Learning to Know the Real God

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

–Colossians 1.15-23 (NIV)

12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

–Luke 6.12-19 (NIV)

If God is wholly other than us and not simply some magnification or personification of our best human qualities, then how are we ever to know and worship him? After all, it’s impossible for most of us to have a relationship with and worship an ultimate Ideal or Concept. Just doesn’t work relationally. So what to do?

Paul (among other NT writers) provides us the answer. If you want to know what God is like, at least as best we can in our finite and fallible state, and if you wonder how God expects us to behave during our mortal lives (i.e., what’s the purpose of life), then you needn’t look any further than Jesus because Jesus is fully God and fully human.

You see, at its most fundamental level, the problem of the human condition stems from human pride and idolatry. The Fall occurred essentially because humans are not content to let God be God. We want to be his equal rather than acknowledge we are his creatures and he is our Creator. If that’s not bad enough, we often want to take God’s place or decide to give our ultimate loyalty and worship to someone or something else, which is the essential definition of idolatry. This results in stubborn and persistent rebelliousness against God and has produced a massive and irreconcilable alienation between God and humans, at least until God acted decisively on our behalf to end our alienation and exile from him. The whole biblical narrative is the story of how God has chosen to do end our mutual hostility, first through his people, Israel, and ultimately through Jesus.

So how does this rebellion manifest itself in the daily context of our lives? One common manifestation of our rebellion is when we exclude God from our decision making. We don’t seek his guidance or his will, or we get impatient about it when we do and go about conducting our business and living our lives the way we best see fit to do. This is what it means to take God’s rightful place. This is rebellion at its finest, not unlike when teenagers all of a sudden discover they know best and their parents are complete ignoramuses.

This is not to say, of course, that we should not be active in making decisions about our life. It simply means that we are to seek God’s will first when we must make major decisions and follow God’s principles for living in the course of making the millions of daily decisions we have to make (e.g., do I respond honestly to questions, refuse to exploit others for my advantage, etc.).

We see a powerful “how-to” model of obedient living in our Gospel lesson today. Jesus, being fully human and therefore finite, retires to a lonely place to pray for God’s guidance right before he selected the 12 apostles. Luke reports this same dynamic of retiring to pray before every major decision point in Jesus’ life.

This is what it means to be obedient to God, to seek his guidance and wait for it, confident that God will respond in a timely manner. And if you really believe Jesus was fully human, this should make sense. Jesus’ prayers were not perfunctory. He didn’t know everything that was coming down the pike because he could not see fully into the future. He needed God’s infinite wisdom and eternal perspective to guide him.

To be sure, Jesus was God. But he was God laboring under human limitations, the very conditions he imposed on all humanity when he created us. As Paul reminds us in Philippians 2, this is what learning to obey looks like. Not that Jesus was disobedient or inclined not to obey, but rather that he was humble enough to know that he did need to seek out the Father’s guidance so that he could be true to his mission.

And when Jesus did open himself up to God’s guidance, amazing things happen as Luke reports in today’s lesson. The sick were healed, the blind were given sight, the deaf had their hearing restored, and the dead were raised. People were healed and made whole again, both physically and spiritually. They had their hope restored. Jesus’ obedience allowed him to be a conduit for God’s healing and restorative love to flow out to others, and folks found Jesus powerfully attractive.

Likewise with Jesus’ followers when we are obedient to God and humble enough to acknowledge God is God and we are not. Now of course we are not God incarnate, but like Jesus, we are able to listen for and obey God’s guidance. When that happens, we too can turn heads and make people stop and ask why we are doing amazing things.

God calls each of us to do different and amazing things. The paradox, of course, is that the amazing things we are sometimes called to do occur in the midst of the mundane and humdrum things in our daily lives. But that shouldn’t matter to us as long as we know we are being obedient to God’s will for us because when we are, we are allowing God to use us as agents of his New Creation. We are allowing God to help us imitate Jesus and when we do that, we begin to understand what it means to have real meaning and purpose in living.

All this points to the need for us to learn all we can about and from Jesus so that we can imitate him to the best of our knowledge and ability. We do so with the help of his Holy Spirit living in us and transforming us into the creatures he created us to be. The work can be hard and difficult because it usually goes against our rebellious nature and we have to put that to death with the Spirit’s help.

And when we imitate Jesus, we will also arouse the ire and wrath of his enemies. But we do not fear because we realize that in the final analysis they don’t have any power to harm us because mortal life is but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of eternity, and this knowledge provides us with much needed and Spirit-assisted perspective on life and our role in it.

If you are looking for meaning and purpose in living, look no further than Jesus. He is fully human and fully God. He can provide you with a model of living that will bring immense joy, peace, and purpose, even in the midst of opposition and personal suffering. In Jesus, you will find the secret to happy living because you are living life in the manner you were created to live. It’s not about following a bunch of arbitrary rules. It’s about letting God be God and letting him use you as you imitate Jesus in his work to bring about New Creation, both in your life and the lives of those around you. What are you waiting for? Say yes to Jesus’ invitation to you to live and live abundantly.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!