Saturday, January 29, 2011

when God gets personal

Abstract thought is indeed quite important - if not necessary - but is nevertheless insufficient as a single mode of understanding God and His word. We often are satisfied to dwell long in abstraction because we feel a sense of comfort (albeit a false one) that can be distant, impersonal. Yet God is Person, and He is not afraid to get personal (after all, He did become God incarnate!). And sometimes painfully so. The truth, while it genuinely sets us free, tends to tear us apart first, for it illumines our body and soul to the sin that enslaves us like light to eyes that have grown accustomed to darkness.

These characteristics are, I believe, demonstrated for us in Luke's record of Jesus preaching in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). Having been handed to Him, Jesus takes the book of Isaiah and boldly declares of the very Scripture He read that it had been "fulfilled" by Him that very day "in [their] hearing" (4:21). Surprisingly, the initial response was positive: "all were speaking well of Him [or, "all bare him witness," as in KJV], and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips" (v. 22).

But then, perhaps because "He Himself knew what was in man" (John 2:25), Jesus gets personal, and His words cut to the heart of His audience, revealing their intent, their motives, their hardness of heart, and their refusal to acknowledge the arrival of the Kingdom. Jesus declares that "no prophet is welcome in his hometown," citing examples from Scripture to illustrate how individual Gentiles had received God's healing through the prophets Elijah and Elisha while "many widows in Israel" and "many lepers in Israel" did not (Luke 4:25, 27). Still, these were, of course, not mere citations and references; Jesus moves past the white-washed outside to make manifest the need for inward transformation wrought by the hand of God. Jesus essentially declared that their national affiliation was no guarantee of divine blessing. Though Jesus was critical, His grace was also demonstrated; He provided a genuine opportunity for those before Him "to acknowledge their failure and need" (Bock 2002:98). And, by doing so, He proves the nature of God's word:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13-14)
So we read:
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. (Luke 4:28-29)
At times I think, rather arrogantly, how can they be so stupid? But I forget that it is my heart, too, that is on display here, since I am no better than them. And it is only by God's grace that any of us can respond any better, for we need Him to renew our minds and transform our hearts through the new birth that He alone can enact. The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 is a good example that contrasts with those who rejected Jesus in Nazareth. Jesus indeed gets personal with her, but she responds with humility to His words, as her reaction demonstrates. God even uses her to bring others to Jesus, that they, too, might "believe" that He is "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).

The question for us to bring to God is: When God gets personal and reveals our need for Him, how do we respond?

Bock, Darrell L. (2002). Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic and Apollos.

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