In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver says about Aslan the Lion, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” What do you think of Christ? Does your Jesus have to say to you, “Fear not,” or do you have to say to him, “Fear not”? If a wimpy Jesus says to you, “Fear not,” what was there about him to fear? But if the real, biblical, industrial-strength Jesus says to you, “Fear not,” that’s worth something. If your Jesus is big enough to scare you, he’s big enough to save you.
Low thoughts of Jesus trivialize our thoughts about everything else. Low thoughts of Christ make sin into no big deal, salvation becomes a little garnish on the side of life, the resurrection becomes dubious in relevance, and our hearts get to thinking, “He has me in church for one whole hour in the week? He should count his blessings!”
But when our thoughts of Christ start moving up and become high and lofty, other good things start happening too. Our reverence grows, and with reverence humility, and humility gratitude, and with gratitude love, and with love power. High thoughts of Christ make a positive difference for Christ here and now and forever.
My purpose today is to raise our thoughts of Christ. I want to bring you to Christ, and leave you there. Let’s think the passage through, phrase by phrase.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.
When the apostle John was enabled to see into heaven, he could handle it. When he was enabled to see into hell, he could handle that too. But when he saw Christ, he fainted dead away. And they were best friends during the Lord’s humility here on earth. But when John sees Jesus as he is now glorified in heaven, John is not overjoyed. He does not walk up to him and high-five him and say “How ya been?” John is terrified.
The Bible says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). The Bible says that even here in this life, for us to feel the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts, we have to pray for strength (Ephesians 3:16-17). How can a paper bag contain white-hot nuclear fuel? The real Jesus, seen clearly, takes our breath away. 2
How different this is from the Jesus some people present today. I recently read a popular book that represents God as our jolly pal with giggles and winks and hugs. Does Bible reveal Christ that way? Does that kind of Christ have to say to us, “Fear not”? Does that kind of Christ scare us to death? “When I saw him, I fell at this feet as though dead.”
Charles Misner commented on Albert Einstein’s view of the Christian preaching he had heard:
[The design of the universe is] very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion…. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing.
Is your Jesus the real thing? Does his majesty pull up out of your heart reverence? Even as you’re sitting here, in your heart are you down before him as though dead? Or are you up in his face because he doesn’t answer your questions and solve your problems on your terms? Is the Jesus in your mind the real Jesus? Or do you need to change your mind so that you can get in touch with the real one?
But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not.”
It’s better to be dead before the real Jesus than to be alive to all this world, because it’s to weak people, broken people, guilty people, that Jesus says, “Fear not.” Do you see how he laid his right hand on John? He didn’t stand at a distance. He wasn’t ashamed to come near and touch this man and reassure him, because the greatest glory of the risen Christ is not the fiery intensity of his majesty; the greatest glory of the risen Christ is that, even with the fiery intensity of his majesty, he draws near to sinners who are emptied of their self-importance before him and he says, “Fear not.” He does it through his Spirit every day to millions of believers all over the world – all ages, all needs. When we are confused and need guidance, he says, “Fear not.” When we struggle financially, he says, “Fear not.” When our friends abandon us, he says, “Fear not.” When it comes time for us to die, he says, “Fear not.” The risen Lord Jesus Christ, with all authority in heaven and on earth, cares for us. He isn’t safe. He isn’t tame. But he’s good. The Bible says, “He gives power to the faint” (Isaiah 40:29).
“I am the first and the last, and the living one.”
Later in the Revelation Jesus will also say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). Only God can say that. In fact, back in the Old Testament, he did. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6). And he has no guilty conscience when he says that. He’s not thinking, “I really ought to make room for all religions. Who am I to make a universal claim that will require the whole human race to adjust?” In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton 3 pointed out that in the modern world we’ve located humility in the wrong place. Humility used to moderate our ambitions. But in the modern world we’ve moved humility from our sense of self to our sense of truth. The modern world tells us we can assert ourselves personally and be demanding people, but it also tells us we cannot assert truth and let it make demands of us. So we are today egocentric people with weak convictions. But the gospel helps us rediscover humility. The gospel says that we were never meant to be modest about truth but only about ourselves. The gospel is our only hope for true humility in all this pushy, angry world. It shows us Someone Else who alone deserves to be the first and the last. He is all-sufficient, all-powerful, all-wise, all-satisfying. We are deeply disappointed with ourselves. We’re just no good at being our own designer gods. But he will never disappoint anyone who trusts in him. He is all the God there is, all the God there can be, all the God we need.
But there’s more. He is “the living one.” You and I are living ones. But he is the living one. You and I borrow life. He exudes life. You and I are dependent. His existence is not precarious. He doesn’t need protection or favorable trends or a tailwind. He generates all he needs to be himself out of himself. He is self-existent.
This is why for us to try living without Christ is to try living without life. In the Bible, “the living God” stands in contrast to the dead idols. The idols we make up in our minds are sort of like old books on the shelf. They’re there, if we want them. But they don’t pursue us or love us or contradict us. There is no danger that heaven and earth might flee away at their glance. But the gospel says that Jesus Christ is the ever-flowing fountainhead of all life, and apart from him there is no life, no hope, no future. If you are in Christ, his energy will flow into you in heaven forever, and he will never get tired or need a break but will forever lift you into more and more joy in ho wonderfully living he is. If you are not in Christ, you’re living right now by the life of Someone you deny. You’re living on borrowed time. You must deal with Christ.
“I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
Jesus knows what it’s like to die. He died an atoning death. He didn’t just suffer with us. He suffered for us. And he didn’t just suffer for us. He died for us. He went all the way and paid the last cent of all the debt we owed. With the finality of death, Jesus completed and sealed forever the atoning sacrifice. Nothing needs to be added to the finished work of Christ on the cross. When we receive his full merit with our empty hands of need, God says, “That’s enough for me!” The all-holy God wants you to know that his conscience is happy about this. He isn’t lowering his standards when he shows mercy to sinners. He satisfied his standards in the death of Christ. And that’s why God gladly offers sinners a clean slate. That new beginning for you and me is in Jesus, whose death satisfied the wrath of God against sin.
But Jesus isn’t dead any more. We don’t have to trust a dead Savior. He says here, “I died. But that’s all in the past now. Behold, I am alive, I am the embodiment of life, and I will never die again. I will never go away. I will never wear out. I will never 4 slow down. I will never stop being what I am right now. I will still be bursting with life 99 gazillion years from now, and that’s just for starters. Anybody interested?” Those longings in your heart for hope and a future and something new to live for that won’t turn bitter and disappointing – do you think Jesus Christ might have something to do with your longings? Do you think the powers in his heart might be enough to satisfy the desires of your heart?”
I’m thankful for the word “behold.” That’s a visual word: “Behold, I am alive forevermore.” That word says, “Look at me. Examine the evidences. Think it through.” That word is there because Jesus is not saying to us, “My resurrection is a mystical truth you have to take on authority.” He is not saying that. He is saying, “My resurrection is a knowable fact of history. It’s on the public record of events here in your world. You can study the evidences for yourself. I’m not afraid of you thinking about this. I’m provoking you to think about it. I want you to be satisfied. Behold!”
What other great person in history has ever said, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore”? What other person has said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”? What other person has said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them”? What other person can say, “Your sins are forgiven”? Think about that. If someone cheats you out of $100, you might say, “I forgive him.” But if someone cheats you out of $100 and I say, “I forgive him,” that’s different. Jesus forgave people for their sins, whatever the circumstances. He spoke as if he were the one primarily concerned in every human sin, as if it were an offense against him. Why? Because our sins are an offense against him. If we’re going to be forgiven, we have to get that forgiveness from the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not say, “I know the way to God.” He said, “I am the way to God.” Jesus did not say, “I know the truth.” He said, “I am the truth.” Jesus did not say, “Fit me somewhere into your busy life.” He said, “I am your life.” Who else can say, “Come to me, and I will give you rest”? Who else can say, “I am the resurrection and the life. Stake your eternal destiny on me”? Who else would dare to say, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood, and you will live forever”? Who else would dare to say, “Cheer up! I have overcome the world”? And who else would say, “I have the keys of Death and Hades”? Jesus claims all control over the powers of death that take control of us.
Let all our thoughts of Christ rise to the majesty that is his due. C. S. Lewis clarifies what’s really on the line here:
People often say, “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us 5 not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Do not miniaturize Christ. Do not compartmentalize him with others. He is unique. You must either reject him completely and align yourself with his enemies, or you must take him at his word and humble yourself and open your heart to his love as your Lord and your God.
His eye is upon you right now, and he loves you. He wants to save you from everything that’s against you. Are you willing? That’s all he asks. I am asking you to call out to him with the prayer of your heart. Doubting Thomas had his problems, and Jesus, in his humility, accepted even a doubter. But Thomas did say to him, “My Lord and my God!” He raised his esteem of Christ. Will you bow before Christ today and say to him, “My Lord and my God”?