The Reality of Christ
Ronald L. Dart
Years ago a friend told me that I was an apologist. I would have been flattered if I'd known what that meant. Later I encountered one of the greatest of Christian apologists, C. S. Lewis. Then I came across a quotation from C. S. Lewis that explained a vague disquiet that follows me around. "Apologists," he concluded, "can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments into the reality- from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself."
Lewis was remarkable in this regard. He was an intelligent, highly educated, well read man who also had the good sense to doubt himself, to examine himself, which one cannot do without self doubt. Lewis understood the spiritual dangers of vanity and what a thin web is woven by a good argument. He said, "No doctrine is dimmer to the eye of faith than that which a man has just successfully defended." Doctrine and apologetics are essential, otherwise you would never know where you are or what you should do next. But there is also a temptation to vanity. This was never clearer to me than when I read that quotation: "Apologists can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments into the reality- from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself."
I think there are people who will be profoundly surprised to find me standing next to them on the sea of glass before the Lamb of God in the resurrection. In fact, I might be as surprised as they are. Imagine that you have made it, you've been raised from the dead, you're standing before Him, the judge of all the earth, you can see him as he is, and standing alongside you are two figures you recognize immediately who come from different religious backgrounds-- Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II. If you know much about Catholic and Baptist doctrine, you have to ask yourself, "How can that be possible?"
I think I finally understand. They will not owe their presence there to the fact that they had a correct set of doctrines. They will not be there because they kept this or that law, or this rite or ritual. But, you won't be there for that reason either. What makes it possible for you or anyone else to stand before God is the grace of God.
And that grace, if it can't transcend our doctrinal differences and our little picky arguments, doesn't amount to much. And what makes that grace possible is Christ himself.
There is this incident in the ministry of Jesus Christ where one of the rulers of the Jews named Nicodemus came to him by night. After some conversation, Jesus told him, "No man has ascended up to heaven" (John 3:14-15).
Jesus basically said that just as Moses lifted up the serpent, the Son of man has to be lifted up so that we can look to him. Remember that Old Testament story. A plague had broken out. Serpents were biting people. People were dying, Moses put a brazen serpent up on a pole, and if they looked up to that serpent, they lived; if not, they died: It had nothing to do with their character, personality, whether they were obedient or disobedient, they had to look to the serpent that had been lifted up.
Then Jesus sail to Nicodemus, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Now, that's a tremendous promise, but there is a catch in it: you must believe in him. You must look to him, you must place trust in him. "For God did not send His Son . . . and this is the condemnation." This is something else that Jesus tacks on the end of this that sometimes people don't get. He said "This is the condemnation that light has come into the world that men love darkness rather than light." Why? "Because their deeds were evil... wrought in God" (John 3:17-21).
What mattes all the difference? It's their deeds. It is what they actually do. If you say you believe in Christ and don't do anything, then you do not really believe. Many arguments about doctrine, law, or whatever religious argument, are mere spiders' webs. And you know how you handle a spider's web on the porch. You take a broom and brush it away. Remember, "Apologists only can be saved by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments into the reality - from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself." What exactly does that mean?
The reality is there was a young Jewish girl in a little town called Nazareth who was suddenly visited by an angel named Gabriel. He was real. The girl's name? Mary. She was real. "And the angel came . . . , and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with you . . . she was troubled at his saying . . . And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:28-34). Now, Mary, young as she was, must have understood the significance of what he just said
He is telling Mary, you're going to be the mother of the Messiah. He's going to sit on the throne of David, he's going to reign over the house of Jacob, of the increase of his kingdom there'll be no end. Mary put two and two together and asked, "Well, how can this be?"
It's hard to imagine how she might have felt at that time, a babe growing in her womb, a real child, to be born nine months later. Day by day, week by week, she went through the real symptom of pregnancy. The cessation of her monthly period, her abdomen beginning to swell, of the realization that there was a baby on the way, and, of course, the very real problem that her betrothed husband had, the baby wasn't his. But he was a just man so when the angel explained it to him all was well.
The story picks up again in Luke 2 where "Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem." He went there to be taxed along with Mary, his espoused wife, who was, in Luke's expression "great with child."
They went to a stable because it was the only place they could find. Now, get the reality. There are many things that can be explained about this, but the reality is they went into a stable; the only place they could sleep and while there she went into labor and "brought forth her first-born son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a feeding trough." That's all they had.
The child born there was as real as you and me. He was a real as any baby anyone ever held. He was as real as any baby any mother ever put to her breast, and he had to drink mother's milk just like I did. The reality of Jesus' statement to Nicodemus comes home to me. The reality of giving up a son has to be considered.
