A Vanishing God

The following article is excerpted from Chapter 10 of Revise Us Again, Your Christ is Too Small.

Jesus often comes to us in unexpected ways and unexpected means.

Think about how He came to Earth. For centuries, Israel had waited for a political Messiah. They expected Him to lead a rebellion and free Israel from Roman oppression. But how did the Messiah make His entrance? He came in a way that made it easy for His own people to reject Him. He came as a frail baby, born in a feeding room for animals. There He was. The promised Messiah who was expected to overthrow the Roman Empire and set Israel free from oppression. A needy Nazarene born in a manger.

When Jesus grew up, He ate and drank in their presence and taught in their streets (Luke 13:26). Yet they didn’t recognize Him. He was unassumingly modest. A mere craftsman; the son of a craftsman. He grew up in the despised city of Nazareth, fraternizing with the despised and oppressed. But more startling, He befriended sinners (Luke 7:34). As such, the people of God didn’t recognize Him. Why? Because He came in a way that made it easy for them to reject Him. And what about the disciples?

Read the story again. Jesus continued to break out of their expectations. He couldn’t be pinned down, figured out or boxed in. The Twelve were constantly confounded by Him. His teachings were offensive. His actions scandalous. His reactions baffling.

But the greatest offense of all was the cross. It offended everyone—both Jew and Gentile. The only crown the promised Messiah-King would accept was a crown of thorns. Look at Him again. A suffering Messiah, a defeated King. It’s easy to reject Him.

One of the Lord’s most faithful disciples teaches us this principle well. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after His death and resurrection. Do you remember what she did as soon as she recognized Him? She grabbed Him, and she wouldn’t stop clinging to Him. Jesus responded, “Stop clinging to me” (see John 20:17, Greek text). Why did Jesus tell Mary to stop clinging to Him? Because Jesus had somewhere to go. He was on the move. Jesus was poised to go to Galilee to see the other disciples and then to ascend to His Father.

Note the principle: He was moving forward, but she was clinging to Him. Jesus was in effect saying to her: “Mary, stop holding on to me. There’s a new way to know me that’s different from what you’ve experienced thus far. Let me go. I must move on.” Do you remember the disciples who walked on the road to Emmaus?

Their hopes were shattered by Jesus’ horrible death. Suddenly, the resurrected Christ began walking beside them, yet their eyes were blinded from recognizing Him. However, when He engaged in the very simple gesture of breaking bread (something He had done frequently before them), their eyes were opened. He then quickly disappeared from their sight.

These stories hold a critical insight. You cannot cling to the Christ you know today. He will vanish from your midst. Jesus Christ is an elusive Lover. Seeking Him is a progressive engagement that never ends. He doesn’t dance to our music. He doesn’t sing to our tune.

Perhaps He will in the beginning when He woos us, but that season will eventually end. Just when you think you’ve laid hold of Him, He will slip out of your grasp. He will appear to you as a stranger. But on second glance, we’ll discover He’s no stranger at all. Emmaus will be repeated.

We all wish to cling to the Lord who we know now. We all wish to hold on to the Christ who has been revealed to us today.

But mark my words: He will come to us in a way we do not expect—through people we’re prone to ignore and inclined to write off. Perhaps they don’t talk our religious language. Perhaps they aren’t theologically sophisticated. Perhaps they don’t use our vocabulary. Perhaps they don’t share our insider knowledge nor parrot our religious idioms.

So we cling fast to the Lord we recognize—receiving only those who talk our language, use our jargon and employ our catchphrases—and all along we end up turning the Lord Jesus Christ away.

What, then, does Jesus do after we fail to receive Him when He comes to us in an unexpected way? He moves on. And the revelation we have of Him ceases to grow. Jesus Christ is richer, larger and more glorious than any of us could ever imagine. And He comes to us in ways that make it tempting to reject Him.

When Peter, James and John saw the transfigured Lord on the holy mountain, Peter wanted to build a tabernacle for Jesus, Moses and Elijah and remain on the mountain to enjoy the encounter. But God would not allow it (Matthew 17:1-13).

There is something in our fallen nature that, like Peter, wishes to build a monument around a spiritual encounter with God and remain there. But the Lord will not have it. He will always break free from our frail attempts to pin Him down, box Him up and hold Him in place. And He does so by coming to us in new and unexpected ways.

