“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
“Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’
“Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 9:20-22)
Before you box up all the ornaments and—no matter how careful you are—leave a trail of pine needles from the living room to the back door, there is one last word about Christmas that bears repeating: They all came to Jesus. The shepherds. the Magi (traditionally, wise men), Simeon, Anna.
Yeah, well, the tree’s blocking the back door, so if you’ll excuse me . . .
This occurred to me while commenting on another blog, specifically to suggest to someone who had sampled all varieties of spirituality to read the New Testament narrative with an open mind, “unfiltered.” Leave all the “spiritual principles,” traditions of men, church indoctrination and armchair theologizing at the door and just read it as if for the first time. Then ask yourself where some of what you associate with Christianity comes from.
For example, is it something that Jesus taught or did? A plausible misinterpretation that became gospel? A popular notion that has endured simply because it’s popular?
But back to the manger. Plenty of birthplaces have been memorialized after the passing of someone notable because of what they did and said. But that’s after a lifetime of achievements, not before they can even walk or talk. And not some rude, makeshift space shared with animals.
He may have been just a newborn, but they came to him because of who he was. He was “born King of the Jews” (Mt 2:2) according to the Magi from the East, who probably came to Bethlehem because of their belief in the astrological significance of the star they saw. It was “his star,” they said, and they emphasized they came “to worship him.” A child born to parents of modest or no means. Strange if you think about it.
Strange like Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, who was selected when he was just shy of three years old. The movie The Last Emperor opens with the contrast between a playful child—hiding behind the palace columns when the formidable Dowager Empress calls him forward, standing in his bath and kicking water on the servants—and the deference everyone shows him.
Enticed by a billowing yellow curtain at the palace door, the tiny Emperor wanders out and looks down on the courtyard where scores of servants are aligned row after row in precise formation. When they see him, despite his toddler form, they bow in unison like a field of wheat bending in the breeze.
It all looks so strange to the eyes of a 21st-century Westerner, but if you had asked any one of those servants in the courtyard, they would have replied, “Of course we bow to him. He is the Emperor.”
I’ve never been able to shed my discomfort with the phrase come to Jesus. Maybe I watched Burt Lancaster as Elmer Gantry one too many times. Or it sounds like an invitation to bypass your rational mind and just surrender to your volatile emotions.
But it conveys a simple, vital truth that easily gets obscured. Someone can come to Jesus for who they think he is rather than who he really is, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As he told his disciples when he commissioned them to make disciples, ”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18).
The rich young man (Mk 10:17-31) addressed him as “Good teacher,” still a popular view of Jesus. It’s hard to deny he was loving, compassionate and wise in the way he lived and taught.
But he isn’t just a good teacher, as this rich man learned. He required that this man have no other gods before him. And then he can come and be his disciple. And all this was his answer to the man’s apparently sincere question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Ananias and Sapphira thought that with Jesus they could have the best of both worlds: doing good by contributing to the needs of the saints but fudging the appearance of righteousness like the Pharisees did.
“Everything they do is done for people to see” (Mt 23:5), Jesus had declared at the end of his earthly ministry. How could this couple have missed the bright red line Jesus laid down? Yet they were wrong. Dead wrong.
Simon, the man who had built an enthusiastic following practicing sorcery in Samaria, believed and was baptized through Philip’s ministry. But “when Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’
“But Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God’” (Acts 8:18-21).
Coming to Jesus isn’t about power or building a following or profiting from it. If you think it is, as Simon did, you’ve believed in another gospel.
And there is the elaborate, often legalistically driven, courtship that is “finding the right church.” It’s like buying a car or a house. Or is it?
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (Jn 1:12-13).
You were born into the family of God no less than you were born to parents and shared a home with siblings who were also born to those parents. It is not a “human decision.” Your family will bring you great joy. They will share in your triumphs and sorrows. And they will disappoint you, even turn their backs on you. It is the same with the family of God.
But Jesus is not unaware of your disappointments, nor is he unable to empathize.
“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:17-18).
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (Jn 1:11). “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isa 53:3).
After the Transfiguration, a man called out to Jesus to heal his possessed son. “I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not,” he told him (Lk 9:37-43).
There are times when his disciples cannot or will not do what you’re crying out for. The church, the body of Christ, will let you down. They won’t have the answers. They’ll give you a blank look because they don’t understand.
It’s not just semantics to say that you must come to Jesus under those circumstances. He is your Redeemer, not his church.
David wrote, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” And this, to be sung in the house of God, but directed at God himself and no other:
“One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.” (Ps 27:4, 10)