Yes, we have many troubles in this old fallen world and in our various families and individual lives. And, yes, there a lot of things we need right now such as wiping the terrible COVID-19 virus off the face of the planet; healing from the ravages of disease and of our damaged emotions; economic stability to make ends meet; and, solutions to the awful human ailments and conditions that beset the world. We need relief, guidance, and wisdom.
So, I declare with conviction that out of all the great needs which surround us, the greatest need is for Jesus. I do not just need his teaching. I do not just need Christ’s instruction. I do not only need to imitate his model of loving service. I need Jesus himself!
Jesus was speaking with his disciples in the Upper Room on the night before his crucifixion. He told them he was leaving (dying) and that it must be this way. The disciples were understandably troubled. Thomas was worried about what was going to happen and how he and the others were going to deal with an uncertain future. (John 14:1-14)
I will tell you how millions of people have dealt with their past difficulties, their present troubles and their worries about the future: Jesus.
Jesus is the Way
Jesus is the way to deal with our current concerns and anticipated anxieties. He himself is the way. The way is not through a program of self-improvement. The way is not through a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach. The way is not through an ability to articulate well-crafted words or through being able to answer with certainty every question of faith. The way is not through finding just the right plan or system.
Jesus is our way – he is the way of rescue, the road to a life of harmonious peace and settled rest even when the world is going to hell around us, as well as the connection with God. To trust Jesus is to give up the personal delusion of control and to walk with him on his terms.
Jesus is the way for the church everywhere – fellowship, encouragement, acts of loving service, teaching, and strengthening of faith all center around Jesus because he is love incarnate.
Jesus is the way for the world – serving neighbors and nations, advocating for those who are mistreated and victims of injustice, tackling the dozens of world problems which oppress humanity come through the continuing presence of Jesus here on this earth (the Holy Spirit indwelling God’s people).
Jesus is the Truth
Jesus does not only speak truth; he is truth incarnate. Truth is more than abstract ideas and personal perspectives. What is true about God has its ultimate expression and demonstration in the person of Jesus.
“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth… God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24, NIV)
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV)
To see the face of Jesus is to see the reality of Truth. God’s character and attributes expressed through creating, loving, sustaining, healing, and providing all have their highest expression in Jesus.
Jesus is our truth. When troubles abound, Jesus is the ballast of truth we can rely upon, the rock of our salvation, and the anchor of our soul.
Jesus is the truth in the church. All teaching, mentoring, and instruction points to the person and work of Jesus. Guidance and direction, whether in marriage, family, work, school, relationships or interpersonal communication flows from Jesus. To merely dispense homespun advice falls short if there is no Jesus.
“Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)
Jesus is the truth for the world. Proclaiming Jesus is more than mere words; it is an embodying of truth. At the beginning of his earthly ministry:
Jesus “went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written [Isaiah 61:1-2] “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach [to embody] good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-19, NIV)
Followers of Jesus embody him, the Truth, through looking for ways to be Jesus to the lost, the least, and the lonely in acts of basic human compassion and advocating for their social justice.
Jesus is the Life
“Life” and “death” in Scripture are relational terms, not just physical references. When Adam and Eve fell into disobedience, they spiritually died without being physically dead. They originally enjoyed the connection of life with God; then, after the Fall, experienced a separation from God by being cast out of the Garden.
Jesus is our life. He is the person in whom Christians have their identity. Instead of connecting myself to a narrowly expected outcome, I tether myself to Jesus because he is my connection, my life.
Jesus is the life of the church. Christians experience life as their prayers and their praise are directed toward Jesus as both the subject and the object of worship.
Jesus is the life of the world. The good news of Christ’s redemptive events of incarnation, earthly ministry of teaching and healing, death, resurrection, ascension and glorification is good news for everyone. There is forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the hell of separation through Jesus.
Our problems, concerns, and troubles on this earth are not be sufficiently addressed by simply acknowledging Jesus and his teaching. I need Jesus himself. For he has the power to give life.
“Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, CEB)
“I need Jesus!” is my affirmation and my declaration, my proclamation and my preaching. I need Jesus as the way to live my life instead of trusting in my own power and ability. Jesus is the truth I choose to bank my life upon. Jesus is the life graciously given for which I can say with boldness that I belong to God.