I hadn't really thought much about it until I saw the movie, ‘The Bible’ with George C. Scott who played Abraham who was told by God to take his only son, Isaac, and go to a place that God would show him and offer Isaac there for a burnt offering. I had read the story in the Bible, I understood it fully, but George C. Scott's portrayal of Abraham's agony and his faith, brought it home to me. This was real. It was sort of a two-staged thing. First of all, the actor plays the part which made it real, and then secondly, the realization that what he is acting out is something that really happened to real people in real time.
The world waited 30 years for this child to become a man and three years more for him to accomplish what he came to do. On that night before his death three years later, knowing full well what waited for him the next day, he got up from supper, laid aside his garment, girded himself with a towel and began to wash his disciples' feet. It was a familiar thing to have happen at any supper- but usually it was done by servants. For Peter on this night, it was a very real thing that Jesus was actually holding Peter's feet in his hand. Jesus took water and splashed it on Peter's feet, he rubbed his feet cleaning them, he put the water between his toes and opened them up to rinse out whatever might have been there. Then he took the towel he was girded with and the real Jesus dried Peter's feet. For Peter this could not have been more real.
After Jesus had washed their feet and put his garment back on and sat down, He said, "Do you know what I've done? You call me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet for I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you. What I want you to learn from this is, the servant is not greater than his lord, neither is He that is sent greater than He that sent Him. Now, if you know these things, happy are you if you do them."
Some Christian churches do this. They wash one another's feet because after all, Jesus said, "if you know these things, happy are you; blessed are you if you do them." After supper, He took bread, he broke it, and distributed it among them and told them to eat it. He said "This is my body do this in remembrance of me." To tell the truth, I think a lot of us partake of the symbols of Christ's body and blood as mere recipients of God's grace. But there is more.
We have entered into a new relationship. We have a family we didn't have before, a brother that we never had, and we have all the obligations of family. Why? Because we have partaken of this cup of the new covenant in his blood A covenant isn't a one-way street. It isn't just something handed down. It is something we enter into voluntarily. The entry into the new covenant is not a passive event for us. We partake of Christ's body and blood, having examined ourselves, and we go away from the Passover to walk in a different way as brother's of Jesus Christ. The disciples knew what a covenant meant and that there were obligations that came with it. Somehow that truth gets away from us. Let's take a moment to fall back into reality, away from arguments and into Christ.
After all the events of this Last Supper, Jesus then sat and talked with his disciples for a while. He said, "Anew commandment I give to you . . . that the Father may be glorified in the Son." Now remember I said that if you enter into a covenant, you take on certain obligations. What follows here in John 14:14 are the obligations: "If you ask anything ... keep my commandments." Did you catch this? Notice the two-directional aspect of it: if you ask anything, I'll do it, but here's what comes behind it, if I ask anything you've got to do it. The disciples would not understand how real this was for a few hours yet.
You know, if you had been able to embrace Jesus, to put your arms around him, to give him a hug, your arms would have been around a real man. Your hands would have been on the back that was given to the smiters; the whiskers that brushed your cheek would have been those that others would later that night pluck out.
And the real Jesus would cry out from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Why? Why did that have to happen? He had to be tempted in all points like we are, and which of us have not felt at times like God has gone away completely. The blood that gushed out when the soldier pierced his side was real. The disciples had three days to deal with that.
Then an even greater reality descended on them They came face to face with the risen Christ. They-touched him. Thomas, who had not been there at the time, didn't even believe it. It was unreal to him. The next time Jesus appeared, he said, "Thomas, come here, put your finger in this wound in my hand. Stick your hand in my side. It's real." He was alive, he was real. And then they all stood there and watched him ascend into heaven. As unreal as that may have seemed to all of them, it was real enough. And know this; there was not a web of arguments about the Lord's Supper or the Passover, nor about three days and three nights. This was the real Son of God, suffering real pain, and real death, in our place. It is far past time for us to learn to stand in awe of the reality of Christ Himself. Not of our arguments about Christ.
Now don't get me wrong, I believe what I say, I believe what I teach, but I have come to see that what I teach is not real. It is a web of arguments that may be true enough but they are only a shadow of the body of Christ. I'll continue to argue for what is right, but I hope I will increasingly fall back from the web of my own arguments into Christ himself.
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You can contact Christian Educational Ministries, P.O. Box 560 Whitehouse, Texas 75791 - Phone: (903) 509-2999 - 1-888-BIBLE-44
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