“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Paradox of Jesus

…Let’s take a closer look at the character of Jesus as described in the Gospels. Not only is his very nature paradoxical, as we have seen, but his words and actions richly reflect that paradox to the world. Jesus demonstrates an authority that shocked his listeners – they had never seen anything like it (Matthew 7:28-29). During Passion week he roared into the temple in rage, tossing tables left and right, infuriated that his Father’s house should be so abused. He taught as if his word was the final and decisive truth. Jesus also dropped not-so-subtle hints to his divine identity. He would say things like, “before Abraham was, I AM,” (John 8:58), calling to mind the Old Testament name of God (Exodus 3:14). He claimed to be one with the Father (John 10:30), to which the Jews replied in astonishment, “you, being a man, make yourself God.” In response to the high priest’s question “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” he replied “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). And he forgave sins, which God alone can do (for example, see Luke 5:20-21). What kind of person says such things?!

And yet he was at the same time an incredibly gentle, loving, and humble person. He ate with “sinners,” the outcasts of society (Matthew 9:10-11) and took the little children into his arms (Mark 10:13-16).* He lived among the poor and lowly – he “came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). And perhaps his act of greatest humility (other than the cross) was taking on himself the identity of the lowest of servants and washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16). At the cross, though, we see the full extent of Jesus’ humility – the humility of the God of the universe, reigning in utter shame and humiliation from a tree.

So authoritative, so bold and even shocking in what he said and did, and yet so kind, gentle, and humble. He is the Lion of Judah, the Messiah, the Son of David, the King of the Jews and Lord and Savior of the world, and yet also the suffering servant, familiar with sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-7), the Lamb who was led away to be slain (Revelation 5:5-6). This is what happens when the God of the universe becomes a 1st-century Jew, and yet does not cease to be God. This is the kind of character God demonstrates to us when we see him most clearly for who he is, and in Jesus’ character we see the beauty of God. John Piper, describing this “combining of attributes that would seem utterly incompatible in one Person” (The Pleasures of God 30), observes that “the worth and beauty of the Son come not just from his majesty, nor just from his meekness, but from the way these mingle in perfect proportion" (The Pleasures of God 29).

Jesus in his character revealed his paradoxical identity as the God-man and exemplified the paradoxes he taught to his disciples, which we will now examine…

*God is the “keeper of all the stars, friend of the poorest heart,” in the words of Fernando Ortega. The God of all reality, the Maker of the universe, is here with us – he loves us and cares for us and wants to be our friend, and he has come into our world in the person of Jesus (see “What God Has Done”). C. S. Lewis writes in Perelandra that God’s greatness is not in sheer majesty or magnitude, but in his paradoxical presence in the smallest and lowliest of things: “He dwells within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped: Deep Heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed and does not distend Him. Blessed be He!”

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