Previous Issue - Next Issue - Aspects Home

ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 81
August 1997

KNOWING JESUS


In many ways God has not made it easy for us. Here we are, slogging through life, getting all messy and confused trying to live out our allotted time according to His will; here we are struggling to understand and obey His precepts--and He remains silent and invisible.

Wouldn't it be so much easier to tell others about God if you could simply conduct them to His house and invite them to sit and have a chat with Him? Yet He remains in His heaven, and has even stopped voicing His thoughts to our ears.

Wouldn't it be easier to understand the workings of the Holy Spirit if we were simply handed a manual (nothing fancy; it wouldn't even need pictures) which outlined what would be included and excluded from His ministry to our lives? The manual could, for example, let us know how to recognize His touch--as opposed to the touch of conscience, or guilt. Yet the Spirit in tangible form remains elusive, and thereby open to debate, and subject to the sometimes hideous pronouncements about His character and work.

Wouldn't it be easier to know the person of Christ Jesus if He still walked among us? We're envious of the disciples, of their close proximity and easy familiarity with the Lord, yet we haven't even been permitted a photograph of His face. How much simpler it would be to understand Him if He were still here, but He ascended, and will not return until it is no longer necessary for us to concern ourselves with the matter.

We do have Scripture, of course, but even there we are left struggling. As Dr. Larry Crabb has written,

God, for whatever reason, has determined that His personality and ways are not to be presented to us on a platter, all neatly itemized and organized. Instead, it will be necessary for us to dig into the available record, to ferret out what we can learn of Him. Again, as Dr. Crabb writes,

It falls to each of us--not just the pastors and teachers and scholars-- to personally become acquainted with our Lord. He's more than a Sunday School flannel-graph figure; He's more than a twenty minute capsulation delivered from the pulpit; and He is far more than what we can imagine during our thirty second, mealtime grace.

Jesus Christ is the entirety of God.

As such, He invites us to get to know Him.

Who is this one we call Lord? What can we learn from His life, His response to those who surrounded Him? What can we learn of His personality and methods?

And what, then, can we do with such knowledge?

Humble

In our day the coexistence of grandeur and humility is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Generally those worthy of acclaim, those worthy of respect and high esteem, are not often found to be at the same time humble. Likewise, those of lowly birth and station, those who fade quietly into the background of most any situation, are not often at the same time recipients of high honor.

Because Jesus the Son of God did not begin as a child, but became a child, we shouldn't think for a moment that the lowly birth was a decision made for Him. The beginning of His humility at Bethlehem was no accident, but a marker--an index mark given us by which to reckon our opinion of Him. The Members of the Godhead put together their collective heads and determined that the Son's entrance into His people would be marked by the humility of the stable. He would be placed into a well-used feeding trough--a stone coarsely gouged to hold hay and smeared with old cow slobber.

Later, as an adult, Jesus would say

and He would be described by the apostle Paul as one

He was both: very God, and lowly servant.

Jesus was humble--not because He should have been, but because He is.


Lord God, teach me of Christ's humility. I give you permission to chip away the crust of my pride and self-aware arrogance, to create in me a heart soft to your ways, and the gentle humility of my Savior.

Close to God

Joseph and Mary, with their caravan of friends and relatives, had departed Jerusalem. But the boy had lingered in the temple. What had caused Jesus to stay? What inner motivation had persuaded Him to remain behind at His parent's departure?

While in Egypt years ago, my wife and I were one day visiting the Temple of Seti I in Abydos.[3] Roaming away from the organized tour, I wandered deeper into the recesses of the temple, until I came upon a large, shadowy chamber filled with huge pillars. I was suddenly overcome by a sense of belonging--as if this room had once been as familiar to me as my own house. Since I don't subscribe to the theory of reincarnation, to this day I have no explanation for the sensation that passed through me. But I've never forgotten the powerful sense of belonging I experienced in that room.

