The treasurer stood up and spoke on behalf of the church elders, ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have enough money to build the extension. The bad news is, it is in your pockets’.
We noted that the title ‘the Son of Man’ was Jesus’ favourite self-designation. The expression ‘son of man’ was not unfamiliar it would seem in C1 Palestine. It simply meant ‘human’ with the stress being on the weakness and humility of such a position. In the words of Psalm 8, addressing God the psalmist asks, ‘ what is man that you have regard for him?‘ Perhaps the humble connotations of this title is why Jesus adopted it. This, and other associations it carried which were not so up front but were nevertheless present in its OT use.
We saw last time that Jesus clearly meant more by the expression than merely a general idiom for ‘human’. He used it in a more prescribed way. He was not merely ‘a son of man’ he was ‘the Son of Man’. The definite article implied uniqueness. In fact, he used it as a messianic title. When Jesus asks his disciples who they think he, the Son of Man, is, and Peter unambiguously replies that he is ‘Messiah, Son of the living God,’ Jesus approves his confession (Matt 16:13-20) and proceeds to teach that ‘the Son of Man’ must suffer many things… be rejected… be killed and after three days rise again‘ (Mk 8:31). ‘The Son of Man’ is clearly code for Messiah.
Immediately after Peter identifies Jesus as Messiah, Jesus makes clear the career of this messianic ‘Son of Man’, contrary to the expectations of all, the disciples included, is first suffering then glory, humiliation precedes exaltation (cf. Mk 9:31; 10:34). The Son of Man must be ‘lifted up‘ (Jn 3:14) where ‘lifted up’ refers to crucifixion (exaltation in an unexpected way). The ‘must’ of suffering as a prelude to glory seems to be at least in part an imperative derived from the OT (Matt 26:24), no doubt largely from Isaiah’s suffering servant motif (Isa 53) but also from other threads of revelation such as the rejected stone (Ps 118:22). Indeed, one of the most significant texts in the OT concerning the ‘son of man’ motif hints at such an order.
Daniel 7, in visions that reveal the conflict between the kingdoms of the world and the heavenly kingdom, records,
As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened.
“Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
“I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.
“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’
“Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.
“He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.
“‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’
“This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”
This is a rather lengthy quotation but I have cited it in full for so much that Jesus invests in the messianic Son of Man motif is sourced here.
the son of man as a messianic title
It seems to be principally from this text that Jesus derives ‘the Son of Man’ as a messianic title. This mysterious and august figure is given by God a kingdom that will last forever and never be destroyed; these are messianic announcements.
the son of man and his people are organically one
While the vision focuses on an individual, a son of man, the interpretation speaks of the kingdom being given to ‘the holy people‘. It is tempting to identify the ‘son of man’ as merely the ‘holy people’ but this is unlikely for a number of reasons. Firstly, the ‘son of man’ has divine characteristics and receives divine honours that no ordinary human beings possess (7:13,14). More of this later. Secondly, Jesus clearly sees this figure as messianic applying as he does his career to himself (cf Matt 24:30; Mk 13:26). Thirdly, anyone familiar with the old and new Testaments recognises this dynamic between the individual and collective in messianic prophecy, the solidarity between messiah and his people (for example, OT sonship and servant motifs, NT body and building motifs). Indeed, solidarity is not limited to the messianic, the various ‘beasts’ mentioned in Dan 7 were both actual kings and a nation. Solidarity, organic unity, between a ruler and his subjects is a norm although it is taken to a higher level in the union between messiah and his people. The reality and intimacy of this union is clear in the gospels.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
A more vivid sense of corporate identity and relationship is hard to imagine.
the son of man must first suffer before entering his glory
While the suffering motif is developed elsewhere more fully as we observed, nevertheless it is implicit in Dan 7. It is clear that before the ‘holy people’ triumph they must suffer (Dan 7:19, 21, 23, 25). Given the organic connection between the Son of Man and the holy people it is not unreasonable to see a hint too of messianic suffering, a hint amply developed in other OT images and texts. The suffering Servant of Isaiah is a clear example of messianic suffering. Jesus clearly links both strands of revelation (son of man and Isaianic servant) when he says, ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:28).
