Sunday, August 09, 2020

Now It’s Personal

“Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

In church circles, my father was well-known. He lived a life of selfless service, teaching and counseling among the Lord’s people, was a help to many, and was consequently famous — in a modest sort of way.

Because of this, my brothers and I could go to no new town without running into Christians who knew him. We became used to the phrase, “Ah, so you’re HIS son.” We had an instant welcome and unearned favor wherever we happened to go. We used to joke that just dropping Dad’s name was good in any town for three free meals and the hand in marriage of a girl from the local church.

Dad’s name was “coin of the realm”, as they used to say.

The Other Side of the Coin

As young men, though, this sometimes irked us. We quite naturally hoped to make a mark of our own in this world, and the fact that our father’s reputation always preceded us was simultaneously convenient and awkward. We wondered if there was no way we could be known for ourselves. After all, none of the merits being attributed to us were ever our own. We were getting a respect we were quite conscious we had not yet merited, and the level of instant trust people were investing in us was sometimes … well, not entirely justified.

I can’t speak for my brothers, but knowing my own heart, I could secretly say, “If you only knew …” There was a lot going on inside of me that was not consonant with the reputation my father had achieved. His behavior was always first class; and though he often told me he lamented the failures of his own heart, I was never quite able to believe he struggled with things to the level I did. So I was conscious that the instant welcome people gave me was earned by another, and that their expectations of me were really shaped by their experience with my father, not with me.

I was grateful for the perks, but I always knew they were never really mine.

Loved for Yourself

It’s no easy thing to be loved for yourself. In fact, in this world it’s really unknown. Being creatures with a sin nature, we always know that the good opinions of others are imperiled by deeper, darker truths than we are willing to make known to them. And should any of those nasty realities get out, we feel certain that others would have good reason to revisit their commitment to us. “If you really knew me,” we wonder, “would you love me at all?”

And because of this, in matters of being loved we really live as second-class citizens, not quite able to trust absolutely that the love we seem to receive is quite real, or that it cannot be seriously marred or even withdrawn completely should any new revelation of our true nature break through at some time in the future.

It is always like this. The boy who is going out on a date with a girl is careful only to put his best foot forward, lest his intended should come to suspect he’s not all he should be. The girl putting on her makeup at home looks at her flaws in the mirror and secretly wonders if anybody could love her without the concealments. The rich or famous man can never quite bring himself to believe his friends are not there for his money or to surf off his reputation, and the dying man wonders if his loved ones are assembled at his bedside out of love, or duty, or merely to see him go … and none of them knows for sure.

Earthly love is always in peril.

The Longing

And yet, we long for it. We long to be loved to such a degree, and in such a way, that the shadow of our unworthiness no longer ever falls across our happiness. We want to be free of the shame of our earthly nakedness, the secret shortcomings of which we remain all too aware. To be loved equivocally or under illusory conditions is just not good enough; but to be known as we are is unbearably shameful as well; and we just cannot seem to believe love would even be possible if all were known about us.

So where is such love to be found? And what is the point of longing for it if it is forever unattainable, just an empty ache in the human heart?

To break free of this conundrum, we know what terms are entailed. Somebody would have to know us absolutely — every bit of history, every failure in the possible future, every dark molecule of our being — and still freely choose to love us. Then, and only then, we would know that no secret could possibly ever appear to destroy our happiness.

But the thing seems so impossible …

And Yet …

And yet it is not.

For just before he went to the cross, these are the words our Lord spoke to his disciples and to us:
“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
The Father does not just love the Son and tolerate you as a necessary evil.

“The Father himself loves you.” Do you see those words? Here, the thought of having to hide behind the reputation of another is simply stripped away. Yes, the Lord Jesus provides the whole grounds of our acceptance; he has to, because of what we truly are, sinners. But having done that, he has provided for us an acceptance far greater than our wildest imagining could have conceived: we are loved directly by the Father.

So complete is our salvation that no taint, no shadow, no wisp of a hit of unworthiness ever drifts across the relationship thus established between the Father and his beloved children.

The Father loves you.

He sees you, he knows you, all of you — everything in past, present and future, everything manifest and hidden — and no bit of it ever impedes the love the Father now has for you. The Son is just that good, and his work is just that complete. What cannot be done on earth has been inscribed on eternal tablets in heaven: “The Father loves you.”

And again, in his prayer to the Father, the Lord underscores this point, just in case we missed it:
“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
The love with which the Father has loved the Son is in us. That is what this says.

So Now …

Now, let me ask you this: just how much does the Father love the Son? Is it not perfectly? Is it not without reservation? Is it not with absolute joy? This love, this love is now yours.

So it is not merely that the Father tolerates us for the sake of the Son of his love. Rather, it is that through his beloved Son, he loves us himself. As flawed and failing as we are at the present time, the Father has once-and-for-all dispensed with the question of justice pertaining to our sins, through his Son; and we are now loved freely by God “without reference to sin”. The matter of our unworthiness will never have to be brought up again. We are accepted in the Beloved, and beloved now also as ourselves.

What freedom from guilt and condemnation this is! We stand before the Father because of the Son, yet when the Father looks at us directly, he loves us.

So let doubt, fear and shame go. That love for which we have always longed is before us, certain and secured to us in the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

And now, the Father loves us.

Yes, us. Each, individually, directly, without reservation, and eternally.

Now it’s personal.

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