We are in yet another Lent season, meditating on the Power of the Cross, and this week we are specially focusing on the Supremacy of Christ. Rightly, so, the pastor has chosen the first four chapters of the Book of Hebrews for this study.
Those of us who are familiar with the book of Hebrews will know that this book establishes the Supremacy of Christ to the Jews very clearly and with evidence. The author starts off with comparing Jesus to the Prophets, and then the angels, and then to the heroes of faith as he calls the leaders of the bible, and so on and so forth. The author clearly establishes that Jesus is far superior to the Prophets, that Jesus is much higher than the Angels, and He is better than any of the heroes of faith. I am not going to go over those arguments again. There is enough argument about the same in the book of Hebrews, and it could be an interesting bible study for those of us who want to understand Jesus from the context of Prophets and Angels etc.
What the Lord has led me to meditate today is to think through some of the aspects of what makes Jesus Christ Supreme in our personal lives. Yes, in our mundane, day to day, roller coaster lives. What is the message of the cross for us?
By now, many of you know my own conversion story. It took a long 8 years after my marriage for me to be convinced about the Christian faith. I intentionally use the word Christian Faith here, because there are still certain things I cannot reconcile as Christian Religion. My conversion came after many years of careful and critical study of the bible and what it offers. One of the first things that struck me is the unbelievable concept of a personal God. The ability to have a personal relationship with God. This is very unique to Christianity and this is only because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. If you study any other major religion in the world, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism etc, you will realize the fact that human beings are separated from the deity through various means. Jews have their temple separation listed in the Judaic laws. Only the High priest can enter the Holy of Holies, and that too after much rituals of purification, and with trembling and fear. For many years, there was a legend go doing the rounds. The legend was like this. High priest entered the Most holy place in the temple with a bells in his garment around his waist (the bible does support this to some extent, in the High Priests garments) and a rope tied to his leg (the rope theory is not supported by any biblical evidences). The other priests waited in the Holy part of the temple and listened to the bell ringing, while the High Priest moved around inside the Holy of Holies. In case the bell stopped ringing, it was understood that the High Priest has been struck dead by the Lord, due to his sins that were not cleansed properly by the purification rituals. Then the rope was to be used to pull the dead body out. Of course most recent research debunks this legend just as a legend, with no facts to support the same. However this highlights the point about the separation between the Holiness of God and the sinful nature of man.
Similarly the Islamic hierarchy is that of Allah, being the all powerful and mighty with all others far far below him. Hindu temples have the sanctum sanctorum where only few selected priests are allowed. And never the common man. So basically all religious practices and laws prohibit common man from approaching God from too near. They need to maintain a distance and then appeal to the goodness and mercy of the respective gods. Jesus literally turned it around. Jesus gave the god-man relationship a personal nature. Hebrews 2:11-13 (NKJV) tells us For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” And again: “I will put My trust in Him.” And again: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” This passage talks about two parts of our relationship with God. The first is the union in Christ. We, the sanctified, are united through Christ, who sanctifies us. This is achieved through one Heavenly Father the Lord, One earthly father Adam, and one spirit. Secondly, is the endearing relationship that Jesus builds for us with the Triune God. Through the text that I read above, the author first declares what this relationship is , and then quotes three old testament passages to prove the point. Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Why brothers and sisters? There is a saying that you cannot choose your family right? That is exactly what Jesus is saying here. He says come me to as you are. I am not ashamed of you. I will still call you my brother and my sister. Whoever acknowledges Him is His brother or sister. We don’t need to do anything else to become his brethren. He has already accepted us as His. Only thing we have to do is to believe in Him and grow in that relationship. This is unique in Christianity. This makes Christ Supreme to me.
The second aspect that struck me when I started studying the bible and about Jesus Christ is this concept of Grace itself. I knew religion as a set of rules, do certain things, do not do certain things. It was all about laws. You look into the old testament and you will realize this. It is about observing the law and adhering to certain rules. Judaism is all about observing the laws. Islam is about observing the laws and doing what Allah commands you to do. The concept of undeserved merit , beyond justice (which is when you get the punishment you deserve) or mercy (when you don’t get the punishment you deserve), is merely unfathomable. The idea of a God who forgives prostitutes, who dines with tax collectors, who forgives the very same people who nailed him to a cross, all that is very difficult to swallow. Philip Yancy , in his book “What is so Amazing about Grace” calls it the scandal of grace. True grace and Christian forgiveness is actually scandalous.