I wonder if Jesus experienced that same sense of belonging the day he visited the temple as a young boy. His heavenly Father had ordained that structure as the unique place where He would meet with His people. At that time there was nowhere else on earth where the presence of God could be more tangibly felt than in that structure.

We may never know how Jesus, at the age of 12, perceived His own deity; but surely, as He stepped into those hallowed halls of the Jerusalem temple, a sense of closeness to God the Father must have passed through Him. Like coming home, the young Jesus--twelve years from His real home --must have happily soaked up the comforting presence of the Father as it was manifested on earth.


Heavenly Father, I want to know a closeness to you like that enjoyed by your Son. I want to revel in your presence, or miss you when I'm away: I long for you to become such a part of me that if I step away, the pain will be too much to bear.

Other-worldly

Radio teacher and President of Dallas Theological Seminary, Chuck Swindoll, likes to make the point that given a pool of mud and a white glove, when the glove is placed into the mud it will emerge muddy every time; never will the mud become `glovey.'

The point is made: Christians are always stained by their close proximity to sin. When believers dwell with unbelievers, they are invariably the losers.

But that wasn't the case for Jesus, who was, of course, more than man. He could dwell intimately with sinners--traveling with them, dining with them, celebrating with them--and still remain sinless and pure. He entered this world, lived here for thirty-plus years, and returned to the Father absolutely unscathed.

Here was a crowd of angry, murderous people; you can almost see them foaming at the mouth in their rage. Here was Jesus, on one side the edge of a cliff, on the other a mob ready to toss Him over the side. He had insulted their Jewish sensibilities, and they would have none of it. But suddenly--as if playing out a scene in a sci-fi film in which time stands still--Jesus simply walked away, passed safely through the hands of the venomous mob, as if they weren't even there. Whether the townsfolk realized it or not, Jesus was the one in charge, and unless He chose to let them, they couldn't lay a hand on Him.

Jesus was not of their world. He could love them, minister to their needs, calm their fears and wipe away their tears, heal their broken bodies and restore their sense of worth--He could mix in with people of every stripe, yet remain holy. None of their sin ever rubbed off onto Him.


Oh God, You are holy, and you have called upon me to be holy, too. But sometimes the sin I pass through sticks, and I have a hard time getting it off. Give me the courage to stay so close to you in all situations, that my path remains true.

PRIVATE

When we lived in Southern California I referred to it as going out to "sit on my rock." About an hour from our home there was a mountain spot that afforded a sweeping overlook of the desert. There I could park my car along the road, clamber up the boulder-strewn hillside, and perch atop one of the huge slabs of granite. There I could sit for hours, alone, contemplating the deeper considerations of life--or simply reading a good book.

Sitting on my rock in the heavy stillness of desert solitude, staring out over miles and miles of blistered sand and cactus, perspective returned. Listening to the wind and watching the birds and lizards scurry by, the pressures and irritations of city living became quickly unimportant. Being reminded, once again, of how small I was in comparison to the grand sweep of nature, I came away restored and calmed.

It was necessary for Jesus, too, to step away from the pressures of ministry, the constant tugging and pulling of those who clamored for His attention. Being human as well as God, He became physically weary from the pace, and needed time alone to be restored.

More than that, however, Jesus needed time with the Father. How sweet those moments of communion must have been for Him; how precious must have been the intimate conversation between Father and Son. And how restive that time must have been to His soul and mind.

It's far too easy to lose our connection with God in this day of busy schedules and the constant pressure to be doing more. If we now find it necessary to drive and talk on the phone at the same time, where, then, have we left time for speaking with the Lord?

Don't you be in such a hurry
'Cause it only leads to worry;
There's a time to work, but there's a time to pray.
Try to find a quiet place
To hear His voice and seek His face;
Can you hear the Spirit calling "Come away?"

Come away, come away,
Come and spend some time with Me,
Come away."

Let your heart and mind be stilled,
Let your empty cup be filled,
Come and spend some time with Me:
Come away."