Indeed, as ‘lifted up’ (cited earlier)suggests, the cross is not simply the prelude to glory but is in its own way the beginning of glory for in it ‘the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him’ (Jn 13:31). The supreme self-disclosure of Messiah and God takes place at the cross (Jn 8:28). That Messiah should die, and die the shameful death of a state execution as a criminal was unthinkable to the Jewish mind. A messianic ‘son of Man’ such as Jesus depicts they cannot envisage… ‘who is the Son of man’ (Jn 12:34). They did not grasp their need as sinners and that only through his death could a messianic community be born, a people organically one with ‘the Son of Man’ sharing in the identity of his new humanity. He must be ‘lifted up’ that who he truly is be revealed (Jn 8:28), that ‘whoever believes in him may have life’ (Jn 3:14), and that he might draw all to him (Jn 12:32). The Son of Man had expressly come to seek and save the lost (Matt 19:10) and it is his death (as a corn of wheat) that accomplishes this (Jn 12:23,24).
the son of man will triumph and reign
While as a title ‘the Son of Man’ is self -effacing nevertheless Jesus invests it with unambiguous authority. It is here Dan 7 comes into its own. It speaks of a son of man coming into the immediate presence of God clothed in the clouds of heaven and receiving an everlasting kingdom, the kingdom of ‘the Most High’ himself. Undoubtedly it is to this text that Jesus alludes when he says to the High Priest when questioned about his messianic entitlement,
Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’
Notice jesus does here what he often does, he conflates two texts. The Son of man ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’ references Dan 7 while ‘sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One’ is drawn from Psalm 110, a psalm celebrating the triumph of messiah. Despite his rejection he affirms a day of vindication drawn from and confirmed by these OT texts. Indeed, there is a warning of judgement to those hostile to him to whom he speaks… ‘you will see‘. This is one with other son of man statements he makes such as , ‘Whoever is ashamed of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels, (Mk 8:38). The Son of Man among many other things has been given authority to judge (John 5:27).
It was always God’s plan to delegate to man ruling authority in creation (Gen 1:26-28; Ps 8:5-8). The fall stalled but did not finally stymie this purpose. Rather faith sees in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus that this purpose realised ( Hebs 2:5-8). Christ is the first of a new humanity that will reign in ‘the world to come‘ (Hebs 2:5); Hebrews treats Ps 8 as messianic. Christ was made a little lower than the angels that he may taste death (that which destroys all human flourishing) and through death, deliver his people.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.
Hebrews expresses this corporate unity between Christ (messiah) and his people that we have seen implied in Dan 7. He destroys Satan and all evil, delivers his people, the new humanity, the new ‘holy people’ of Dan 7, the true offspring of Abraham and shares with them his victory. Thus we read
‘Jesus said to them (his disciples), “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.’
If those who deny the Son of Man are banished from his everlasting kingdom and destroyed (Matt 12:8; 13:41; 24:30, 37-39; 25:31-40) then those who acknowledge him, who receive his word, will receive eternal reward (Matt12:8; 13:37,38; 16:27; 25:31-40). All this will be realised when the Son of Man returns.
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
Matt 16:27 (cf. Matt 24:27-31, 37-39).
There is an important application of all of this to our hearts but this must wait for the final post on this subject as I have already said more than enough in this one. Note, however, how well suited the son of man motif is to bring together so many subtle strands of revelation. We would expect nothing less than such wisdom from One who claims as the Son of Man to speak only those words which his Father had taught him (Jn 8:28).
When we think of the titles ‘son of man’ and ‘son of God’ ascribed to Jesus we normally assume the former stresses his humanity and the latter his deity. And this is true. However, as with many generalisations, and particularly those that refer to Jesus qualification and nuance is often required. For instance, while ‘son of God’ clearly does carry in Jesus the full weight of deity, yet not until Jesus did the expression carry such freight. Adam was a ‘son of God’, as was Israel and each of her Davidic Kings. Clearly none of these is divine. Each was a titular son, a nominal son, an adopted son. Each was no more than a human son of God. Only in Jesus is divine sonship required to take on a deeper and essential meaning. All he says and does demands a unique kind of sonship, one that must carry the full status of deity. He displays such divine qualities that those who observed could only conclude that he was the ‘one and only’ Son of the Father, the Word who was with God and was God, become flesh, become human (Jn 1). Thus a title that formerly pointed to merely human persons in a special relationship with God enjoying a resemblance to God and called to be a representative of God is fulfilled in Jesus in the most ultimate and incredible way compelling the conclusion that in him the title ‘the son of God’ means nothing less than he is God the Son.
We should not be surprised by this for it is often the case that Jesus fulfils an office in ways that surprise and invest it with fresh insight and significance. Tied into this is his intention both to reveal and conceal his identity; to those of faith the unexpected ways Jesus fulfils OT roles both enlighten and confirm his identity while to those blinded by self-serving prejudice they further hide who he is and confirm them in their blindness (this is always the effect of the gospel).
