January 24, 2012

Don't let Jesus walk by

Human attention-getting devices fascinate me. Little boys walk on handrails hoping little girls (or other boys) will applaud them. A child refuses to wear socks, obviously enjoying all efforts to convince her to do so. A man leaves a short message on an impersonal answering machine, but takes twenty minutes to say the same thing face-to-face, embellishing the story and enjoying the audience. Many entertainers say that they love being up front and the center of attention. This is part of our me-first, fallen nature.

What about Jesus? Many times He commanded attention, but did He do it for Himself? I don’t think so. Many times He drew away from the crowds, avoiding their attempts to enthrone Him. At least two times, He turned away from His own disciples, as if to avoid them.
And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded. (Mark 6:48–51)
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther. (Luke 24:28)
In the first instance, the disciples were in a boat in a storm. Jesus came to them walking on water. Picture that. Their mouths must have gaped in astonishment, incredulous at such a sight. Some of them were seasoned fishermen, but they had never seen anything like this. The text says He would have walked right by them. Was He testing them? Playing games? Jesus never did anything without reason. Why would He just keep going when these men needed Him?

The second instance is after the resurrection. Two disciples were walking, unaware that He had risen from the dead. Jesus appeared alongside, but they didn’t recognize Him. He engaged them in conversation and explained the Scriptures and how the Christ should suffer before entering into His glory. Then He acted as if He was going to keep walking away from them, leaving them without telling them who He was. Why would He do that? Again, was He playing games? Did He have a reason for this behavior?

In my experiences with Jesus, He has shown Himself in extreme ways. On one hand, He answers prayer or does something astounding that makes my jaw drop. On the other, He is subtle and I don’t recognize Him right away. In both, He wants me to respond to His presence, either to bid Him come closer or to takes steps toward Him. In other words, He waits to see if I want more of Him — or if I will carry on life as usual.
Today’s devotional reading is much more blunt in expressing what He is doing. It says that Jesus comes to us by His Holy Spirit, speaks to us through the preaching of the Gospel, the Word of God, and various means of grace and the providential circumstances of life. After speaking, He makes as though He would go further and if we are open to what we have heard, we will pray, “Lord, abide with me.” However, if that voice makes no impression, then He passes on, as He has done thousands of times, leaving the heart at each time harder than before, and the ear more closed to the Spirit’s call.

When I read that, I had to ask myself why anyone would not respond to Jesus, why we would simply let Him pass by. Then I realized the biggest reason. To invite Him in means getting out of the spot light, leaving first place and giving Him the place He deserves. I cannot abide in Christ, nor He in me, and still be the center of attention. While He may stand in the shadows and applaud my spiritual successes (see yesterday’s post), He is still Lord of all. If I will not give Him that place, then He will pass by me and move on to those who will.

Oh Jesus, abiding in You is an incredible privilege. That You abide in me is a great wonder. That You stay here, even when I grab attention for myself is a mercy. Yet I am no longer a child who does tricks and balancing acts to turn eyes on me. This is not what life in You is about. Instead of passing by, I deeply desire to see You in all of life’s circumstances, and invite You to stay. May I never be so busy or so self-centered that You feel as if you must keep walking. Abide with me, Lord Jesus, this day and always.

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