Talking to Ourselves–Mark 1:35

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

 In the various movies of recent decades in which God has made an on-screen appearance–I’m thinking here of George Burns in Oh God and Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty–we discover among the rather commonplace morality that Hollywood can espouse the inevitable oddities of language that would naturally follow when God himself speaks. When George Burns is sworn in to court, he finishes the oath by saying, “So help me me.” You have to wonder if God, in their mind, would text “OMM.” But then how can an omniscient God be sufficiently surprised to want to text such a thing?

Obviously, those who write such scripts either never read or didn’t pay close attention to Job. Somehow the smug Morgan-Freeman God doesn’t quite seem like the one who asked, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” If those writers were creating a scene surrounding Jesus in today’s verse, they’d have something like this:

Peter: Hey Jesus, what are you doing out here?

Jesus: Just talking to myself.

Peter: Whoa! That sounds crazy. Next thing you know you’ll claim to be God!

Happily, they haven’t written that script, but the question does arise: If Jesus is, as we claim, God Incarnate, then why does he need to go out and pray to himself? Like the trivial oddities of language that the oh-so-clever Hollywood writers deploy in their comedies, the oddities that come when you suggest a character as fully man and fully God simply demand attention.

In reality, I can’t understand the behavior or plumb the thoughts of my own wife after 30 years of marriage. How could I ever hope to understand the God-Man in all his complexity. Answer? I can’t. But I do observe that Jesus, “being in very nature God,” did roll out of bed early in the morning and head out to pray. Perhaps he need the prayer time to keep him from simply obliterating the petty and self-serving people who claimed to be his biggest fans!

This morning, I rolled out of bed with the alarm, went immediately to the bathroom and performed my morning routine. What I did not do was brave the chill to spend a few minutes in prayer. You’d think, needing it so much more than Jesus did, I would follow his lead more carefully, but I didn’t. How about you?

Brother or Parent? (Hebrews 2:13)

And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” (Hebrews 2:13)

As I write this, I am entering the end-of-semester grading version of the Bataan Death March. Papers have accumulated on my desk and in my email inbox. I run a very real risk of having a pile of term papers topple over and pin me to the floor. A week from now, though, this ordeal will be nearly ended. I will have tamed the paper beast to a reasonable nuisance. By the end of next week, I’ll be dealing with a few whining, stumbling stragglers.

When it all ends, I will have brought 50 people through Composition I, 25 through Composition II, 1 through World Literature, 25 through Drama, 25 through Bible as Literature, and 10 through American Literature. Yes, it’s been a full semester. In a sense, these students are my intellectual or at least academic children. Some of them, like some normal children, don’t much appreciate my efforts at scholastic parentage. Others, happily, do.

Yesterday, I saw a former student–I’m pretty sure he was a former student–at Burger King. I couldn’t put a name to him and he showed no sign of recognizing me. That’s pretty poor parenthood, wouldn’t you say.

Jesus, it seems, is not simply our brother, the firstborn of God’s family, but is a parent as well. Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor, but no metaphor can contain the fullness of God’s being. As such a parent, he brings uncounted sons and daughters to holiness and glory. He will not forget us, nor will he think the labor too much. In fact, the labor–the “paper grading”–has been finished for centuries.

Undercover Messiah (Hebrews 2:9)

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)

Have you ever watched Undercover Boss? In this show, CEOs from big corporations disguise themselves and work in low-level jobs for a period of time, all the while being followed by a camera crew. You’d think that after the first couple of episodes of this show had been aired, the jig would be up and nobody would be able to maintain the charade. Still, week after week CEOs manage to work in convenience stores, garbage trucks, or manufacturing plants, apparently unrecognized by anyone.

This is what happened when Jesus came into this world. The ultimate CEO came into the rabble and lived his life. Of course, Jesus wasn’t followed around by video cameras, so it’s understandable that people didn’t catch on to his identity. On the TV show, the CEO reveals himself at the end, doling out rewards to his good employees and humbly sharing what he learned. It’s amazing that these people never seem to discover slacker, antisocial employees in their organizations. Jesus, of course, returned to his “executive office.” He doesn’t share any things that he learned during his undercover stint, but he certainly has some goodies for even the less-than-stellar followers.

