This post, like the previous one on Paul last week, is part of my larger devotional study Characters of God. This was presented this past Sunday, Palm Sunday. Characters of God is primarily about the flawed nature of biblical figures, how we can relate to and what we can learn from them. In this case, Jesus is not flawed, so the question is, how do we fulfill Paul’s call for us to be like Christ, if we are patently not without sin.
Phil. 2.1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The New Testament presents us with two very different views of Jesus. The Gospels provide us with the history of his life including his teachings, healings, miracles, death and resurrection. The epistles or letters that form the majority of the remainder of the NT describe the risen Lord in terms that are often highly theological and spiritual. For example, we find in the Letter to the Hebrews the following description of Jesus as the High Priest who actively petitions God in heaven on our behalf.
Heb. 4.14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
When I read passages like this I am reminded just how far I am from being “Christ-like.” Even if I am ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, no one will mistake me for being a “great high priest!” And while I have been tempted and tested I have not come through without sin. Jesus has and this is the heart of the Gospel message of which Lent is such a vital reminder, that he became a man, suffered, died for our sins, and now makes intercession for us before the throne of God.
One of the themes we have discovered this month is that when each of these figures encountered God their lives were dramatically changed as they allowed themselves to be brought into submission to his will. But now we have come to Christ himself. How does meeting with God bring about a change in Jesus’ life? He is God, so how does he “encounter” God?
We find Jesus’ encounter in his submission to the Father. When he said, “Not my will but thine,” as he submits to the cross, as he submits to having his feet washed, as he shares the gifts that God has given him. (This phrase directly confronts the paradox of Jesus the God-Man.)
Luke 22.39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” 43 [Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.] 45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
In this one passage we can find encouragement in our struggle to be Christ-like, but challenges also. Luke tells us that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives “as was his custom.” All of the Gospel writers affirm that Jesus was a man of prayer. He was “the very form of God” and yet he prayed to God. Communication with God is vital to our Christian lives and Jesus exemplified this in his own life. If we do not take time, such as this weekend, to go aside from the tumult of this world to pray, to tell God everything that is on our hearts, and, most importantly, to listen to God then we will be without direction in this life. We remain his children, but we are wandering without direction and wondering if there is any direction. We too need to make it our custom to go to our own “Mount of Olives.”
The second point of encouragement is that Jesus gives us permission to ask God to spare us the difficult times. “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Jesus utters this imperative to his disciples twice in this one passage and it is, of course, the same prayer that we utter in the Lord’s prayer. “Lead us not into temptation/trial, but deliver us from the Evil one.” We are allowed to ask God to spare us trials, tests, and difficult times. We are not being “spiritual wimps” when we pray for his grace to ease our lives. But not only does Jesus command the disciples to pray for this deliverance, he himself prays for God to spare him the trials that he knew were to come. The vital element of such prayer is our willingness to accept such trials if God so desires. We must subordinate our own wills to God’s, just as Jesus did.
Finally, notice that the answer to Jesus’ prayer does not come in the form of a voice from heaven. No prophetic utterances are reported nor does Elijah or Moses appear as they did on the mount of transfiguration. Jesus prayed that God might spare him, but submitted himself to God’s will. And the answer to his prayer came in the form of a crowd led by Judas. We should not be discouraged if this weekend we did not hear the heavens peal with thunder and Cecil B. DeMile’s voice come rolling down with some direct revelation. Or any other form of “miraculous” message. All of God’s communication is miraculous, but it doesn’t have to come through thunder and lightening. Frequently it comes through the events and people around us. Our goal is to look and listen for his word in our lives. We are to be like the watchmen on the city wall. Straining our eyes and ears for any sign of God’s movement. Once again David provides an example:
Psa. 5.0 To the leader: for the flutes. A Psalm of David.
1 Give ear to my words, O LORD;
give heed to my sighing.
2 Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
And when it comes, as his Word always does, we are to rejoice, even when the message is to take up a bitter chalice. Because he is always with us, even in our most dire moments.
We cannot come through these times on our own. We cannot possibly become Christ-like through any effort of our own. No amount of Bible study, prayer, and community service will make us more like him. It is his Holy Spirit dwelling within us and guiding and moving us in our Bible study, prayer, and community service that makes us like Christ The might of the Gospel message is that the very risen Christ himself, if we allow him, lives and works within our lives to make us more like him.
It does not matter where we have come from or how “holy” or “worldly” we think we are, the reality is that Christ accepts us as we are. As one comedian put it, you don’t clean up to take a bath! God took the raw materials of the dust of the earth and fashioned it into the First Adam, creating humankind in His own image, so now He takes the raw material of our lives and transforms us into the risen and glorious image of Christ.
As we encounter God and are confronted with the reality of his love for us our response ought to be as David’s, accepting God’s judgment, praising him for his mercy that through Christ’s sacrifice our sins are no longer counted against us, and like Jesus we submit ourselves to God’s will. All of this is possible by the Spirit of God so that we might “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds, so that [we] may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12.2).