Jesus is the midpoint of history to which all events point; the center of my life upon which all my devotion is directed; and, the subject and object of Holy Scripture:
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is the King of Kings with authority to back it up.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is both the Servant of humanity and all of creation’s Authority.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is the Son of Man who relates to us and is attentive to humanity.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Word become flesh, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, and the Light of the World.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus is the risen and ascended Lord who will come again.
In Romans, Jesus secures our union with God and justifies us according to his mercy and grace.
In 1 Corinthians, Jesus is the Wisdom and Power of God, despite the foolishness of the cross.
In 2 Corinthians, Jesus is the One who has brought forgiveness and reconciliation to the world.
In the book of Galatians, Jesus is our Substitute for sin.
In Ephesians, Jesus is the One who has subdued all the dark forces of this world.
In Philippians, Jesus humbled himself and submitted to death on a cross for our deliverance.
In Colossians, Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
In the First letter to the Thessalonians, the coming of Jesus is near and will soon be here!
In the Second letter to the Thessalonians, we are partakers in God’s glory through Jesus.
In the book of First Timothy, Jesus saves sinners of whom I am chief.
In Second Timothy, Jesus is the Righteous One who will come to Judge the living and the dead.
In Titus, Jesus is the Redeemer, snatching us from the realm of wickedness and godlessness.
In the little book of Philemon, every good thing we have comes from Jesus.
In Hebrews, Jesus is our faithful High Priest, the Pioneer of our salvation and our Champion.
In James, Jesus is the Wise Teacher.
In First Peter, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
In Second Peter, Jesus is the Divine Power that allows me to live a godly life.
In the Epistles of John, the God of Love is Jesus, who demonstrated love through the cross.
In Jude, it is Jesus who keeps us from falling and presents us faultless before God.
Finally, in Revelation, Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
I need Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man; the Lord and Judge of all, the Redeemer and Savior of humanity, my Healer and my Friend. It’s all about him.
A tractor is an engineering vehicle specifically designed to deliver at a high tractive effort (torque) at slow speeds for the purposes of hauling mechanized implements used in agriculture. The word “tractor” comes from a Latin word, trahere, which means “to pull.” Tractors, like people, come in all sizes, shapes, and colors – exuding both resilience and strength in their existence.
The Bates Steel Mule tractor was one of the most unique and oddest-looking farm machines ever built. First built in 1913, it was like a cross between a steam boiler, a garden tractor and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Bates Machine Company had the following advertisement for their Steel Mule tractor: “The only machine in the world which you can hitch up to any horse-drawn implement you now have and operate it from the same position you would your horses.” In other words, you could operate the tractor by sitting in the implement seat, not the tractor seat. The Steel Mule survived until they became one of the many victims of the Great Depression in 1937.
My grandfather (whom I never knew – he died when I was a year old) owned and operated a Steel Mule tractor (not the particular model shown above). There was once a picture of him in the local paper using his tractor (I have it packed away somewhere and am still looking for it). Grandpa was known for being the guy who would try new things and buy unique machinery – all in the quest for better farming methods.
The Steel Mule seems to represent my current state of ministry. Like Grandpa, I have a drive and a desire for improving my pastoral craft. I am open to trying new things and entering into a new way of being with the hospital patients I serve as a chaplain, as well as my peers, other staff, and really everyone I encounter throughout a day. Yet, at the same time, I stubbornly hold to the past – sitting on the implement and not quite ready to fully embrace the new era of machinery instead of horses. Which brings me to the whole point of this circuitous rambling of Tim’s Tractor Time: What holds me back? And, in so asking this question of myself, I also as it of you: What holds you back?
Yes, what does hold you and I back from taking the initiative to be vulnerable and open with our lives, instead of fearful, anxious, and hesitant? What holds us back from collaborating with others? Consulting before acting? Consulting after acting? Divulging our emotions and not just our thoughts? Speaking without always measuring and analyzing each word before we say it (or write it)? As a seasoned minister, I can plow deep furrows with my Steel Mule into others’ lives – so, why not let others do the same in my field? What is it I’m really pulling in that field?
Perhaps it is fear. When Charlie Brown came to Lucy for a bit of practical psychosocial help, Lucy spouted a litany of various fears which she wondered Charlie Brown might possess. Finally, she expressed that maybe he has “pantophobia.” “What is ‘pantophobia’?” Charlie Brown asks. Lucy responds, “The fear of everything.” To which Charlie Brown demonstratively pronounces, “That’s it!”