Published in Relevant Sept/Oct 2010

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Comments

  1. says

    Really inspiring and thought provoking stuff. I realized by reading this that I was attempting to build a “spiritual monument” around a recent high point in my spiritual life. Meanwhile God is patiently waiting for me to move forward and to “keep asking, seeking and knocking” instead of standing still.

  2. says

    YES YES YES!!!!! LOVE THIS! :)

    Exactly in line with what I have been thinking about. That we need to move TOWARD people that are different from us. He gives different revelations/passions/interpretations to different people – for a reason!!

    Differences are not hindrances to God’s work — they are PLANNED & DESIGNED by Him!! to help us grow in LOVE for others – easy to love people just like us! and to help us grow in knowledge/revelation. In a world full of extreme thinkers & doers – the Truth is usually right there in the middle of it ALL

    which is one reason why we need each other!!

    I am concerned for the INTERGENERATIONAL RIFT occurring in the Church moreso than any divisions. We need each other. We must be able to see past what people DO and see their hearts. I am SOO thankful GOd opened up my heart to not totally segregate from all who were part of the traditional church system — but keep my heart open to who He would have me cross paths with. He has shown me He can teach me through ALL and that I can look at a person’s HEART – not what they DO.

    We must let GO of our traditions and practices that keep us away from each other – and move TOWARD those that are different from us!

  3. Nita says

    Amen and amen!! How true I have found this to be and continue to find it to be. I’m very grateful that He has ways and means to keep us from stagnation in knowing Him! Thank you for this great post, Frank!

  4. says

    Great post Frank, thank you. An aspect of Jesus revealing Himself in an unexpected and unassuming way is very challenging from a practicle perspective. He often speaks loudest and clearest through the least likely member of the Body of Christ. Which places an obligation upon us to see Him in the lowliest of saints and to listen more intently to every contribution.

  5. says

    can’t believe I missed this post. As I was reading it, it seemed very familiar to me, as if I DID read it, then I got to the the line that said “Excerpted from REVISE US AGAIN” :) I have to bug the individual I lent this book too. I wish this book was available for Kindle, so you can lend it out, and STILL have it :)

  6. Anton Luse says

    This is good. I like your twist on a familiar idea.

    It reminds me of something I once heard a man named Marc Dupont say, “Three people after the resurrection who knew Jesus before the resurrection looked Jesus in the eyes and did not recognize him.” They were looking for the same physical person, but we are now in the age of the Spirit and must judge him by the Spirit.

    Relegated to my/our own natural minds’ thought processes, Jesus’ life seems like an incontrivable paradox. I think, though, this paradox evidenced pure relationship with God.

    And, as you say here, “He will come to us in a way we do not expect—through people we’re prone to ignore and inclined to write off.” It’s like he wants us to really know him.

    Your article also reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 15: “No longer do I call you servants, but.. friends. A servant does not know what his master is doing..” I love that it points us to knowing him!

    Thanks.

  7. Tom says

    Excellent post Frank. I read it twice and thought it was clear as day, reveals some deep truths and I’ve not read your book yet (though I ordered it). Reimagining Church really helped me to understand Pagan Christianity and From Eternity to Here really opened up the heart of the matter and changed my life. This makes sense I guess since these books are part of a series. Thanks again for sharing your heart, always pointing to the Lord and for your humility.

  8. Joshua says

    Frank,

    Thanks for posting my response. I was trying to be cutesy with the baseball analogy, but my wife pointed out that “foul” probably has too negative a connotation, even though it implies you are diligently swinging away. :P

    The larger chapter may clarify the issue, and you issued a plea in Orlando this last summer that people would judge the message as a whole, not just one phrase, one chapter, or one book. However, in all seriousness, I would encourage you to rethink that plea. People who just read this blog post, or who just read the article in Relevant magazine (with the problematic line in a super-texted sidebar) may be shaped by what you say, not what you intended to say. We both tremble to know that teachers (me included), who all stumble in their words, will receive the stricter judgment. Because of that, we should strive to make each segment of our teaching as complete and precise as possible. Each blog post. Each article. Each book.

    I applaud you for making your writing and your teaching and yourself accessible, even opening yourself up for rhetorical criticism from unknown nit-pickers such as myself. That’s the grace that can make our all-too-human words more divinely salty.

  9. Jamal Jivanjee says

    I’m really looking forward to reading this. I completely resonate with the statement that Jesus comes to us in ways we are tempted to reject. This is so true, and like a gentleman, He moves on. His Spirit is so easily quenched. Thanks for this challenge Frank.

