Not the Usual Picture of Jesus

When I think of Jesus, the words that first come into my head are words like this: Savior, Lord, love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, help in time of need. And I find great comfort and peace in thinking about Jesus this way.

So when I read John’s description of Jesus in Revelation chapter 19, it’s a little shocking to think of words like this: king, judge, warrior, ruler, powerful, truth, justice, punishment. Frankly, I feel frightened and discomforted when I think of Jesus in these terms.

And it makes me want to ask, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?

Am I right to be comforted by thoughts of Jesus? Or should I be frightened by him… frightened of him?

The answer, as we’ve seen so many times in the Bible, is that Jesus is “both/and.” And perhaps I’m going against the grain here, but I’m going to argue that “both/and” is not only who Jesus is, it’s also exactly who we would want him to be.

When I’m seriously wronged, treated unjustly, or injured by the selfish, greedy, arrogant, envious acts of others, I want to know that there’s justice in the universe. I long to know that there is someone “officiating” this game called life, someone who is interested in fairness and rightness.

If you don’t like the sound of this — of a Jesus like this — it may just mean that you haven’t yet been truly, deeply, seriously wronged in life.

Then again, when I’m the wrongdoer (which I all too frequently am), and I feel guilty and ashamed of the hurts I’ve caused God and others in my life, I want nothing more than mercy and forgiveness. I want to know I’m loved unconditionally, and will be shown grace by a Savior who doesn’t demand that I earn his love with my goodness.

The following picture of our Lord’s anger at the sin and rebellion he sees in his world is without question a frightening — even terrifying — picture of him. But, as John says here, this is the Savior who is Faithful and True.

And this means that Jesus is also faithful to his promises to forgive your sins and love you. And he remained true to you all the way to the cross, where he bled and died for you. He remained faithful and true to you all the way to the empty tomb, where he rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, constantly interceding for you in love.

Let this picture of Jesus — this image of his faithful and true grace — be the picture and the image that lingers in our hearts, even as we acknowledge the truth of (and the need for) the picture John gives us here of a Jesus who fights back against sin and injustice.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 28, is Nehemiah 9:1-37, Revelation 19:11-21 and Psalm 148:7-14.

Lord, I know that I deserve your justice, your anger and your punishment. I am sinful, and I have far too often rebelled against you. Thank you for remaining faithful in your love and forgiveness toward me. Please be gracious to me and give me what I do not deserve. Give me instead what you have earned for me through your perfect life and innocent death.

Header image based on "Jesus Christ Wallpaper" by spurgeon1888, CC By 2.0

Law and Gospel

Early in Paul’s letter to the Romans, we have the beautiful basics of Christian teaching — law and gospel.

God’s law teaches us what to do and not to do. Initially, this can be deceptive because it makes us feel good to know precisely what God expects of us.

But ultimately the law fills us with a sense of foreboding, as we try to obey God and do what he tells us to do. As we live our lives, constantly striving to fulfill all the law and keep all the rules, we eventually run out of steam. All the “Do’s” and “Do Not’s” wear us out. We hit a wall. We discover that we can’t meet God’s expectations. No matter how hard we try, we fall short.

In the end, God’s law makes us conscious of our sinfulness and our shortcomings. But it doesn’t show us the way to fulfill the whole law or restore our broken relationship with God.

Enter the gospel. The gospel points us in a completely different direction. It points us away from ourselves to Jesus Christ. It instructs us in all that God has already done for us by sending his son, Jesus. The gospel takes away the “To-do list” and replaces it with a “Done!” list.

The gospel makes us aware of God’s plan to save us. It shows us the immensity of God’s love and mercy. It points us to the perfect sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. It points us to the hope that the empty tomb holds for us. It tells us that while we can’t meet God’s expectations, Jesus can and did.

When Jesus walks into our lives, he simplifies everything. He will be our substitute. He will earn — and then give to us — the perfect righteousness that God demands from us. We can cease all the striving. We can simply rest in Jesus’ grace and mercy.

In this way, God never gives up even a single ounce of this righteousness. Nor does he ever give up a single ounce of this grace. It’s a perfect “win-win!”

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:20-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 16, is Amos 3:1 – 4:13, Romans 3:9-31, Psalm 85:8-13.

Lord, thank you that you have given me your Son, Jesus Christ, to be my Savior. Thanks for the free gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. Send me your Spirit so that I may cling to Jesus in faith and live in him forever!

Header image based on "Jesus in a Jar" by SurFeRGiRL30, CC By 2.0