My Neighbour Wants to Know What God Is Like
6/5/2019 4:28:02 AM
Col 1:15-16; Mark 1:40-42; Matt 19:13-14; John 14:9-10
June 2, 2019
Rev. David Williams
What is God like? This is one of the ultimate questions we can ask! It is a question the answer to which matters more than anything else we can think of!
In an episode of the Simpsons, Homer decides to quit church and after meeting God in a dream, he starts his own religion! Upon hearing that Homer met God in a dream, Bart asks him, “What does he look like?” Homer responds, “Perfect teeth, nice smell. A class act all the way!” For all the shots that the Simpsons takes at church, they actually portray God respectfully! In the episode, God has 5 fingers, compares to the 4 most cartoons have. J
But what is God really like? Is he vengeful as some people say? Is he temperamental like the gods of mythology? Does he have perfect teeth? What’s he like?
This is our question this week in My Neighbour Wants to Know ….
My neighbour wants to know who and what God is? Now, upon further reflection, I suppose someone could have been asking for a description of the ontological nature of God; that God is spirit, God is the eternal first cause of all the universe, the creator and sustainer of the universe, etc. I suppose that could be of some interest and it is actually very important! We could talk about God being all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present and eternal. These give us a sense of his majesty and the immensity and awesomeness of his deity, of his being God. However! Most religions that believe in a god, or multiple gods, have this sense of God’s awesomeness. I want us to zero in on the Christian God and what HE is like!
Again, like many of the questions we are engaging in this series, the Bible doesn’t have one specific passage that gives us the complete or concise answer. So today, more than most days, we are going to jump around a bit and look at a number of passages. These are not the only passages that tell us what the Christian God is like, but I want to use them to give us a starting point to (hopefully) gain a new understanding of God’s character. This, I hope, will then give us an intriguing answer when our neighbours ask us who God is or what God is like!
The Deity of Christ
The first passage, from Colossians, is a central passage in our understanding of the deity of Christ. What does that mean? “The deity of Christ” is the understanding that Jesus is fully God. Deity means God. So this passage states very clearly that everything that was created was created by him. The power to create out of nothing is a power only God has! Furthermore, all of the “thrones, powers, rules or authorities” are those entities (spiritual, political, human or supernatural) that would attempt to rival Jesus for supremacy. Jesus created all of these things, even if they have since been corrupted! His status as “firstborn” is not a question of his being born or created, but rather the status as the Son in the Trinity having authority over all these things. But here’s the vital part for our discussion: In Christ we see God himself revealed.
God is Spirit. He does not have a physical body. He is invisible. All that we know of God is what God chooses to reveal of himself to us. We cannot go looking for God, stumble upon him and observe him without his knowing, like a scientist studying animals in the wild! We can observe what God does. We can observe what he reveals of himself in Scripture, but these are secondary means of learning about God. They are one degree removed from God.
So what we know of God is what God reveals of himself. In Christ, the invisible God suddenly becomes visible, not just in having a body, but suddenly we can observe God in action! We can see what God is like by seeing what Jesus is like. Jesus makes visible (is the image) of the invisible (hidden or unobservable) God.
What we see in Jesus can be applied to God. Usually, when we talk about the deity of Christ, that he is
God, we go from the top down. We apply what we know of God to Jesus, like being all knowing and all powerful. In Jesus, these characteristics were someone veiled or even temporarily surrendered during his earthly ministry, but have been restored since the resurrection. Most of the time, we do this top down, God to Jesus application.
However! The deity of Christ works the other way too. What we see in Jesus, especially in his character, can be applied “bottom up” or “earthy up” to God. In Jesus we see the character of God. That’s what it means (at least in part) that he is the image of the invisible God!
The Character of Jesus
So, what, then is the character of Jesus? If Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, if he shows us the character of God firsthand, what does he show us? The whole New Testament is full of examples of the character of Jesus coming shining through, but we see many of them in the Gospels themselves. That is, we see most thoroughly the character of Jesus in the 4 books that narrate his earthly ministry: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We read brief passages from 3 of these books before. Let’s see what these passages tell us about Jesus, and by extension, what they tell us about what God is like!
