Jesus Loves Me (and you)

child hands

I was driving my children somewhere this morning. They began to sing the old song “Jesus loves me”.  You don’t even need to be a churched person to recognize it…  Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…

It was one of those nice dad moments. My daughters almost got the lyrics right.  That song may be relegated to Sunday School or even looked down on for being so simplistic.  Though the truth it contains is simple, it is far from shallow.  The love of Jesus is at the heart of the Good News.

The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) was once on a tour of the United States. After a lecture, a student stood up and asked him to summarize his entire theology. Most likely the student was expecting a profound answer from the man who was known neither for his simplicity nor brevity. Instead, Barth allegedly said:  “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

So from the greatest minds to the youngest of children – the truth is the same. Nothing could be more simple, nothing could be less shallow.

 

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Advent – there’s resistance

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all the region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.         Matthew 2:16-17

"Massacre of the Innocents" Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel, 1305

“Massacre of the Innocents” Giotto, from the Scrovegni Chapel, 1305

Herod executes all the boys he can find, trying to stamp out the competition for Kings of the Jews. There were probably only a couple dozen, and this sort of thing may not have even made Herod’s top ten, but still…   How do piles of infant bodies fit in the Christmas story?  Does it make for good reading round the tree?

And yet, there it is, this gruesome account along with all the rest. The point? It’s that when God arrived into the world, to establish his kingdom and save his people from their sins, he was resisted.

He was resisted by Herod, a cruel, petty, puppet-king. And if we’re most honest, he can be resisted by us. Jesus was born not to remain cute baby Jesus. He was born to make a way for us to come to God through the plan of salvation he made.  How often is that resisted?

Jesus came to be King of the world. How often is his rule resisted, mocked, or sidelined?

Jesus came to be our Lord, the one who commands and we follow.  Do we ever want his gifts while refusing his demands?

Jesus came to shower us with the grace of God – the forgiveness of all our sins.  How often would we rather hang on to guilt rather than let him cleanse us?

If the Gospels tell us anything, it’s that it does not end well for those who resist Jesus’ arrival.  It doesn’t end well for Herod or his second rate sons (both also named Herod).  But we who believe are invited to always be laying down our resistance to God in Jesus. And when we surrender, we win.

Advent – Born With Purpose (born to die)

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people for their sins.”       Matthew 1:20-21

 

Eric Drooker, crying baby

Eric Drooker, crying baby

Reflect on the birth of Jesus and some things easily emerge.  That while he most certainly had a normal birth, his conception was not normal. Virgins don’t normally become pregnant.  It’s impossible, actually.  To the skeptic who asserts “Virgins can’t give birth to babies!”, the Christian replies “we know, that’s kind of why it’s a big deal”.

But even as the amazing circumstances of his birth are being recorded, the end of his life is not far from view.  Matthew records that at the giving of his name, from the angel to Joseph, the very purpose of his coming is revealed.  Jesus means saviour. In greek and hebrew it reads the same as Joshua, recalling a figure who brought God’s people from where they were to where they needed to be. And in that name is embedded the purpose of his birth – to bring again God’s people out from where they are. Specifically, it is to save them from their sins.

Even prior to his birth, the purpose of that birth is revealed to his adoptive father. Salvation from sins through his death on the cross. The Gospel writers were never just rolling along without the entire story in sight. Even at before the cradle the cross was in sight.

Advent – God touches the dirty ground

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.         Luke 2:6-7

Sigmund Abeles, crying baby, 1964

Sigmund Abeles, crying baby, 1964

Familiar words to many, they may even conjure sentimental images in our minds of baby Jesus laying no cozy hay, no crying he makes. Notwithstanding the traditional carol, the baby almost certainly did cry. And that is a great point to be made about the birth of Jesus – which is, the coming of God into the world.  The eternal, ineffable, untouchable, transcendent, unsearchable God entered as a human baby. And a very human baby he was.

It the story gets to familiar for us we’ll forget just how amazing this is. And just how scandalous it was for ancient Greeks and how it still is for our Muslim friends. How can God – who is so far above and beyond us – wear diapers and lay in the hay?

But that is exactly what is at the heart of Advent, Christmas, and the Gospel hope. That God has come  and put his clean feet on the dirty ground, so to speak. He of course does it to rescue his people. Becoming as human as we are, gives him the avenue to become saviour to human beings. It is also God’s great approval of this world, a great acting out of his first assessment of the world he made.

The world is ‘very good’ indeed. And God has loved it so much that he has entered it, diapers and all.

The Answer is Always Jesus – Christ in every part of Scripture

Pick a page, any page, Jesus will be there.

Pick a page, any page, Jesus will be there.

It’s a cliche that if you doze off in the midst of a Bible study, and the leader asks you a question (that you didn’t quite hear), just blurt out “Jesus” and you’ll be ok.

My daughters opt for a similar tactic when we read the Bible and pray before bed.

But there is something to the idea that Jesus is always the answer to the question.  <insert Karl Barth joke here>  If what Christ says is true, that all the Scriptures bear witness to him, and that all the Scriptures (Moses and the Prophets) can be interpreted in light of him, then we should expect to see Jesus pop out of the pages.

This is especially helpful when we look at the Old Testament and harder passages to understand.  John Calvin was a master at finding the Christ focus in every story, law, and prophecy of the Old Testament.

Therefore, when you hear the gospel presenting you Jesus Christ in whom all the promises and gifts of God have been accomplished, remember this:

He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death. He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards. He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition. He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all. He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of  our hearts by his Spirit. He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land. He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection. He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity. He is the strong and powerful Samson who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

John Calvin, Commentaries