Could be. Could also be anger. After all, anger often lurks in the shadows our hearts with a combination of it getting expressed in an unhealthy way or becoming twisted into depression. There’s plenty of anger under the surface of the topsoil ready to get turned over and exposed. Too much of it turned inward. Certainly, it needs some plowing and cultivating, that is, processing outwardly with others… maybe… if we’re brave enough.
Then there’s this thing called liminal space – the space in-between where we can’t go back to the way things were ever again, yet, we aren’t quite where we want/need to be. It’s awkward being caught in the nexus between the past and the future. Does this hold us back? Or maybe it’s the fear of imperfection, of not doing something with utmost excellence? Are we apprehensive about opening up because we don’t understand ourselves fully, so, therefore, I won’t (like a stubborn old Steel Mule) utter half-baked ideas or fragments of thoughts or, God forbid, emotional musings? Like the Steel Mule, perhaps we are crossing over into a new era with the past very much there with it.
So, perhaps the greater question is: What are you and I really feeling, in this moment? Figures it would take me all this thinking type verbiage to get to the emotional universe of feelings. If we’re honest, we all are a diverse jumble of emotions – presently feeling overwhelmed; sad; happy; angry; hopeful; confident; scared; hungry; tired…. Oh, well, let’s just say we’re feeling everything.
Like the interlocutor in the book of Ecclesiastes, the conclusion of the matter is this: “Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is whole duty of everyone.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). I hold back because of me. You are hesitant because of you. Nobody is twisting my arm. That old enemy of our souls, the Adversary, would like nothing more than to keep us feeling weak and insecure so that he can keep us under his evil thumb.
No one is forcing you to use the Steel Mule tractor. Quite the opposite. In truth, there is nothing holding us back. Nothing is stopping us from pulling our emotions out and discovering new ways to express them with confidence in healthy redemptive ways. Nothing outside of our power to act is preventing us from the courage to do what we already know deep in our hearts we need to do…. Nothing. So, then, I’ll look for you in the next tractor advertisement doing your unique, wonderful, and amazing work which comes from the depths of your love for God and others.
Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman; when he died, he left no children. The second married her and died without leaving any children. The third did the same. None of the seven left any children. Finally, the woman died. At the resurrection, when they all rise up, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.”
Jesus said to them, “Isn’t this the reason you are wrong, because you don’t know either the scriptures or God’s power? When people rise from the dead, they won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like God’s angels. As for the resurrection from the dead, haven’t you read in the scroll from Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God said to Moses, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. You are seriously mistaken.”
Okay, let’s just dive right in with the observational lessons:
Don’t be a dip-wad and try and trip up Jesus with philosophically ethereal questions
If you like being rebuked by Jesus as being ignorant, mistaken, and wrong, just try and be in control of how a conversation with him ought to go
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus are all alive – Sadducees, not so much
Jesus will take the time to listen to you close enough to give you feedback – and maybe the kind you weren’t looking for
What we get hung up on, Jesus doesn’t – and what Jesus sticks on, we act like Teflon about
Do you really want me to keep going….?
To deny resurrection is to deny Jesus. He died. He’s now alive. Hence, there is a resurrection. More than that, because Christ lives, others live. This is the Christian’s hope. I fully understand that plenty of people don’t believe in resurrection. Fine. I would simply point such a person no further than their own mind and heart. “Search your feelings,” as the Jedi would say, “What do they tell you?” The evidence you need, you already have.
And this was the penultimate lesson of Jesus to the inquisitive Sadducees. They already had the answer to their question for Jesus. It was right under their noses the entire time. They just didn’t see it.
You already have everything you need for life and godliness in this present evil age. One of the great sages of the last century, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, wisely said:
“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
Resurrection has always been there because God has always been around – even when we don’t see him, perceive him, or acknowledge him. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to procrastinate the inevitable end of life scenario that awaits us all. Anytime is the right time to do a bit of personal funeral planning. But if we mire it all with the esoteric hypothetical questions about what would happen in the most far-fetched of scenarios, methinks God is big and smart enough to see through our puny charade.
Better to ponder what is truly within your own soul, and how Jesus might already be present without you even knowing it. A good place to start in peering within is to give a straightforward honest reading of the New Testament Gospels and discover what resonates deeply with you about the person and work of Jesus.
Feel free to question him about anything you want; just brace yourself for what kind of answer you might receive.