John Chapter 17 is a passage that is packed, pressed down, and running over with the most revealing truth about the heart of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the plans He has for you and me. Early in His earthly ministry, the disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray…(Luke 11:1). In response, Jesus gave them an outline of a model prayer. However, in John chapter 17, we are given an incredible opportunity that allows us to “hear” our Lord offer a life-changing, extraordinarily comprehensive High Priestly prayer for Himself, the early disciples, and the subsequent believers of all ages after them. In this prayer, Jesus gathered the entire human race into Himself and stood before the Father to make supplication on its behalf. “Father the hour has come…,” He began, (John 17:1). The hour for which Jesus came into the world was the hour He would leave it; the hour He would lay down His life for the seed of Adam; the hour He would be scourged, beaten, spat on and cruelly nailed on a Roman cross for you and I- a most ignominious death. This is the background against which this remarkable prayer was offered. Jesus was well aware that Satan was preparing to unleash his unbridled, vile force on him. So much was at stake. The redemption of the whole human race was the crux of the matter at that moment. Jesus turned to His Father. He needed to speak with One who understood the unfolding events; One from whom He could draw strength to endure the impending harrowing experience. That is why this prayer is unique. It is dense with emotion and passion, and fills the reader with wonder and adoration for our Savior and Lord.
In this prayer, Jesus made an astonishing request to His Father. He said “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. ” (verse 24). Just pause for a while and contemplate on this stunning request and its staggering implications. Jesus, the Son of God, made this timeless request on your behalf and mine. He was calling you and I a gift to Him from His Father. Just think about the unparalleled worth this bestows on us. God saw you and I and decided to make us an eternal gift for His Son. We are God’s love gift to His only begotten Son. Jesus does not desire that we should be with Him because we have inherent goodness. It is because of His marvelously abundant grace. He loves us enough to want us to be with Him in glory!! In essence, He was saying to His disciples and to us who believe through them, “I will miss you and I want you with me where I will be.” How we all long to be wanted and loved not because of what we can give, but just for who we are. That the pre-existent second Person of the Godhead, the One through who all things were made, should think and long for your company and mine is a stunning thought. We were chosen before the foundation of the world and adopted of God so that, in the metaphor of marriage, we have become the corporate, spiritual bride of His Son (Ephesians 1:4; 5: 25-27; 2 Corinthians 11:2). Jesus wants us with Him in His presence not for a limited period of time but for eternity!!! If you are ever tempted to think that no one loves you, think again. On earth, believers only saw a silhouette of His glory. But in heaven Jesus’ glory is unveiled in all its magnificence. His power is unbridled. This is what He wants us to experience with Him. On that eve, over two thousand years ago, Jesus was obviously aware of the rigors, harshness and sordidness of the night of our earthly existence, and He desired to give us an eternal rest. Although He would be leaving the believers, His desire was to, ultimately, have us all gathered unto Him, an eternal gift from His Father. This is one time the gift will take on the appearance of the its recipient. “But we know that when He appears [to take us home], we shall be as He is…” (1 John 3:2). Of course, this does not mean that we shall take on His deity. Rather we will also have a glorified, eternal body, just as He has. No wonder the apostle Paul exultantly exclaimed that ““Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him, (1 Corinthians 2:9). In the book of Revelation, the apostle John was blessed with a vision of heaven and shared it with us. He said he did not see a temple there because the Almighty God and the Lamb are the temple. Nor did he see the sun or moon shedding light on the city of God because Jesus is its Lamp. The radiance from the Person of Christ illuminates the entire city for eternity because. There is not night there. Jesus is heaven’s infinite Light. They need no batteries or generators or power plants as sources of light there. Jesus shines forever. John saw Him in full disclosure. He was fully displayed as He has always been from eternity past, not as a flickering light but gloriously bright and incandescent, and we shall experience Him in this state forever. I don’t know about you, but this strengthens my resolve to be there with Him, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord. My spot is waiting for me because of Jesus who ever lives to make intercession for us, and I don’t intend to miss it.
Inside every believer a battle is raging between the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh’s agenda is contrary and hostile to that of the Spirit. A relentless gravitational pull constantly threatens to pin us and fasten us firmly to the natural world while dissuading us from focusing on the spiritual realm. Our own feeble efforts and determination to walk in the spirit yield pitiful results at best. It is a frustrating and terribly discouraging problem. But thanks be to God for the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Remedy for this spiritual quagmire. The Bible states that when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we pass from death unto eternal life (John 5:24). This becomes a new reality for believers even in this life and God always speaks the truth in His word, “Let God be true, but every man a liar,” (Romans 3:4). He also watches over His word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12).
