Monday, April 21, 2008

Our Loving Saviour - Easter IV

My main task, as a pastor, is the care of your souls; to watch over your hearts. And the most blessed and healthy condition of your hearts is that they fervently love the Lord Jesus with a sense of safe and happy abandon. This is the primary fruit of the Gospel and the ordinances of the Church. To that end, I want us this evening to reflect upon a most comforting aspect of Jesus’ dealing with us, that we might be inspired to love him more than ever.

I refer to a verse in our Gospel reading for the day, where St. John, in his 16th chapter, records Jesus saying these words: 12: I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.

These words were a way of introducing the disciples to the promise that he would send to them the Holy Spirit, who, in his absence, would teach them all the rest of the things that they needed to know. It is this promise which is one of the keystones to the doctrine of the inspiration of the New Testament, for, in the New Testament, we have the record of just what the Holy Spirit did indeed reveal to the apostles, not only for their sake, but for the sake of the rest of the Church who would come after them through the ages. That our Lord would give us such a wonderful gift of revelation by His Spirit is enough to call forth much wonder and thankfulness from our hearts. But I want us to focus on this introduction to the promise: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.”

Let’s think for a moment on what they reveal to us of the Lord. First of all, he reminds us that he is the fountain of all wisdom and knowledge. He has many things to say to us, because he has all knowledge. However much we have learned, there will always be an infinity of things to learn from him. But the Lord is not referring to things that the disciples needed to know about mathematics or Nature. He is referring to things they need to know about his kingdom and their King – himself. He means for them to understand the infinite and eternal treasure of blessing, and goodness, and beauty, and joy into which he is bringing them. He means for them to understand, as they did not know at that hour, just what His incarnation, and death, and resurrection would mean for them and the whole world. There were many things about what Jesus was trying to do for them that they still did not understand. He knows that. But he also knows that then was not the time for him to say much more about it, for He says, “ye cannot bear them now.”

Why could they not bear these things then? Well, it had been a long evening, and it was going to get even longer. It would not be surprising if perhaps they were just physically tired out. When we get tired, it’s hard for us to listen and think and learn, isn’t it. We all know what that is like. And we all know because we are all the finite human creatures that we are. He made us creatures that need rest and sleep. Jesus made us like that, and he knew well the physical limitations of his disciples. He had them himself.

It may also be that they could simply not take any more in. Just think of all the amazing things they had already seen and heard that evening! It all started with the incident of Jesus’ washing the disciples feet and the conversation about that. Then, while they were at the Passover table, there was the shock of Jesus telling them that someone was going to betray him and all the reaction to that. Soon thereafter, Jesus speaks to them of the new covenant he is founding and gives them the ordinance of the Eucharist. He tells them he is going away – another very emotionally draining thing for them to hear. At some point, we have all the things that he says in chapters 14 and 15 of St. John. When you put it all together, it had been a very full evening and it was already getting late. Their minds were already about to burst with all they had seen and heard and said. It may be that they just couldn’t take any more.

We know what that’s like too, don’t we. I have a young lady in one of my Latin classes who is one of those people who quickly speaks her thoughts and feelings. There will be times when she’ll tell me in class, “My brain is fried,” or something like that. She’s just had all she can handle for a while. Perhaps the disciples were beginning to give the Lord that glazed stare that speaks of mental and emotional overload.

But I think the main reason they could not bear any more then was that there were some very important things that the disciples simply could not understand until time had passed and some things had happened. There were things he wanted to tell them but they could not understand them until they had gone through certain experiences. They were creatures of their age. They had problems understanding all the things Jesus said about his death and resurrection like everybody else. Jesus knew that, and he knew that he would have to be patient with them and bear them through the coming days of both horror and gladness before they would be ready for him to explain anything else to them. This was probably the main reason they could not bear to hear anything else at that time, but perhaps it was a combination of all these things.

What I want us to notice, though, is how ready our Lord was to be patient, to be understanding, to be careful with them; how ready he was to recognise their weaknesses and to work with them – not to condemn them for them. He had made them finite, weak, limited creatures. That kind of thing did not bother him. Note how thoughtful he is being with them. He’s thinking about what they are able to handle, and when they are able to handle it. He wants them to know everything they can know. But he is patient and kind with them and willing to wait until they are ready.

Now, brothers and sisters, what we need to understand is that this is an example of how the Lord thinks of us and treats us. He acted this way with them because of the kind of person he is. And he treats us the same way, for he never changes. He thinks of what we can bear and what we cannot bear and he kindly, mercifully, and gently leads us along, patient with our weakness, and ready to carry us through those experiences we need so that we can bear more. He never crushes us. We crush ourselves.