Like ‘son of God’, ‘son of man’ as a title of Jesus carries hidden depths. In the first instance it simply stresses the humanity of Jesus. It is a modest and humble appellation. In Psalm 8, the ‘son of man’ stands in contrast to the greatness of God.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens….
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
Man, in comparison to God (and Angels) is insignificant. Indeed, ‘son of man’ is a diminutive of ‘man’ further underlining his lowly status. It is used extensively in Ezekiel by God where it means ‘human’ (a creature) in stark contrast to God (the Creator). Cf. Ezek 2:1-3; Numbs 23:19. It is used as a name for the needy nation of Israel (Ps 80:17). The humble station of man, including his weakness and frailty, is stressed by the designation. It is therefore, perhaps unsurprising, that it is the favourite self-designation of Jesus who said of himself that he was ‘meek and humble of heart’.
And so ‘son of man’ was an unpretentious, unassuming title. At one level it simply meant ‘man’ or ‘human’. Indeed, at a colloquial level, it may at times be hardly a title at all and simply mean ‘I’. Yet, even in these OT references cited, there are more than hints that this man, humble though he is, by God’s providence, is destined for great things. In Psalm 8, he is ‘crowned them with glory and honour,’ and God makes him (them), ‘rulers over the works of your hands’ and has put ‘everything under his feet’ (Ps8). In Psalm 80, he is the son God has raised for himself to sit at his right hand’ (Ps 80:15,17).
It is not surprising therefore when Jesus uses it of himself both elements are present, lowliness and exaltation, elements we shall explore in future posts. Yet, as with the title ‘son of God’ when used by Jesus he injects it with further meaning that significantly raises its capital. To be sure it indicates suffering and subsequent glory but it also it carries with it prerogatives that belong only to God. For example, the first time it is used by Jesus in Mark’s gospel it announces his authority to forgive sins, a prerogative that in Jesus’ time none doubted belonged to God alone (Mk 2:10).
In a word, in reference to Jesus ‘son of man’ is a title that fully grasped identifies him as a divine person. In fact, Jesus’ injection of distinction even deity into this essentially humble title is not aberrant. He is only claiming for ‘son of man’ what the OT previously implicitly taught (cf. Dan 7). But more of this later.
Meantime it is sufficient to observe that while the designation ‘son of God’ was applied in the first place to mere men, the complementary title ‘son of man’ points to a man who is God. Of course, only in Jesus do the human and divine unite. He is unique. This is whe when speaking of himself as ‘son of man’ he never describes himself as ‘son of man’ but always ‘the son of man’. The definite article is always present for while as ‘the Son of man’ he represents a new humanity that will flow from him (again, to be explored later) nevertheless there is about him that which is unique. No other ‘son of man’ could say of himself:
No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man
Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!
Son of Man may rightly stress his humanity but in his case this humanity belongs to a divine person. He did not come into existence at conception; he was a pre-existent divine person who came from God and returned to God; he does not really belong to earth, he belongs to heaven. The Son of Man is really the Son of God who will return to heaven and the glory that he shared with his Father before the world existed (Jn 17:5).
‘I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
A new year opens before us with its fresh prospects and challenges. Our world is a more dangerous place than it was even a year ago. How can we enter 2016 fearlessly and with hope? The answer is simple; we must trust the Lord.
Faith. Trust. The one thing needful (Jn 6:28,29). Faith acknowledges God is God. It does what every creature ought to do before their Creator; take him at his word and believe (Hebs 11:1). It relies wholeheartedly on him. It is for such faith the ancient saints were commended (Hebs 11:2). In it and through it they persevered and God was not ashamed to be called their God (11:16). Faith creates conquerors, over comers (Hebs 11; 1 Jn 5:4). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebs 11:6).
However, in even the greatest saint, faith is often in short supply; it is generally less in size than a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds (Matt 17:20). The paucity of it in his disciples who day by day witnessed the miraculous in Christ and had themselves been empowered to perform miracles on more than one occasion drew an exasperated rebuke from their patient Lord (Matt 8:6; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; Mk 16:14; Lk 12:28, 32). It is little wonder that the request of the disciples was, ‘Lord, increase our faith'(Lk 17:5).
Perhaps their request ought to be ours too. We profess to trust the Lord for our eternal salvation but seem to find it difficult to trust him for everyday life. It is discomfiting. More, it is an anomaly, an antimony. No wonder it elicits rebuke, loving rebuke, but rebuke none the less. Which of us does not need to ask, ‘Lord, increase my faith’? It is, however, a dangerous request for it may result in the Lord placing us in difficult situations where we learn to trust; faith is like a muscle, it grows as we exercise it.