There are two parallel kingdoms running side by side: the kingdom of God (the spiritual) and the kingdom of this world (the natural). Although they are distinct from each other, they are not entirely separate. Sometimes they intersect, and believers can have access to both kingdoms through Christ Jesus. Celestial beings have also occasionally penetrated the terrestrial realm through visions and varied epiphanies. We are told that the spiritual is eternal and the natural is temporary (2 Corinthians 4: 18). Because the spiritual is the believers’ eternal reality, the apostle Paul exhorts us to set our minds on things in that kingdom and not on things in the other, (Colossians 3:2). We must be eternity-focused if we are to walk in victory in the natural. The biblical formula for a sustained eternity-focusedness is looking unto Jesus (Hebrews. 12:2). Jesus is the door and through Him we enter eternity. He came not only to inaugurate a new existence that is available for whosoever will, but He also came to make eternity enter into time so that eternal life has become qualitatively available right now for us living within the confines of time and space. Looking unto Jesus is a seemingly innocuous little phrase carrying only three words. But, in actual fact, this is a radical formula for life. It is dynamic and pulsates with astonishing energy. Everything hinges on it for we live, and move, and have our being in no other than Jesus (Acts 17:28). Not a single person has ever willed themselves to come into existence. The Bible states that without Jesus nothing was made that was made (John 1:3) including you and I. Looking unto Him entails more than just a casual spiritual glance. It involves fervent prayer, and spending quality time with Him. It is learning to hear His voice, to recognize it, and to distinguish it from that of the Enemy. “My sheep hear my voice,” He said, “and I know them, and they follow me,” (John 10:27). Looking unto Jesus is to meditate upon His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His intercessory work right now. By looking unto Him our mind, soul, spirit, and will become radically transformed and aligned with His will. Looking unto Him is the antidote for a carnal mindset, and delivers us from the power of darkness to establish us into His kingdom (Colossians. 1:13). As we steadfastly look to Him, our choices, decisions and priorities are redefined. The losses we incur in this life become our eternal investments yielding exponential dividends. Looking unto Jesus gives us access to the Father and makes us habitations of the Holy Spirit. Because of Jesus, we have contact with our heavenly family and have divine presence within us. Our thought process changes and becomes like His (Philippians. 2:5). We begin to see that which is invisible, and it becomes our reality. The fear and dread of life’s harsh twists and turns, and death dissipate as perfect love is enthroned in our hearts.
As we fix our gaze on our Lord and Savior, we enter and remain in our resurrected state (Ephesians. 2:6). We begin to filter all our life experiences through the context and framework of eternity, which brings a transcendent richness. In adversity, we are able to see beyond the immediate so that we can exultantly echo the apostle’s words, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians. 4: 8,9). Painful as life’s trials may be, we take heart in knowing that “… our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” because “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” (2 Corinthians. 4: 17,18). This is not to say that we are in denial of adversities and cruel hardships. Rather it is to realize that there is meaning in them beyond our horizon. Pain and suffering certainly beat upon each one of us at one time or another, tossing us back and forth in the sea of life, threatening to disrupt and even to shatter the moorings of our faith. But Jesus is the Compass that helps us stay on course with eternity in mind. One of the gloriously stabilizing blessings of being a Christian is the reality and certainty that our lives extend beyond the grave to a new beginning into the eternal present; the assurance that at death we cross the threshold of this rigorous temporary existence and enter into a peaceful rest. The apostle Paul urges us to keep an energetic and living perspective of our resurrected position in Christ, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, (2 Corinthians. 5:1). Jesus has made all this available for us. None of us has to work for it. He has already done all the work. All we need to do is to keep our gaze on Him; focused on eternity.
To comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, (Ephesians 3:18)
No one has had as profound an impact on the history of this planet as Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and rightfully so because He created it and sustains it: All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3, JKV). Kingdoms and Empires have come and gone. Rulers and leaders of every stripe have arisen for a season and exited the stage of life only to vanish into the dusty trails of history. Some are remembered with honor while others have gone down into infamy. But Jesus has continued to be an imposing Presence towering over all historical events. Muggeridge succinctly observed this when he said, “Behind the debris of… self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”1
What is most astonishing and awe-inspiring about Jesus is His unquenchable love for the inhabitants of this planet; His eternal, unconditional and undying connectedness to you and I. There is no human language rich enough to adequately describe this love. But Scripture exhorts us to “comprehend…what is the width and length and depth and height of the love of Christ which passeth understanding…” (Eph. 3:18). How is it possible for us to comprehend love that is incomprehensible? Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we catch a glimpse of this enigmatic attribute of our Lord, which the apostle Paul attempted to describe.
What is the width of Christ’s love? Blinded and exiled to the island of Patmos, the apostle John had a series of spectacular visions of heaven. He saw before the throne of God and the Lamb a multitude which no one could number. They came from “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” (Revelation 7: 9). An inter-ethnic, multi-racial, inter-generational community of the redeemed stood before the throne of God- thousands and thousands of glorified saints. Such is the inclusiveness and width of Jesus’ love. No one is banned from it who desires it. Everyone who comes to the Lord Jesus has the privilege of basking in this eternal agape love. That is how massive and intense and vast it is. In His love, there are no social strata, no castes, no walls of separation, nothing that insinuates a disadvantage. Just one blood-bought community standing before Him on level ground. Demoniacs, prostitutes, tax collectors, turncoats, and abusers of human rights have an equal opportunity to enter into this love.
The length of Jesus’ love is its timelessness. It extends from eternity past to eternity future. This love existed before the foundation of our universe, which means it transcends time and space. It is as old as our Lord. It was the motivation for the Plan of Redemption. Jesus’ love never wears out. From generation to generation it crowns our existence. It covers our earthly pilgrimage, keeps us in Him in death, and will rouse us into eternal existence at the resurrection to become part of the eternal family of God and His Christ, forever. Never are we ever separated from it. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom 8: 38, 39). Nothing can intercept or interrupt Jesus’ man-ward love, ever.
