Saturday, September 01, 2018

Met With Jesus Lately?

Met with Jesus lately? At church? The prayer meeting?  Or at your bedside? Or on a walk through the country? Or maybe when you are watching TV news?

To meet with Jesus, is that we go to church for? We go to theatres and concert halls and stadiums to meet famous actors or musicians or players. And then do we round out our weekends (or start our weeks) by going to meet with Jesus Christ, God’s anointed? Not to have met with  Jesus is usually regarded as a failure on the worshipper’s part, perhaps a sign of unspirituality or worse.

For this language, that of personal encounter, is often used to describe the nature of our Christian religion. It is these days popular among Christian worshippers, and a sign of success if we think we have met him. . By having this aim is to make religious services and other like activities important and ‘meaningful’. It is true that there was a time when some met Jesus as we meet each other. Notably, his mother and father, and sisters and brothers, met him. And then his disciples met him, who when they talked with Jesus more often than not seemed to be puzzled by what he had to say about himself. Then there was the crucifixion, watched by quite a few; and his rising again, when he was seen by his disciples again, who talked to him, and more importantly, were talked to by Jesus. One was told not to attempt to touch him, while on another occasion one of the disciples was invited to touch him, though it is not clear whether he accepted the invitation or not. And then :

‘[H[e was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1.9) That was that. No more meeting Jesus. Except for the notable case of the short conversation between the risen Lord and Saul of Tarsus. What was the significance of this mysterious disappearance? It more or less closed his ministry on earth. As he came by being born so he left in this startling way.  Strictly, he did not go, as someone might climb the stairs and disappear. He was ‘taken up’. It is possible that this expression figures the manner he left the earth. He was swept up, taken up, and then he disappeared behind a cloud, not to be seen again.

Where is Christ now? We have no information about an answer, as far as I can tell. But it is important that wherever he is he retains a normal human body, no doubt glorified, whatever that may mean. That is suggested by the remarks of the two men in white robes who provided a commentary on his ascension. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ (Acts 1. 11) A bodily resurrection, and a bodily ascension, and a bodily return.  

The words of the two men  signalled an action of Jesus that has  abiding redemptive significance. As he came from the Father and incarnated in the womb of Mary, and was attended by an angelic host, so having done the work his Father gave him to do, he returned to the Father with angelic accompaniment. The modern language about meeting with Jesus, understood literally, disregards what we must call redemptive history. We live in the ‘last days’ await the return of Jesus. That is also to be a bodily appearance, as we have already noted. As Jesus does not come again each Christmas, so he does not come again each Sunday.

So efforts to meet Jesus on a Sunday morning or at other times in the twenty first century are delusional. For Jesus is now  ‘localised’ in heaven. Because his body is a human body, it is localised as all human bodies are at all times. One reason the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is false is because it requires the substance of Christ’s body, whatever that is, a body less its accidents, presumably, to be present in simultaneous acts as mass is performed in Peru and in Poland, say. But no normal human body can be in two places at once, much less be in thousands of venues at once.

Jesus has disappeared. We must be thankful, then, that before that He taught of the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him’. (See John 14. 16-17) But we do not meet the Spirit; by God’s grace we are indwelled by him, if we are believers. And there are more clues about the Spirit’s operations here: ‘But the Helper the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.’(14. 26) So we get from these words a different set of ideas than those of ‘meeting Jesus’. We are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, the Helper or Comforter, the teacher sent in Christ’s name to bring to the memory of the apostles the words of Christ, and reliable accounts of what he did, reports that are to be with the church - the body of Christ in a different sense -  for ever.

We get a further idea about still what was to happen after Jesus Ascension from the well-known words of the Great Commission. ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Sprit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’. (Matt.26.16-20)  The apostles are the first to be taught and then to be teachers in turn, for Christians are indwelt by the Spirit, whose role it is to bring to mind the authoritative teaching (what is ‘commanded by Jesus’) of the Gospel. To this we must add the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who was solemnly charged by the risen Christ, through Ananias, to be a ‘chosen instrument of mine before the Gentiles and the kings and the children of Israel’. (Acts 9.15) Saul was very quickly transformed from being a persecutor of the church to being a preacher of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.(Acts 9.26f.)

Not surprising that some years later Paul taught Timothy about the nature of the Christian ministry with advice and injunctions such as  'Command and teach'  (1Tim. 4.11)  'Until I come, devote yourself to the teaching of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching...Practise these things, devote yourself to them' (I Tim. 4. 13-4). 'Preach the word..reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching' (2 Tim.4. 2, 3) Note the emphasis on teaching. No suggestion in any of this regarding arranging meetings with Jesus!

So the posture of the leaders of the church is not to prompt our imaginations with the idea of meeting Jesus each week or more frequently, but to listen to  an authoritative teaching ministry by which we are taught and come to know, and to apply,  the teaching of Christ during his earthly ministry. We are to discipline our imaginations as best we can, keeping them in check, just as we need to restrain our minds from wandering when confronted by the apostolic message.

How often do we hear this sort of thing: “I like to think of God as the Great Architect (or Mathematician: or Artist.”) I don’t like to think of God as a Judge I like to think of Him as a Father”…..To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshipper – the idol in this case being a false image of God, ‘made unto thee’ by speculation and imagination’. (J. I. Packer, Knowing God (1975), 48.)
The entire section, 'The Only True God' (Ch.4) is worth pondering.

Let us have done with a ‘meeting Jesus’ religion that has no appreciation of the presently risen Christ, and that takes us away from the revealed truth of Jesus, into the world of imagination and speculation. Let us resolve to be content with the words of Jesus himself and with the message relayed by Word and Spirit to the disciples and to ourselves.