The Lord wants us to trust him in every situation of life. Partly because, as noted, it is the only way to honour who he is as God and partly because he knows it is for us the way of peace and security.
In Psalm 121, the writer exhibits the kind of healthy faith we need to develop. I thought a brief reflection on it may be helpful; helpful to me at least, and I trust, to you.
faith that talks to oneself
Perhaps the first point to underline is that (embarrassingly, we may be inclined to think) the psalm reveals the psalmist talking to himself. He reasons with himself. He is on a journey (probably to a festival in Jerusalem) and as he travels he faces real hazards. He sees the mountains. These may be those surrounding Jerusalem he has yet to scale. It may be that these remind him his security lies in the Lord (Ps 125:2) or it may be these are the focus of his anxiety. Perhaps scaling them fills him with intimidation, even trepidation. In any case, he feels as we all feel when faced with difficult, potentially dangerous, situations (as travelling was in those days); anxiety at some level begins to edge in. Perhaps he looks at the mountains with their hidden menace and his heart begins to fret. Self speaks to him.
It’s vital to notice that when ‘self’, whether in thoughts or emotions, begins to assert itself the proper way to deal with it is to speak to it and control it. There is nothing wrong (or embarrassing) about speaking to yourself (even aloud at times), in fact, it is absolutely necessary. Here, in the psalm, the issue is uncertainty, even fear. The journey to Jerusalem was difficult and dangerous and his psyche was telling him this in no uncertain terms. He lifts his eyes to the mountains. Travelling up into them fills him with foreboding. He knows the dangers that lurk there. Thus he asks himself the question (or perhaps better, self asks him the question), ‘where does my help come from?’
How will I cope with this? This is scary? I’m not up to this? It’s all a bit too challenging, too demanding.
Notice how the psalmist handles this anxiety. Or rather, notice how he doesn’t handle it. He doesn’t allow the anxiety to keep whirling around his mind unchecked just increasing his stress and anxiety until it controls him. This is the mistake we so often make. No, he immediately addresses it. He speaks to himself (firmly?) about why he has no need to be anxious – his help comes from the Lord.
What is he doing? He is thinking in faith categories. He is combatting fear with faith.
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth
Notice his baseline faith-affirmation: ‘My help comes from the Lord.’
His trust is in the Lord. It is ‘the Lord’, the One with whom he is in a special relationship, that he trusts. The Lord had promised to be with his people. He had solemnly promised to be their Helper, their Shield, who would guard over them and protect them (Gen 15:1; Deut 31:6,8; 33:29; Josh 1:9; Psalm 121:4. Cf. 125:2). Everything the Lord had promised and done for his people in the past was contained and confessed in the expression ‘the Lord’. And he adds to it the further faith-affirmation – the Lord is ‘the Maker of Heaven and Earth’. He is no tribal deity, limited in power to a particular location. He made and owns all things. Everything and everywhere belongs to him and is ruled by him, including these dangerous mountain roads on which he must travel.
‘The Lord is my help‘ is ever the first and most fundamental answer to our needs and fears. It is the instinctive assertion of faith. Whatever may be built on top, it is the substratum, the bedrock, the solid ground upon which all else rests. Whatever the test, the dilemma, or the difficulty, anxiety is unnecessary. Why? ‘The Lord is my help‘. When fears arise this is both our confession and rebuke to our own trembling hearts. We may strengthen our confession by reminding ourselves just how great the Lord is (as the psalmist does… he is the Maker of heaven and earth) which will deepen and strengthen faith but the basic faith affirmation is the same for every believer… the Lord is my help.
The rest of the psalm is simply an application of this affirmation to specific fears.
Sometimes it is helpful if we have vague general fears to identify the specific components and to apply ‘the Lord is my help’ to each one. This is what the psalmist does. He identifies three specific anxiety triggers and in each case reminds himself the Lord ‘watches over him’. In fact, five times he reminds his heart the Lord is ‘watching over’; he is guarded. When anxiety is pressing in we may need to remind ourselves many times that we are kept by the Lord. This is part of the fight of faith, the fight to conquer anxious unbelief and be strong in the Lord.
anxiety about the road
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. (v3)
The mountain tracks were dangerous. They were no doubt precipitous. He would often walk on scree. Rocks, roots, and ruts were ever present dangers. If his concentration slipped he could have a serious accident. There was no mountain rescue team. He was on his own and injured, a nasty situation. It was an altogether understandable concern. He was not being neurotic. The danger was real. Faith does not pretend that dangers do not exist rather it asserts that in all such dangers the Lord is in control (Matt 6:25-34). The psalmist’s confidence is not in his own prowess and concentration but in the Lord. The Lord will not let his feet slip. He may get tired and lose concentration but the Lord will not. He does not sleep. He tirelessly guards his people. The Lord guards and watches over him. Every detail of our life is under his careful watch.