The depth of Jesus’ love is exemplified in His incarnation and all His experiences in His flesh. Of course, that was not the inception of His love for us. Rather that was when it began to be revealed and made manifest to us. Jesus condensed Himself so much that He injected Himself into the current of time and space not as an aristocrat but as a carpenter from a poor family. The apostle’s Christological hymn aptly expresses this: “Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” (Philippians 2: 6-8). The Incarnation is the most astonishing and mysterious historical event ever! In it, God displayed His shocking humility. In this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, God became one with you and I. He grew human limbs and organs and sinew. He had a skeletal system and a circulatory system, too. He became fully human subject to death although He remained fully divine. His life of self-expenditure on our behalf is incomprehensible. It is beyond the grasp of the human mind. The Creator of billions of galaxies and complex life forms became a creature Himself. He condensed Himself into an embryo in His creature’s womb and trusted her with all aspects of His childhood. Since the Incarnation, humanity has been elevated and dignified in a most amazing manner. Jesus allowed Satan to tempt Him, His brothers to doubt His divinity, Church leaders to deride Him and to finally hand Him over to a pagan Empire to crucify Him. On the Cross, He became the sinner’s substitute. Every type of human sin was laid on Him and, because of that, He experienced something He had never experienced before: He was separated from His Father’s face. All alone, He walked through palpable spiritual darkness to destroy the works of the Enemy. His was the greatest battle ever fought by one Man on a hill called Calvary-for your sake and mine. All the powers of darkness were unleashed against Him. The only weapon He had was His love for you and I, and that was enough. This is how deep His love is, and much, much more. But the story does not end here.
The apostle urges us to contemplate and to know the height of Jesus love, too! Jesus, the Eternal Prophet, Priest, and King burst out of the tomb to die no more. He de-fanged death and the grave could not hold Him back. “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death,” (Revelation 1:18). When He ascended back to His Father, He did not go alone, but took you and I in Him to sit on the right hand of the throne of majesty, above all principalities and powers. We have passed from death unto life because of Jesus (John 5:24). We have inherited what we do not deserve; what we never worked for – eternal life through Him and with Him. He has given us a weapon with which to overcome the Enemy, His blood (Rev. 12:11). We are now a kingdom of priests in Him who ever lives to make intercession for us. Furthermore, when He appears again, we shall be as He is (1 John 3:2). He will transform our mortal bodies to be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:2). His love has done all this for you and for I. Is it any wonder it passeth understanding?
1 Muggeridge, M. In Ravi Zacharia’s Book: Deliver Us From Evil: Restoring the Soul in a Disintegrating Culture, Dallas, USA: Word Publishing, 1996, pp. 187-8.
On one occasion, St. Augustine made this remarkable declaration, “The book of nature and the book of Scripture were both written by the same author, and will not be in conflict when properly read and understood.”1 More recently, in 1987, Pope John Paul II said that “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” Both these statements challenge the prevailing worldview that there is a conflict between science and religion. Yes, I know, I have written about this before, but this is an ongoing dialogue and there is a lot at stake.
St. Augustine and Pope John Paul II both seem to suggest that science and religion have the potential to complement each other and that they are necessary tools for expanding human knowledge about the natural and the spiritual realms. As physical beings, humans need to study and grasp the laws that govern their natural environment. As spiritual beings, they need a good and coherent understanding of the spiritual realm. Few people seem to have found the balance of being both stellar scientists and deeply religious people. Commenting on the wonders of the solar system, Sir Isaac Newton confidently asserted that “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord overall; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God “Pantokrator” or Universal Ruler.”2 This is the conclusion of one of the world’s intellectually eminent astronomers and physicists renowned for his scientific discoveries. Other scientists believe that there is a conflict between science and religion.
Stephen Hawking, another eminent scientist, has concluded that the universe created itself. Hawking argues that the laws of nature such as the law of gravity have the potential to create a universe from nothing. But he does not explain how these laws of nature already in existence could create a universe from nothing. Besides, if the laws were to create a universe, it would not be from nothing. It would be from the laws of nature! The question would be: Where did these laws come from if they were not part of the universe they created? The laws of nature do not of themselves have the potential to create anything. As John Lennox, professor of mathematics (emeritus) at the University of Oxford argues, Newton’s law of motion has never been able to move anything from point A to point B.3 It has never moved a soccer ball from one goal post to another. As such, the laws of nature are there to describe the conditions and occurrence of events in the universe. They do not explain why.
People who mistakenly believe that religion and science are in conflict cite the case of Galileo and the Catholic Church. But, in fact, the real issue with the Galileo case was the “dogmatic embrace of Aristotle’s” teachings by the Catholic Church at that time about geocentricism.4 Galileo’s study convinced him that all planets, including planet earth, revolved around the sun (heliocentrism). Aristotle’s views were vehemently embraced by some Catholic bishops who thought Galileo’s theory of heliocentrism was wrong. This was the real source of conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church. It was, in essence, Aristotle versus Galileo with some powerful Catholic bishops rooting for Aristotle in his corner. It was not based on the teachings of the Bible.
