Sunday, June 07, 2020

Christ-Plus®

In the upper room, Jesus sets out God’s program for his disciples. The Son of Man is to be glorified, and God glorified in him. This necessitates him going away, first to the cross, and then to the Father, where he intends to make his preparations to receive his disciples, and then return for them. Only three things are really required of the disciples in all this: believe, love one another, and wait patiently for his promised return.

This is God’s program in a nutshell. Unsurprisingly, three of the Lord’s disciples voice objections to it, and offer subtle improvements to make it more palatable to them.

As appallingly presumptuous as we may find this in hindsight, the Lord gently allows them to express their concerns before correcting them, recognizing that they are not speaking from knowledge, and all in their own way are speaking out of love for him. They have not fully grasped what he is telling them, having only the dimmest idea what is really involved in God’s plan of salvation and why these things are necessary.

A Little Bit of Works

First, there is Peter. His proposed improvement to God’s program is being allowed to participate in it more actively. After all, God’s version involves a fair bit of waiting around passively, and Peter is a man of action, a robust individual who solves problems by charging into them headlong. So he protests, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” This proposed amendment involves a little bit of human effort. Perhaps Peter does not quite picture himself hanging side-by-side the Lord on his own cross, but he imagines (wrongly, of course) that he is up to the task of going down the same road the Lord must walk. He does not realize that the Lord must walk this path alone, and that nobody may accompany him even if they possessed the necessary courage and fortitude. Recognizing that he does not, Jesus replies, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”

Even the most loving, devoted disciple of Christ cannot enter into either his suffering or his glory by means of human effort. All has been done for him. It cannot be any other way.

A Little Bit of Intellect

Second, there is Thomas. His improvement to God’s program is a bit more intellectual than Peter’s. He will follow the Lord, but he’d like a few clear directions so he can make his way there on his own. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” He wants to reason his way to the Father. He wants to know. If only Jesus would explain what he is doing a bit more clearly, then surely the disciples can follow along and make their way where Jesus is going. Jesus replies that Thomas does not need to know the way when he already knows the Way. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

The most exact intellectual knowledge of God will not get us into the Father’s presence. Our access to the Father is through the Son. Unlike Peter, Thomas has not overestimated his own courage, but rather his own capacity for understanding. When the disciples finally enter into what Jesus has prepared for them, it will not be because they have navigated there on their own. No, says Jesus. “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Even the most devoted follower of Christ cannot make his way into the presence of God by using his intellect. A personal relationship with Christ is all that is required. We do not find our own way there. He has already got that covered. Our ticket is already purchased, and our flight is already booked and paid for.

A Great Big Sign

Finally, there is Philip. His improvement to God’s program involves cutting to the chase. “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Maybe this business of going away and preparing a place and coming again sounds a little too complicated. Does Jesus really need to suffer and die, as Peter’s question implies, or could there not be a more direct way of bringing man into the presence of God?

People have been asking this same question my whole life. Why doesn’t God just show himself? Why doesn’t he just make things clear? Of course everyone would believe if they SAW God, so why not cut to the chase? Why test the faith of men, and why exclude those who choose not to exercise it? The cross, the resurrection, and a 2,000 year wait with no sign of Jesus anywhere to be seen is a very difficult program to buy into. Why not just show the Father to everyone? All our problems will be solved.

Jesus replies that there is nothing more to reveal than has already been revealed. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Christ Alone

Maybe the disciples’ mistakes are shared with us here because the Lord knew we would inevitably make the same kind of errors. Today we have whole sects within Christendom preaching programs of salvation which we might call “Christ-Plus®”.

One group tells us salvation may be obtained through Christ plus a little bit of human effort. Just make sure you undergo a couple of necessary rites, tithe regularly, and be a good person. Of course Jesus saves, but, you know, we still need to be good people, right?

Another group tells us salvation requires Christ plus a bit of higher knowledge. We need to be initiated into a special set of secrets decoded for us by people who understand the Bible better than we do.

Yet another group tells us we can only be sure of our salvation when we have had Christ plus a bunch of miraculous experiences, whether they be “faith healings”, pseudo-tongues-speaking, or false prophetic ministry. Access to God is not through faith in the word concerning his Son, but through the eyes, ears and emotions.

There is no Christ-Plus®. Never has been, and never will be. God’s program is always Christ and Christ alone. Not Christ plus a little bit of works. Not Christ plus a little bit of intellectual effort. Not Christ plus a great big impressive miracle or two.

Christ only. Christ in every way. Christ always.

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