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

Four Causes of Salvation

When we look at the Bible, we can see that it uses “both-and” language in describing the spread of Christ’s kingdom.

On the one hand, the grace of God deserves the credit for people coming to faith and the kingdom growing. The faithful and undeserved love of God causes him to see our guilt and misery. And it causes him also to freely forgive us of all of our sins because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross. This is the key to our salvation.

Theologians call this the “impulsive cause” of salvation.

But if you look at the Bible closely, you’ll also find that it’s people who bring God’s grace to those who need to hear it. In today’s reading, for example, we read of Barnabas sharing the gospel with the people of Antioch. And it’s clear that he played a role in the salvation of the people of Antioch. He was Christ’s agent and ambassador to carry the message of grace to this city.

Bible scholars call this the “ministerial cause” of salvation.

But did you know that when the Bible talks about the salvation of souls, it’s actually a “both-and-and-and” situation?

For instance, there’s the gospel in word and sacraments, which is also credited with leading us to salvation. This is the powerful tool that ministers are given to use to spread the kingdom. God the Holy Spirit creates faith and gathers the church through the gospel.

This is known as the “instrumental cause” of salvation.

And finally, there is the root, the very heart of our salvation: God. Everything originates with him — with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Without God, there is no grace, no minister to share the gospel, no Bible, no baptism, no Lord’s Supper.

Because of this, God is the “principal cause” of our salvation.

Count them. Four “causes” of salvation. Both-and-and-and. But is this just theological hairsplitting? Or is there a very practical and very necessary aspect to understanding the four causes of our salvation?

In short, the answer to that question is, “Yes!” Because once we know the cause, we can use the cause to produce the effect. In other words, if you want faith, if you want to help the kingdom grow in others, if you hope for salvation, now you know exactly where to go!

Go to God. Go to his grace and mercy, his steady and unfailing love and forgiveness. Go to the gospel in word and sacrament. Go to the people who want to share these with you. And be one of the people who wants to share them with others.

Clearly, Barnabas had a good handle on this, and that’s exactly what he did:

“News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:22-24, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 17, is 1 Kings 2:13 – 3:15, Acts 11:19 – 12:19 and Proverbs 15:1-10.

Lord, help me to be your agent in the world to share the gospel with others, pointing them to you, and to your amazing grace.

Header image based on "Antioch" by FotoGuy 49057, CC By 2.0