Sunday, March 13, 2011

This Little Word 'In'

Texts: Ephesians 1:1-14; John 14:8-21

I, N-- IN. SUCH A LITTLE WORD, YOU MIGHT overlook it. Insignificant, really.

But ask a junior high girl if it matters what crowd she belongs to, she'll tell you this word ‘in' is a matter of life or social death.

Ask the product designer who has to gauge what people are likely to buy. His game or car or cell phone had better line up with what's in-- or his working life could be in its way out.

Or think of a person who's starving. Is ‘in' a meaningless word to one who more than anything needs food in him? For him, that word ‘in' is a question of life or death.

Our New Testament was written in Greek, and in that language ‘in' in a very little word, too. It's epsilon, nu: en, and even Greek readers might not be blamed if they happened to overlook it in the midst of all the bigger, more important-looking words on the page. But this little Greek word ‘en,' and its English translation ‘in,' means eternal life to sinners like me and you.

Still, we can find this little word ‘in' to be confusing. In our reading from the 14th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, our Lord Jesus is speaking to His closest disciples the night before He will be crucified. We can expect that every word of this farewell address will be especially important. But then we get to verse 13, where it says, "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me." And we have verse 20, where Jesus says, "On that day you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." And the temptation is to say, "Wait, what? Jesus, you're saying that you're in the Father and the Father's in you and we're in you and the Spirit's in us and how can anyone keep this straight?" So we gloss over those parts and jump down to verse 23 where Jesus says, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching." Active obedience, that we can understand. All this about who's in whom and one being in the other, that's too hard.

But if we'll take the time to unravel what our Lord is saying, we'll find that this little word ‘in' invites us to enjoy everything our God is and everything He has for us, in this world and the world to come.

From the very beginning of this fourteenth chapter of John's gospel, Jesus has been teaching His disciples that they should identify Him with God the Father. They should trust Him as they trust God. He is leaving them, He says, but that's so he can prepare them a place in His Father's house. He's told them that He is the only way to the Father. He says that if they really knew Him, they'd know the Father as well. And He has good news for them: "From now on," says Jesus, "you do know him and have seen him."

But the disciples can't imagine how they possibly could have seen the Father. So, Philip speaks up and says, "Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us."

Philip thinks Jesus is saying they can see the Father in Him the same way we speak of seeing God in the beauty of a sunset or in the power of a thunderstorm. But if Jesus is going away, Philip and the others want a more direct vision of the Person of God. Like Moses in the book of Exodus, they want actually to lay their eyes on Him, if only for a little while. Moses got a one-time view of God's glory, and that gave him the strength to go on as the leader of Israel. So if only Jesus would bring the disciples that same sort of divine vision, it'd be enough to help them endure after He's gone.

They failed to see who Jesus really was. And how blind we can be today! Even people who claim to be ministers of the Gospel believe and preach that Jesus came to point us to God, but that He wasn't actually God Himself. But Jesus has patience with Philip as I pray He will have mercy on us. He says, "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." They'd lost the truth in plain sight! The whole point of Jesus' ministry, the whole object of all His preaching and teaching and miracles, was to demonstrate that He, Jesus, was God in human flesh. Not merely a messenger or a herald, but God Himself. To see Jesus was and is to behold God!

Therefore Jesus asks all His disciples, including us, "Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?" To say that they are in one another is to say that this Man Jesus and the eternal God are totally identified with one another. What one is, the other is. What one has, the other has. What one does, the other does. So when Jesus promises you eternal life, He can give it, because He is the God of Life. When He promises that His Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth, He can keep that promise, because He is the divine Word of Truth. When He says that anyone who has faith in Him will do even greater things than the miracles He did, He can make that happen, because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him, continually working the power of God in this world.

For this purpose He sent us the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is our Counselor, our Paraclete-- literally, the One who comes alongside us. But it gets better than that. For as Jesus promises in verse 17, "You know Him, for he lives with you and is in you." There it is again, that little word ‘in'! The Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is God in us, leading us into the life of divine truth and growing us in the truth of divine life.

Jesus a few days later will prove that He has the power of divine life when He rises from the dead. He says, "Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day"-- after He has been raised, after the Spirit has been given-- "you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you."

"I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you."

