Incarnation and Imitation
The incarnation revealed what is possible when a human moves in God’s will, and by God’s power. In Jesus, God acted, but also demonstrated what human action in the name of God looks like. For I have set you an example, Jesus says, that you also should do as I have done to you. Yes, this line’s context (John 13:15) is somewhat particular to his servant gesture of foot-washing, but the following discourse makes clear that this practice is barely the tip of the iceberg. Everything Jesus does and says is a demonstration of God’s work and will in the world, and the disciples are being invited to share in that way of being in the world. The point of the incarnation is to say, This is what happens when divine action/being meets human ac-tion/being.
Moments later, Jesus expresses to his disciples that they have perceived God’s will as re-vealed through Jesus’s words and actions, and have even had their status before God changed because of it: The servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (John 15:15). Jesus is revealing God’s will and work, and then inviting them to join into that same will and work, becoming fruitful by honoring his command tolove one another as I have loved you. God is at work among humanity in the human form of Jesus, so that humanity might be able to learn how to work on behalf of God in the world.
What’s Faith Got to Do with It?
This is all well and good as a bunch of theological talk, but is still missing a critical piece: faith. This all occurs in its context in a crisis moment, and the disciples will forget their loyalty to Jesus before we can scarcely turn the page on the conversation. However, before their abandon-ment, we get a preview of what will come to pass after the resurrection. It is yet to be tested by the crucible, but we get a taste of the faith that will be solidified when the disciples witness his defeat of death. In John 16:30 we read the climatic confession, "we believe that you came from God." That curiously-worded affirmation of faith is more central to John’s gospel than is easily recognized.
"We believe that you came from God" sounds like a basic thing to affirm about Jesus, but for John’s gospel it is the critical point. Everything up until chapter 12 has been constructed to demonstrate that Jesus is in fact the one sent from God. It’s a theme hiding in plain sight, cap-tured in language like being from God or from heaven, or in Jesus’s talk about being sent. The fascinating turn of the fourth gospel is that it takes this basic affirmation of Jesus’s origin and uses it to launch the mission of the disciples. Just as the father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends his disciples (20:21), and when they are doing the will of God, they have access to the same divine power that Jesus put on display. What’s the connection between what Jesus did and what the sent disciples will do? Their faith.
In coming to believe that Jesus is from God, the disciples also come to believe his invitation to share in his divinely originating power and mission. They too become from God because now they are from Jesus. John tipped his hand early on that this was God’s work in Jesus: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13) In the wake of the resurrection, the disciples can truly become brothers of Jesus, shar-ing the same Father and God (20:17).
The Victory of Faith
There’s an old church song, Faith is the Victory which draws its language from 1 John 5:4-5, ...this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? The song implies that the victory is one that we, Christ’s disciples win over our enemies. However, the greater truth is that it is Jesus who becomes victorious over his enemies because of our faith. See, we may not have noticed the connection between this text (1 John 5) and John 16:33, where Jesus says to his disciples: Take courage; I have conquered the world!. Notice how the announcement is peculiarly located—Jesus proclaims his victory before the events of either the cross or the empty tomb. What has happened at this point that evokes this claim? It is the confession of faith from the disciples—this constitutes Jesus’s victory over the world!
Now that they believe—or perhaps better, now that they are coming to believe—Jesus has won a foothold in the world. God’s work will continue. The gospel embodied in him will be em-bodied in his disciples who now participate in his mission. Jesus, the Sent One, will become the sender, and the faith of his disciples will become a gateway for the power of God to work good-ness in the world.
Our faith is much more powerful than we know. It is not just a vehicle for our comfort or empowerment. It is a vehicle for divine action. It is the connection point at which God’s people become partners by God’s Spirit, agents of God’s creative agenda in the world. Faith is the en-gine translating God’s will into human action and the restoration of God’s creation.
It is easy to underestimate our faith. I often perceive mine to be quite a weak thing—apparently much smaller than even a mustard seed. But in the hands of Jesus, even our broken faith creates enormous possibilities, and becomes a tool in God’s mission.
(If you would like to walk through a study of the Sent theme in John, consider the follow-ing texts in their context: 1:12-13, 3:2, 3:13, 3:17, 3:31-34, 4:34, 5:23-24, 5:36-38, 6:33, 6:46, 6:57, 7:27-29, 8:14-16, 8:23-26, 8:42, 9:4, 9:29-33, 10:36, 11:27, 12:44-45, 13:3, 14:24, 15:21, 16:27-30, 17:8, 18:36-37, 19:9, 20:21. This list is not exhaustive, and perhaps the better approach is to simply take a highlighter to a fresh copy of the gospel and mark each time the theme shows up. I assure you, you will not have to travel long between occurrences! I would love to say that the theme is plainly stated in literally every chapter of John, but alas, chapter 2 only yields 2:9, which I hold to be playful language on the theme—but I’ll let you decide for yourself.)
Steven Hovater: Four kids. One wife. Seventeen hobbies. A coach’s whistle. Lots of thoughts about God and food. The spiritual gift of volume. Blogs at stevenhovater.com, and preaches in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
I wasn’t around at the time of the Revolutionary War, but I have read about it in the history books and its effects can be experienced to this day in my life. There is a freedom I have because of what happened so long ago. Today, I will gather my family and go visit friends and watch fireworks tonight to celebrate Independence Day. It will be a good time and a needed rest for my family in the middle of the crazy summer months.
As I think about my faith, I must also understand a different meaning of “independence day” that also has much bearing on my life. I wasn’t present on that day either, but I have read about it both as a matter of pure history and in the gospel accounts in the Bible. I was reminded last week during our Vacation Bible School that Jesus was a soldier against our greatest enemies - sin, death, and Satan…and there was a day he won that battle. Most of us think that it was when he when to the cross, but in going to the cross, Jesus surrendered to the world of sin, death, and Satan to be willingly defeated. But by the power of God, Jesus resurrected from the dead and it is in this event that the world was changed…it was made free. It was this “independence day” that freed us from the shackles of sin, death, and Satan.
Paul writes regarding the resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15:
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.
24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says, “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.
I can’t wait for the beauty of this display by our Lord, but until that day comes, I will gather my family and take them to see the fireworks, enjoy the food, and thank my country for the freedom I experience as an American and thank my God for the freedom I experience as a Christian, which I must admit transcends nation and people and position. This freedom we have in Christ, Paul would write later in the same chapter, motivates our lives… “58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” AMEN! Happy Independence Day to you…Come, Lord Jesus!
It is hard to believe that a baby being born might actually save the world. I mean, where was Satan when the baby was vulnerable and helpless, when he squirmed in the arms of that pre-teen mom of his? What happened to the evil kings and the lords that saw him as a threat? Surely Hell noticed…I mean, if we have the boldness to still claim there is one. Perhaps because I grew up knowing the story, I forget how bizarre it is…how hard it is to not believe, but to live out on a daily basis.
There are so many other, more tangible things for me to hope for and thank God about…for example the fact that I live in the most powerful nation in the world, the beacon of freedom and liberty. I have a job, a family, a group of friends, a house, a car, and I could keep listing. And therein lies the rub of this story I’m living, in the midst of my comfort I am supposed to long for something greater, purer, and better than what I have.
I am convinced the Bible wasn’t written to me. I know this because it was written to people who lived a long time ago and their names, stories, and dreams are found in the pages I read. And they, unlike me, often longed for a better life free of war, famine, hunger, and pain. Sure those things exist in our contemporary world, but I have to search for them because they are not at my door (well, at least on in this moment).
But, eventually, the things I like so much about this life I live and this story that is me will change…something will happen that is unexpected and perhaps even tragic. That may be where you find yourself right now as I write this. Often, and you can read it to be certain, but often the Bible doesn’t allow us long to wallow in the reality of our vulnerability and weakness before it shows us a vision of God’s Kingdom…the place we hope to call home. This is the case in Isaiah 34, in which war is being described and then without hesitation we get this in chapter 35:
1 Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
2 Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
the splendor of our God.
3 With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
and encourage those who have weak knees.
4 Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.”
I would advise you to read the whole chapter, because it is all good! You see, there is a day coming when “the Lord will display his glory, the splendor of our God.” This will reconstitute our existence and recreate our world. It isn’t a government that was the signal of this change, it wasn’t a family, or a house, or car, or money…the signal of God’s Kingdom was a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Satan was bound by Him, evil was defeated by Him, kings and lords were limited by Him, and Hell only does what Jesus says to do! For those who need it, there is always hope to be found in the Bible, especially in the darkest most dreary times. Live hope today!