The world is indebted to scientists and their discoveries that have alleviated indescribable suffering and have tremendously improved the quality of life. But to insinuate, let alone declare, that science is the source of ultimate truth and knowledge or that the more scientific discoveries we make, the less relevant God becomes is to slide down the dangerous slope of trying to transform science into a Golden Calf. Whatever science has discovered does not render the existence of God null and void. Rather, it points the teachable mind to the creative genius of the Agent who brought such an astonishingly, intricate universe governed by the regularities of natural laws into being. He alone sustains the laws of nature since He established them, and He is the only One who can interrupt these laws anytime to cause what we call a miracle. That is why Jesus who is the express image of God could interrupt and reverse the natural law of decomposition of a human body after death, and bring Lazarus back to life four days after death! No one else has ever done that since the universe came to be. But since He created these laws, He can also set them aside for His purpose. They obey Him.
Although science describes to us how our universe operates, it still cannot explain certain realities such as energy, consciousness, gravity… Another area in which science is limited is semiotics, which is the study of the complexity of language using signs and symbols as elements of meaningful communication among people.5 Just how are those squiggly lines and symbols we draw on boards and pieces of paper able to convey specific meaning from one person to another and propel them into responding appropriately? Who can explain, using physics, why we are able to see the letters l-i-f-e- and derive meaning from them? Talking about life, we now know that life is contained in a nucleic acid known as DNA. For human life, this DNA is a humongous database that contains a word not less than 3.5 billion letters long, and carries within it the genetic information and instructions for development of life. Science cannot explain why these letters carry the meaning they do. It can only describe the process they use to develop life. Where there is intelligible information such as the one contained in the DNA molecule, there is a mind behind it to put it together. Scripture says that is how God created the universe; using words and information to call into existence both animate and inanimate things. “He spoke…and it stood fast,” (Psalm 33:9). A great and awesome mind is behind the creation of our universe and all that is in it. Denying it does not make this truth go away.
1.Sheahen, T.P. (2016). Idolatry in Science. American Thinker. Accessed from http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2016/12/idolatry_in_science.html
2.Newton, I. General Scholium. Translated by Motte, A. 1825. Newton’s Principia: The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. New York. Daniel Adee, 501.
3.Lennox, J. (2010). Stephen Hawking and God. RZIM. Just Thinking Magazine. Accessed from http://rzim.org/just-thinking/stephen-hawking-and-god/
4.Schirrmacher, T. (2000). The Galileo affair: history or heroic hagiography? Creation Ministries. Accessed from http://creation.com/the-galileo-affair-history-or-heroic-hagiographyandhttp://creation.com/the-galileo-affair-history-or-heroic-hagiography
5.Lennox, J. (2007). God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Wilkinson House. Accessed from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Nave-html/Faithpathh/Undertaker.html
But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened, (Luke 24:21).
This Scripture pulsates with disappointment and discouragement. Two disciples, Cleopas and his unnamed colleague are on their way to their home in Emmaus from Jerusalem, a city abuzz with current news about the recent execution of a young, vibrant itinerant Rabbi who had done many wonders and signs among the people including raising people from the dead and striding across the foamy, tempestuous waves of the sea of Galilee to save a boat of frightened disciples. Everybody had hoped He would be the One to deliver Israel from Roman domination. Unfortunately, He had died a shameful death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Unbelievable!!! What was even more astonishing, said those who had followed the course of events to the end, was that Jesus seemed puzzlingly willing to subject Himself to this humiliating and torturous form of death.
Cleopas viewed and interpreted Jesus’ work and sacrificial death from a natural perspective. His hopes and desires and expectations were dashed because they were at variance with God’s will for His Son. That was the source of his perplexity, bewilderment and even confusion. Now he talks with despondency about the third day since the crucifixion, and the women’s testimony that they had seen the risen Lord, but Cleopas misses the significance, the spiritual implications, and the definitive universal benefits of the entire event. He has an opinion and is trying to justify it. The deliverance he and his ilk had anticipated was a political one. They were more concerned about their physical bondage than their spiritual bondage, which had led to physical bondage in the first place. To Cleopas, Jesus’ death was an unfortunate and disappointing occurrence; a source of dejection and disillusionment.
Looking back in retrospect, we know that he had totally missed the point. But he is not alone in this. Cleopas might as well be my spiritual twin. Alas, there is usually an uncanny dichotomy between God’s way and my own expectations of Him. Only with hindsight do I get an opaque inkling of how things were actually meant to be. Kierkegaard aptly observed that life can only be understood backwards although it must be lived forwards. There are times, however, when the veil remains drawn and the loud silence and intense darkness become nerve-wracking. Only Jesus makes sense then.
Jesus came not to do our will. He came as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of this world (John 1:29). He is the Great Physician of every physical and spiritual malady as demonstrated by the accounts of His life in the gospels. He is the Light that shines into the dark and diseased areas of our lives to drive out the dark pathogens that plague our souls. He intercepts the pathogenesis and pathophysiology of disease in the body, soul and spirit. He morphs us, nay recreates us into new creatures (1 Cor. 5:17).