Jesus touched the untouchable people. In Israel, the term “leprosy” or people with leprosy, “lepers,” referred to what we would identify as a range of skin conditions or diseases. The tragic part, though, was that a person who was identified as having one of these diseases, became an outcast. Lepers in Israel were not allowed in people’s houses because they made anything they touched or came in contact with ceremonially unclean. Anything lepers touched became “unholy” and had to be ceremonially cleaned, which took a lot of work and special sacrifices. Lepers themselves were forced to live outside the city or town. They never had any physical contact with a non-leper until their own disease went away.
By Jesus’ day, whenever lepers walked somewhere, they had to ring a bell and shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn people to get out of their way! One Pharisee whose writings survive speaks proudly of throwing stones at lepers to keep them far away so that he didn’t accidentally get too close and become unclean himself! So this leper who came to Jesus, broke all the rules by running up to Jesus! Most people in Jesus’ place would have run away, or shrunk back. But what did Jesus do? He lifted up his hand and TOUCHED the leper! And then he said, “Be clean.” He then sent the man to the priests to have his healing confirmed and be given the status of being cleansed.
Jesus had compassion on outcasts from society. When the leper came to Jesus, Jesus was filled with compassion. There are a number of other cool things happening in this brief text. First, it was commonly held in Israel that only GOD could cure leprosy! But the leper came to Jesus saying, “You can heal me!” Second, Jesus didn’t pray for him, didn’t intercede with God for him, but healed him directly! A statement about Jesus’ identity!
When he healed the man, rescuing him from affliction and restoring him to health and community, Jesus “stretched forth his hand,” vocabulary used of God in Exodus for recuing Israel! [David Garland, Mark, p. 82] Finally, in Jesus’ day, because a leper was “dead to the community” curing leprosy was likened to raising someone from the dead! [Garland, Mark, p. 75]
Our next text deals with another group on the bottom of society’s totem pole- children! Jesus loved and cared for children. In the ancient world, especially in Roman culture, children were not valued. Often unwanted children were left to die of exposure! Grammatically, in Greek, children are “its” until they become men or women. This low view of children may not have extended to Judaism to the same degree, but we can see from the disciples’ response to the parents that they believed Jesus’ time was too important to be spent on babies! But Jesus was indignant! And he insisted on spending time with these children, wrapping them in his arms, holding them, praying over them and blessing them! He even went further to say, “The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” We see his character and attitude to insignificant people!
Jesus Reveals the Father
Our final text is taken from a discussion between Jesus and his 12 disciples in the Upper Room on the night Jesus was betrayed. Thomas has asked Jesus where he is going so that they can follow him. Jesus says that if they really knew him, they would know his Father as well. Philip, then, asks Jesus to show them the Father and that will be enough. Jesus replies, “Don’t you know me?... Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…” This is another text that tells us how Jesus reveals the character of God the Father to the world! When asked to reveal the Father, Jesus says, “Look at me!”
Everything Jesus did is fully in keeping with God’s character. This means that Jesus lets us know what God is really like! And the Jesus revealed in the New Testament as a whole, and the Gospels in particular, is a wonderful man! Even Mahatma Gandhi said he likes Jesus, he loved Jesus in fact! It’s Christians that Gandhi didn’t like. (He went on to say that if Christians were like Jesus all of India would be Christian!)
Consider, now, what we saw of Jesus with the leper and with children…. When we come to God, when we fall on our knees before God, and beg him to heal that which afflicts us that nobody else can heal, he is filled with compassion for us too! We can learn a lot from this unnamed leper! He recognizes Jesus as God. He runs to Jesus. He begs Jesus for healing and he trusts that Jesus can do it if he wills. So, when we run to God, he has compassion on us, stretches out his hand, and moved mightily in us! It may not be instant (just as the leper in the text still had to go to the priest to be examined!) but God has brings healing to us too!
God always has time for the vulnerable and the innocent, especially children. Children have little to no “instrumental value.” That is, they can’t really do anything for us. They can’t earn anything for us, they can’t help us, they’re costly and time consuming. But they are special, precious and valuable! Parents see this in their own kids- our kids are precious and valuable to us, but these kids weren’t Jesus’ kids. And still, he saw them as precious, valuable and worthy of his time and attention.
In the same way, God loves children, and the child-like. God has a special place in his heart for the innocent! And he does not want anybody to stand in the way of little ones being brought to him. He is compassionate, kind and winsome, just like Jesus!
(Aside application) By the way, dads and those who want to be dads- God is our Heavenly Father, revealed in Jesus, and he is affectionate with children! If, as a dad, you want your kids to grow up loving God, demonstrate love to them from the time they are small. Snuggle them in your lap, tell them you love them, be affectionate and tender with them, even as they grow up. If not, they won’t be able to imagine a Father in Heaven who would do so with them. You set the template for fatherhood for them, including the fatherhood of God! Children with affectionate, Christian fathers are far more likely to grow up loving God than children with Christian fathers who are not affectionate!
Even though he is the all-powerful, all-knowing lord of the universe, God has time, compassion and love for the little guy, the marginalized, the outcast and the lost. This is one of the profound messages of the good news of Jesus. God loves us so much that he took the time, made the effort, at great cost to himself, to be with us, to come to us, to be near us, to spend time with us, to touch us lovingly and to heal our deepest hurts and provide for our greatest needs. This is God! This is what God is like!
So what are we to do with all this? How do we answer a neighbour who asks us what God is like?
Most people who know anything about Jesus like Jesus. Jesus comes across as a very likeable person in the Bible and even in our culture. If somebody asks what God is like, ask them what they think of Jesus. If they want to know more, direct them to one of the Gospels in the Bible, maybe Mark or John, but any of the 4. Tell them to read it, and then understand that Jesus shows us what God is like!
If people want to know what God is like, point them to Jesus. Most people who know anything about Jesus like him, they just don’t believe, or want to believe, that he is fully God- that he reflects God’s character! But encourage people to read the Bible that way- look at Jesus and realize he is revealing to us what God is like!
The second way to know what God is like is through the community of people in whom God’s Spirit lives. This is commonly called “the church.” And this is where most of the problem lies! The Church is filled with broken people. That’s to be expected because all people are broken. The issue, though, is not the broken people, but the broken people who act like they’re not broken! The problem with Christianity is all the Christians who are not like Jesus! They give Jesus a bad name. They give God a bad name. They make it hard for people to believe in a good, loving God who is concerned with the marginalized, the outcast, the insignificant people of the world.
The people of God are to have the character of God. Those who surrender to Jesus, those who humbly kneel before him and ask him to fix them and heal them, bear the name of Christ, “Christian.” They are also to be growing in the character of Christ. Through the Holy Spirit living in them and bringing them new life, they are to be more and more godly people- that is, more and more filled with compassion, willing to make the time for the
outcast and marginalized, loving the unloved, the bottom of society. They should be winsome, kind and lovely people that others want to come to, want to bless their children!
To show our neighbour what God is like, we are building a community in which to belong. This is just a part of our mission here at Priory, but an important part. Our vision is to see broken people becoming whole through the love of Christ. This includes each of us in the “broken people” category! We may not have leprosy on our skin, but we all have leprosy on our hearts! And we are coming to Jesus, falling on our knees and begging him to heal us. And as we are healed, as the Spirit lives in us, we are learning how to love one another with godly love- being filled with compassion for the marginalized, our fellow broken and insignificant people. This means being a community in which all broken people belong.
At the risk of concluding with the words of Homer Simpson, What is God like? God is a class act all around. I don’t know if he has perfect teeth or a nice smell, but I do know he is a class act all around. How do I know? Because Jesus is a class act all around. And, as a Christ-follower, I want to be more like him. Amen.
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