  10. Nathan says

    Thanks for the post Frank, I love that at the end of Paul’s life he makes the statement that he might know him, wow that’s incredible. I’m in a new season as well and I don’t understand it, but I love that about the Lord. Before he askes us to marry him, or to continue to follow him, he reviels himself not just the wooing like you talked about. He reveals his death, and the cross we have to pick up daily. He can never be put in a box or figured out. That’s the exciting thing when you choose to live my his life it’s not easy but it is an adventure, thanks again!

  11. Jim says

    Frank, I thought this post was brilliant and clearly written. I appreciate your humility and graciousness in dealing with harsh criticism and misunderstanding. It’s an example for me and everyone else.

  12. John Wilson says

    Frank what a wow article! Helped me relook the whole thought of the importance of accepting one another, their differences, etc, and every member functioning in the body of Christ. All part of Christ Jesus moving us forward in Him. Loved how you put it. Learned something more of Christ just now, wow! Love you brother!

  13. Carrie says

    When I was looking at manna the other day I realized something similar. Christ is the manna. It was new everyday but you could not keep it until next day or it would go bad. They had to collect it new everyday. You can not hang on to your current revealtion of Christ and because He is so vast there is something new to learn each day. The Lord was teaching them how to eat of Christ. I do wonder about the name they gave this bread, manna. From my understanding it means What is it, was that a forshadow of them not recognizing Jesus when he came to earth?
    Thanks for your post.

  14. J.D. says

    Awesome thoughts Frank! Thanks for challenging us to keep seeing Jesus as he really is and not how we “thought” he would be or how we were “taught” that he is. I pray my eyes are continually being opened to see Him in ALL of His glory and splendor. I could use some “new every morning” right about now! LOL. Be blessed!

  15. Patrick says

    So true. He says it best in Romans. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counseller or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. I’m so glad He can’t be boxed in. Focusing on him is exciting!

  16. Rory says

    really great post, Frank. I am finding this so true right now. He is incredible, unfathomable, I find words don’t always work to explain what I am slowly learning of Him. When I think on Him today I feel speechless, dumbfounded, mesmerized. Awestruck.

  17. Russ K. says

    Jesus is never boring…thank you for the scriptural reminder…

    Hoping that this book will be added to the Re-church Library bundle ?

  18. says

    Progressive is definitely the key word in this blog Post by FV. It’s been true since day one and it’s the one word that makes sense to seekers of Christ like me. We know more about God today than Moses did. We are post Jesus. Way different. Progressive Revelation. So true.

    • says

      Bud: We are never post-Jesus, as we cannot exhaust Him and He is still the same Man that He was when He was on this earth. We’re post-resurrection in the sense that Christ has been raised from the dead and in the Spirit. He is the same today, yesterday, and forever; yet He’s new every morning.

  19. MichaelO says

    Aw come on Frank, let me cling to my Jesus and hug Him and keep him just like He is right now. Hanging around me and my closely held tribe. We can build a special place for Him and all people could come on pilgrimages, we won’t charge to much.
    We could do so much for God by keeping Him, just think how many people “would come forward and make a decision for Christ”, “buy an eternal fire insurance policy”, “recite the 4 steps to salvation”, and best of all “tithe.”
    He could be our own “step and fetch it man.”
    We could do such great things if He would “be our own personal Jesus”, we have such great ideas for Him!
    You know I even have some really great ideas on how to run the “church” better that I would like to talk to Jesus about.
    Especially improvements on that first century thing, you know were so much smarter now, we have modern scientific techniques, and political methods are so much more evolved now.
    Those “ancients” were so ancient.

  20. Megan says

    Thanks, Frank. For a while now, I’ve been telling Jesus that I already know all there is to know about Him. Not in an arrogant way, I think, but just in a take-Him-for-granted kind of way, which maybe is arrogant. He often feels like someone I’ve been married to for 50 years and that there are no surprises left. But then I think about myself and how different I feel every day in each of my relationships. How much I appreciate it when people allow me to be different and surprising. The fact is, the people who never believe I can be any different than I am will never see the ways in which I am different. So if I never believe Christ can be different, then I’ll never see the ways that he is. I want to get to the place where I can say to Him, “I have barely scratched the surface with you! Surprise me today!”

