"Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame." (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Empty God

How does one surprise God?  After all, can One who knows all things and sees all things be surprised?  I’ve often made the statement that, when we confess our sins to God, we will never hear Him respond with, “No!  Not you!  When did you do that?”  He already knows all about it.

But there it was in the Bible.  Jesus, God the Son, was “astonished.”  Surprised.  And not just once, but twice.  Matthew 8 contains the account of a Roman centurion who came to Jesus to ask Him to heal a servant suffering from a terrible sickness.  Jesus offered to go to him immediately, but the centurion said “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:8-9, ESV). 

When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  The Greek word translated marveled is the word, θαυμάζω (thaumazō), which means to “wonder” or “wonder at.”  It has the element of the unexpected or surprise.  It’s a word often translated, “astonished.”  Jesus, God the Son, was astonished!  I don’t know how many times I noticed this verse and wondered how God could be astonished or surprised.  But I never stopped long enough to understand it – until a few days ago, when the Holy Spirit focused my attention right there.

Because it is in this astonishment that the power to live life is to be found.

There was another time when Jesus was astonished: Mark 6:5-6

And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any mighty miracles among them except to place His hands on a few sick people and heal them. And He was amazed at their unbelief.

How can God be amazed, even surprised?

The Holy Spirit led me back to Philippians 2:7, a verse I’ve studied and quoted many times.

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

The phrase, but made himself of no reputation, could be literally translated, but emptied himself.  The Greek word is κενόω (keno), a word with means “to empty,” “to make empty,” “deprive of force” or “to make void, hollow.”  Jesus emptied himself.  Of what?  His rights as God?  Indeed.  But the word means to make completely empty or hollow.  Note especially that it means deprive of force.  Jesus completely emptied Himself of His power as God[1].  I had never realized this, nor grasped its enormous significance.

Jesus voluntarily emptied Himself of His power as God.  He gave up His power to walk on water.  He surrendered His power to heal the sick and restore sight to the blind.  He emptied Himself of His power to raise the dead.  He relinquished His power to tell the wind and waves to be still.  He forfeited His power to resist temptation![2]

But He still did all those things.  He walked on water, He healed the sick and restored sight to the blind, He raised the dead, the wind and waves were quiet and still at His command, and although He was tempted in all points like we are, He did not sin.  How?

Jesus gave us a profound clue in John 5:30.  He said, "I can do nothing on my own."  The word translated “can” in this verse is the Greek word, δύναμαι (dynamai).  You might recognize this word.  The English word, “dynamite,” is a derivative.  It’s the word for power.   Jesus said, “I have the power to do nothing.”  What?  Jesus had no power?

But don’t miss the next three words: on my own. 

Jesus still did all those miraculous things.  So where did the power to walk on water and raise the dead come from?  Jesus explained that in John 14:10, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Everything Jesus did and said while in the flesh on earth He did by the authority and by the power of the Father Who was doing His works in and through His Son.  God the Father and God the Son were working together.

Jesus wasn’t only dying for me so that I could experience the forgiveness of my sins and have eternal life; He was living for me to show me how to live that life. As the Apostle Paul stated, “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”  But there was more than reconciliation.  We are “saved by his life,” Paul explained.  Jesus made peace with God for me by His death, but He showed me how to live this new life by how He lived His life.

This is why Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  This is what Paul understood when he wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  Paul got it!  He wasn’t living for Christ. Jesus was living in him!

In his book, HearingGod, Dallas Willard profoundly explains the difference between having faith in Jesus and having the faith of Jesus.

Once, in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples’ boat was almost beaten under by the waves while Jesus slept calmly.  His disciples woke him crying, “Lord, save us!  We are perishing!” (Mt. 8:25).  Jesus reproachfully replied, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (Mt. 8:26).  Now the disciples obviously had great faith in Jesus.  They called upon him, counting on him to save them.  They had great faith in him, but they did not have his great faith in God.  It was because they did not have his faith that he spoke of how little faith they had.

Some Christians too commonly demonstrate that the notions of “faith in Christ” and “love for Christ” leave Christ outside the personality of the believer.  These exterior notions of Christ’s faith and love will never be strong enough to yield the confident statement, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  They can never provide the unity of the branches with the vine, where the life that is in the branch is literally that which flows to it through the vine and is the very life of the vine to which it is attached (Jn. 15:1-4).

“Our additional life [the second birth],” Dr. Willard concludes, “though it is still our life, is also God’s life in us: his thoughts, his love, all literally imparted to us, shared with us, by his word and Spirit.”  Note his word, “literally.”  Somehow I don’t think I had quite fully grasped this.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit literally, actually make their home within me and desire to literally express their existence through me.

That’s why Jesus said, ”apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).   That’s exactly what He said about Himself: "I can do nothing on my own."  I can do stuff.  In fact, I’ve done a lot of stuff without Jesus, sometimes claiming to be doing it for Jesus.  And in the end, that’s exactly what it was: nothing. 

On one occasion Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  To His disciples who were “exceedingly astonished” Jesus explained:
“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (John 15:27).

So, those are my choices.  I can live a life doing stuff on my own, using my natural abilities to do things some might even think are spectacular, but which will in the end, amount to nothing.  Or, I can cooperate with God to let Him do those “impossible” things only He can do using me to draw people to Himself and into the same quality of eternal life He has given to me.

Is the life I’m living today Jesus living His life in me?  That’s the issue.  As Dr. Willard also notes, “Once the new life begins to enter our soul, however, we have the responsibility and opportunity of evermore fully focusing our whole being on it and wholly orienting ourselves toward it.  This is our part, and God will not do it for us.”

So, if it is God’s design to live in us and through us like He did in and through Jesus, does that mean we can have the power to walk on water, heal the sick, raise the dead, restore sight to the blind and resist temptation?  If it accomplishes the purposes of God as it did in Jesus’ life, absolutely.  According to Jesus, absolutely yes.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

So why don’t we have that power today?

Because we must begin with the very same purpose and at the very same place Jesus began: empty.

Completely empty.

[1] This does not mean or suggest that Jesus surrendered his deity.  He was still fully God, God in flesh, a subject for another time.
[2] That Jesus forfeited His power to resist temptation is very important to understand.  James (the half-brother of Jesus) wrote, “God cannot be tempted” (James 1:13).  If the one being tempted cannot be tempted, then temptation is not temptation.  But Jesus emptied Himself of His power to resist temptation, which means that He was tempted.  We are told of only three specific temptations, but Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days and nights.  We can be certain that He was indeed tempted in all points and ways like we are, and that these temptations were real.  Jesus successfully resisted them all because the power of God the Father was available to Him, just like it is to us.

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