Cleopas and his colleague’s failure to recognize the risen Lord walking beside them is a reflection of their spiritual blindness and lack of comprehension about what the Scriptures taught regarding the role of the Messiah. The so-called sad story Cleopas shares with Jesus is, in actual fact, the grandest and most glorious story of all history. It is a story about the manifestation of the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). Indeed, it is the eternal life-line of the entire universe. Because of this story, I dare believe that my sad stories are also glorious when viewed from God’s merciful perspective. As C.S. Lewis once remarked, God gives us back with His right hand what He takes with His left hand. Jesus sensed a deeper need in His two disciples. Ever the caring Savior, He came to revive their flickering faith, which was nearly snuffed out at Golgotha.
To be a follower of the Lord Jesus is more than merely agreeing with what He taught. It is to become an adherent who imitates Him; to have Him as the ultimate role model (1 Peter 2:21). This type of follower is known as a disciple. Being Jesus’ disciple means walking in His footsteps all the way even through rough terrain. Whether the terrain is dark and dreary or characterized with loss and tears, the disciple must never slacken the pace otherwise the enemy will read the cue and move in to steal, kill and destroy. In every situation, our pace must be consistent and unwavering lest we lose sight of the Lord going before us and find ourselves plunged into destructive darkness. To follow Jesus is to be called to a different ethical standard. As disciples, we are called to become like the Lord in purpose because we have the same Holy Spirit that dwells in Him. We read from Scripture that after Jesus had chosen His disciples, He preached what is known as the Sermon on the Mount; a redefinition of morality with specific ethical behavior; a roadmap for disengaging from the tantalizing worldly affiliations that so easily encumber us. This sermon is a call to being transformed by the renewing of the mind through power of the Holy Spirit. To be a disciple is to have a radical paradigm shift. It is to embrace Jesus and His teachings as guidelines for everyday conduct. As disciples, we abandon ourselves to Jesus as both Lord and Savior. For the disciple, “There is no compartmentalization of the faith, no realm, no sphere, no business, no politic in which the lordship of Christ will be excluded. We either make him Lord of all we are and have, or we deny him as Lord of any.”1 He must be preeminent in all facets of our life. He will not take a divided heart and will not compete with anyone or anything. The Bible talks about a certain would-be disciple who pledged fervent love for the Lord and promised to follow Him everywhere. But Jesus’ response was surprisingly dissuasive: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20). Jesus answered people based on their unarticulated motives. He addressed the person not the words that veiled their intention. In this case, Jesus discerned in His spirit that the individual’s motive for wanting to be his disciple was wrong. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom to impress people with its glory and grandeur. He came to be the Savior and Lord rejected by His own. He came to be taunted and scorned by the same people He came to die for. Jesus came not to glorify Himself, but the Father who sent Him. He was oppressed and afflicted, but never opened His mouth in resistance nor did He fight back. He is the King who allowed Himself to be literally bound hand and foot by his own subjects and still loved them even after they pronounced a death sentence on Him and handed Him over to be crucified. Jesus knew the would-be follower was not looking for that kind of life. Being a disciple is being the light of the world (Matt 5:14), diffusing the glory of the Master; walking where He bids us go even when it is painful, obscure and insignificant in the sight of the world. After all, ultimately, the only opinion that really matters is the opinion of our Creator. To be a disciple is to be the salt that preserves this world. As disciples, we enter into a new, spiritual realm, and attain a new identity. We re-organize our schedules so that Jesus becomes our first priority. We become members of a new family; the eternal family of God composed of blood-bought individuals from every nation, kindred, tongue and people; an unimaginably diverse community with an array of spiritual gifts for edifying each other. As Jesus’ disciples, we die to self so that we may be alive to God. We lose ourselves in Him so that we can find our full selves there. The Golden Calf of self-gratification is detrimental to our relationship with the Lord. As His disciples, we must give Him our dreams, our reputation, our careers, our finances, our purpose, our everything, so that He can make a glorious tapestry out of them. But this act of self-renunciation takes nothing away from us because, in the end, what we really have is what we have surrendered to the Lord. As His disciples, we get to know Jesus’s voice not through doctrinal teachings, but through His eternal presence in our lives. He never gives up on any one. Jesus “washes our feet even when we would betray him.”2 He gently restores and reaffirms our place in the family of God even when our quest for self-preservation leads us to deny Him.
But being a disciple is not a walk in the park. The road is difficult and the gate narrow, and only a few find it although there is room for everyone. The trials and tribulations that beset the disciple are the difficult road and the narrow gate. Our sinful nature resists and rebels against the discipline of turning the other cheek or loving others the way we love ourselves or blessing and praying for those who curse and revile us, which are all characteristics of the kingdom to which Jesus is calling His disciples. But this is how Jesus overcame the kingdom of darkness forever: using the weapon of love. Trials can be excruciatingly painful and draining, physically and emotionally. But we take comfort in the promise that this light affliction we might suffer momentarily as disciples is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). Whatever we have gone through in this life, whatever we will still be called to endure, the Bible insists that it pales into insignificance against the splendor awaiting us. Whatever has been taken from us, God will make it right beyond our wildest dreams and imagination. To be a disciple of Jesus is not to be disadvantaged. It is to be more than a conqueror both in this life and in the life to come….through Him.
“Follow Me,” the call has not changed.
- Camp, L.C..(2003). Mere Discipleship, pp. 19, 23-25.