All too often, we think Jesus has the same kind of expectations of us that we have for ourselves. Some of us too easily set expectations for ourselves, out of pride or perfectionism, or insecurity, or whatever reason, refusing to accept our weaknesses and our limitations, either in our own selves or in our circumstances. We think we should be better, we think we should be smarter, we think we should be this or that, and we crush our own spirits with these unrealistic and impatient expectations. And then we project the same kind of thinking on Jesus, as if he was thinking the same thing about us, and we despair.

All too often, we think Jesus treats us the way we treat others, as well. We are quick to be impatient with peoples’ weaknesses or limitations. We are quick to condemn them: “Why can’t they understand this or that?! What’s wrong with them?” and so forth. This is not the way Jesus treats his disciples. This is nothing but the impatience, and selfishness, and pride of our sinful nature.

If Jesus did indeed have the same kind of expectations that we can have for ourselves, or the same kind of impatience, or misunderstanding, or frustration that we have with others, would he be someone that we would be inspired to love? Such things certainly don’t make us more loveable to others – how could Jesus be more loveable to us if he were like that? It’s no wonder we don’t love Jesus any more than we do, because we think he’s just as cranky and unhappy as we are.

Thank God we are wrong. There is no one, in the entire universe, that is more able and ready to be understanding, and patient, and considerate of our weaknesses than Jesus. Let us believe that. Let us adore him for that. Let our hearts be inspired to love him for that.

But let us also not presume upon him for this. Yes, we have weaknesses due to our fallenness and human nature, but we can also be weak because of sin. We have made ourselves weak and we are guilty for doing so. There is an interesting passage in the book of Hebrews that reminds us of Jesus’ words in the Upper Room, but with a different twist. Let me read them to you. Speaking of Jesus, he says, 8: Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; [note that! Jesus himself, being a man, had things to learn that took time and His Father in heaven gave him the time to learn them; Jesus knows what it means to be human and to require time to learn things – but let me continue]:
9: And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; 10: Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec. 11: Of whom we have many things to say, [ see the parallel? ] and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12: For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. [in other words, it’s your fault for being so dull of hearing that you can’t hear what we want to tell you. Why? He continues:] 13: For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14: But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The problem with these people, was that they had not used the truth that they had already been given. They had been slack in faith and obedience to what the Lord had already told them, and so they were spiritually dull. This was a weakness, not due to circumstance or human frailty, but due to unbelief and disobedience. It was a guilty weakness. It reminds me of what Jesus once said, in Luke ch. 8: 18: “Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” The issue here is that a person who is not careful how he is paying attention to the Lord doesn’t really understand what he seems to understand and will even lose that.

We cannot presume upon our Lord’s zeal that we learn what he wants us to learn; we’ve got to care about learning ourselves. And the things he wants us to learn affect our lives. If we will really listen to him and hear the things he has to say to us, we must believe what he says and accept the changes to our lives that our new understanding brings.

But all of this is just the caveat of my main point. And indeed, it brings us to a glorious thing to consider in conclusion.

What if we have presumed upon such a kind and understanding person and not really cared like we should about the things he has already told us and that we ought to be understanding and living by now? Should we just give up on being a disciple? Oh friends, Jesus is not only ready to bear with us and help our weakness and be patient with us so we can learn what he wants to teach us, he died on the cross of Calvary and shed his blood so that all our guilty dullness might be washed away and forgotten. “The Son of Man is not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

Oh! What a wonderful, loving, and kind person Jesus is! He thinks of everything and graciously provides for everything, even though it cost Him his life. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” The more we think about these words, of what they say to us of how Jesus treats us, and especially in light of Calvary, are not our hearts stirred to love such a marvelous person? Do they not leap up with joyous recognition that this is the Person that our hearts were meant to love, and can safely love, forever. No one else is like Jesus! I hope this is the case with your heart. Jesus came and did what he did for many reasons, but one of them was precisely that, even this evening, we might know how much he loves us, and how freely he provides the way for us to love him in return; to open the ears of our hearts, and to sharpen their readiness to hear and heed all the wonderful things he is ready to tell us, at just the right time when we need them. May God give us grace to remember this wonderful Friend, in those times of sameness and drudgery, in the times of darkness and trial, in the times of light and blessing, that we might ever more grow in the blessing of his love.
Amen.

Image: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/335403.stm

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