inconspicuous amongst his disciples that this was necessary.
 
And He doesn’t help the situation by keeping company with people of whom others say: “’ it would be betternot to be seen with them in public, and you certainly would not want to sit at the same table as tax collectors, whores, sinners, and women of bad reputation”
 
So that didn’t help convince people that He was someone of importance, someone to be respected, a rabbi to be looked up to. But Jesus says: “These people belong with Me, they belong too, they are precious to me. It’s for these sort of people that I came to this earth, for people who are looked down on and despised.
 
I also think that many doors remain closed because His victory is hidden in what seems to be defeat. Because for those with no spiritual eyes, or insight into spiritual matters, that’s certainly what it looked like. Because how does it all end? Everybody saw it coming. With death, Jesus dying on the cross. And there’s the crowd again, shouting: “he saved others, but he can’t save himself. Prove that you are the Son of God and come down from the cross”.
 
That’s the whole point, you see, people want to see manifestations of power, glory, victory, success. They don’t want someone who seems powerless, undesirable and defeated. They want heroes, strong men, people who are successful.
 
If you look at Jesus with your unenlightened, natural eyes then you seem someone with no glory, riches or success. And people don’t want to be associated with someone like that. That’s why it is written: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.“
 
And while there was joy in heaven, and the angels rejoiced about the victory that Jesus had gained over satan,  people on earth were sad and disappointed. “He tried, but unfortunately he didn’t succeed. He ended up on the cross” they said. His disciples were the same, they too sat together disappointed.
 
 
And Jesus died. All alone. Well, not altogether alone. There were a few of his followers at the cross, mainly women. They were the ones who remained faithful, right up to the very end. John was there too. John was the disciple who had always understood best what Jesus said, and who had seen his hidden glory.
 
Whowasn’t at the cross? A Peter, for example. The man who had said: “Lord I will never forsake you”. He wasn’t there. Why not? Because Peter hadn’t understood as much as John. He still hung on to his ideals of a Lord that didn’t have to suffer, Peter just couldn’t understand that. “You suffer?” Peter says “that’s not possible. God will prevent it”. And so Jesus says to him :”Get behind me satan, you are a hindrance to me, for you are not on the side of God, but of men”. You can read about it in Matthew chapter sixteen verse twenty two.
 
And with these words Jesus makes it very clear what is important: what about YOU? Do you look at all this from God’s point of view or from a human point of view. If you look at it all with your natural eyes and worldly thinking, then you will have to conclude that Jesus is a failure. But if you look at it with spiritual, enlightened eyes and from God’s way of thinking, then you see a Lord who has proved He is the strongest, who has conquered satan, and who is crowned with glory.
And at the same time you can see where the idea comes from that everything will always go well for Christians, and that nothing bad will ever happen to them, that they will not have to suffer either. But Jesus is quite clear about it: these sort of thoughts come from satan. And those who believe these ideas often end up in a crisis with their faith, because they can’t explain the suffering.
 
In the Bible we see that this is a theme which keeps recurring in the life of Jesus: the strength that is hidden in apparent weakness. He is led as a lamb to the slaughter. In the Amaraic language there is just one word that means both lamb and servant. So the Lord as lamb, and the Lord as servant. He allowed himself to be beaten, and at the end He let them kill Him. He became everyone’s servant. “The greatest in my Kingdom is servant to all” Jesus says.  He proved He is the greatest, by becoming servant to all.
 
If God wants to find a home in people, then it will have to be in those with spiritual insight, in those who try to unravel the mysteries of God. Because everything about Him is a mystery. His glory, His power and His victory.
God needs people who are willing to search for what is hidden, and who will take the time and trouble to search out these mysteries. People who are drawn to the undesirable, not to the spectacular.
People who are drawn not to manifestations of power, but to the supernatural power of His love. This love is often hidden in tiny, inconspicuous things. Not spectacular happenings, but a gentle arm around the shoulder, someone who takes the time to listen to what you have to say, someone who will help you in difficult moments, someone who says: “I’ll go with you”, because that’s what God is like.
 