My Father, slow me down. Replace my hunger to be doing more with a hunger to know You more. Help me to see the eternal value in time spent with You, and help me to understand that my life here and now will be better after having spent precious moments with You.

Compassionate

Jesus' earthly ministry took place within a turbulent sea of conflicting factions. Within Israel there were more than a sufficient number of political/religious parties all vying for their place of prominence. In addition, the whole of the nation was subject to Rome, and the Emporer Tiberius[5] and his legions.

Through the midst of this social quagmire, however, Jesus moved with little regard for politics, social graces--even religious law and tradition. Jesus was, instead, motivated by the heart. He was motivated, not by what was politically expedient, but by compassion; not by the voluminous religious traditions of His people, but by empathy with those in distress.

When He learned that a Roman centurion's slave was dying, Jesus didn't question the wisdom of helping one of His nation's oppressors; and it's doubtful that it mattered to Him what the elders said, that this Roman was actually a friend to Israel. What mattered to Jesus was that a person with profound faith in who He was and could do, was pleading for His help.

A little later, in the city of Nain[6], a widow was preparing to bury her only son. How this must have touched the heart of Jesus; for He, too, was an only Son who was about to die. This time there was no entreaty, nor even a declaration of faith. Out of tender compassion alone, Jesus raised the boy from the dead.

In the Jewish law, His touching of the coffin would render Jesus ritually defiled.[7] But He was motivated by the heart, not ritual or law.


Lord God, let me be motivated by love for my fellow man, instead of by that which is politically correct or religiously acceptable. Let my heart be so in tune with yours that my motives remain pure and right. And, Lord, let me not turn away from any opportunity to help those truly in need.

Demanding

Years ago, when I was a fashion photographer in California, I would periodically take on assistants who would be expected to help out in the studio and on location in the classic apprentice sense--meaning, they would be paid not in dollars, but in experience.

Every time I took on a new assistant I would go out of my way to describe to them both the limitations and the benefits of the job. I made sure they understood that they would be expected to work long, odd hours, performing menial tasks, but would receive no pay. In exchange they could use the opportunity to learn the craft, use the equipment and facilities, and be given some limited responsibilities by which they could hone their own photographic skills. All this would be carefully explained up front, then they would be given the opportunity to either agree with the conditions or take their leave.

Discipleship is a tough gig. Many Christians want to imagine that being a disciple of Christ requires little or no effort, that it is more of a label than a job description.

But Jesus made it quite clear that discipleship was a tough, demanding responsibility with--in earthly terms--very little reward.


Heavenly Father, I'm not interested in being a disciple in name only. Even though Jesus has said that He requires much from those who follow Him, I still want to be numbered among them. Let me not believe the lie that servanthood is easy, but find joy in serving the one who willingly sacrificed His very life for me.

Unintimidated

When dealing with the opposition, today's societal counsel might be something like "Ingratiate yourself first," or "Be prepared to compromise, since you can't always get your way," or at least "Compliment your host, even if you don't really mean it."

Some of Jesus' most telling lessons came out of dinner invitations, where He had a habit of offending His host. Earlier, when He had been invited to dine with another Pharisee, an immoral woman (surely a prostitute) came to attend Jesus, serve His needs--in a beautiful, worshipful way, to adore Him. This sinful woman received only compassion and forgiveness from the Lord,

but His host, Simon the Pharisee, received only a harsh rebuke.

Jesus never minced words when it came to arrogant, unrepentant hypocrisy, and He was never intimidated by the high office or social position of the offending party. He knew what was right, and He was quick to take that position; He also recognized true contrition, and was quick to forgive.


Dear God, help me to be more like Jesus. Help me to have courage in the face of wrong, to speak up for the right--Your right, and to never be ashamed of Your good news. Give me discernment to recognize treachery and deceit, and anything that might stand against Your holy way.

Realistic

From a human perspective, it was His moment of triumph: the climax of His ministry and the very zenith of His popularity. For the previous three years Jesus had been teaching vast crowds of people, healing the sick and even raising the dead. His reputation had spread until He was now unable to escape the press of people; they hounded Him everywhere He went.

