What is of paramount importance to God? As time goes on, it becomes clearer and clearer that it is about our being in this world as He (Jesus) was in this world and in this life. True religion, worship in Spirit and in Truth, has little to do with the performance of rites and rituals, except that these communicate the foregoing to us, and need to be received as such as we participate in them.
Neither does amassing a great deal of religious / spiritual knowledge accomplish being Jesus in the flesh – the reality of being in Christ, with Christ also being in us, and manifesting His life within and through us – as we see, recognize, and acknowledge Him in every person God puts right in front of us, along our path each day every day.
Rituals, observance of days and calendars, and spiritual knowledge should enhance this experience and edify it. But the personal, prayerful attitude with which I must approach Jesus constantly is, Lord, how do You wish to work in and through me today? Who will You send my way that I ought to see and serve as You right now? If I am part of Your Holy Body, I want to get real about this! Please send Your Spirit to me so that I may have the capacity for awareness of You, and the will and the wherewithal to serve You as needed today and every day.
The Churches have been rent asunder for 2 millennia over rituals and perspectives. Anyone who thinks this is not so has not been present in Earth reality but off on some other tangent – as we think and dwell on “our tribe’s” narrative, to promote it. The question is, is it the tribal narrative we pitch, or the Living Christ? We may be guilty of being incredibly shallow thinkers, naive or “ignore-ant” of history, as well as in denial of the workings of the fallen, finite, frail, feeble human mind.
Do we not tend to quibble more over the lesser realities of form and miss the substance? Jesus hits the nail on the head here: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Matthew 23:23-25.
It’s rather amazing how He mostly has issues with the religious leaders, who were so blinded by their perspectives that they could not recognize the very Messiah they claimed to await! He’s not advocating for throwing out the rituals, but they were in severe neglect of what all of it meant! We might say they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It begs the question, Do we?
The fact is that, if we come face to face with the simple but radical person, claims, and teachings of Jesus and the Apostles every day, with every person Christ sends our way, it would be blatantly obvious how everybody has missed it (including yours truly; Lord have mercy!), blind as we are. Conflicts and disputes are often over perspectives and rituals, but seldom over the fact of our failure to notice the outrageous, insane love called for by Jesus, whereby He says that all men will know you are my disciples! See John 13:34,35. Could it be that these things have become stumbling blocks to the manifestation of Jesus in the flesh?
Jesus calls for “evidence based Christianity”. The walk needs to match the talk, as has often been said – a reality that is so potent that it can proclaim without a word that we know Jesus The Christ, that we belong to Him, that we are actually in Him and He in us. The Holy Spirit must bring conviction of this very real need! Scripture is full of this word of admonition, revealing the fullness of Christ. “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” John 1:16. What is also revealed is our failure to live out from what we have been given and what we claim to be!
1 Corinthians 13 should be prayed, pondered, and practiced daily and continually by all of us who claim the Name of Jesus Christ, because it is out here on the rugged terrain of this life desert that we are tested, trained, tried, and hopefully made true to Him in what He asks of us. And it is not simply about the behaviors of Love, as we can see, but about the attitude, the interiority, from which they arise.
If all I had of the Bible was a little paper containing this word of Love, inward heart spiritual digestion of it would be enough to sustain me here in my own desert. Or even the contents of the admonition of Jesus Christ: “Love one another as I have loved you. Love your enemies. Do good to those who are spiteful to you. By this difference will it be known that you are My disciples.” The “diet” of the desert is simple. Manna for the Israelites. Locusts and wild honey for John. Bread form the ravens of Elijah.
Only self serving kings need daily sumptuous feasts and lavish banquets. God has written the former “diet” on our hearts. Men have given us the latter feasts through the ages. We are without excuse. Libraries full of books are feasts; they are fine. However, we should be warned, “The words of the wise are like goads, and the anthologies of the masters are like firmly embedded nails driven by a single Shepherd. But beyond these, my son, be warned: There is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:11-13. (Can I get some amens?)
Discussing complex metaphysical palaver is always a fascinating pursuit. But we do well to not hold in a critical eye those we may pridefully regard as “simplistic” or “reductionistic”, when perhaps Jesus regards them as His “little ones.” “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” 1 Corinthians 8:1. Perhaps those we so criticize seek to build on the foundation of the simplicity that is in Christ, our God Who is love! Let us never rule out that possibility. Perhaps they came to an end to sorting through all the available “bricks” and simply laid the foundation?
So if all the big headed, self impressing mental / theological gymnastics keep us away from the reality of Christ love, what good are they? Just how many books – regardless of how ancient (or recent and trendy) they may be – does anyone need? They pile up like a wall of futile defense – against the enemy within ourselves – our blind refusal to love as Christ loves.
With this complexity one can easily deny that Jesus has come in the flesh, which is one’s own body-temple, as well as those to whom He sends us every day.
“By this you will know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and is already in the world at this time.” 1 John 4:2,3.
To confess Jesus in the flesh carries more than one level of meaning:
1. Jesus as He manifested through the Blessed Theotokos, lived as a man, died, was resurrected and now ascended into heaven – the historical Person – is the first recognition of His coming in the flesh.
2. The Spirit of Christ in the believer: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we remain in Him, and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” 1 John 4:12-14.
3. We acknowledge Jesus in “the other”, according to His own words. ”When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’” Matthew 25:39,40.
This is how we “confess / witness” as Jesus coming in the flesh in conclusion. We have the revelation of Jesus Christ – we believe – in the historical Savior, eye-witnessed by the Apostles, revealed by the Scripture. We are to acknowledge how the Spirit of Christ wishes to reveal Himself in us, and then through us to all with whom Jesus chooses to identify Himself. There are no exceptions! Enemies included.
Dear, sweet, radical Savior Lord Jesus! Teach us Your ways, which surely are not our ways, for we are finite, and You are infinite. You make possible supernaturally what is impossible naturally! Please set us on fire with Your Holy Spirit so that we will continue in Your Word and truly be Your disciples, and then we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (from John 8:31,32), free to be all that You intend for us, as Your dwelling place from which You manifest Your love to the world. Then keep us aglow in Your Spirit’s holy fire. Thank You for Your magnificent power and Your never failing promises, whereby we become partakers of Your divine nature. Amen.