I once heard a profound sermon whose take-home message went something like, ‘All of Biblical history is the about the efforts of God, every time we turned away, to turn our faces back to Him.’ It was echoed in a video by Brad Jersak called The Gospel in Chairs. While there are other themes also present in the Bible narratives, this is one that deserves its moment centre-stage.
We spend a lot of time urging people to invite Jesus into their hearts. What we may be overlooking is that, for millennia, God has been inviting us into HIS heart.
What is in His heart, this Steersman of the galaxies, Sparker of electrons?
All of life, colour, creativity. All power and authority. All wisdom, rightness, wholeness. All of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. General people do not realise that the warning ‘forever separated from God’ is a catastrophic cause for alarm, because they have not thought through who and what God really is. In Him is everything, and without Him, nothing elemental was made. It is the soul behind this ‘everything’ that He offers to gradually reveal to us. People think they are already living without Him; but they are not, for they live in the material universe, which He sustains and upholds. They are merely out of partnership with Him.
In Eden, before humanity screwed up, God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. We aren’t told what form He took. What did they talk about? The humans had all day to walk silently among the flora and fauna, admiring its intricacies, if quiet awe was the goal. No, I imagine them – perennially young – excitedly grabbing His hand and holding forth at great length about the day’s discoveries. And I imagine Him questioning them, leadingly, about what that showed them regarding Himself, the Maker. I imagine Him opening His thoughts to them, or at least those thoughts they were capable of comprehending. I imagine them engrossed in loving conversation, the highlight of their day.
We don’t know how long this season lasted. The time record paused at seven days. It could have been days or centuries, in that primeval place before the second generation had even arrived. And the first thing to do would have been to put distance between themselves and the cursed tree – unless, of course, they needed regular doses from its neighbour. (I have my suspicions, though, that eternal life and temptation go side-by-side for a reason.)
Other examples of mutual openness emerge. God invited Abraham into covenant – at least three covenants. Covenants aren’t like contracts; it’s not a merely transactional arrangement, where two parties sit opposite each other in a quid pro quo scenario. No. ‘A covenant is an invitation to oneness,’ writes Anne Hamilton. It’s more like two parties glued to one another. ‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine – including your enemies, your friends, your family, even your identity.’
God opened His heart to Job, and Job found it inscrutable. God opened His heart to the prophets, and what was in there so astounded people that at times they could hardly bear it. Often, it conflicted badly with their personal and politicoreligious agendas. We often read of God fighting against the monstrous thing that ‘godliness’ had been turned into.
And, of course, we see God opening His heart to us in the Incarnation. There were some points He could make no other way. There were some things that could be achieved no other way. And so He enters our world physically, not for an afternoon at a time, but for 33 years straight. And He spends all of that time vision-casting, light-shedding, evil-undoing. He walks out His Progenitor’s plan. The activities of Jesus and His disciples are remarkable: a blend of the mundane and the sublime. We get a handful of snapshots, but John 21:25 tells us that ‘Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.’ The profundity and layers of rich meaning in the words He spoke, interposed with earthy metaphors and pop culture references, are staggering. J.B. Phillips puts it, ‘God is, so to speak, visible through a Jesus-shaped aperture.’
Finally, Jesus, on the eve of the crucifixion, made the following astounding statements in John 14.
- If you love Me, keep my commands.
- … the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.
- … The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love them and show Myself to them. … Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
- … the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you.
- … I love the Father and do exactly what My Father has commanded Me.
Paul backs this up by reminding us, ‘We have the mind of Christ.’ (1 Cor 2:16). (I don’t think this means that our thoughts = God’s thoughts; I think he rather means that the thoughts of Christ are accessible to us through the Holy Spirit.)
To the Colossians, he wrote, ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.’ (Col 3:3) I picture this in my head as a Venn diagram: three concentric circles.
From these three texts – and there will be more, of course – we learn the following things:–
- Christ is opening His heart up to us – and, by extension, the heart of the Father
- He is doing this through the indwelling Holy Spirit (much as a wireless mouse communicates with the computer through its transceiver chip – but with a LOT more personality!)
- The love of the Trinity is accessible* via obedience to Christ’s commands
- And so the sequence is something like: love → obedience → revelation
- Yet it doesn’t begin with us: it begins with Jesus, who leads by example, giving us His own demonstration of just how far love for God will translate into obedience.
*The text does seem to imply that God only loves the obedient; but if you read the passage in the context of covenant, it’s more like, yes, God loves everybody, but not everybody is obedient enough to get close to God. Those who are obedient can actually get God to move in.
So the obvious next question is, what were Jesus’s commands, that we are to obey so rewardedly? He gave lots of concepts, such as, ‘Seed falling on good ground produces a bumper crop,’ but stopped short of commanding us to be ‘good soil.’ He warned us that being unmerciful recipients of mercy would result in our downfall, but He didn’t explicitly command us to be merciful (unless you count Micah 6:8 as obliquely coming from Him).
The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5–7, is the best place to start. Here He commands His Jewish audience:–
- let your light shine before others
- obey the Law and the Prophets (but do better, by internalising them)
- be reconciled to your offended brother or sister
- settle matters before they get to court
- do not ‘swear by’ things, but just practice honesty
- turn the other cheek, give more than is required of you
- love your enemies, forgive others
- be perfectly loving, as God is
- give and fast discreetly
- store up treasure in heaven
- seek first the Kingdom of God and trust Him for your needs
- do not judge
- assess yourself and adjust as necessary, before assessing your neighbour
- don’t entrust your valuables/wisdom to cynics and boors
- if you want something from God, ask, seek, knock
- treat others as you want to be treated
- enter life through the narrow gate
- check the fruit of ‘prophets’ for signs of a voracious life
Importantly, we come to John 13:34, ‘A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another as I have loved you.’ This was said over dinner, just minutes before He told them to obey all He had commanded them. This would have been the freshest command of Jesus at the forefront of their minds when He said it. And though it sounded new, and had the label ‘commandment’ rather than merely ‘a teaching,’ it was a reemphasis of what He’d been saying all along: treat others as you’d want to be treated. And, the most important things in the Law are to love God with all you are and to love your neighbour as well as you love yourself. If you truly love God, that love will compel you to be missional; and when you are missional, you will find yourself in urgent need of God.
Love for God must come first. God, also, is unwilling to entrust the treasures of His heart to cynics and boors. This is why the context of covenant is important, for only the obedient are showing evidence of it. There are plenty of people out there who love others but do not love God; but this, while commendable, is not enough to ‘reach’ God. He says plainly that doing the work without putting in the effort to know Him will not cut it. It has a form of godliness, but denies the true power: the Holy Spirit. Barry D. Jones says that connection with God is like breathing in, and connection to others is like breathing out: they go together, and the one begets the other.
So the upshot of the whole Last Supper conversation, taken in the context of Jesus’s ministry overall, is that when we love God with all we are and love one another unconditionally, that this bends God’s love and presence toward us. Within John 14 are dotted all the ancient Aaronic elements of blessing, come to fulfilment: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24–26) In one short discourse, Jesus tied all of the past and all of the future together in a neat bundle. Love God and obey God by loving others, and He will open His heart to you, and be knowable. For the whole of history is about Him inviting us into His heart.