It seemed that everyone now knew of this rabbi who could work miracles and spout wisdom as if from God. People from all walks of life--from the lowliest slave to those in the ruling counsel--were drawn inexorably to Him. There were some ready to anoint Him King; there were others ready to build an army behind Him. Jesus rode the crest of a powerful mandate.

Oh how we, given that same reputation and situation, would have reveled in that adulation, we would have bathed in the adoring cries of the people. We would have believed their words, and let their exuberant fawning swell our chests with pride. As we rode through them on our way to the city gate, we would have been plotting how to best capitalize on this popularity.

But Jesus wept. He knew that in only a matter of days, these same people would be either clamoring just as loudly for Him to be executed--or would be running for the hills, denying any connection to this insane rabble-rouser. Jesus knew that the people would ultimately reject Him as their long-awaited Messiah and that, as a result, the city would be ruined.


Oh God, I pray for perspective--Your perspective. I pray for the wisdom to remember that fame is fleeting, and that the adulation of this world is as rotting chaff when compared to Your righteous and just approval. Let empty praise be quickly forgotten, and let worthy praise be lifted up, instead, to You.

Angry at Wrong

The classical Hollywood picture of Jesus of Nazareth (one still bought by many Christians) is of a simpering milquetoast gliding along with his feet never touching the soil, a permanent bland smile affixed to his face, with only one grinning-idiot response to every situation--a regular flower child, right out of Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties.

That is not the Biblical picture of the Lord. Jesus had immense depths of understanding for the sinner who loved Him enough to change, but He had a quick temper with the self-righteous who refused to see the error of their ways.

The prostitute, the demon-possessed, the dishonest tax-collector (a redundancy in that time), the honestly inquisitive Pharisee--all received compassion and patience from Jesus. But the cynical lawyer, the snotty Sanhedrinist, the unrepentant, and even the innocent fool who should have known better[8] --these all were recipients of His quick wrath.

And His anger seemed to reach its peak that day Jesus entered the temple during the final week of His ministry. When faced with the gross marketplace this holy site had become, Jesus exploded. The Gospel of Mark adds more detail:

Just as Jesus demonstrated the full range of human emotion in His response to people and situations, so should we. The Christian should be the first to forgive, but also the first to be angry at wrong.


Forgiving God, teach me how to love the innocent while standing against those things that stand against You. Teach me how to forgive those who repent of sin without minimizing the wrong that caused it in the first place. And, Lord, teach me discernment to know the difference.

Patient

We would have wrung their necks. Here was Jesus, just moments away from His arrest, torture, and death; He has even reminded them of the trial to come--but no one is paying any attention. His disciples are, instead, preoccupied with an argument over pecking order.

Jesus knows that His ignominious end is rushing toward Him, only hours away. He is saddened that this will be the last meal outside of glory which He will enjoy with His men. And as He reclines upon His arm, feeling the immense weight of the impending events, Jesus finds Himself surrounded by men with small minds and petty considerations.

We would have wrung their necks.

But then we're not Jesus. With a remarkable--even supernatural-- display of patience, He once again takes the opportunity to teach.


Oh Lord God, I plead for that kind of patience. I want to be like Jesus: forfeiting my privilege of righteous indignation for the chance to contribute to the maturity of others. Help me to see them through your eyes, so that I might respond to their needs with the consideration of your Son.

Prescient

The ability and inclination of Jesus to know the future is something we easily take for granted. If one believes that Jesus is God, then it is a small step to believe that He also knows the contents of tomorrow. After all, this is what gods do.

But here again is evidence of how unique our God is--evidence indeed of how He must surely be the only one worthy of the title, the one true God. Here is evidence of the boundless mercy of our God, for only a merciful God would know of the sad failures in a follower's tomorrow and love him all the same.

Jesus loves imperfect people. He knows they are, and will be, imperfect, and He still loves them just as much. His love is based on His capacity for mercy and grace--not, thank goodness, on our ability to obey, and meet His standards of perfection.