But how can that be? Hasn't Jesus asserted that He and the eternal God are totally identified with one another? What one is, the other is. What one has, the other has. What one does, the other does. How can this be true for us and God? God is eternal and infinite; we are finite and mortal. God is perfectly holy, righteous, and true; we are impure, sinful, and false. God is self-sufficient life, uncreated, in need of nothing; we are dependent on Him for the least operation of the molecules of our cells. How can we be identified with God the Son, so that it can be said that we are in Him and He is in us?

Maybe it's just a subjective thing. Like the way we might identify with a hero in a movie or a novel. That hero inspires us, we try to be like him, and that makes us more heroic and better people. Same with Jesus, right?

Actually, no. It takes more than our emotions and imaginations for us to be in Christ and for Christ to be in us. It took Him a lot more, the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood. St. Paul writes in the seventh verse of the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, "In him"-- that is, in Jesus-- "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." We are in Christ because He has redeemed us on the cross. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. He identified with us in our sin and took the punishment for it in His own body. And having paid the price totally and forever, He identifies us with Him before the Father, and identifies Himself with us in the world. He credits us with His righteousness and holiness and imparts to us His life, wisdom, and joy. So that in Him and through Him, we can participate in the eternal blessed life of God. Verse 3 of our Ephesians passage says the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. How? Where? In Christ! There's that little word ‘in' again, that word that means so much. "For," Paul says, "he"-- that is, God-- "chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." In Christ we were predestined to share the holy and blameless life of God! In love He planned for us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ! Again, in verse 6, God has freely given us His glorious grace, in the One he loves-- that is, in Jesus the Son of God, who is in the Father as the Father is in Him. In, in, in!

And He has made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ. We fret and mourn over the evil and disasters that happen in this world, and it can be a total mystery how God will work it all out, or whether He's working it out at all. But in Christ, we can trust that the day will come when all will reach its fulfillment, and all things in heaven and on earth will be brought together under the one headship of Jesus Christ our Lord. In Him we have also been made heirs of God, so that we ourselves might be to the praise of His glory. The glorious riches that belong to God's eternal Son now are coming to us, too, because when the Father sees Christ, He sees us in Him as well.

So how did this happen? Was it because we were more virtuous or deserving than other people? Not at all. Rather, we were included in Christ when we heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation. The proof and seal of our salvation is the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, commending to us the truth of Jesus Christ and what He did that we might be saved. For as Paul writes, "You were marked in him"-- in Christ-- "with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession, to the praise of his glory."

You are God's possession! The Son of God who is in the Father lives in you and you live in Him! Even in this time of Lent, when we consider soberly what it cost Jesus to redeem us, let us also praise God and give Him glory for the love and grace He lavished on us in His Son, that we might be saved.

It would be wrong of me to conclude without saying something about the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in Japan day before yesterday. You may have seen video footage of the seaside towns being overwhelmed by that raging black wave, that took boats, buildings, vehicles, and people before it. I watched these videos on the Internet, and it was agonizing to see doom flooding in to overtake these poor victims.

But equally chilling and horrifying was reading the comments many people were leaving on these clips. People were making racist jokes. Others were self-righteously opining that the Japanese "deserved" this because they still have a whaling industry. Still others, worst of all, were using this disaster as an excuse to blaspheme God and insult His faithful people.

Are the Japanese worse sinners than any others, that this tsunami overtook them? Were the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, worse than any, or the inhabitants of Chile, or Haiti, or Chicago in this winter's snowstorms, or anyone to whom natural disaster occurs? No, not at all. We are all equally guilty before our holy God. And by some cause or another, physical death will come to all of us someday, and for some of us, as for the people on the coast of Japan, death may come suddenly and soon.

When it does, may we be found in Christ, that we may eternally share every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. May we already be at home with God, as Jesus promises in John's gospel, because by His grace Jesus has made His home in us. But if we refuse to be in Christ, if in our pride and wickedness we insist on remaining outside of Him, there remains no hope for us, only everlasting destruction.

‘In' is such a little word, but it holds a world of meaning when the One we are in is Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen King of heaven and earth. To be outside Him is death and disaster; to be in Him means communion with God and life and blessing forever more. Amen.

No comments: