An Earthly Scandal

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and indeed, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and indeed, something greater than Jonah is here!” (Luke 11:29–32 NRSV)

To know God is a scandal we often take for granted as followers of Jesus. For many of us, we have walked with Jesus so long we forget – or, dare I say, neglect – the reality that we live inside an earthly scandal: A people drawn to a way of life only made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ. And that life is altogether different, in fact antithetical, to the power grabs, fame-seeking, and self-preservation of this world’s value system.

It is a striking reality that the God of the universe does not primarily want us to perform for him or serve his mission as if he was somehow incomplete until we came along. No. The God of the universe primarily wants us to have the joy and peace of knowing him! This is at least part of the miss in Jonah’s life. His intimacy with God was outrun by his fear of the mission before him.

To know God is at the core of following Christ, and to follow Christ is to be at peace with him as the maker and creator of all things. There is none before him, none greater, none more truthful and beautiful than God. And this God longs to know us intimately. Imagine how Jonah would have been a different sign to us if he had simply rested in the peaceful presence of God’s love, before the ship, before the fish, before the vine?

And in all of that, I am finding increasingly as I age that the greatest peace I experience with Christ is when I am most intimately focused on him. His love. His sacrifice. His victory. And so I am propelled forward by these realities to pursue him more deeply and enjoy him more fully. I have sinned and fallen short, goodness yes! But greater is he who lives in me than he who lives in this world, so I walk not in shame or rebuke from my maker; I walk in peace, knowing I am united with the Father in Christ!

This excerpt paints a lovely picture that has served me well over the years. Please read and allow the picture to reframe your own peace with Christ this day:

Imagine a young man starting off on a two-mile walk across town to see a girl. Seeing her and spending the evening with her is the purpose and goal of his walk. She is very much alive in his imagination. He can’t keep her out of his mind. Passing a delicatessen, he remembers her favorite candy and buys a box. Passing a flower shop, he is inspired with the thought of how lovely she would look with flowers on her shoulder, so he buys a corsage. Passing old acquaintances, he entirely misses even seeing them. Passing a church, he looks particularly long at it, for he once heard her remark that that was where she would like to be married. Nearing her home, he glances at his reflection in a store window, straightens his tie, and fixes his hat. By the time he arrives at her door, we will have been able to list at least a dozen specific actions in the course of the two-mile walk, all caused by the girl in his imagination. She was in his conduct.

The image put before us is the ruling Christ, that we should “aspire to the realm above, where Christ is” (NEB). If this ruling Christ is alive in our aspirations and dreams, we will do things we never dreamed of doing before. Christ will be in our imaginations, in our purposes, in our goals. (Eugene H. Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 308.)

Stu Streeter is the NAB VP of Ministry Advancement & Church Multiplication.