Sunday April 11 2021

TO BE LIKE HIM

Part FiveA Forgiving Heart

We have fixed our eyes on Jesus and discovered that he had a spiritual heart, a compassionate heart and a listening heart.  God our Father,  the lover of our souls, not only calls us to be like Him but also makes it possible as we learn to plug in to the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us when we are born again. Wow! How truly amazing!

When we look at the Gospels to see how Jesus treated people when it came to forgiveness we will discover a few interesting lessons. He often forgave when others were ready to judge and condemn.  One example can be found in John 8:2-11. In this story a woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Jesus by some Pharisees and teachers of the law. By the law she was condemned to death by stoning. When Jesus was asked “What do you say?” He surprised them: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  As Jesus replied thus, He stooped down and wrote on the ground. One by one her accusers went away. Many people believe that Jesus was writing the hidden sins of her accusers on the ground. When no one was left but the woman and Jesus (who truly was the only person who had the right to judge her and cast stones at her):

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Here we see Jesus’ heart of compassion, but we also see His willingness to forgive her sin. He did not say it explicitly but it is implied in His words – ‘neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.’ He acknowledged her sin but encouraged her as a person with His words. Thanks be to God that He allows us space for correction – giving us the opportunity to repent of our sins as He offers us forgiveness.

In John 4:1-42 we see another story which reveals that Jesus’ life was marked in an outstanding way by an attitude of forgiveness. He speaks to an outcast Samaritan woman who had a shady past, but again, He did not condemn her, rather He honoured her by revealing to her that He was the Christ. She excitedly carried the message to her village and many came out to meet Jesus and believed that He was ‘the Saviour of the world’. How very incredible!

When Jesus was being crucified, He offered forgiveness “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”:

  • to the Jewish leaders who put Him in that position,
  • to the Roman leaders who complied and also ordered the scourging,
  • to the people in the crowd who shouted ‘crucify Him!’
  • to the Roman soldiers who flogged him,
  • to the Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the cross and
  • to those who gambled for His cloak.

Not to mention the millions who have, throughout history, repeatedly shouted “crucify Him!” when they reject Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins all throughout their lives, never repenting or accepting God’s greatest gift (of salvation and reconciliation).

How often are we hurt by the words or actions of others? How often do we feel rejected or betrayed? Unfortunately we all have events in our lives that have left scars. We can dwell on the scars and get stuck or we can choose to forgive as Jesus did, and move forward. Let us choose to be like Him.  

Those of us who were raised with siblings and parents, or who have married, or who have stayed single but may live with friends or relatives know that it is an ongoing challenge to live with other people. It wasn’t easy for Jesus either. Over a three year period, He spent all of His time with the twelve disciples:

  • He knew their shortcomings and disputes, for example: who among them would be considered the greatest. (Luke 22:24)
  • Philip frustrated Jesus, “How can you say, ‘show us the Father’?” (John 14:1-14)
  • He knew that Peter had a short temper, and often spoke hastily, for example: Peter rebuked Jesus when He told the disciples He was going to suffer and be killed, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:21-23)
  • The disciples fell asleep and left Him alone during the time of His agony in the Garden. (Matthew 26:36-40)
  • Peter denied Him three times after promising He would never fall away. (Matthew 26:33, 69-75)
  • All of the other disciples promised the same, but then left Him and fled when He was arrested. (Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:50-52)
  • Judas betrayed Him. (Matthew 26:47-50)
  • Thomas doubted. (John 20:24-29)
  • After Jesus’ death, the disciples all went back to the Sea of Galilee and returned to their fishing business: they returned to their old ways— fishing for fish instead of men.  (John 21:1-25)

Jesus knew the true character of each of His disciples. He knew what they had done before He called them and what they had done in their three years living with Him and He knew what they were about to do, and yet He offered love and forgiveness in one of the most amazing acts recorded in the gospels. He washed His disciples feet. This was a job normally assigned to the lowest of servants in the household.

“In this case the One with the towel and the basin is the King of the universe. Hands that shaped the stars now wash away filth. Fingers that formed mountains now massage toes. And the One before whom all nations will one day kneel now kneels before His disciples. Hours before His own death, Jesus’ concern is singular. He wants His disciples to know how much He loves them. More than removing dirt, Jesus is removing doubt.”[1]

It’s interesting here to note that Jesus washed the feet of all twelve disciples, this included Judas who would within a few hours betray Him. But then, when Jesus was arrested all of the disciples fled, more betrayal. By morning, no doubt, each one was filled with shame, each one put his sandals on, thinking: “my Lord washed my feet last night, how could I desert Him?” But Jesus did more than show His enduring love as He washed their feet, “He forgave their sin before they even committed it. He offered mercy before they sought it.”[2] How incredible!