Heavenly Father, You are the one true God, and Jesus Christ is Your Son. Thank you for loving me even during those times in which I let you down. Thank you for Your forgiveness, and thank you for giving me the freedom to serve You out of my love for You, rather than the bondage of trying to buy Your favor.

Alone

The spotless lamb is removed from the flock, ripped away from the warm security of its mother's side and, alone, quite all alone, it is trussed, wide-eyed with fright, and its throat summarily slit. How horrible must be that death for one so utterly blameless--to die in such an ugly manner without comfort, without compassion. Alone.

Jesus entered His final hours utterly alone. His followers, only a stone's throw away, offered no solace; instead, they slept. And when the soldiers came, led by the traitor, to arrest Him, Jesus was taken away alone. No advocate to plead His case, no friend by His side, no one there to cool His fevered brow. Jesus faced it alone.

And only He, the spotless, blameless lamb, would go to the cross. He would die there, utterly alone, not even afforded the comfort of the Father's face. Alone He would take on the weight of mankind's sin; alone He would suffer the agony of being pierced; and alone He would hand His mother over to another.

And, alone, He died.

But because only He could die for our sins, because only He could then walk out of the tomb alive, only Jesus could give us entrance to His eternity. Jesus, alone, would become our eternal salvation.


O Lord my God, when I think that You spared not Your Son, but "sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in. That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee: How great Thou Art!"[9]

ALIVE

The 'life' of the Son of God is best seen as an unbroken circle--without beginning, without end. He was in heaven, as part of the triune Godhead; then He came down to earth in the person of Jesus, born as a human of a woman but sired miraculously by the Holy Spirit; Jesus was killed--He really died--was buried, and then came back to life; finally, Jesus returned, bodily, to heaven, from whence He came. And there He will remain until He returns to earth in the Second Coming.

And there is our hope--not simply that He will return someday, but that He lives now. We worship and serve a living, breathing, active God who loves and cares about each of us.

His name is Jesus.


Holy God, I praise You. Thank you for sending Your Son so that I could more easily grasp who You are. I worship all that You are, because You, alone, are worthy.


NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

Previous Issue - Next Issue - Aspects Home

Issue No. 81
August 1997

NOTES

[1.] Dr. Larry Crabb, Inside Out (NavPress, 1989), p.161f. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] Ibid, p162. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] Seti (or Sethos) I was the father of Ramses II (Ramses the Great) and ruled Egypt from 1303 to 1290 BCE (return to footnote 3)

[4.] Come Away, words and music by Morris Chapman and Tom Coomes, Copyright 1984 Coomesietunes/Word Music, Inc. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. (return to footnote 4)

[5.] While Tiberius was technically still Emperor of Rome (A.D. 14-37), in A.D. 26 he "retired" to the isle of Capri, leaving in charge the prefect of the Praetorian Guard (and de facto vizier), Lucius Aelius Sejanus. (return to footnote 5)

[6.] Just a day's journey from Nazareth. (return to footnote 6)

[7.] Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days. He must purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the LORD'S tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean; his uncleanness remains on him. Numbers 19:11-13 (return to footnote 7)

[8.] From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Matthew 16:21-23 (return to footnote 8)

[9.] Taken from stanza three of How Great Thou Art, by Stuart K. Hine. (return to footnote 9)

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1997 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1997 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION


Aspects is published monthly in both printed and e-mail editions. For a free subscription to either edition, contact us by one of the following methods:
Phone: 515-462-1971
Postal address: 2444 195th Trail,
Winterset, IA 50273-8172.
Internet address: dlampel@dlampel.com


Back issues of Aspects are archived on the World Wide Web; go to http://dlampel.com and click on "Aspects".


Aspects is distributed free-of-charge. If, however, you wish to contribute financially toward this ministry, then we want you to know that your contribution will be an encouragement to us, and will be applied toward the expenses of postage and materials.