Unharnessable, uncontrollable, irreversible, unalterable, and non-negotiable is the enigma known as time. Time is a mystery that is inextricably bound up with mankind. All our experiences are determined and marked by time: past, present and future time. We know that the past exists because of fleeting events; events that are no more. Without passing events, the past does not exist. The present is marked by current events. If there were no current events, there would be no present.1 The future is a projection or anticipation of what has yet to be. Our past experiences become our memories. Although we live in the present we, at the same time, look back in the past and hope for the future. All this is a futile attempt to describe time.
Everybody operates under the auspices of time. We are all inseparably wrapped up in and with time. We perceive every activity and make every decision from the vantage point of time. Furthermore, our consciousness of time is an ever-present reminder of our own mortality. We race against time, as it were, because sooner or later, time “runs out” on us. There are no rehearsals; no encores.
To each one of us has been given a sliver of time to enter and exit this earth in a process called life, which the Apostle James describes as “a vapor” that appears for a while and then disappears. Our life, this vapor, is measured by time. It is as a flower that blossoms with the morning dew and withers with the scorching sun in the afternoon. The vapor, our life, is action-packed from birth to death. It is characterized by expectations, celebrations, sorrows, ambitions, goals, aspirations, anticipations, mourning and rejoicing. Sometimes excruciating suffering besets us. Other times joyful achievements come our way. Sometimes our hearts break because of heart-rending loss. Other times our hearts sing ecstatically because of unexpected blessings. We laugh in good times and cry and sigh in bad ones. Sometimes alone. Other times with loved ones. Still time goes on. It is never distracted or hindered or delayed by anybody or anything. Its pace cannot be altered or modified or slowed down. Time just goes on, indifferently, unfeelingly.
Our life is a transient experience foisted on us when we are injected somewhere in the current of time as it flows on. We gain myriad experiences for an uncertain period of time. The precariousness and brevity of our existence can be an unnerving experience because it underscores the fact that the probability of our bodily death is 100%. Nevertheless, this harsh truth is also mitigated by the reality of the corporeal resurrection of Jesus Christ, which gives eternal life with God 100% probability as truth.2 As such, faith in Jesus becomes the only worthwhile choice we can make if we must enter into eternal life, which St. Augustine calls the perpetual present: “If the present were perpetually present, there would be no longer any time, but only eternity.”3 Heman Humphrey positively viewed our short life on earth as “…a threshold of eternity-the infancy of immortality; that here our characters are to be formed for the innumerable ages of future being-that our everlasting happiness or misery is suspended upon our improvement of this inch or two of time.”3 This life is a probationary period and an opportunity to prepare for eternal blessings for believers who place their faith in the Lord Jesus to the end. This timeless truth gives the breath in our nostrils an impressive new meaning with an unimaginable, intrinsic value. We are standing on the brink of eternity! This fleeting existence is enough for us to prepare for our grand entry into a greater and larger existence. The relative ratio of life on earth to eternity is immeasurable. It is incalculable. “It is not one grain of sand to the sum total of the dusty particles that make up this huge and solid earth. It is less.” The eternity that awaits the believer “has no end, for it has no progress. It is duration not in motion, but at rest…The actions of this little limited life are empowered to decide for eternity…We are acting for eternity.”4 This is more than compensation for the shortness of this rigorous life. It is amazing grace with a sweet sound to it.
1.Hausheer, H. (Sept., 1937). he Philosophical Review, Vol. 46, No. 5 (Sep., 1937), pp. 503-512. Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review. Accessed December 4, 2016 from https://grattoncourses.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/augustine-on-time.pdf
2. Gibbs, C. (2012). Logos 1 of Writing God’s Book of Life. Published by R. Crafton Gibbs via Google E-Books. Pp. 18.
3.Hausheer, H. (Sept., 1937). he Philosophical Review, Vol. 46, No. 5 (Sep., 1937), pp. 503-512. Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review. Accessed December 4, 2016 from https://grattoncourses.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/augustine-on-time.pdf
4.Humphrey, H. (1833). Sermon No. 91: Time Measured by Eternity. The American National Preacher: 1834. Original Sermons from The Living Ministers of the United States (Dickinson, A. ed.). Vol. 7 & 8. S.W. Benedict & Co. 150 Nassau Street. New York. Pp. 290- 301
The loins are a procreative, generative and productive area of the human body. It is the part of the body that is between the lower ribs and the hip area. The apostle Peter drew a parallel from the natural and customary practice of the people of his day and gave us an object lesson – First the natural and then the spiritual (1 Cor. 15:46). Girding is a process of encircling a certain part of the human body with a belt to hold it together. In Bible times, in the Near East, people wore long loose robes (some still do) for everyday labors and activities, but when they faced an imminent intense activity, they girded their loins in preparation for it. They tucked their robes into a wide belt around their waist to free themselves from any encumbrances and to concentrate on the task. Strenuous activities required a sustained effort of engagement.
