Today, “Jesus Christ is Lord” sounds like a bumper sticker or part of an ancient church liturgy but when Christianity was founded if someone uttered these words it could literally mean death! ’o christos ’o kurios “Christ is Lord” was a risky thing to declare when the only safe thing to declare was ’o kaiser ’o kurios “Caesar is Lord”! Yet it was upon these words that the earliest confession of the Church was founded. For the early Christians, this was not a glib, throw-away line uttered during a church service or something stuck on the backside of your donkey (or chariot if you were wealthy).
Everyone is searching for it and most people do not know what it is! Those who are searching for it do not know where to look and often look in all the wrong places. The ancient book of Ecclesiastes describes this search and how its main character looked for it vainly in religion, work, pleasure, sex, and even education. The quest for it is additionally hindered because most of those searching for it can not even describe what it looks like — yet, frustratingly, they have a sense that it is something very precious that they have now lost. This feeling is if they have a memory they can not recall. All that they are left with is this gnawing sense that it is now lost and they are now lost without it. What they are unaware of is that their thwarted search is a part of sinister scheme designed to keep them from ever recovering their lost memory and being reunited with it. Just like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth character, Gollum, their ever-present enemy has ensured that are befriended by several Gollum-like friends who continually assure them that nothing is missing, and there is no it.
But when they sleep at night they dream about it. In their dreams they find it and their sadness turns to happiness; their loneliness turns to the warm friendship and intimate love; their sense of guilt and shame turns to the joy of being forgiven and accepted; their nagging feeling of enslavement to ignorance turns to unparalleled freedom; their awareness of being unclean gives way to an overwhelming delight of being washed and clean. But then they awake and renew their quest to find it.
The beauty of John 3:16 is that it is so simple it can be understood even by a child; and yet, as a believer’s knowledge of God and His Word grows, he or she will come to discover that there is a wealth of spiritually-satisfying treasure to be mined! In its simplest form, Jesus died so that all those who turn to Him in trust will go to heaven after leaving this life. Dig a little deeper though, and you also discover that the eternal life on offer is not merely about a location (‘heaven’) or a duration of time—but a quality of life and status of existence that elevates the believer into a glorified state with God Himself (Rom. 8:17; 1John 3:2). Our lives are now the training ground for our status as co-regents and co-rulers with Christ over all of His redeemed creation (1Cor. 6:2-3)!
“That I may know Him!” Fancy that! The apostle who was struck from his horse by the radiant glory of Christ while on the Persecutor’s Road to Damascus; the apostle whom the resurrected Christ appeared to in a vision and spoke directly to him (Acts 18:9-10); the apostle whom Christ used to raise people from the dead and to heal many people miraculously; and, the apostle who testifies that he was caught up to heaven and saw things too wonderful to reveal — this apostle gets toward the end of his life and states that he doesn’t yet know Christ the way he should! This apostle, the apostle Paul, toward the end of his life begins to see his life and his troubles in the light of eternity. And I am thus assured that in this light many of the problems that we face today will fade from our gaze and vanish as we fix our eyes on the Source of eternity’s Light.
Bonzai trees are amazing. The Japanese discovered that they could trick a big tree into thinking it was always meant to be a very, very, small tree. They would take a cutting of a maple or oak tree and coax it to form its own roots and then plant it into a very shallow glazed earthenware pot. Each time it developed a shoot they would prune it back appropriately. Once the root system was developed, they would upheave it out of the pot and trim its roots back before repotting it back into its shallow pot. They would then repeat this process over and over and over until the miniature tree resembled its fully mature huge relative — except in miniature form. At some point the bonzai tree becomes convinced that it was always meant to be a miniature tree. Again, I think there is a spiritual parallel to draw from this process of bonzai tree making…