The danger of a foot slip was so common it became an image for any kind of trouble where the godly felt vulnerable and ready to go down (Ps 38:16; 66:9). In every case the resource for faith is the Lord. As panic is rising the heart of the believer looks firmly and resolutely to the Lord. In him, whatever the danger, he finds support, encouragement, even joy.
When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy. (Ps 94:18)
anxiety about the elements
The journey to Jerusalem was dangerous not least because of the weather. This is the second articulated fear of the writer.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
Sun and moon were dangers in themselves but they also serve as a symbol for all weather that may be faced on the journey. We must remember these were days before, cagoules, lightweight tents, sunblock, hillwalking boots and GPS. Weather was a good reason to think again before travelling. For most too travelling would be by Shanks’ pony; searing sun, sudden storms and flash floods, and bitterly cold nights were only some of the difficulties to be faced. Fluttering anxiety was all too understandable.
The psalmist faces his fear. He does not repress it (pretend to himself it does not exist) which is dangerous (it means lying to one’s self) but suppresses it. That is, he answers fear by faith. His response to rising fear is as before – the Lord watches over me. His resource is the Lord and he is completely adequate. If he needs shade then the Lord is his shade. The Lord who had been to Israel as it journeyed a pillar of cloud by day (protecting from the sun) and a pillar of fire by night (lightening up her way) is the same Lord who watches over him. All who hide in him are safe.
anxiety about people
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
‘Harm’ or ‘evil’ seems to normally refer to danger from people (Ps 140:1,2; 14:4; 10:7-10). Brigands and bandits lay in wait for easy pickings (remember the parable of the Good Samaritan). How does the pilgrim handle this fear. His confidence lies completely in the Lord. He will keep him from all harm and ‘watch over’ his life. Indeed ‘all harm’ widens the scope of his trust to the widest aperture. The Lord will protect and watch over him not only in this journey but on all journeys, including the journey of life itself.
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
As the psalmist has acknowledged and faced his faith by asserting again and again his confidence in the Lord to keep him his faith has grown so that he can affirm the Lord will be his Shield in every situation every day of his life (and beyond). His faith muscle has strengthened by use. His trust is in his Lord who will never leave him or forsake him (Deut 32:1,2).
This is the kind of faith for which the ancients were commended (Hebs 11:2). It was no abstract theoretical faith about the future that had no bearing on the present but a faith in the invisible God and his promises that brought him into the whole of their lives.
But what if God does not rescue? What if the pilgrim does slip and break a leg? What if he does get swept away in a storm? What if bandits do attack him?
Firstly we should note the psalmist makes no room for these possibilities. His confidence is firmly in the Lord and he refuses doubting questions that undermine this. Yet it is true the Lord does not always keep his people safe in the way they expect, however, he always keeps them safe. In Hebs 11 some of the witnesses to faith had miraculous preservation but some did not (Hebs 11:32-38). Some died horrible deaths. Did the Lord fail them? Did he forsake them? No, he didn’t. He remained their helper and protector. This is the apparently paradoxical truth that Jesus highlights when he says:
But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life. Luke 21:12-19
They may be put to death but not a hair of their head would perish, a colloquialism for their entirely safety (cf. Lk 12:7). In the most extreme of circumstances the Lord is with us, helping us, keeping us, watching over us, guarding us (Isa 43:2).
Faith says with the men about to be thrown into the fiery furnace: we believe that the Lord will deliver us but if not… Faith says with Job, though he slay me yet will I trust him (Job 13:15). And in this type of faith fears are stilled and the peace Christ gives is realised and rules in our heart. Dependence dispels dread. It develops determination and daring.
May we enter this new year with such dependence, such trust. May we say daily in the words of another psalm,
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
Films vie for a Christmas slot, especially ‘feel good’ family orientated ones. The new Disney Star Wars film will no doubt win this years accolades. I know little about it but it will almost certainly involve the triumph of good over evil, the hero over adversity. Whatever its merits, whatever its heroics, it will be triumph by weapons of war, in a make-believe world, ruled by pantheistic forces not the One True God.