I don’t think we can overemphasize the role change that Jesus underwent, going from Heaven to here, putting off the trappings of Deity to take on human flesh. TV’s undercover bosses do their role reversal for a week or so. Presumably they go home at night. Jesus did his reversal for 33 years, spending 24 hours a day in the land of smelly humans. While the undercover boss does his thing to boost stock prices and his own performance, Jesus did his for us: worthless, ungrateful wretches living in open defiance of the creator of the universe.

That’s a difference that will echo long, long after Undercover Boss has long since been replaced by some sappy sitcom.

 

Walking Away from the Right Things (Hebrews 2:1)

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)

I’ve quit a lot of things in my life. In high school, I quit the wrestling team. Piano lessons bit the dust somewhere along the line. I quit my first real job, working for the Boy Scouts. At present, I’ve quit working as a volunteer for the Boy Scouts. I’ve quit drinking Diet Coke about a thousand times. Many people have much more experience quitting things than do I, but I am no amateur in that pursuit.

There’s nothing wrong with quitting things. After all, if we never quit anything, our lives would be utterly jammed. The problem is when we quit the important things. I’ve known of people who walked away from marriage, got out of the habit of parenting, drifted away from prayer, and quit other vital things.

The author of Hebrews spent the entire first chapter of his letter establishing the importance of Jesus Christ, establishing Jesus as something that we cannot afford to simply have fade from our lives. Justin Bieber can be forgotten, but not Christ. American Idol can fade from view, but not Jesus.

Christ should be like the air we breathe–there’s a song to that effect, isn’t there? When we withdraw from him, we should almost immediately notice the loss. Our lungs should ache, needing the nourishment that comes with each breath. That’s how it ought to be, but the presence of this verse in Hebrews suggests that since the very dawn of the Christian age, the drift away danger has been a very real and present one.

That we’re reading (and writing) these words, suggests that we’re attending to the things we’ve heard and endeavoring not to drift away. May that always be the case.

Split Identity (Hebrews 1:6-8)

And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” (Hebrews 1:6-8)

There’s an entire genre of movies and TV shows involving people traveling back in time or being magically transmogrified into a younger or different version of themselves or somesuch. One well known example of this is the Back to the Future films, but dozens of others exist. One feature that is virtually required in such a film is a moment where the changed character nearly blows his or her cover by referring to somebody by the wrong term. For example, in the first Back to the Future, Marty nearly blows it by referring to George McFly as “Dad.”

In real life, where time travel and body-jumping don’t exist, we don’t often make these sorts of mistakes. For example, in twenty-nine years of marriage, I don’t believe I’ve ever called my wife “Mom.” Why then, does God seem to forget not only who he’s addressing but who he himself is in these verses. Look carefully.

In verse six, God is the proud father, commanding the angels to worship his firstborn, the incarnate Jesus. Several times in the gospels, we see God commending Jesus as his Son and commanding people to hear him or otherwise respect him. So far so clear.

But in verse eight, God the father seems to forget himself. He refers specifically to the Son and says, “Your throne, O Son…” But that’s not what the Father says. He says, “Your throne, O God…” The Father speaks to the Son and refers to the latter as “God.” Does God the Father forget that it is he himself who is God? Is God the Father confused? Of course not.

This passage holds one of the great mysteries and marvels of Biblical theology. Not only is Jesus God, existing from (and actuating) the creation of everything, but Jesus is Man, God’s firstborn. By that birth, God enters creation to set right what Man has broken. If that’s not action worthy of worship, I don’t know what is.

 

Out of Darkness (Hebrews 1:3a)

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3a)

Today I had a grand experience, helping my daughter to move out of her old apartment. As marvelous as moving can be under the best of situations, this one topped the list. You see, we moved her family out of the apartment but not into a new place. The reason for moving? They had a house fire that rendered the building uninhabitable.

With the electricity now turned off and the broken-out windows covered with plywood, the apartment was dark. I raked through wet sheet rock and charred paneling to try to locate salvageable items, all the while limited by the narrow cone of light coming from a head lamp.