Just take these simple day to day examples. You work in a corporate, you have been successful, you are doing well, you get your promotions on time.. you are having a great time.. Then some thing happens. You get news that you are getting a new boss. You inquire, and come to know about the details of your new boss.. you come to know that your new boss is none other than some one who was junior to you five years earlier, had quit the organisation and went to another organisation, and has come back to the same organisation as your boss.. How would you feel about this? I would feel shattered, cheated, I would be crying foul? How can some one who deserted the organisation and decided to come back get priority over you? ….How would you feel?
You are driving down , hurrying to attend your son’s school function. You want to reach there early, so that you can get a seat in the front, so that you can see your son’s act clearly. In your hurry you jump a red light and unfortunately you are caught by the police man. While you are busy, explaining the situation to the police man, you see your neighbor , jumping the red light , and speeding away. The policeman does not bother to stop your neighbor. You finally manage to reach the school and end up on the back rows. You look around and find that the neighbor who jumped the red light and did not get caught, is sitting right in front in one of the prime seats. How would you feel?
Don’t we burn inside when such things happen to us? Do we feel that this is unfair? Do these go against our understanding of social justice and fairness?
If you have struggled in these situations, it is perfectly human. What we are struggling to understand is the divine concept called Grace.
C S Lewis was once asked about the single most factor that differentiates Christianity from other religions. He said the answer is very simple. It is grace. And yet, it is the most difficult concept to understand and comprehend. Why is it difficult for us to understand and fully comprehend grace? Philip Yancy puts it this way.
From Nursery school onwards we are taught how to succeed in the world of ungrace. The early bird gets the worm, No pain, No gain,. There is no such thing as free lunch. Demand your rights. Get what you pay for. I know these rules well because I live by them. I work for what I earn; I like to win; I insist on my rights. I want people to get what they deserve, nothing less, nothing more.”
We can break this cycle of Ungrace only when we begin to understand and experience God’s grace.
So to understand Grace, we first have to accept that we are undeserving of the love that our father is pouring out on us. But the fact is that God loves us unconditionally, he loves us despite who we are , what we do , despite the fact that we do not deserve His love.
Philip Yancy tries to define Grace like this. “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much an infinite God can possibly love.”
But through Jesus Christ he demonstrated it once and for all. I must have used this illustration before, but let me repeat it once again. There is this beautiful explanation in Hebrews 9:16-17. If I have a rich uncle and he writes all his wealth to me through a will, the will is of no use until my uncle dies, and till the time he dies , he has the power and authority to change the name in the will and give it away to any one else. A will comes into effect only when the author of the will dies, and the death is established. Now consider this, what did God will us? The abundant riches , and how could we inherit that except through the death of the author? The death on the cross freed up the inheritance for all of us who were sinners. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?
Now do we understand the full meaning of Grace? God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Philip Yancy illustrates a point by quoting from the Movie “The Last Emperor”
In the movie, “The Last Emperor”, the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a magical life of luxury, with a 1000 eunuch servants at his command.
One time his brother asks, “What happens when you do wrong?”
“When I do wrong, someone else is punished”, the boy emperor replies.
Then to prove his point, he breaks a jar… and a servant is beaten.
What’s so amazing about grace is that Jesus reversed the pattern… when the servants erred… the KING was punished!
Grace is free, only because the GIVER himself has taken the punishment!
This morning can I encourage all of us to do two things.
1. Let us know that our God loves us , and let us decide to enjoy that love and that fellowship completely and without reservation.
2. Let us receive that grace from God and know that we are called to pass on that chain of Grace, we are called upon to break that cycle of ungrace. Can we in a moment of silence, think about some one who have hurt us, and who might be undeserving of our love, and can we seek the Holy Spirit’s help to forgive that person and if possible to love that person again?