Weekly Meditation - 28th May 2017
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Who do we think Jesus is? There is only one right answer to this question. Those who think he was just a good man or a great teacher are deluding themselves, choosing a more 'acceptable' explanation at the expense of plain sense. If Jesus had not been God’s Son, he could not have had the right or the authority to say the things he did say. A good man or a great teacher does not claim to forgive sins, nor does he state that to see him is to see the Father. We are left with the choice, then, that Jesus was a charlatan or a lunatic, or that he was exactly who and what he claimed, God’s only begotten Son. But who is God?
The Israelites knew God by a multiplicity of names and titles, including 'the One who rides on the clouds' (Psalm 68:4). In this guise, God presented himself as powerful and majestic - scattering his enemies (68:1), shaking the earth (68:8) - yet also intimately involved with his people, ministering to the fatherless, the widows, the lonely and the prisoners (68:5-6).
There is an almost unspoken hint of these qualities in the account of Jesus’ ascension, as told in Acts. The writer makes the point that as Jesus 'was taken up before the [disciples’] very eyes ... a cloud hid him from their sight' (Acts 1:9). As further emphasis - evidence of Jesus’ divinity - two men dressed in white – angels – appeared, and said 'this Jesus ... will come back in the same way' (1:11). Jesus also, then, would be One who rode on the clouds, sharing a unique quality with Almighty God. Not for nothing had Jesus told his disciples and his enemies that they would one day see him coming in the clouds (Matthew 24:30; 26:64).
As we approach Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, our lectionary readings begin to reveal the complexity of the God we know and worship; one God (both Jews and Christians are monotheists) but three persons.
It was important for the early Christians to establish exactly who Jesus was. They had a huge task ahead of them, to preach the gospel of Jesus in the face of a great deal of opposition that would eventually intensify into persecution. They were leaving the ordered faith of Judaism, with its magnificent Temple and its impressive ceremonies, to become followers of a man whom the Jews had rejected and whom the Romans had crucified. They needed the assurance that God was truly with them.
The First Letter of Peter shows us the extent of the persecution in the early Church; it is a recurring theme throughout his writing. He warns his readers to be prepared for persecution, and to rejoice at the prospect of sharing in Christ’s suffering (1 Peter 4:12-14). He compares the Devil to a roaring lion seeking prey (1 Peter 5:8), acknowledging that all Christians are undergoing persecution, but assuring them that when they have suffered 'for a little while' God will restore them, making them 'strong, firm and steadfast' (1st Peter 5:10).
In some of his last words to the disciples before his crucifixion, Jesus had similarly reassured his followers. He made the extraordinary statement that to know him and God, was to have eternal life (John 17:3). To 'know' God implies far more than head-knowledge, far more than 'knowing about him'. It indicates an intimacy, and implies also that God knows us in the same intimate way. Jesus draws his disciples into a complex inter-relationship involving himself and the Father and, later, the Holy Spirit. His followers had belonged to God, God gave them to Jesus and now they know that all that Jesus has comes from God. All Jesus has is God’s; all God has belongs to Jesus, and Jesus’ glory has come to him through the disciples (John 17:6-10). One wonders how much of this the disciples understood at the time. After the resurrection, however, more and more would have fallen into place and made sense, as the followers of Jesus came to realise with certainty that he was, in fact, Almighty God who had come to earth to redeem them.
All Christians now can be confident that the Lord whom they follow is God – 'the One who rides the ancient skies above' (Psalm 68:33).