But there is another story being told. It too is the story of good triumphing over evil, of individual heroism and sacrifice. It like Star Wars is about cosmic warfare. It too is a fascinating, incredible, story. In fact, it is a story even more incredible, more unbelievable, more breathtaking and glorious than any conjured from a Star Wars scriptwriter’s imagination. It is a story conceived in the mind of God; a divine comedy (comedy in the sense it ends well for the heroes). Its theatre spans from eternity to eternity and its stage, the universe. It has a cast of millions. Its issues are of mind blogging importance; its themes are nothing less than the reputation of the One True God and the rescue of humanity (and indeed the universe). The plot is full of dramatic poles: good and evil; love and hate; faithfulness and unfaithfulness; despair and hope; pathos and pleasure; suffering and celebration; wrath and mercy; mundane and miracle; and heroes and villians.
It has a hero to die for and who dies for others. Its hero of heroes is truly good. He is a warrior but as no other. He wars and triumphs, not with weapons of war and destruction, but by submitting to his enemies. He conquers by yielding. He wins life by dying. This is no superficial morality tale. Here is a profound story. It calls for reflection, deep thought, and a willingness to enter uncharted territory to grasp its meaning. It turns on its head conventional expectations.
The principal actor is a Warrior-King (for he is a king; he has the noblest of origins, if the humblest of births) who is upright, wise and gentle. He is upright, yet compassionate and full of mercy. He deeply and passionately cares about justice. Just as deeply and passionately he cares about people, all people, but particularly the oppressed and disadvantaged. His whole mission in life is to break the yoke of slavery and to free the oppressed. But his insight into oppression runs much deeper than that of others. Others focus on symptoms, he exposes the roots and attacks these – sin, which masters humanity, and Satan, the arch-enemy of heaven and all that is good and just. He is willing to give all he has to accomplish this, and does; he gives his advantage (equality with God) and ultimately his life.
Undoubtedly the hero provokes strong reactions. He is a marmite figure. You love him or hate him. There is no middle ground. You are with him or against him and in this way your role in the story is defined (for it is your story too). Attitudes to him reveal hearts. He strips bare motivations.
And, most importantly, though it is a surprising story, profound, even apparently incredible, virtually unbelievable (for God becomes human, loves his enemies, and dies to atone for their sin and make them his friends, then rises from the dead as the first of a completely renewed universe), it is totally and utterly true. This alone immediately raises it immeasurably above Star Wars and all such tales of cosmic valour and battle. These are fiction, this is fact.
Yes, a greater story than Star Wars is here. Titbits of it will surface in this Christmas season. Perhaps these will whet your appetite to discover more and to delve into what even Holywood conceded was, ‘the greatest story ever told’.
‘Jesus is Lord’ is the basic confession the Holy Spirit produces in a believer (1 Cor 12:3). It is the person who ‘confesses with his lips Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart God has raised him from the dead’ who is saved (Roms10:9).
Peter Lewis, whose chapter on Christ’s lordship in his book ‘The Glory of Christ’ heavily informs this post, points out that in the ancient world the title ‘Lord’ could be used in a variety of ways. Sometimes it meant little more than ‘sir’, or ‘master’. In worship it was for Jews a title for God. The context has to determine what meaning is intended by the word.
When people in need came to Jesus and said ‘Lord help me’ and what they wished was to be healed of leprosy, or blindness, or some other sickness they were saying more than ‘Sir could you help me?’. No ordinary ‘sir’ could help them. They were recognising that he had the ability to do what they asked; ‘lord’ implied he had, at the very least, authority in their area of need. Indeed, in every situation where Jesus cures lepers, gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, heals disease, casts out demons, calms the seas, feeds multitudes with little, and even raises the dead he is demonstrating he is Lord over all these domains;they must obey him.
In this way Jesus’ miracles are a kind of portfolio proving his extensive authority. What being ‘lord’ means is further expanded and expounded by every miracle displaying his authority over another realm. No wonder the people were amazed at his authority (Lk 4:36, 37). The realms over which he proves he has mastery are staggering. Here is a truly awesome figure, beyond any seen before. Jesus presses home to them another dimension of his authority when on occasions he expressly claims authority to forgive sins (Mk 2:1-10). Sins and sicknesses often went hand in hand in Jewish thinking as did healing and forgiveness (Ps 103:3). Now while the thinking that inevitable linked sin and sickness was wrong nevertheless Jesus pushes the people to see that authority to heal all diseases as he does sits aligned in the OT to the authority to forgive sins (Ps 103:3) an authority they recognised belonged only to God (Mk 2:7;Ps 103:1-3).
