The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
January 3, 2006
Where is Jesus today?
"What is up with these readings !?" I found myself asking in the weeks before Christmas.
In the weeks before Christmas, one of the things folks like me who come from a traditional church background try to do is "prepare our hearts for the Christ Child's coming." It's something that's been bred into us, I suppose. We call it "Advent," and it's a time when we build our appreciation and anticipation for Jesus' coming. We use special devotional books, light another candle each week on our Advent wreaths, read lots of Isaiah, Matthew and Luke, listen to The Messiah, reflect on the need for Jesus in the first place, thank God for sending him to us, and experience this profound sense of hope coming into the world.
Here comes Baby Jesus, you know? We know Good Friday and Easter are just a few months down the road, but for now, we just want to be all thankful and hopeful. We want to be cheery and pleasant.
That's why I've been muttering to myself, "What is up with these readings !?" these last few weeks.
Because, you see, not just one, but both of the special devotional books I was using this past Advent were not letting Baby Jesus stay Baby Jesus. They weren't even doing that other Advent thing I dislike, reminding me of Good Friday in the midst of my Baby Jesus time.
No, what these readings were doing were reminding me of that other Jesus, the one we haven't experienced yet. You know the one I mean. They were dwelling on Second Coming Jesus, Battle-Hymn-of-the-Republic Jesus —- the guy "who has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible, swift sword," in all his power and majesty and glory and radiance, bringing this present age to a close in dramatic, and final fashion.
I was getting Second Peter 3: The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire..."
I was getting Mark 13: "Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come."
I was getting Luke 21: "People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken."
What were these readings doing there, messing up my Advent?
By about the third week, I calmed down enough to understand what they were up to. Not only am I to prepare myself for Baby Jesus coming, but for Second Coming Jesus, too. I'm to ponder not only what the world was like then, in need of a Savior —- but what the world is like today. And whether I'm really ready and looking forward to Second Coming Jesus to show up in it.
Let's just say a lot of reflection went on after that. Which, of course, was the point the devotional writers were trying to make.
But another thing happened too. After I got done thinking about both First Century Jesus and Second Coming Jesus, I began to wonder, "Well, what about Now Jesus?" Where is Jesus today? What's he doing? Is he just dogging it up in heaven somewhere, bored, waiting for The Big Day? Or does he have something to do? And if he does, what is it?
What Jesus is not doing.
It's important to rule some things out first. I can think of five things Jesus probably is not doing right now.
He hasn't been channel surfing for the past 2,000 years to see if there's anything good on.
What Jesus is doing.
Actually, Scripture tells us what Jesus is up to. There are the things he is doing in the heavenly realms, where he's at now. And then there are the many ways in which he is still active on earth.
What Jesus is doing in heaven.
The New Testament book of Hebrews is very helpful in telling us what Jesus is up to today. No one knows who wrote this book, but most scholars believe it is a sermon addressed to followers of Christ with Jewish backgrounds. Some of them apparently were very tempted to go back to sacrificing at the Temple, observing special days, following the most minute of the many laws —- in other words, they wanted to adda little Jesus to their laundry list of obligations —- not exchange those observances for freeing faith in Christ. Hebrews was written to show how Jesus is superior in every way to the old customs and commitments, so that these followers would understand they no longer should follow them.
All throughout the book of Hebrews, the writer reminds us that Jesus is seated at God's right hand, and crowned as the royal Son, the king of the coming world. One of these places is in Hebrews 10:12.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God..."
What does this mean? It was a very familiar image for people when the book was written. They lives in a world surrounded by kings and other kinds of rulers. But for us to be able to understand it today, we need to know some of the background.
The writer tells us Jesus is sitting. In the language and customs of that time, this means that the person's task —- in Jesus' case, his sacrificial death —- is finished. This work resulted in Jesus' coronation with glory and honor. The early Christians taught that it was at this point Jesus received the titles of Lord , Christ and Son of God, which are all royal titles.
The people of that time also knew that at is only when the king sits on the throne that he takes his power. The throne represents God's power and righteousness, regal or divine majesty, absolute rule and total superiority. Only the ruler sits.
What does it mean that Jesus "is at the right hand of God"? The ancients described "sitting at the right hand" as the position of recognition and prestige, conquest and rule, specification and favor. Jesus is at the Father's right hand. The Father is well pleased with Him and His work.
He is waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool, and to return for a second time. The very next verse, Hebrews 10:13, tells us:
...and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet."
Jesus actually is in heaven waiting for something to happen. He's waiting for the Last Day. He's not bugging the Father about when that day is going to come, but he is waiting. This waiting period is identical with our present age. Why the delay? It is because God is so merciful, he wants everyone possible to come to Christ and be saved. This shows how patient and full of grace our God is.
What's with the footstool? In the ancient world, thrones were always depicted with footstools. The footstool was a symbol of the king's power. In Egyptian drawings, the Pharaoh's enemies were often depicted as the Pharaoh's footstool. He placed his feet on them. The first hearers of Hebrews would have understood that this sentence meant Christ was waiting for the time when evil would be no more and the enemies of God would be crushed for all time.
So where does the author of Hebrews get this information about what Jesus is doing? He is on very solid ground. In these particular verses, he is quoting the beginning of Psalm 110:
The LORD says to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool."
This verse is one of the Scriptures the early Christians used to argue for Jesus being the Son of God. Jesus himself quotes this Psalm 110 verse in while challenging the Pharisees about who the Messiah is (Matthew 22:41-46), and Peter, in his great conversion sermon on Pentecost, also quotes it as he builds his case that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:34-35). So this is where the imagery comes from —- a prophecy way back in the Psalms.
Jesus' current life in heaven is focused on prayer. Hebrews 7:25 tells us He is interceding for us:
Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
He intercedes because of our sin. Jesus is the sinless mediator, interceding for those who draw near to God through him. He provides grace and mercy. Because of Jesus' earthly and current work for us we can approach God and receive mercy and favor for help—the resources we need to endure in loyalty to Jesus.
Jesus does this not by pleading and crying for us in the presence of a reluctant God, but as the throned one, asking what he will from a Father who always hears him and grants his request.
He intercedes on our behalf as we walk his walk. This is a direct continuation of his earthly ministry! He still does for his people today what he did for his disciples on earth. When we look at John's account of what Jesus prayed for his current and future disciples at the Last Supper (John 17), we get an idea of his main concerns on our behalf:
As they walk in this world, protect them from the evil one by the power of your name (John 17:15)
Jesus' prayer concerns have to do with two things: enabling, comforting and protecting his followers, and enhancing the ability of his followers to witness to the truth for the sake of the world.
What Jesus is doing on earth.
Jesus is continuing the same ministry he did during his time on earth. But he is working through those who have faith in him. We are Christ's partners in ministry, his brothers and sisters. In John 14:12, Jesus tells his disciples:
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
On that same night, Jesus promised us that we won't be doing this on our own. In John 14:16, He said:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.
He has sent the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us in the work he has for us to do. Jesus was a truly human person who Himself was completely dependent on the Spirit in his own ministry. The Spirit empowered Jesus to do good and heal. His life was a continuous series of beneficial acts: God's decisive attack on the power of evil. Jesus accomplished every phase of his ministry because of the power of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God living within us. The Spirit is a permanent part of believers' lives, and He comes to us at the moment we respond to Jesus, acknowledge who he is, and give our lives to him.
In the Old Testament days, before Jesus, the Spirit came upon a few of God's servants in times of special need. David, Elijah, prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. But He was not a permanent fixture in their lives, and to the best of our knowledge, He did not come to ordinary people.
This all changed when Jesus ascended to heaven and sent the Spirit to all who had put faith in Him at Pentecost. Now the Spirit empowers all who follow Christ, as a permanent part of our lives. If you believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit is within you.
The Holy Spirit enables us to carry out Jesus' mission for our lives, in two different ways, internally and externally.
He builds character into us—the same kind of character Jesus himself has. The Spirit brings us God's own resources that make us more than we are naturally. Some of these things are: insight and discernment, inspiration, effective speech, emotional strength, courage, aiding us in prayer, hindering some of our actions, direction in tasks and timing, understanding the truth, building God's character within us, speaking the truth to others, and joy in all circumstances.
He endows each of us with one or more special gifts to be used in ministry. Like the enhancement of our character, these gifts take us beyond ourselves and our natural abilities for the benefit of Christ's Kingdom. A few of these gifts include evangelism, teaching, leading as a pastor, wisdom, giving, service, compassion, hospitality, knowledge, administration, and encouragement. They are all needed by Christ's church.
When we faithfully team up with what the Spirit has entrusted to us, we continue Jesus' work in the world. What we do is what Jesus is doing on Earth today.
Joining what Jesus is doing
Why should we join Jesus in his work? Many people who claim they are Christians today have a "fire insurance" mentality. They think that the point of the faith is to accept Christ just in case this whole hell thing is real. It's like buying fire insurance. Believe in Christ now so you can check it off your list as one less thing to worry about. Then you go on living your life as usual, except that you pay premiums—you show up in church on a reasonable number of Sundays, you drop a little money in the box—and when you die, then Jesus your fire insurance policy pays off and you go to heaven instead of hell.
Except that's not what Jesus had in mind at all. In that Last Supper part of John we've been exploring, he said this too (John 14:15):
If you love me, you will obey what I command.
And pretty much all of what Jesus commands has nothing to do with going back to living a "normal" life that's indistinguishable from the lives of people who don't know him. It has everything to do with honoring God, loving other people, and doing the kinds of things Jesus did when he was here. Once, looking around with compassion at the shape the world was in, and the confusion and helplessness of its people, Jesus said to his disciples (Matthew 9:37-38):
The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
We can be sure that that is one of the things Jesus is still interceding for us and the world today.
Where do we start? The best way is to listen to what the Spirit is saying in our lives, explore how he has equipped us for ministry, and then give it a shot. How can we recognize the voice of the Spirit? He speaks to each of us in a way we can recognize:
Still, small, inner voice of conviction
How can we know how we are equipped for ministry?���� We ponder what sorts of things we feel called to do.
We talk with Christians who are trustworthy and discerning about how we think the Spirit has empowered us.
We try out ministries that would take advantage of these gifts, and see how they go.
Can we trust the Spirit? Yes. When the Spirit has a ministry for us, he gives us the power to carry it out. When he directs, he gives us the strength to travel the path, however difficult.
Opportunities at Cornerstone
Our church is becoming more and more active in what Jesus is doing. In this next year you will see an increasing number of opportunities to try out ministry, maybe for the first time, and join what Jesus is doing.
How will you respond? That's the challenge I have for you on this New Year's Day. Jesus is alive. He's not dogging it in heaven. While he waits for the Day to arrive, he is actively interceding for the world and for each of his followers. He is interceding for me. He is interceding for you. He wants each of us to carry on his work here on earth, and he has empowered us through the Holy Spirit, who lives in each of us, to be able to do so. Now that you know where Jesus is today, what he's up to, and what your part is in it, how will you respond?
Most people would agree that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was one of the great Christians of our time. She heard a call from Christ, and the Holy Spirit empowered her to accomplish far more than she could ever ask or imagine, among the poorest of the poor in one of the darkest, most depraved cities in the world. Mother Teresa pondered the Spirit's work in her life, and prayed that all Christians would give their lives as she did to His leading. One of her prayers speaks directly to this. We'll close with it this morning.
Hebrews 1:3; 7:25; 10:12-13; 12:2
John 14 and 17