The apostle Peter is calling believers to prepare their minds for the inevitable intense challenges and tests of their faith. He is urging believers to think and reason intellectually and purposefully, not randomly or haphazardly. In order to do this, the mind should be surrendered to its Creator, the Source of all reason and wisdom, and be renewed. This is contrary to the popular belief that the Christian faith precludes intellectual activity and reasoning. Most critics of the concept of faith insist that faith is believing where there is no evidence. Sadly, they miss the point that every human being exercises a measure of faith in one thing or another. We believe our spouses love us not because we can quantify that love and test it in a laboratory, but because they tell us so and we see them demonstrate that love in their behavior toward us. The claim that science is the only way to access truth is itself unquantifiable. It cannot not be dissected or tested in a lab. Therefore, it is self-refuting. Not everything we believe can be quantified. Scientists believe in the intelligibility of the universe and in the fact that they can explore it? They are exercising a measure of faith here. The Oxford English Dictionary states that “faith and belief are cognitive concepts intimately related to the question of substantiating evidence.”1 This means that “evidence-based faith is the normal concept on which we base our everyday lives.”2 As such, faith is inevitably interwoven with our everyday living. Therefore, Christians need not be ashamed of their faith.
The apostle Peter is calling believers to apologetics, which is a defense of their faith; what they believe in and why they believe in it. But he urges them to do it with gentleness not strife. Intellectual indolence is not a characteristic of the Christian faith. A believer divinely endowed with a… sound mind cannot have a languorous or torpid mind. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and to lead unbelievers to Christ, but can they do this without applying their reasoning power? By grasping the reasonableness of Jesus’ finished work on their behalf and what He says about them, unbelievers can open their heart to Him and become converted through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. No one can make such a radical decision about their life without reasoning and sifting through the evidence presented to them. Reasoning is one of God’s gifts to mankind. Why, He even challenges us to reason with Him (Isa. 1:18). The assumption that to become a good academic you need to be an atheist is a fallacy that has no evidence for its claims whatsoever. Believers who have girded the loins of their minds can see through the façade.
Unfortunately, there are some believers who have been fanning the belief that Christianity is opposed to intellectual engagement by insisting that the Word of God is not for the mind but for the spirit. This is nothing other than intellectual lethargy and languor. But where did this mindset come from? The early scientists were Bible-believing intellectuals such as Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, James Joule and many others. They found no dichotomy between their faith and intellectual acuity. In fact, these individuals believed that a Christian’s mind must be an intellectually sharp mind. A mind that is yoked to the mind of Christ is a keen and exceptionally intelligent mind because it draws from His unsurpassed wisdom and reasoning. Jesus was both an intellectual and spiritual authority. J.P. Moreland asserts that the anti-intellectual position among some of the believers is a consequence of the rise of “rhetorically powerful, and emotionally directed preaching of” some preachers of the Great Awakening revivals of the 1800s, which were not balanced with “intellectually careful and doctrinally precise” teaching to equip the saints to defend their faith with reason. This approach ill-prepared the church for harsh attacks from people such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Charles Darwin etc…with their philosophical challenges and arguments against Christianity.3 Since then, the attack against Christianity has grown more shrill and intense. Instead of responding to these challenges with counter intellectual vigor, the Church has mostly withdrawn from intellectual public debates and has lost the zeal to authenticate and validate its tenets. Its enemies have mistaken this to be a capitulation and admission of lack of rationality for the doctrines of the Christian faith. Perhaps the time has come for believers to study, soak and saturate themselves with the Word of God, and earnestly seek wisdom from above. The Church should ever match forward armed with reasoned-out truth. This is the wrong time for the Church to be marginalized and voiceless in the public debate. There is too much at stake.
1.Lennox, J. (2011). Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Point. Lion Hudson Plc. Pp. 55
3.Moreland, J.P. (1997). Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. NAVPRESS. pp. 23
Whenever Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, He emphasized self-denial, pain and suffering, and even martyrdom. When someone voiced a voluntary desire to follow Him, Jesus’ response was amazingly dissuasive: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” (Luke 9:58). In other words, “I do not have the material things you are seeking.”
On another occasion when Jesus was being thronged by a jostling multitude clamoring for His attention, He gave a cogent lesson about the cost of discipleship: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brother and sisters-yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciple,” (Luke 14:26). Hate in this case does not mean disdain for one’s family, but rather making Jesus preeminent over all else. After all He is the Source of all we have. How can the gift be greater than the Giver? Jesus must be Lord over who we are and what we have. Jesus emphasized the cost of making a commitment to follow Him by drawing object lessons from the construction and military professions: Before embarking on a building project or military campaign, the leader should ensure they have enough resources and manpower to complete the task at hand otherwise they can become the local laughingstock. Shoddy, unfinished work attests to the slothfulness of the worker.
Although salvation is free through Jesus Christ, discipleship is often costly. When we become Jesus’ disciples in enemy territory, inevitably we suffer backlash from enemy forces. Discipleship requires total commitment to our Lord in all facets of our lives. Only in Jesus do we find approval from God. The teaching that all material abundance and a life devoid of suffering are evidence of godly favor is false. In fact, Scripture is replete with accounts of spiritual giants who suffered persecution, torture, enslavement, exile and even martyrdom for their faith in God such as Job, the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and many others. Then there is the epic example of the excruciating suffering of Jesus, our Lord, God’s only Son. God Himself audibly endorsed His Son: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), and yet the Bible says of Him: “He learned obedience by things which He suffered,” (Hebrews 5:8).
