Heralds of the King
- Thursday, July 23, 2009
Similarly, John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, Jesus' closest disciples, are the only four people in the New Testament to sensibly experience the Trinity. John the Baptist encounters each person of the Trinity at the baptism of Jesus. He sees the Son standing before him and beholds the descending dove, the theophanic appearance of the Holy Spirit, as he hears the Father's voice: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Then, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John likewise experience the Trinity. The Old Testament manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the shekinah glory-cloud, the pillar of fire and smoke, encompasses Jesus, the Son, who stands before them. And the Father speaks once again, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" Note that each of these men—John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John—would face their utter weakness and poverty as they were all horribly persecuted for their faith and (with the exception of John the Apostle) eventually martyred.
Think of it! John the Baptist would have his head removed for the maniacal pleasure of Herod. Understandably, John the Baptist would send to Jesus from his prison cell the question, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Luke 7:20). Surely his weakness loomed before him as he sent messengers to put such an inquiry before the Son of God!
James would be the first apostle to lay down his life for Jesus (Acts 12:2). History and legend admittedly combine, but it seems verified that later Peter was horribly martyred under Nero's reign. All three of the apostles closest to Jesus would face the end of their lives in a hurricane force gale of injustice and physical and relational pain. Surely, they looked dead in the eyes at the depths of their human frailty. But the Triune God also reveals himself to them in glory, so each one is given a peerless vision of God in all his Trinitarian power and wonder. I suggest we find here this principle: God advances his kingdom with weak servants by graciously disclosing his peerless power to sustain, keep, and move them.
To illustrate the principle, think of the protective equipment worn by gymnasts as they practice floor exercises. Athletes must throw the weight of their body in rapid succession, flipping into cartwheels and handsprings and vaults. Without a securely worn protective harness and pulley system held by trained spotters, by which the gymnast can be lifted into the safety of mid-air should he or she fail in the exercise, practicing such events could literally result in serious injury or death. I know because I remember my brief high school participation in gymnastics. After months of practice, I was told by my gymnastics coach, Coach Cunningham, that we all had "graduated from" the safety harness and now would have to begin to practice floor exercise without it. Of course that's the goal for a gymnast. But not me! The next day when gymnastics practice took place, I was definitely absent! I never went back again! You see, I knew that without the harness I would hurt myself, so I never returned. As the saying goes, "My mama didn't raise no dummy!" I didn't want to die! I had to have protective power or my courage to take risks would be gone!
Genesis 17 is God's promise to Abraham that he would never, ever remove the harness. God says to his broken servants like Abraham and all of us, "I will . . . I will . . . I will!" How much more spiritual courage, sacrificial risk, committed obedience, profound and vulnerable repentance would mark us if we actually applied such a promise of provision of peerless, kingdom advancing power? I think we'd shock ourselves and the watching world if we were "practicing Calvinists"! We are all "closet Arminians"! People like me, sympathetic to the Reformed position, are so often articulate in describing our position; but we fail in our application of its implications. My friends in India, of whom I spoke earlier, taught me that God's sovereignty ought to make me look a lot more like Mother Teresa in lifestyle choices. If I believed, really believed, that God never removes his harness, I believe I would be much more "conformed to the likeness of" Jesus himself (Rom. 8:29).
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