March 21, 2022
1 Peter 3:18-22 NIV
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
When I was a teenager trying to believe and behave I developed an imaginative sense of the presence of Jesus. I worked on the farm in the summers and was assigned to the irrigation crew; a job I hated with a passion. At around fifteen or sixteen I developed an extensive vocabulary and expansive command of cuss words. I would cuss the heat, the mosquitos, the mud, my boots, the irrigation pipes, and even, at times, my cousin, Lee. It became a habit. As I would drive the the truck on the farm from field to field, I began to imagine Jesus sitting in the seat across from me. With this conscious awareness, I began to watch my mouth. My cussing began to dissipate. I didn’t so much believe God was going to get me for cussing as much as I developed a reverence for the presence of God and a desire to revere and not willfully offend him. It became a strangely real phenomenon.
In speaking of the Ascension of Jesus, I love how one of the most celebrated biblical scholars and theologians of our time, N.T. Wright, puts it. He says something along the lines of, “Today, there is a Jewish carpenter seated in the heavens.” Looking back on the farm and those days of riding in the truck with Jesus, maybe I wasn’t so far off—a Jewish carpenter was seated in the truck with me. It has me wondering something I less and less wonder and more and more believe—the heavens are not somewhere out there over the rainbow. They are all around us.
The heavens are not so much directionally “up” as they are “through.” Through can be up but is not limited to such. I believe the heavens are a created dimension of reality everywhere around us all the time. They are not invisible but unseen. Note the difference. To say a person or thing is invisible is to say something about that person or thing—they are constitutionally invisible. It is impossible to see them. To say a person or thing is “unseen” is to say something about us and our capacity (or lack thereof) to see and perceive. The Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus Christ is not invisible. He is a real, physically embodied person who is unseen; however, he has been seen many times by many people, beginning with Stephen, the first martyr of the Church (Acts 7:55-56).
In becoming a human being, God severely limited himself to being one person in one place at one time. In ascending into Heaven, Jesus went from a single fixed place on earth to a fixed place of transcendent omnipresence in the heavens and yet imminently local on the earth. In other words, Jesus ascended from here to there so he could be intimately and movementally present from there to everywhere.
Some of you are no doubt wondering, “How does he know this?” Let me be clear. I don’t know this. I am not claiming these things have been somehow revealed to me. I claim no special or secret knowledge. This is my best biblically informed, theologically discerned thinking. These are my tentative working conclusions, and as always, I submit them humbly and make them subject to challenge, correction, and refinement.
So back to the farm and Jesus riding with me in the truck. I got to where I could almost see him. Something in me needed to have a sense of Jesus outside of me and yet near me before I could become more conscious of him present within me and at work through me. I think it is the same now. It’s kind of like this—if you say a person is everywhere but not really somewhere then it’s really more like they are nowhere—which makes them more of an idea or a concept than a person. We must get beyond our fuzzy notion of God as a nebulous spiritual force who is somehow omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. This is the basis of endless myths, sacred cows, baseless human imaginings, sinister power grabs, and ridiculous projections of human brokenness onto God. Jesus is a real person in a real place.
In the meantime there’s this little jewel of a word tucked in at the end of 2 Corinthians 4.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The Holy Spirit is stretching the fabric of my imagination, sanctifying this most supernatural, most human dimension of our personhood, and causing me to fix my eyes on what is unseen—in other words, to fix my eyes on Jesus.
The process also looks like this word from the Master himself:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8.
Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Thank you for taking us into a realm of understanding even angels long to peer into. Save us from vain speculation. Gift us with an understanding that will foment love and cause your Kingdom to flourish on earth as it is in heaven. We want to see Jesus. Holy Spirit, would you grant us a purity of heart, indeed that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Praying in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Have you ever seen Jesus?
For the Awakening,