Just as Jesus cleansed His disciples feet to assure them of His love, forgiveness and cleansing of the sin they were about to commit, His work on the cross, shedding His innocent blood “once for all” has in advance provided forgiveness and cleansing for us. Jesus offered them and us unconditional grace; He offers mercy before mistakes happen. The people “in the circle of Christ had no doubt of His love; those in our circles should have no doubts about ours.”[3]

When we are offended by a friend or family member, we usually think it is up to them to make the first move toward reconciliation, but this is not what we see Jesus doing. “The genius of Jesus’ example is that the burden of bridge-building falls on the strong one, not on the weak one. The one who is innocent is the one who makes the gesture. And do you know what happens? More often than not, if the one in the right volunteers to wash the feet of the one in the wrong, both parties get on their knees. . . . Hence we wash each other’s feet. Please understand. Relationships don’t thrive because the guilty are punished but because the innocent are merciful.”[4]

I’d like for you to consider with me how Jesus must have felt when His closest friends misunderstood, criticized, denied, betrayed Him and left him all alone at the cross? If Jesus could still love them and forgive them and transform them to be like Him, He can transform anyone. Let us choose to let the Father have His way with us, let us choose to be like Him.

Part SixA Continually Surrendered Heart

There is a wonderful Bible verse that has always thrilled my heart. It is Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.

The Lord has so often given me the desires of my heart, some desires that I was conscious of and others that were hidden in my heart.  I did not even know how vital these hidden desires were until the Lord granted them to me.  I wish I could remember more specifically so I could tell you about at least one example, but all I remember now is being filled up and washed with the greatest joy I had ever known. As a result, I have made it one of my enduring goals to delight myself in the Lord. That has helped to birth within me an awareness of the presence of God that is rewarding and wonderful.

In the Bible we are encouraged to delight in that which pleases God — His law ( Psalm 1:2 ; 112:1-9 ); God’s statutes are to be our continual delight ( Psalms 119:24Psalm 119:70Psalm 119:77Psalm 119:174 ); we are invited to delight in God’s law because we love it (Psalm 119:41-48 ) as we love the Lord; we are to rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation ( Psalm 35:9 ); and to delight in the Lord Himself as a person ( Psalm 37:4 ).

Delight suggests taking great pleasure in something. In the Bible we can find many instances of God expressing delight for His people:

“God delights in his people ( Psalm 16:3 ).

God is also delighted with honesty in business ( Proverbs 20:23 ), a blameless life (11:20), truthfulness (12:22), and the prayers of the upright (15:8). God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness to those who please him ( Eccl. 2:26 ), and He promises to deliver those in whom He delights ( Psalm 18:19 ). God delights in showing mercy ( Micah 7:18 ), and kindness, justice, and righteousness bring him pleasure and cause him delight ( Jer. 9:23 ).

God placed Solomon on the throne of Israel because he delighted in him (1 Kings 10:9 ; 2 Chron. 9:8 ). God had special delight in his Servant-Messiah, upon whom he put his Spirit (Isaiah 42:1).

God points out his delight in his Son at both the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus ( Matt. 3:1717:5 ). This pleasure points to a distinct anointing and blessing that rest upon Jesus. Indeed, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Col. 1:19). God’s peace rests upon those in whom he delights (Luke 2:14), and God works in those destined for salvation according to his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

As our supreme example, Jesus took great pleasure in honoring and obeying his father (John 5:308:29 ). That which delights Jesus should be our delight as well. We should make it our all-consuming desire to please him (2 Col 5:91 Thess. 2:44:11 John 3:22).

We are to delight after God’s law in the “inner man”  (Rom 7:22).”[5]

There is a book of compiled writings and letters by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite friar, that is worth looking at. It’s called “The Practice of the Presence of God”. It’s basic theme is the development of an awareness of the presence of God. Here are a few quotations from the book:

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

“Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone.”

What Brother Lawrence is encouraging us to do is to spend more time with Jesus and the Father than we, as Christians in our busy society, are typically accustomed to doing: more than spending time once or twice each week in church; more than meeting Him daily for 30 minutes of prayer or Bible study; more than the occasional digging in for a few hours on Saturday when we are less busy.  He is proposing a continuous conversation with the Lord that may be praise, worship, petition or just chatting as we might do with our best friend. But most of all, he is encouraging a continuous listening which needs to be closely linked to our cooperation or obedience to whatever we hear.   He is proposing an unbroken communion that leads us into an intimacy with our Saviour and King that is rarely found by any other means. One of the wonderful results of surrendering our hearts, minds, dreams and plans to the Lord as we establish this kind of continuous conversation is that we move from working for God to working with God – it is a matter of taking instruction and following rather than taking instruction and launching out on our own.   

In Max Lucado’s book, Just Like Jesus, Max shares the story of a man named Frank Laubach, who lived in the United States from 1884 to 1970. He devoted his life to God and to teaching the illiterate how to read so that they could read a Bible for themselves. He was very successful in His career but recognition was not the desire of his heart. He was not fully satisfied with his own spiritual life and determined at age 45 to make a big change: he decided to maintain a continual conversation with God every day from his first waking moments in the morning until his last each evening. The wonderful thing is that he kept a journal which is now available to us. On March 1st, 1930, he wrote: “This sense of being led by an unseen hand which takes mine while another hand reaches ahead and prepares the way, grows upon me daily . . . . I determine not to get out of bed until that mind set upon the Lord is settled.”[6]

At first he struggled to maintain this kind of communion with the Father but the day came when the rewards far exceeded the effort. From May 24th, 1930: “Last Monday was the most completely successful day of my life to date, so far as giving my day in complete and continuous surrender to God is concerned . . . .  I remember how as I looked at people with a love God gave, they looked back and acted as though they wanted to go with me. I felt then that for a day I saw a little of that marvellous pull that Jesus had as He walked along the road day after day “God-intoxicated” and radiant with the endless communion of His soul with God.”[7]  Wow!

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus now. Did He live with His heart set on complete and continuous surrender to the Father?    We definitely know that there was something unique and wonderful about Him that drew people to Him, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. Please note:

  • When Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to follow Him, “they immediately left theirnets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:18-20)
  • The same thing happened with Matthew, the tax collector. (Matthew 9:9)
  • The same thing happened with James and John, they immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. (Matthew 4:21-22)
  • It was a little different with Philip and Nathanial but nevertheless their amazement at Jesus made them follow Him. (John 1:43-51)
  • The other five disciples were: Thomas, a twin; James, cousin to Jesus; Simon, the zealot; Thaddaeus and Judas. We don’t have details on what happened when Jesus called them but we can safely assume, I think, that they experienced that same “marvellous pull”, causing them to follow Him.
  • All twelve were devoted to Jesus. In Capernaum Jesus talked about being “the bread of life”. For many it was a hard saying because He went on to say that His followers must eat His flesh and drink His blood. As a result many disciples left Him, prompting Jesus to ask the twelve if they were also going to desert Him. Their reply is incredible: “But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”” (John 6:28-69)

We know from previous lessons that Jesus spent much time in prayer and He knew the Holy Scriptures well, but the Bible shows that there was more to His relationship with the Father:

This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel.” (John 5:18-20 RSV)

 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. (John 5:30 NKJV)

. . . I am in the Father and the Father in Me. . . (John 14:11 NKJV)

. . . He who has seen Me has seen the Father. . . (John 14:9 NKJV)

Jesus “lived a life that was continually the point of release of the power of God in whatever He said or did.”[8] He made it clear that He did not do anything independently or “of His own accord”. “Jesus does not mean that it is physically impossible for him to do something apart from the Father, any more than it is physically impossible for us to do things apart from God. We can, and we do. And Jesus could have, too. Further on in this account he says that the Father has given him power to act “out of himself”. Jesus could have created a whole universe over which he was God. He had the power to do so. But the whole point of this is, He chose never to exercise that power for His own benefit. Never! This is the explanation of His behavior in the wilderness when He was tempted by the devil to change stones into bread for His own satisfaction, to leap from the temple to gain the applause of people, or to gain the whole world for Himself. He steadfastly refused to do so. That is the key. God gives His power to those who will not use it for their own benefit. That is one of the most profound secrets in Scripture. Jesus starts there: “The Son can do nothing.””[9]

It is my opinion that Jesus surrendered His heart (and will) continually to the Father, that He remained at all times in such constant intimacy and continual conversation that He (Jesus) heard and saw what the Father wanted Him to do and/or say –  and He immediately obeyed. Each and every time the power of God was released in Him and through Him to heal, save and deliver, the Father was glorified in the Son. Hallelujah!

Recall the “wonderful verse that steadies us in times of trial, “All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” But the next verse says, “Whom He has predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He (the Son) might be the first born among many brethren,” (Romans 8:29 RSV). God is not content with having only one Son. He wants many sons. Hebrews says (He has done all this) “that He might lead many sons to glory,” (Hebrews 2:10). Sons is a generic term: it includes men and women. God did all this so that He might have many children who are like his Son. He has “predestined” us, i.e., He is intent on it, He will not fail, He is at work on it.”[10]

“The processes of change are now happening in your life and mine in order to teach us” to be like Him “and willingly respond to the” still small voice of God within our hearts. Along with “the inner impulse of compassion, mercy or love that we feel within us in any given situation; thus we will learn to operate by the mighty power of God, the mightiest power in the universe — that we might be like his Son!”[11]

Change is never easy, especially when it comes to building our character, but the Father is not a tyrant or a bully, quite the contrary, He leads us gently but firmly forward. He is faithful! And He is Love! There will definitely be some ouches along the way but I promise that the process will hurt us less, be more fulfilling and take less time if we make a decision to walk with Jesus in continual conversation and continual surrender. 