The apostle Paul gives a chilling account of his own suffering for the faith (2 Corinthians 11: 24-27). When God did not take away his thorn in the flesh, but gave him grace to endure it, the apostle exultantly declared: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me,” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is the same apostle who reminds us that “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…” (2 Timothy 2:12). God does not abandon His suffering children. He is right there beside them granting them grace to endure the trials, and the glory of Jesus is exemplified in their suffering and, sometimes, ultimate martyrdom for their commitment to their Lord and to the faith.
The prosperity Gospel places an unfair burden on numerous genuine disciples across the world who are contending with hardship, disease, political turmoil and trauma despite their fidelity to the Lord. Suffering is not always indicative of God’s displeasure. In February 2015, 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded by Islamic State militants in Libya after they refused to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. These saints were faithful unto death. They sealed their witness with their blood. What does the prosperity message have to say about this? How about the fact that all of the Lord’s disciples are reported to have been martyred except for John, the Revelator who was boiled in a cauldron of oil? The prosperity message sounds like Job’s friends: If you are suffering, something is wrong with your faith or you have missed God’s favor, which puts the faith of the believer at risk. Job’s suffering demonstrated God’s glory and refined Job’s righteousness. The suffering of a true disciple is not a master’s whip cracking on the back of an errant disciple. Rather, it is often a scalpel in the hands of a skillful Master Surgeon carefully incising a spiritual tumor. If someone is suffering and we cannot comprehend why, the wisest step we can take is to pray for them and with them. In all this we need to keep in mind the sovereignty of God. God’s might is purposeful in all our lives. The prosperity Gospel ignores the fact that we become disciples on God’s terms not ours. It is self-centered and fosters greed and selfishness. This is not to say prosperity is bad for the disciple or that we must become masochistic. There are accounts in Scripture that tell us how God lavished unprecedented riches on certain people. Prosperity is not sinful. But prosperity should not always be regarded as God’s signature of approval. We must be careful lest, in our pursuit for feel-good theology, we evolve into egocentric gold-digging narcissists at the expense of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Reductionism defines life in a bottom-up manner. That is, it explains life in terms of physics and chemistry. Reductionism claims that an organism can only be explained if it is dissected into parts-or broken down into the properties that constitute it (molecules, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, etc.) Ontological reductionism claims that nothing in the universe exists outside of physical objects. Everything can be can be explained in terms of physicochemical objects. As such each physical thing can therefore, be explained in terms of these properties.[i] Bottom-up reductionism is predicated upon the proposition that life started in the form of simpler processes which advanced in a process known as complexification. Carl Sagan, a famous scientist of the 20th century, perceived himself and other people in this manner: “I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label.”[ii] This is what he promulgated as an astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist.
Sagan’s mindset does nothing other than demean the intrinsic value of human life. His beliefs claim, implicitly, that the martyrdom, achievements, plight, and suffering experienced in this life all end at death. There is no life, no judgment, no reward beyond the grave – Nothing!!! Some reductionists argue that God is a mere concept that can be explained as a “mental state of active neurons desiring a father figure.” Needless to say this statement is not a scientific one. It is mere speculation that has never been empirically proven to be true. Personally, I require more faith to believe Sagan’s theory than to believe what the Bible says about the stature and dignity of human beings. On what do reductionists base the belief that life ends at death forever? None of them has come back from the dead to authenticate their claims. But we have One who was dead and is alive forevermore. His resurrection has been attested by His followers as well as secular historians. He alone can speak with authority regarding what lies beyond the grave. The Bible tells us that human beings will continue to exist in another dimension in God’s realm for eternity. Reductionism is not equipped to explain many experiences of human life at all. For example, how does it break down the experience of guilt or repentance or the expression of love between two human beings or even ethical behavior? Some of these concepts and experiences can only be understood from the vantage point of metaphysics where science and reductionism’s authority is vacuous.
After Carl Sagan’s death, his wife said “Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we know we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl.”[iii] But why would this be a tragedy for her if belief in life beyond the grave is just an illusion and her husband was nothing but a collection of calcium, atoms, molecules as they espoused? Wouldn’t his death be a mere disintegration of an animated piece of dust with organized DNA known as Carl Sagan returning to its creator, the universe? Wasn’t that the expected outcome unless, of course, deep down Mrs. Sagan felt a haunting whisper reminding her that her husband was more than matter? A tragedy is what happens when something of intrinsic value is lost not when a bunch of atoms and molecules disappear into nothingness. Human life is sacred. God composed a Moral Code that stipulates, in a language we all can understand, the sacredness of human life and all that defines it. “Thou shalt not kill” does not only forbid the taking of human life, it also affirms its greatness, dignity and goodness. The loss of a human life is a sobering and traumatic experience that changes us forever. Time and again when tragedy strikes, individuals, families and entire communities are gripped with bewilderment and sorrow. They reach out to each other and hold vigils and grieve together in an effort to find healing. Interfaith services are held in memory of the deceased. Not once has any of the speakers at these services ever turned to the crowd to tell them that what was lost were nothing but matter and chemical properties. This is time to turn to Jesus, the Author of life. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending of all creation, not science, not reductionism. “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3, KJV).
[ii] Sagan, C. 1980, Cosmos (New York: Random House), pp. 127.
[iii] Druyan, A. (2003). Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion, Wonder, Awe . . . and Carl Sagan. Skeptical Inquirer Volume 27.6. Available from http://www.csicop.org/si/show/ann_druyan_talks_about_science_religion