This blog uses the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
China tolerates Chrstian mission in Tibet as bulwark against Buddhism
11Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.
12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested* as we are, yet without sin.16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This passage speaks first of God’s word, then of Jesus as God’s Son. They are two aspects of the one Jesus, firstly as the revealer of the truth about human lives; secondly as revealer of God’s mercy.
The book of Revelation uses the image of a two-edged sword issuing from the mouth of the glorified Jesus. The sharpness of God’s word is something I know only too well. As a daily bible blogger I am confronted with the penetrating gaze of God’s Word from day to day, as I encounter Him in the pages of scripture. What mean and shoddy “intentions of the heart” are laid bare; what gross disfigurements are exposed when my human self is stripped of its smart clothing! Yet I’ve almost begun to relish this meeting with reality. As they say, “at least you know where you are”, with God. A daily confrontation with truth removes the pressure to live a daily lie; and that can lift a sad burden from the soul. I might almost become addicted to this bracing interrogation.
My daily discipline however, also reminds me of the humanity of Jesus, in particular his healing of disordered lives and his lifting up of people who were down; a humanity also evident in his bloody tears at the imminence of death. If this sorely tested and merciful brother is at God’s side, then it’s possible to approach the throne of grace with boldness. Here the writer’s two images of Jesus as pioneer and high priest, coalesce: as high priest he understands; as pioneer he carries his understanding into the godhead.
This daily two – act drama, this dialogue with first the truth and then the mercy of God, is the only practice of my life that I can honestly recommend to others.
Jesus and John the Baptist
22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized.23John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized—24John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
25 Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew.*26They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’27John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.28You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah,* but I have been sent ahead of him.”29He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.30He must increase, but I must decrease.’*
The One Who Comes from Heaven
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all.32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony.33Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified* this, that God is true.34He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.35The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands.36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.
Historically perhaps the John and Jesus Movements may have competed with each other. There is a record of disciples of John as far away as Ephesus in Turkey. In the gospels however, John is interpreted as a forerunner of Jesus, as the one who “prepares the Way.” As such he becomes the last representative of an Israel faithful to God’s purpose as defined by Christian believers. Jesus is depicted as the Messiah, the bridegroom of Israel whereas John is merely the best man. The difference according to the gospels is that whereas John speaks as the prophets did, announcing the will of the holy God, Jesus speaks more intimately, but with great certainty of what the Father wants his children to know. He speaks, that is, as one who describes what he knows rather than one who has received a message from above; and he communicates, not just the will of God, but also the power to obey it, the Spirit.
This intimate sobriety is a mark of Jesus’ teaching about God, distinguishing it not only from the Jewish Torah and the prophets, but also from the holy Qur’an and Mohammed. It is closer in tone to some traditions of the Buddha, although of course, he did not speak of God. There are all manner of ingenious doctrines built by Christian theologians on the basis of Jesus’ reported intimacy with God. I prefer the characterisation in this passage,”He speaks of what he has seen and heard.” The Jesus tradition, unlike much church practice, is neither declamatory, nor oppressive, nor hysterical. It talks of what Jesus has seen and heard, of the Father who sees the fall of the sparrow and numbers the hairs of our heads.
In my case it’s taken until the task of numbering those hairs is less arduous, for me to listen to Jesus’ words as soberly as they were spoken.
My grandfather, Alexander Mair, a missionary in China, knew Eric Liddell whom the church remembers today as a colleague. He told me that Liddell was a man who spoke of God as if he knew him. The public remembers his Olympic triumph; the church remembers also his service as a missionary and his patient caring for others in a Japanese prison-camp, where he died in 1945.