I've been thinking about the various roles that we sometimes assign to Jesus.
I was once asked to pray publicly at a non-religious event, with several hundred people in attendance. I ended my prayer with a typical "Amen." Some well-meaning folks there criticized me because I didn't say "In the name of Jesus." I reminded them that my prayer was consistent with the one Jesus taught us in the first place—the one we call The Lord's Prayer. That didn't change any minds.
I do pray in the name of Jesus. But I am sometimes concerned that we tag that line on to the end of our prayers as if it is the amount of postage required to get it to heaven, or that it puts it at the top of God's IN-BOX. "In the name of Jesus" is not a talisman that promises good luck; it is, rather, the framework of all our prayers (and our deeds), whether we utter the words or not. Jesus is not a good-luck charm.
We also occasionally cast Jesus into the role of Buffer. We conclude that God is angry with us because of our sin, and would just as soon destroy us as look at us. Jesus steps into the picture, dies horribly at the demand of God, and now stands between the human race and this rageful deity. It is difficult to see ourselves as the beloved of God, part of the world that God loves, if God actually despises us and would like to kill us. Good thing that Jesus runs interference.
This, too, is a problem.
I tell my students that, when we think about the way to God, we do well to begin here: God is the way to God. We who call ourselves Christians believe that, in Jesus, God has revealed himself in the most tangible, real way possible. In doing so, he has fully identified with our broken, sinful condition and has given all of himself to us, that we might be rescued from a life that is perishing.
In this we see Jesus, not as talisman or buffer, but as the very embodiment of the God who has always loved us, and has always intended to rescue the world from sin and death.
We need a fresh image of Jesus. I know that I do.
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