Just before this chapter, God declares punishment on the people: “the tallest trees will be cut down and the lofty will be brought low.” The trees, the people -- both will be clean cut off. And then God provides this visionary promise through the prophet:
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Who could imagine anything growing as they sat on the stump of utter despair? It was the leftover of God’s punishment. There was no life in this place. I’ve sat there myself, perhaps you have, too. You may be there now -- at that place where hope is hard to find, where loss and despair have desensitized your heart.
But God’s word comes to sit with us. This word will not ask us to spring up and celebrate. The prophet’s vision is surprising, but small. The nation would never rise again as it was. The shoot would not become a mighty cedar. The shoot that was growing would be different from what the people expected.
Faith doesn’t look only at what has been, wishing to return things to the past glory of something that is long past. Faith strains to see the “fragile sign” in the present that points us to the future. A future full of hope is what awaits for those who develop the eyes of faith. Yet, whether our eyes struggle to see what God is doing with the old stump or whether we are fully in tune with God’s work, God’s word sits with us at the place where it finds us. We can sit on the stump counting the rings, remembering the past…God’s word sits with us. So, today—right now—God’s word is with you in mourning and in joy, in pain and in celebration, and the work of God surrounds us as God continues to LOVE you, us, this world—the handiwork of creation.
Jeremiah proclaims something thought provoking when he wrote:
17:14 O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
if you save me, I will be truly saved.
My praises are for you alone!
What does it mean to be Truly Healed? Truly Saved?
Are there imposters that are not actually “true?”
Do you know anyone who says that their current relationship is their salvation or healing? I know a few persons who thought that this “one” was all they needed to get over their past and live the happiness that God always wanted them to have. Suspiciously, the same routines, habits, and hurtful language seems to resurface over time in their relationship and often, but not always, a person is left with more hurt and more wounded than before. Relationships don’t truly save and they don’t truly heal.
Do you know of anyone who has an addiction and that is their salvation from their life and the drugs and alcohol seem to heal their deep hurts? I know a few person who thought that the bottle contains a magical formula of happiness and once taken, they are free to live the life they desire to have. Sure, there are community meetings about the effects of marijuana, heroine, cocaine, prescription meds, and alcohol; but there is a clear distinction between those persons and me! Until there isn’t. Drug use causes long term health problems, brain function issues, and isolates persons from those who love them. Drugs and Alcohol don’t truly save and they don’t truly heal.
Do you know of anyone who loves work, maybe a little too much? I know a few persons like that and they are 100% dedicated to their job. Now, let’s be clear that I am for taking a job seriously and striving for excellence in our work. However, the attitude and belief that my job is my escape from poverty and my salvation from meaninglessness places the employment we enjoy far above the other things/people in our lives that give us meaning and provide a richness to our lives. Work is talked about, thought about, obsessed over, and prioritized at the top. Tragically, companies often do not share our loyalty, bosses can see us as threats to their positions, and how dare we even begin to view a life of retirement…NO! Our jobs don’t truly save and they don’t truly heal.
If you, O Lord, Heal me…If you, O Lord Save me…
There is a fundamental difference in the healing and salvation of God. God does not just heal and save us from something, but God also saves and heals us to something. I am reminded of a college student who had cancer as a child, and St. Jude Hospital was her salvation because she was healed from her cancer. So, her life of cancer camps, chemo treatments, and long stays in the hospital turned back into normal life…school, homework, graduation and then college where I met her. She struggled. She struggled with seeking attention because she went from the very special child to just another student. She shared with me in private conversation that many of the friends she made in cancer camps had died and so she struggled with survivor remorse. You see, at the end of her journey of healing and salvation was…well, normalcy.
God’s healing and salvation does not end in normalcy. The Bible refers to those who are saved and healed as “children of God,” “masterpiece,” “saints,” “citizens of heaven,” “brothers and sisters,” “priesthood,” and “bride of Christ.” We are healed and saved TO participate in the Kingdom of God…the reign of Jesus Christ, which goes beyond this life into eternal life, and peers above the structure of this world into the spiritual world of heaven. So, with this as a background, we should be able to understand what it means to be TRULY healed and TRULY saved.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.