God the Father wants us to be just like Jesus. He loves us just as we are, but He doesn’t want to leave us in that state. The Father had an abiding intimacy with Jesus, and He wants to have the same abiding intimacy with each one of us. One of the beautiful images we have in the Bible to reveal this intimacy is that of a vine and its branches:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:5,7 NKJV)

“God wants to be as close to us as a branch is to a vine. One is an extension of the other. It’s impossible to tell where one starts and the other ends. The branch isn’t connected only at the moment of bearing fruit. The gardener doesn’t keep the branches in a box and then, on the day he wants grapes, glue them to the vine. No, the branch constantly draws nutrition from the vine. Separation means certain death”[12] for the branch.

God also uses the temple to reveal the intimacy He desires with His people. We are told that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit – 1 Corinthians 6:19.  “Think with me about the temple for a moment. Was God a visitor or a resident in Solomon’s temple? Would you describe His presence as occasional or permanent? You know the answer. God didn’t come and go, appear and disappear. He was a permanent presence, always available.”[13]

“What incredibly good news for us! We are NEVER away from God! He is NEVER away from us—not even for a moment! God doesn’t come to us on Sunday mornings and then exit on Sunday afternoons. He remains within us, continually present in our lives.”[14]  Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

Those of us who have fallen in love at some time in our lives know that continual conversation with that loved one brings us great joy and delight. The level of communion is so sweet that it is beyond compare . . . . almost. David would beg to differ, as we see in Psalm 84:1-2 NIV:

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

Frank Laubach would disagree as well as he wrote in his journal on March 3rd, 1931 that he looked into the very face of God until he “ached with bliss”. God desires to be as close to each one of us as He was with Jesus, so close that when He speaks, we speak; so close that when He says go, we go; so close that when others fear the storm, we hear His voice and smile.

King David describes His delightful intimacy with the Lord this way:

I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

The continual presence of God is within the reach of every one of us. It may seem like a daunting task at first to be in continual conversation with Him, but it’s not really. At any time we can give Him our quiet, sad, happy, excited, stressed or mournful thoughts: Thank You Father; I love You Lord; You are my peace; Help my friend today; Bless my wife/husband; Guide my son; Heal my painful stomach; Help me, I feel like screaming; etc. It’s more of an attitude shift than anything else. It comes from an awareness that God is always with you and He is always listening. It is birthed by a desire to be like Him, and a willingness to continually surrender our hearts to His voice.

Let us choose to have a heart like Jesus, one that delights in the Father, as He delighted in the Son (and likewise delights in us), and one that is continually surrendered to Him.

One final thought:

C.S. Lewis wrote – “The moment you wake up each morning . . . [all] your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job of each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”[15]

Amen.

 

 

Pastoral Prayer

Father God help us to be more like Jesus. Let us cultivate that constancy of continual conversation with Him. Allow us to comprehend the tremendous privilege we have in carrying about within ourselves Your Holy Spirit. May our first thought in the morning be Jesus; may we awake committed to be more like Him. Sift our hearts and minds throwing out and away all that is not of Him. Let praise be continually upon our lips, as You wash our mouths clean of cursing, blasphemy and bitterness. Keep us from a spirit of judgment. Let us not forget to forgive. Reveal to each of us the road to reconciliation within our relationships. Grant us the grace to share the Gospel. Let us see others as You see them. May the humility that is Jesus be ours. And, give us ears to hear and lips to speak. Engage each of us in daily, hourly, conversations with You. As we busy ourselves with the chores of the day, may we remember that our closest Friend has His ears tuned to our voices. Let us speak. Let us listen. Let us whisper words of wonder and thanksgiving to Him – moment  by moment. Continue to mold your children to be like Him. Touch our thoughts and bodies with Your healing hands. Grant us Your peace, a peace that passes all understanding. Anoint our hands and feet for “in Him we live, and move, and have our being . . .”16 . These things we ask in the name above every name – Jesus, Amen.

16 Acts 17:28  

 

 

 

[1] Max Lucado, “Just Like Jesus” p. 18

[2] Ibid, p. 19

[3] Ibid, p. 21

[4] Ibid, p. 21-22

[5] Borrowed from Daniel L. Aiken, biblestudytools.com

[6] Ibid, p. 61

[7] Ibid, p. 63

[8] Ray Stedman, Authentic Christianity, “The Secret of Jesus”

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Max Lucado, Just Like Jesus. P 66

[13] Ibid p. 66

[14] Ibid p.67

[15] As quoted in Timothy Jones, The Art of Prayer. p 133

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