Jesus’ use of the title ‘lord’ regarding himself is worth noting. He is ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ (Matt 12:8). He tells his disciples to pray that the ‘lord of the harvest’ would send out labourers into the harvest then at the beginning of the next chapter sends out the disciples – the narratival conjunction shouldn’t be missed (Matt 9:38; 10:1). He is Lord of the day of judgement (Matt 7:21-2;24:42-51;25:11-44). He is not just David’s son, he is David’s Lord (Matt 22:41-45); Christ not David is the far superior one. He claims and subsequently demonstrates authority over his own death and resurrection (Jn 10:18). In fact, he claims to have life ‘in himself’ and gives eternal life as a gift; he has authority over eternal life and other divine prerogatives (Jn 5: 16-30). Indeed he is to be honoured as the Father is honoured (Jn 5:23). Staggering claims. All this the disciples are taught.
The impact of Jesus works (miracles) and words (teaching) clearly had its effect. After the miraculous catch of a shoal of fish Peter says to Jesus, ‘Depart from me for I am a sinful man O Lord’ (Lk 5:8). Peter Lewis, sees here language akin to ‘religious awe’. At the very least Peter and others gasped that he was the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world – the Holy One of God (Matt 16:16; Jn 11:24-7; Jn 6:67-69). Ultimately his works, which were as John reminds us,’signs’… pointed to an authority, as noted above, a lordship that belonged only to God himself (cf. Jn 5:36; 10:25,32,37). In post-resurrection the full implication of these works and all else associated with Jesus crystallises into the faith-revelation that he is a divine person.
John, who writes his gospel to expressly proclaim and demonstrate that Jesus, the Word, was both with God and was God (Jn 1:1,2), has the affirmation of the most sceptical of the disciples, Thomas. Upon seeing the resurrected Jesus (something Jesus promised he would do) as a kind of climax of illuminated faith. Thomas confesses, ‘My Lord and my God'(Jn 20:28).
In fact, when the gospel writers (and other NT writers too) use the word ‘Lord’ of Jesus in places other than in the mouths of some of their characters they do so clearly seeing Jesus as Lord in a special way. They have learned long before writing the gospel that ‘Jesus is Lord’ means he shares equal honours with God himself (Jn 5:23). Thus the OT title of God ‘the Lord’ they unashamedly and freely attribute to Jesus in the NT; OT references to God as ‘the Lord’ are freely attributed to Jesus in the new. Mark, for example takes prophecies that speak expressly of the Lord himself coming to visit Israel as fulfilled in Jesus (Mk 1:3, Isa 40; Mal 3:1). Isa 45:23, Phil 2:9-11).
In Isaiah’s prophecy the Lord says,
“Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone
are deliverance and strength.’”
All who have raged against him
will come to him and be put to shame.
But all the descendants of Israel
will find deliverance in the Lord
and will make their boast in him.
Isaiah 45:22-25 ESV
These words sit in a context emphasising that God alone is God and Lord; there is no other. Yet Paul sees this promise directly fulfilled in Jesus.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11 | ESV
Jesus has the ‘name above all names’; he is given God’s own name, ‘Lord’.
Examples like this abound. ‘Jesus is Lord’ ultimately means he is the greatest conceivable person and is so to the fullest conceivable extent. What huge encouragement to his people. They can go anywhere and everywhere in the world preaching the gospel for Christ has complete authority wherever they are and he (and his authority) accompany them (Matt 28). He is Lord over dangers, difficulties, demons, disease, and death; over all. His authority is not nominal or merely titular, it is actual, absolute, and active; he really does reign over all. He reigns over all by dint of both his rights as Creator and Redeemer; he who made all things manages all things and he who ransoms all rules all. Today that reign is invisible, known and seen to faith, tomorrow it will be visible and confessed by all. He shall overthrow and crush all that oppose by a spoken word proclaiming to all creation, not least those who oppose him, that he is, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords'(Rev 17:14; 19:16). Hallelujah! Our God reigns.
Jesus shall reign where e’er the sun
doth his successive journeys run;
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more
Over the years, my Christian faith has become more and more grounded as the force of truth in a kaleidoscope of ways has gripped and mastered me. I have become inextricably wed to Christ, for all roads of truth lead to him and from him; incontestably he is the truth. In him is truth and outside of him there is no truth at all. This, at least, is his claim (Jn 14:6) and it is claim his followers gladly affirm and are sure is true.
