The 6th one
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
This next part of my thoughts on the House of God calls to us at a deep place of our lives. I want to kick off by looking at two well-known scriptures that I have already quoted before: And this truth of who I am will be the bedrock foundation on which I will build my church—my legislative assembly, and the power of death will not be able to overpower it!
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ……the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
At the risk of being boring, I again want to emphasise that Jesus is the master builder of His Father’s house. We are the living stones who are being called upon to present ourselves as such to Him in order to be built up into this house and at the same time we are also co-labourers with Him in the process. Because He is the chief cornerstone or the one who, in Himself, is the divine architectural blueprint for its structure, the house can only be built according to His example and life.
The challenge to us is profound
If we want to present ourselves as living stones to the Trinity in order to be built up, onto the Chief Cornerstone, we have to face the reality that our identification with Jesus and our intimacy with Him will know no bounds.
There was a noteworthy incident recorded in John’s gospel after Jesus had multiplied the bread and fish that fed 5000 men. The people who ate of the miraculous food sought Him the next day, wanting a repeat of the previous performance. Jesus told them that they must not only seek the bread that perishes, but the bread of life which He is. He concluded His sharing by saying that they should eat His flesh and drink His blood, or put differently, they should intimately partake of and be sustained by His life. Their response was that this word was too hard for them and they left Him. He then turned to the disciples and asked them if they also wanted to leave. He was actually saying something like, Guys this is the way things are, there is no other way. If you, as the ones whom My Father has added to me, are not willing to accept this as a fundamental truth about following me, you will also have to leave.
It is not the kind of message that draws the crowds.
Living in a way that is sustained by His indwelling life is a journey, actually a pilgrimage out of our captivity to self as well as within a system that is geared for, propagating and empowering self-determination. The journey has a definite starting point, but it is one where the final destination is God. We therefore don’t arrive at ultimates in this lifetime, we continue to arrive. It is a patient and daily surrender to the Trinity, with whom we are united and who is united with us.
In the foreword to my book, A Surrendered Life, my friend Stephan Vosloo wrote the following: The journey will take you through green pastures, along still waters, into the valley of the shadow of death and through it to the other side, where you will realise that mercy and grace have been in pursuit of your life all the time. On the road, through every circumstance, God promises you that you will get to know Him, come closer to Him, learn how much He loves you and how His love can flow through you so abundantly that laying down your life will be a joy……Who we become when we realise that we are already one with the Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit, is who we are really called to be. As we participate in the eternal dance of love, something supernatural happens. The brokenness of this life pales in comparison to His glory and ceases to have the power to steal our hope.
The importance of being on a quest of knowing God as opposed to knowing about Him
We know that all things, nothing excluded, originate in God and stem from Him. We also know that these same all things are to be processed and lived through Him to ultimately be consummated in Him. In philosophising about the seeming vanity of life, Solomon said the following in the book of Ecclesiastes: Then shall the dust [of which God made man’s body] return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it. He is the circle of all existence.
If this is true, then I think it is a wise thing to be on a quest to prioritise finding out who this God is. Getting to know Him as opposed to knowing about Him will be a clever move. When we do so we will have to be willing to face the truth of a statement made by Voltaire when he said, In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to return the favour ever since.
One only has to consider the fact that there seems to be as many versions of God as there are people to realise that Voltaire was not that far off the mark. It is something that seems to be true even amongst Christians where God is often portrayed in quite a variety of ways. John Wesley for instance said that the Calvinist system makes it difficult for him to tell the difference between God and the devil. He in fact said that it was worse than the devil and is blasphemous.
So, who is He?
The beauty is of course that He wants to make Himself known to us and as Paul said in writing to the church at Philippi about this topic, So let all who are fully mature have this same passion, and if anyone is not yet gripped by these desires, God will reveal it to them. He also acknowledged that this is a journey. He says the following from the same portion of his Philippian letter: Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
The self-emptying or kenotic nature of God
The only starting place on this pilgrimage of discovery and progressive surrender that makes sense to me is to look at Emmanuel, the Trinity with us in Christ or the incarnation of Jesus.
To look at Jesus is to look at the fulness of who God is. There are so many scripture verses in the Gospels as well as in Paul’s epistles that attest to this that I am not going to quote all of them. The fact is that God is like Jesus, He is God’s communication or Word to us that reveals who the Father is through the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one and faithful witness as to how God is to be understood. J B Torrance says The heart of the New Testament is the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, or put differently, the Trinity in action.
Let us then begin by looking at some aspects of the incarnation of Jesus.
In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul made the following statement: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
The Greek word that is translated as making Himself of no reputation is kenoo or kenosis. Its meaning is to empty or to make empty. My purpose here is not to discuss whether in the process of becoming human Jesus gave up His divine attributes. I simply want to take a bit of time to consider the heart of the Trinity that led to Him emptying Himself.
I want to quote Brad Jersak here:
What if Jesus’ humility, meekness and servant heart were never a departure from God’s glory and power, but actually define it and demonstrate it? Take your time – read that sentence again. What if kenosis – self-emptying power, self-giving love and radical servanthood – expresses the very nature of God? What if God does rule and reign, not through imperial power but through kenotic love?..... Wherever God, wherever Christ, wherever we risk emptying ourselves of self-will and self-rule to make space for the other, that is where the supernatural kingdom-love of God rules and reigns. Thus kenosis, which is to say love (!), is the heart of who God is. Not lording over, but always coming under, not triumphing through conquest, but through the cross. God’s being and God’s power are his kenotic love.
When one looks at some other realities you realise that this statement of Brad is absolutely correct. Kenosis does reflect the heart of the Trinity, who They are in Their nature and essence. They just give and give and in the process empower to the nth degree.
Even creation testifies of this. When one looks at some of the photographs of outer space you can only marvel at the magnificence of God’s creation and wonder why He was so spectacular when, for millennia, there was no way that anyone could see it. It is only now with the advent of powerful telescopic cameras that we can get a glimpse of it. The only answer is because that is just who He is. He makes things with such exuberance simply as a reflection of His generous creativity.
There is a scripture in the book of Job that has always intrigued me in this regard. In trying to enlighten Job and give him a perspective on all the questions that he had, He said the following:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
What a picture of ecstasy!
As I have said in a previous blog, His act of creation is still in progress. When He said let there be light, light came into being. One of the scientific facts about light is that it travels at 300000 kilometers per second. It does not stop, even as I am writing this our universe is enlarging at that rate. Wow!
I another act of kenosis He hands over the responsibility and privilege of taking care of the earth and all that is in it to man. He just gives it. At the same time, He gives man the ability of free choice knowing, because of His omniscience, that we would choose for independence from Him. Yet He still hands it over and in His eternal counsels He takes kenotic love a step further by setting everything in place to enter into our humanity, embrace it and save us from our self-created mess.
All of the above is a small snapshot from my limited view of the srlf-giving nature of Trinity. It is a massive expansion of beginning to understand the Three-in-One that desires to have a house in and amongst us, calling us to be living stones to be built into this eternal dwelling place.
I will share more of my thoughts about this self-emptying heart of God that was manisfested in such a definitive way through the incarnation of Jesus in the next blog.