God will have to look for people who are drawn by the glory of his simplicity, and by the majesty of his humility; people who choose for the God who says: “I don’t have to manifest myself with fire from heaven to prove that in the end I will reign supreme”. We have a Father in heaven who chooses to be ordinary and humble, because He knows, those who love me, will seek me, and find me.
 
It will have to be people who are drawn to God by the victory in being the least. Because for people who look at things through the eyes of the world, being the least is tantamount to admitting defeat. And the endless struggle to be the most important has already causedso much misery. You see, the problem is, only one person can be the most important, only one person can be the best, the most intelligent, the strongest, only one person can know best. Only one. Because at the top of the pyramid there is only room for one.
 
I don’t think the pyramid idea suits God at all. That whole attitude of who is most important, who is at the top, is unknown in God’s kingdom. God thinks in a circle. And in a circle everyone has the same position, there is no question of one person being more important than the other. So then it doesn’t matter if you are the least important. If you know how important you are to God, then you will have no desire to be better or different. And if everyone is content to be the least, then they can sit together in peace.
 
That prevents a lot of misery, in relationships too. Because the enemy is always busy forcing that pyramid way of thinking into your mind, so that people will say: “he needn’t think that he’s better than me”. The pyramids are in Egypt, and God’s people have been led out of Egypt. God’s people is a nation of shepherds, and shepherds sit in a circle.
 
On the other hand, being the least has nothing to do with letting people walk all over you. You may stand up for what you think is true and what you think is right, and if something is unjust, then there is nothing wrong with saying so. The Lord doesn’t ask you to become a doormat, or to let people walk all over you. Of course He doesn’t.
 
 
Being the least is a choice. You can make the choice yourself by saying: ‘Oh, I’m not going to make a point of it’. Or : ‘I will swallow my pride and make the first move toward the other’.Or you can choose to say: “Wait a minute, this is my boundary and I won’t let anyone cross that boundary. This far and no further”. The important thing is to have the inner attitude that enables you to be theleast at the moment that it is wise to be the least. THEN you are a free person, not dictated to by satan, but free.
 
Maybe there is so little room for God because there is just no room, just as in the inn. ThenGod says: “May I come and live in you?” and you reply, if you are honest, ‘Lord I feel honoured, but unfortunately there is no room. My life is already full. If room becomes available then I’d be honoured.’ And life is so full and busy. So full of incentives, so full of problems, so full of responsibilities. And then it’s time to make personal choices. If you don’t do that, you will become depressed and become ill. If your life is too full, then you have to tidy it up. You can MAKE room, by tidying up.
 
And tidying up requires decisions. You have to make choices. And that means that you have to say to ‘no’ to some things: “No………, I’m not going to do that any more”. However helpful and enjoyable it may be.
If you want to achieve a purpose, then you have to make aplan and stick to it, otherwise your attention and energy is pulled in all directions, and your thoughts will become distracted.
 
It is written of the prodigal son that he wasted his inheritance. Actually it says: he was distracted by reckless living. And if you look around you in our society today, then you will see that a great deal of our life is focussed on pleasures and entertainment. But does it get you anywhere? God says: “Make some room. Throw away some things, then there will automatically be some space over, and may I come into part of that space?”.
 
Maybe there is so little room for God because people can’t accept this image of  God. I mean the image of a God who doesn’t seem to be so great and almighty as you thought. Lots of people don’t want a God like this, because it doesn’t rhyme with the image they have of Him, because, after all, God IS Almighty, isn’t he!?
 
Many people don’t want to accept the fact that God doesn’t put an end to all the unrighteousness in the world, like what happened to Sodom and Gomorra. They want Him to say “Now we’ll destroy everything because I have lost my patience“. But God isn’t like that. That is the opposite to what Jesus is like, what God is really like.
 
Take a look at Revelation chapter five: whose task is it, in the future that is portrayed there, to open the book roll, to reveal the future: The Lamb’s task, we read. And one of the elders says: “Do not cry, because thelion of Judah, theroot of David, has conquered to open the book roll and its seven seals. And I saw in the middle of the throne and of the four animals and in the middle of the elders a lamb, as slaughtered, with seven horns and seven eyes”. That lamb, the Bible says, is worthy to take the book roll, and open the seals.
 
And if you read further in Revelation, then you will see that it is always about the Lamb. The Lamb opens the book and reveals the future.
So you see it’s the Lamb who fulfils an important role in  conquering the enemy. It’s theLamb who will dry all the tears of the righteous, of those who have suffered so much. He is always the Lamb, in other words the servant. I thought that was very special. This passage begins with the LION of Judah and then you think: “At last……… at last He’s going to show his strength and His power. But you don’t hear any more about the lion, only about theLamb. It is one and the same person, it refers of course to Jesus who is the lion of Judah.
 
And the characteristics of the Lion are also in Him. They reveal His attitude to satan, the enemy of God and mankind. The Lion refers to his inner spiritual strength which made Him stronger than the enemy. I’m not going to go into the aspect of the Lion here. Jesus is characterised first and foremost by the Lamb, the Lord who became a servant.
 
And this made me think of what Isaiah says: “There will come a time when the lion and the Lamb will be together”. Together in harmony. And quite apart from the question whether this will actually happen in the natural world, I believe these two aspects, the characteristics of the lion and the lamb, come together in harmony in Jesus, and will also come together in harmony in mankind. Both characteristics, where the Lamb is the most typical, but where thelion is also present. In harmony, in a good way.
 
The lion typifies the attitude of the Christians who are courageous enough to say: “That’s enough! We are not going to accept it any more. We won’t let ourselves be oppressed by the enemy. We won’t let the weak be humiliated and trampled on. We refuse to accept the lies that are told about people and God.” If you only have the characteristics of the Lamb, and have nothing of the lion in you, then that’s not enough. You won’t make it. You need both, but the Lamb is most important.
 
 
And of theLamb John says: “I saw it in the middle of the throne”. That’s where He belongs. I sometimes wonder if this is the dividing line. Because the Bible does talk of a dividing line: between the sheep and the goats. Sheep are the people who are willing to follow this Jesus, people of whom it is true, what we read in Revelation fourteen verse four. Here it says of the redeemed: “These are the ones who follow the Lamb, wherever it goes”.  Do you notice that it talks of following the LAMB, and not the LION. God wants people who are willing to follow the Lamb, a Lord who seems undesirable, but who turns out to be the best, the greatest, full of glory.
And I think if that is what you want, if you want to be one of those who follow the Lamb wherever it goes, then pray for it. Because it’s not difficult to SAY that you will follow Him wherever He goes. Peter did that too. Saying the words is easy, but what is important is that we have the attitude necessary to make it true in our lives. And that is the work of God’s spirit in you. When you pray, ask according to God’s will. Then you can be sure your prayer will be answered.
 
Amen.
 
 
Shall we pray?
 
Lord, thank you, that you not only came to tell us what is true, but that you have also shown it tous in your life. You have given us an example to follow.
It’s wonderful that you want to share this life with us, to renew our life, gradually, bit by bit, by accompanying each one of us on our life’s journey and by coming to live with us and eat with us.
Lord, I pray that you will renew our minds so that we will become like you, in our thoughts and our deeds, so that we will be able to follow you, the Lamb of God, wherever you go.
 
I pray Lord, that where necessary, we will make room in our lives, so that we have time to be still and listen to what You have to say to us.
Thank You Lord, that we may continue in this way and so become more and more like you, so that others will be attracted to you, so that people who don’t know you, can see, in us, a little of what God is really like, and want to get to know Him. Lord, that is the only way to reach other people. That’s how you did it. We want to be like you.
 
Amen.