Of course, in our pervasively pluralistic culture with its many competing ‘truths’ many echo the question of Pilate, ‘What is truth?’ The sheer number of truth claims has fed a cynical relativism which denies the possibility of genuine truth. However, Jesus’ word to them remains as it did to Pilate, ‘I came into the world to testify to truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice’ (Jn 18:77,78). Not only is he the truth and witness to it but he believes all who search for truth and desire it will find it in him. Indeed he affirms that only eyes blinded by the dark passions of a sinful heart could fail to acknowledge the truth in Jesus. Only a perverse love of darkness explains a refusal to believe in him (Jn 3:17-21). Men refuse to come to him because they do not want their evil ways to be revealed. It is the nature of truth to reveal but such revealing is unwelcome to murky hearts that do not wish to be exposed. Yet it is this ‘revealing’ by Jesus that is such a powerful apologetic for faith. For it his revealing of all things as they really are (the nature of truth) that compels and consolidates faith.
I have found this to be so. In him the deceit and pretentiousness of my heart is exposed. He speaks the truth about me and the human condition. All he says about me my heart agrees is true. I feel the darkness and slavery of my being. But it is not simply his diagnosis of the truly wretched human condition that he reveals; he reveals humanity as it ought to be and God as he really is. And if the truth of my condition draws me to him as a moth to the flame in the truth of who he is I discover that the flame does not consume but cleanses, purifies and renews. I find that truth is full of grace and blessing. I find myself, in the truth that is in Jesus, living in a place of wonder and joy, a place of glory. All the goodness, light, perfection, excellence that my heart desires and instinctively knows is right and solid and true radiates from him and is realised in him. The biblical word for this is glory.
My heart echoes the words of John, ‘We beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14). Here, for me, lies the ultimate apologetic. Here lies the truth that grounds faith and binds me ever more firmly to Christ – the glory that belongs to him. The word ‘glory’ carries connotations of all that is resplendent, beautiful, majestic, and transcendent. It implies weight and substance; true glory is never gaudy or cheap. It is never merely sensational. Nor is true glory simply aesthetics divorced from wisdom and morality. Morally, glory is good, holy and virtuous. Intellectually glory is wise and true. True glory is perfect in every facet, flawless from every perspective, and excellent from every angle. Such is the glory of God. And it is what John and all who are captivated by divine glory find in Jesus.
Of course, it’s not that I already understood what true goodness and glory was like and then discovered them in Jesus. I had an inkling. Aspects of it still shine through even in a sinful world. We all can think of things that seem to hold beauty and sometimes ‘glory’. All too often we turn these into idols and worship them. This is tragic for their glory is so limited. They are at best a whisper to our souls to search for what is truly glorious. We may be unsure what real glory is, in fact, it is only when we see it we know. This is what happens when the heart first sees the glory of Jesus. I could not imagine a sunrise had I lived in constant darkness but in seeing it I knew it to be glorious and before it the darkness must flee. Such is the glory of Christ. It is profound, pure, peerless, precious and utterly prepossessing. It needs no apologetic; it is its own apologetic. It is self-affirming, self-authenticating, self-validating. Its excellence is its own witness.
Why would one turn from a sunrise to a neon light? Why would a sound heart prefer darkness to light, deceit to truth, the mean and tawdry to what is sublime and excellent, death to life? It makes no sense. When some of Jesus followers turned away from him he asked the others if they too would go away. Peter, answering on behalf of them all said, ‘Lord to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life?’ When we see the glory in Christ we know we have found which is authentic and genuine. Every other glory is exposed as phoney. In his glory alone is true rapture, true bliss, the ineffably divine.
Tom Jones, the Welsh singer had a love song many years ago which contained the climactic lines,
And… all at once
I looked across
and saw you there
and suddenly I knew
nothing I could do
would make me look away
Such is the experience of the heart that has seen the glory of Christ.
You will notice that though I have tried to present the apologetic force of this glory I have not attempted to describe it. I could of course. I could take you through the life of Jesus. We could look at his works and words. We could home-in on his death and resurrection and see how they are irradiated with glory. Yes, even his execution on the cross has its glory. The glory is there to be seen for any who look. Every Christian has seen it. It is this glory of truth that holds them; they cannot, will not look away. But to explore this glory would mean far too long a post. The best thing is to see for yourself. I invite you to read the Gospels asking God as you do to remove any scales of blindness that the darkness has created. Ask him to show you the glory of Jesus.
The words of this song express my wish.
Come and behold Him
Come see His glory
Come with an honest heart
To see all He is
We will discover
All of His beauty
His light will burn away
All the darkness we’ve known
Come and behold Him
Come and behold Him
Come with an honest heart
To see all He is
Come and behold Him
Wait now before Him
Come with an honest heart
To see all He is