JESUS: The Great Unknown

Wim Malgo (1922-1992)

Even in the Christian world, our Lord Jesus Christ is still the Great Unknown.

The disciples often reacted with a lack of understanding of the Lord, His purposes, and His ways. Jesus once even asked, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (John 14:9). We also see this lack of comprehension among Jesus’ disciples today.

Even Israel didn’t understand the Lord when He walked the earth. “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt 16:13-17).

This was said by the same Peter who, later on that fateful and distressing night, responded with curses and swearing to the question of whether he also belonged to Jesus: “I know not this man of whom ye speak” (Mark 14:71). Peter knew the Lord, but inwardly he didn’t really know Him. Otherwise he would never have denied Him.

We too can deny His person, by our attitude toward the Lord when we show a lack of understanding about His ways. But since Jesus Christ is the beloved Son of God, He is also the revelation of the love of God Himself, because God is love. Therefore, the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His love is of utmost importance in the life of a believer, because eternity will be insufficient to grow thoroughly in this realization. Paul prayed about this, that we would “be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19).

Yet, so few believers are filled to the whole fullness of God, because they don’t grow in the knowledge of the love of Christ. True discipleship consists of growth in the realization of His love. Discipleship is self-denial.

The more I deny myself and affirm the person of Jesus Christ, the more I realize, with growing astonishment, who, what, and how He is. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Our Lord tells us, “If you want to be my disciple, then give me your right to yourself.” If we carry out this surrender, then we no longer need to nurture self-conceit or worry about our circumstances, because Jesus is completely sufficient. He satisfies us more and more!

Anyone who recognizes Him more and more deeply is, in fact, willing to deny himself. The ones who don’t recognize Him don’t have self-denial in mind.

Many believers ask themselves, “How can I be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ while still remaining in the world?” But the one who truly knows and recognizes Jesus asks, “How far can I get from the world, in order to serve Him better?” It’s a matter of perspective. Those who know Him burn for Him. They are dominated by a passion: “How can I serve my Savior better?” They follow Jesus!

No one should imagine that he can follow Jesus with reservations and restrictions. To those who were enthusiastic about Him, our Lord said soberly, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). He told people to count the cost. In doing so, He used the image of one who builds: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” (verse 28). He also referred to the image of war: “Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?” (verse 31).

Does our Lord Jesus want to discourage us by saying this? No. That’s encouraging! It proves that Jesus Christ has something to give that is on a very different level from what entangles our thinking. It is glorious to go with Him, especially when we consider the whole cost of discipleship. Our Lord Jesus is so different from us. He is incomparable. He breaks every human scale. An unknown author once wrote under the title, “Jesus, You Are Different!” (from pp. 52-54 of Why It Pays to Be a Christian by Norbert Lieth):

You stood beside the woman caught in adultery,
When all others kept their distance.
You visited the publican [tax collector],
When all others were indignant.
You called the children to Yourself,
When all others wanted to send them away.
You forgave Peter,
When he condemned himself.
You praised the widow with her mite,
When nobody else noticed her.
You put the devil to flight,
When all others were deceived by him.
You promised the kingdom of heaven to the thief
on the cross,
When all others told him to go to hell.
You called Paul to follow you,
When all others feared him as a persecutor.
You fled fame,
When they all wanted to make You king.
You loved the poor,
When all others sought after riches.
You healed the sick,
When they were given up [on] by others.
You were silent,
When they accused You, Mocked You and
flogged You.
You died on the cross,
When they celebrated the Passover.
You took the blame upon Yourself,
When they washed their hands in innocence.
You rose from the dead,
When they thought it was all over.
Jesus, I thank You that You are!

Oh, if only we were to come more to the knowledge of the truth! The truth is a person, Jesus Christ. And the truth is so different from what we think. Because, beloved, we still expect all sorts of tribulations. “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22b). Our attitude toward tribulations is therefore crucial. We must learn from Jesus here.

Let us remember the disciples at Emmaus. They were filled with sadness and shocked at the terrible tribulation that had befallen their master. He had died. But then the risen Lord Jesus joined these sad disciples, and He explained His tribulation with the words, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26).

We’re unable to see and grasp the connections between tribulations and glory. But Jesus saw it! He knew that He would be crucified and reconcile the world to God. He knew about His terrible suffering. But He looked beyond. Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2).

Oh, Jesus is so different from us! He behaved so differently in suffering and tribulation. Just when He suffered the most, He was nearest to His victorious glory in resurrection. Whoever grasps this confesses with Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress? ...Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom 8:35, 37). We are united with Christ in our tribulations (Rom 8:17).

God leads us through the heat of affliction, so that our faith is tempered, strengthened and proven, like pure gold in the fire. For our Lord is “a strength to the needy in his distress” (Isa 25:4). Because He reveals Himself in tribulation, He is creating a holy impulse in our hearts that we would otherwise lack. “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them” (Isa 26:16). In the furnace of tribulation, all spiritual inertia is burned away. Then we are not so different from Jesus; then we become more like Him.

It is precisely these things—tribulation, fear, seemingly unheard prayers, which are then answered—that awaken a higher joy in us. These are not things we have to fight against; through Him we are more than conquerors in all these things. Not in spite of them, but in the midst of them. Paul wrote this truth so wonderfully, so gloriously, when he says, “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation” (2 Cor 7:4b).

Our unshakeable joy is not founded on something transient, but on the unwavering, imperishable love of God. Our life experiences, whether they be terrible or perhaps monotonous, have no power to attack the love of God in Jesus Christ. On the contrary, they cause that wonderful love to be poured out in us, and His glory to be planted in us; for the love of God is the essence of God.

Oh, if we would only grasp the mystery of our affliction today; for, according to Romans 5:2-5, afflictions open our eyes to a wonderful cycle: “[Christ] by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

Even in our tribulation, we move forward step by step, in the midst of the wretchedness and poverty of existence, “in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses” (2 Cor 6:4); also in disappointments, and when we no longer understand our Lord.

Ultimately, every believer must share in what Jesus became. He, God Himself, became man. The essence of this incarnation was His abandonment, the emptying of Himself, of His glory. And that must also be carried in our flesh and blood as reality. Christ is to take shape in us.

What is most in the balance on our long journey for the Lord is faithfulness; that is, faithful, persevering devotion in the midst of the unseen. Our spiritual life can only remain intact by looking to Jesus. Believers are destined for great things, but the way to get through tribulations is often through the valley, and that means struggle. Basically, the struggle of faith is the assertion of the victory of Jesus in the midst of tribulation. That’s why the Lord said, “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19).

In many ways, Jesus Christ is still the Great Unknown to us, as He is so different from us. But so that we may become like Him, He leads us through tribulation, through suffering to glory, as the apostle Paul says: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:17-18).

Midnight Call - 05/2019

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