  21. Joshua says

    Frank,
    You’ve got a good batting average here. The first five paragraphs are a home run, and your implied point about recognizing Jesus in people outside our Christian “groups” is at least a base hit, but the major principle you seem to be pulling out of Mary Magdalene and Emmaus seems (to me) to be in foul territory.

    (by the way, some scholars think that Jesus, like a purified high priest of Israel, was not to be touched before He had ascended before the altar to offer the blood of atonement, in this case, His own—and that was why he said “Don’t cling to me.” That is, resurrection to high priest status, ascension with His own blood to make atonement, return to his disciples to bless them because of the accepted blood. That’s one reading of it, anyway.)

    Your possibly foul principle, “You cannot cling to the Christ you know today. He will vanish from your midst,” may just be an unfortunate choice of words, but it’s hard to tell from the rest of this column/blog. Now, what you could be meaning by this principle is that Jesus, like any real person, is infinitely complex in His personhood and his plans and therefore cannot be reduced to a set of static doctrines, meaning also that we must continue to seek Him and go on adventures with Him to continue to learn His character. That is, we should see our knowledge of Jesus as “J + x,” where “J” is what we have learned of him in the past and “x” represents the unknown facets of His character and plan that we do not know yet.

    If that’s what you meant in your blog, I be cool wid dat. I don’t think the Mary Magdalene story has anything to do with that principle, though Emmaus fits it nicely. However, your wording of the principle is too ambiguous, and it could be read in a different and more sinister way.

    You could be saying (or misinterpreted to say) that whatever anyone thinks they know of Jesus is so limited that we are all on a continual cycle of leaving behind our once-treasured “old knowledge” and replacing it with “new revelation.” That is, instead of “J + x,” we have “x – J.” Now, anyone who has been walking with Jesus for any length of time knows that He gives us new revelation concerning Himself (new x! Cool!), but not always (or even usually) as a replacement for old knowledge (dependable J). Contrary to the unedifying message of books like The Shack, not everything that we know about God is wrong, and contrary to what you might be implying here, Jesus isn’t interested in continually slipping through our fingers.

    Instead, the promise of the gospel is that “I will be their God and they will be My people, and none of them will teach his neighbor and none his brother, saying ‘know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” And the hope of the Christian can echo Paul’s near-death words that “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”

    There is a confidence that the Christian should have in the revelation he or she has been given by Christ—confidence that should not be shaken, but rather applauded. There is also the very human problem of fleshly ethnocentrism that still impacts Christian groups and causes them to miss new revelations of Christ because those things happen outside their groups or their expectations. As good shepherds, we have to seek to combat this latter problem (which you seem to be trying to do) while not shooting down the possibility of real knowledge of God and pure faith.

    In a modern culture that generally assumes that we can know nothing for sure or forever, the bent of your wording in this column is most unfortunate. We need to draw more clear and more edifying lines, because even though Jesus is foolish and a scandal to the Jews and Gentiles, His Spirit teaches us His wisdom and His character, gifts to His children that we should not reject or despise. See I Cor. 2:6-16 for the ways that we interact with God now to give us a true understanding of the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

    • says

      Joshua: Certainly not saying the latter. I don’t think we disagree. The blog is a short excerpt of an entire chapter, which I trust, communicates the overall points more clearly.

  22. Forrest Aldridge says

    Yes, beautiful, as the above commenter said. I’ve been thinking, “I already have most of Frank’s books, should I really make getting this new one a priority?” Well, this post answers that question with a resounding “Yes!”.

    Thank you for constantly challenging all of us to seek the full glory of our incomparable Lord, Jesus Christ.

  23. says

    Wow. Thanks for that insight, Frank.
    Interesting because as I’m reading this I’m recalling a conversation I had with a friend the other day. I was telling him how things and ways I used to pursue the Lord are no longer “working” (if you can call it that, but I trust you know what I mean). I began to think of the Isrealites in the wilderness. They all lived in tents (including God!) because they all had to remain mobile. God was on the move with a cloud by day and a fire by night (which are just images of Christ). So that’s how I see our seasons and times spiritually. It would be SOOO easy to get stuck on particular aspect or revelation from the Lord and never move on. But He is mobile, so, metaphorically speaking, we need to keep our tents!! :)

  24. Robyn G. says

    You had me at “Jesus”…profound words that resonate within as this has been my experience with Jesus. He stretches and takes you places you never expected or wished for…sometimes places and experiences you dreaded…yet you find more and more of Him there. Look forward to reading more of your testimony and insight.

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