You don’t appreciate the presence of light until you don’t have it. You don’t realize how incredibly dark a place can be–a place full of sherds of glass and jagged boards–until you’re there with the windows covered. Darkness, I can now attest, is not conducive to successful searching or moving.

I mention this because of the description of Jesus as the “radiance of God’s glory.” Radiance fills a place, a situation, a life, or a world with light. That feeble head lamp I wore this morning offered only a tiny fraction of the radiance provided by the sun through the windows or the lights on the ceiling. But even those normally ample light sources pale by comparison to the radiance of God’s glory.

God is so amazing that even the train of His robe filled the heavenly temple with glory according to Isaiah 6. That vision so overwhelmed Isaiah that he knew himself to be in deep trouble having witnessed it in his sinful state. That full glory of God overwhelms. But in Christ, the radiance of that glory comes to earth in a form fit for human experience.

Isaiah also tells us that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). I understood a small glimmer of that experience as I walked from the darkened bedrooms of Emily’s charred apartment into the well-lit living room. How much more light do we receive from Christ.

The Final Answer (Hebrews 1:2)

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
(Hebrews 1:2, again)

Not too far from my home, you’ll find the foundation of an old house. Recently, I met a man whose uncle formerly lived in that house. I’m not sure who first built it, but I do know that people farmed our property beginning in about 1840. Today, less than 200 years later, nature is reclaiming everything that hasn’t been maintained over those years. The fencing around that old foundation has rusted and will be fragmented in a few more decades. Human use of the land, it seems, is a temporary thing. Once our stewardship over it relaxes, the cedar trees and vines begin the succession that will culminate in towering oak trees. Nature, it would seem, prevailed here long before humans arrived and will reclaim anything that the humans relinquish.

But there is something that predates nature and that will survive its reign. We could easily slide over the words in the second half of today’s verse, missing their incredible import. To avoid such a mistake, though, I thought it necessary to dwell on this verse once more.

Who is this Son of whom the author of Hebrews speaks? Of course, it is Jesus, and we learn valuable things about Jesus from these dependent clauses. We learn that God created the universe through Jesus. What precisely does that mean? Does that make Jesus the general contractor? Somehow I don’t think that’s answer. Many would point to the powerful speech of God in Genesis 1 and then the equating of Jesus and the Word and God in John 1. In reality, I’m not sure that such connections truly get us a great deal closer to understanding God creating the universe through Jesus.

Similarly, I’m not entirely sure what it means for Jesus to be the heir of all things. I do understand inheritance from a human standpoint, but how do you inherit the universe that you’ve had a hand in creating? I don’t really understand that either.

What I do understand, however, is that nature was not here first. Nature will not be the ultimate victor over my farm or any other place. By aligning myself with Christ, I align myself with the first and the last, I allow God to make me a joint heir. That ‘s enough for me to understand for today.

 

One Word for All Time (Hebrews 1:2)

But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:2)

There’s something about picking up eggs that delights me. In a few minutes, I’ll go outside and determine how many eggs my hens have left for me to collect today. I did the same chore yesterday and the day before. It doesn’t matter. When I look in the egg box, I marvel at the little brown oval of protein that the girls deposit.

Unlike the wonder of those eggs, some things lose their charm after time. As a demonstration, I would invite you to open a large bag of jelly beans. Those first few pieces of candy taste marvelous. Perhaps, like me, you keep eating them after the new has worn off, but eventually (and hopefully long before the bag is empty) you can’t stand the idea of placing another one in your mouth.

The speech represented in this verse, the speech of God delivered by Jesus, is not in the jelly bean category. Although the English versions of this verse present it in a past perfect form (has spoken) a more accurate rendering might say “has spoken once and for all.” That speech, spoken once, endures for all time with the same power and same appeal. It’s a bit like those eggs, which strike me as a wonder each and every day.

Muslims attempt to demote Jesus to the place of a prophet, a great prophet followed by Muhammad, a greater prophet. The reality, however, is quite different. Once the Word has been spoken–and it has been spoken–no further prophets are necessary, except those who, like the prophets of old, point to that enduring Word.