By John D. Barry – 5-10-18
If Jesus seems distant to you, you are not alone. For many, Jesus is abstract. He is like that piece of modern art you just don’t get and have trouble relating to. But this is not the Jesus in the gospels nor of early church tradition. Jesus is right here, right now—and that idea will renew your life.
In the moment when God becomes flesh, God is with us in a more profound way than ever before. Jesus took on the form of a person in order to forever bond the spiritual and physical—to bridge the gap sin had created.
“ ‘Behold, the virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Emmanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’ ” (Matthew 1:23 LEB)
And this changes everything, right here, right now. If God is with us, then what can stand in opposition (Romans 8:37–39)? God is dwelling among us:
“And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 LEB)
The word used here for “took up residence” (often translated as “dwelt among us”) has the connotation of “setting up his tent.” Jesus becomes a refugee; right here on earth. Like all the refuges around our planet, Jesus built a tent; his tent was flesh.
So often we profess Jesus as Lord, as God, but we forget his humanness in the process. It was his humanity that allowed for Jesus to be our suffering servant (Isaiah 53:10–12). And it is his humanity that allows for him to directly relate to us (Hebrews 2:10–18).
This is why the early church fathers so adamantly opposed a belief known as Docetism—the idea that Jesus was not a real person but instead only spirit (or God). Yet, today, we often act like Jesus is somehow far away—that he is only spirit. Let’s reclaim him as suffering servant too—as God and human among us.
Near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he proclaims his purposes by quoting the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to send out in freedom those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18–19 LEB)
I see the face of Jesus crying out to me in the faces of my hurting friends—like those I know living in poverty in Bihar, India. He cries out the same cry that he did then: “freedom—physical and spiritual freedom. Work alongside me to bring renewal.” This is profoundly seen when Jesus explains to his disciples that at the end of all things the following will happen:
“Then the righteous will answer [the King, Jesus], saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you as a guest, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ And the king [Jesus] will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’ ” (Matthew 25:37–40 LEB)
Jesus tells us, when we serve the hurting, we serve him: We see him. I have held the hands of the hurting Jesus mentions and heard them cry out prayers to God for redemption. I have felt their pain. I have seen Jesus stand alongside them in their anguish, but I have also felt the burden of the great needs of our generation in the process. Jesus is among the hurting and the oppressed. The question is will we also be?
Jesus sitting beside you, in conversation—it’s a wonderful picture and one that a dear friend tells of often. I long to feel that close to Jesus. To picture him there, talking with me. And this is precisely what Jesus wants. This is the type of relationship he envisions through the Holy Spirit in us. Near the end of his time on earth, Jesus tells his disciples:
“But when he—the Spirit of truth—comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak from himself, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will proclaim to you the things to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and will proclaim it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he takes from what is mine and will proclaim it to you.” (John 16:13–15 LEB)
There is a direct connection here between the Holy Spirit’s relationship within the Trinity, and our relationship with Jesus and God the Father. May we embrace the idea of Jesus as friend, sitting beside us through the work of the Holy Spirit among us and in us. It is through the Holy Spirit that renewal is brought to our lives. And it is the Holy Spirit that guides the process of bringing renewal to the world.
After his resurrection, Jesus shows up on a road, walking with two disciples. At first, they don’t recognize him (Luke 24:20). The disciples tell Jesus of all the events that have occurred with the crucifixion and the subsequent account of his resurrection. But despite Jesus’ words about the necessity of his death, according to “the Prophets,” they still don’t recognize him (Luke 24:25–26). They hear, but do not yet believe. But then this happens:
“When [Jesus] reclined at the table with them, he took the bread and gave thanks, and after breaking it, he gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he became invisible to them. And they said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?’ ” (Luke 24:30–32 LEB)
It is in the meal, and likely in the act of remembering Jesus through the Eucharist, that the disciples see him, as he is. Their hearts may have burned, but this is when their eyes are opened. Hospitality, blessing, a focus on Jesus’ sacrificial act—this is how we see him.
Jesus, as a person and as our God, is not merely an idea. We must take action. Jesus wants to offer physical healing to our generation—to our earth—and we have the blessing of being able to be part of it. But the poverty of our world runs beyond what can be seen; it is also spiritual.
I have seen with my own eyes the desperate need for the good news of Jesus in unreached places, like Bihar, India. I also know the facts—that only 0.3% of the Church’s resources are allocated to areas where the Church is not. The idea of Jesus among us, in us—right here, right now—is also an urgent cry to stand up, lift up, and take action. To bring the gospel where it is not accessible.
Matthew’s Gospel records that after Jesus’ resurrection, he met his eleven remaining apostles and said to them:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20 LEB)
Let us be the generation that brings God with us to every nation, to the end of the earth. Let us live as if Jesus is sitting beside us, right here in it all—because he is. He is right here. What will you do with that?
John D. Barry is the CEO and Founder of Jesus’ Economy, dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Because of John’s belief that business can also transform lives, Jesus’ Economy also provides an online fair trade shop. He is currently leading Jesus’ Economy efforts to Renew Bihar, India—one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus.