Taking God at His Word

Jesus’ word is not an answer to human questions and problems; it is the answer of God to the question of God to man. His word is essentially determined not from below but from above. It is not a solution but a redemption.

-Bonhoeffer

Have you ever noticed that Jesus seemed to ignore question after question posed to him while he lived among us? Why did he tell John the Baptizer that the kingdom of God is coming when the question before him was whether or not he was the Christ? Why did Jesus himself say the poor you will always have with you? Is anybody else mystified and a little troubled when they read through Mark’s stories? You know the ones, when Jesus heals the sick, blind and leapers but tells them to keep it a secret?

Why did Jesus refuse to answer the questions that seem so difficult to us today?

How do we deal with memories of abuse?

How can we eliminate poverty?

How do we eradicate disease?

How do we govern the world?

How do we govern the church?

Jesus seems to have absolutely no interest in addressing these issues. He could have taught the poor to fish but he distributed loaves and fish. He could have freed prostitutes, showing them a way out of their oppression, but he simply hung out with them. Sure, he healed the sick and raised the dead but who among us has forgotten the fact that Lazarus died again anyway? It seems like the agenda Jesus had on earth is a bit different than we might have wanted him to bring.

Jesus does not offer a get-rich program. He gives no system of recovery from addiction. He gives no reprieve from pain, sickness, oppression, injustice or hardship. In fact, if we hear him closely, he promises much of the opposite.

The poor are blessed. Some demons are sent out but others are allowed to stay. Women still have pain in childbirth. Men and (in our time) women find that work sucks. Jesus was on to something when he said, in the world you will have tribulation. C.S. Lewis was right. Nobody argues with the existence of pain in our world.

And the one who had the power to change everything only gave us more questions.

Over the past few weeks we have been thinking together about Bonhoeffer’s statement that the fear of God would relieve all our fears. It is only as we know the fear of God that we will be set free to live in this world without fearing our surroundings, our neighbors and our circumstances- even ourselves.

To understand how this works, we need to decide to take God at his word. We do not hear the word of God with an eye for scrutiny, interpretation or consideration. We hear the word of God with an eye for humble obedience. By now the reason for this should be crystal clear. God is the only one in the entire universe who is, as we have said in earnest.

Jesus told us not to fear even the one that could kill us. And why? We do not fear these things because there is somebody greater than a federal judge, a mass-murderer, a president, a ruler, a dictator, a comet, a bad driver, or an angry spouse. Any of these and more could conspire to kill us at any time, whether on purpose or by some accidental action, Jesus’ point is that he can do far more to us. This is a sobering reality- and Jesus means it to be just that.

Do you see why we have such a difficult time with Jesus? He came amongst us while we were scraping for our piece of the pie and he seemed to have nothing to offer us.

A Familiar Story

Do you remember the dude who came up to Jesus asking him to rule between himself and his brother? Their father had died without a solid writ of will and, like so many families, the brothers fought over their inheritance. So one came to Jesus to settle the dispute. Seems like a good plan, right?

Good teacher, settle this matter…

Jesus’ answer? Why do you call me good? Who made me judge between you and your brother?

We learn that Jesus did not come to settle our disputes, to give our bodies relief from pain, to bring our marriages back together, to help us to stop sinning, or to make us better people. He did not come to do any of that. No, Jesus, instead, comes to reveal the Father to us.

An Unexpected Turn

And this mighty, sovereign, just, wrathful, vengeful, jealous, righteous and holy God reveals himself to us in the most peculiar way.

He loves us.

He loves us so much that Jesus himself becomes the terms of peace between us and our father. The justice that God demands will not be for us but for Jesus. The endless wrath we have stored up in his court is completely spent on Jesus. We quickly learn that God, who has every right to be against us is for us in Christ.

And please do not miss the obvious here. Jesus came not to condemn but to save the world. That is the great news. The bad news here is that the world was already condemned. Inherent meaning here is that the wrath remains on those who will stubbornly oppose God’s kingship.

He will win in love or in justice. That choice is yours.

The God we are called to fear is the God who is for us. How can that be? Let us give the simple answer now and pursue this in the coming days.

The reason we can fear God and know- beyond the shadow of a doubt- that he is for us is that he has said so. When we take him at his word we begin to see that this is true. But we have to take him at his word.

We do not run to God for him to sort out the problems we have created for ourselves. Instead, we come to him in bold belief that he will redeem us. He will change us how he sees fit.

God is not here to solve your problems. God is here to make you new.

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