“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!’ ” Revelation 5:11-12 (NRSV)
How does the Church love in a world with so many opposing views of what love should look like? We see some who say that love can be boiled down to telling the truth and demanding that everyone lives up to its standard. There are others who say genuine love is letting people live their lives however they see fit, no matter the consequences. The problem with these options is that truth without grace becomes cold and indifferent to the experiences of others, while grace divorced from truth dissolves into a kind of whimsical feeling shifting from one day to the next. We need to be a Church that enters into this world upholding both grace and truth.
But how? Well, we can start by clinging to the One that is full of both.
John 1:14 says that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory…full of grace and truth” (NASB). Word became flesh. Grace and truth. It is no accident that John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, chooses these words to describe Jesus. They are apparent contradictions, seemingly irreconcilable with each other. How can this person be completely full of both “grace” and “truth”? It is precisely in this tension that we begin to uncover the beautiful mystery of divine love.
But what, exactly, does this “divine love” look like?
Fortunately for us, Jesus provides us with tangible examples of this divine love throughout his life as recorded in the gospels. Here are just a few of these examples:
- Jesus drives out merchants from the temple with all the force of a fanatic (Mt. 21:12-13) and then turns around to show compassion and heal the lame and the blind (Jn. 5:7-9).
- Jesus, with a mighty word, calms the screaming winds and the towering waves (Mk. 4:35-41), but finds himself speechless when weeping with his closest friends (Jn. 11:35).
- Jesus scolds the religious leaders of his day with all of the conviction of a prophet (Mt. 23:33), but is also willing to converse with a Pharisee under the cloak of night (Jn. 3:1-21).
- Jesus, the same one who on the mountainside became transfigured in radiant glory (Lk. 9:28-36) was somehow able to forgive those who tortured and mocked him (Lk 23:34).
- Jesus, the King of the Cosmos (Rev. 19:16), the second person in the divine community (Jn. 10:30), and the promised Messiah (Is. 9:6-7) finds himself forsaken and alone on the cross struggling for every breath (Matthew 27).
As we study the constellation of events, teachings, and actions throughout Jesus’ life, a pattern of divine love begins to emerge.
In Jesus we see the fullness of grace and the fullness of truth exist without tension. This kind of paradoxical love transcends all of our earthly categories, it breaks into our feeble constructs and completely transforms everything it touches. In Jesus we have our answer to the problem of having to choose between one good thing at the expense of the other. Jesus, fully God and fully man, showed us that in him all beauty and goodness can exist together in perfect harmony. Grace and truth, justice and compassion, rest and action, all of these things find their fullest expression in the life and love of Jesus.
To help us understand this more clearly, John in Revelation 5 provides a beautiful picture of this divine love. He describes his vision of the angels searching for the one who is able to break the seal of the scrolls that hold within them all of mysteries of God and His Truth. Then one of the elders tells John to not worry because “the Lion of the tribe of Judah… has conquered” and will be able to accomplish what no one else can do. But when John looks around for this “Lion,” he instead sees “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” taking the scrolls with authority and power. What a breathtaking picture. The logic of divine love, which is the wisdom of God, tells us that the fierce power of the Lion finds its ultimate expression through the humble state of a sacrificed Lamb.
And here is where we enter the picture, Church: It is precisely because we are in relationship with Jesus, who mysteriously holds all these things together, that we are compelled to do the same. We too have this very same love because we are in Christ and Christ is in us (2 Cor. 13:5). By virtue of Christ’s presence in our lives, we carry this divine love wherever we go. We need Christ Himself to indwell us with His Spirit so that we may carry the fullness of truth and grace into the world. This means we do not have to choose between our convictions and our compassion but instead we allow them, through Christ, to inform who we are and what we do in this world. Is this not the Gospel message that we are both saved from our sins by God’s grace and are now called to live in His truth? Does Jesus not, after saving the adulterous woman from death by stoning then tell her to “go and sin no more”?
So, as the Church, we must reject the ultimatums of our world outright. We cannot subscribe only to grace or truth, to only compassion or justice, to only us or them. We have a better answer, the only answer: The Love of the Lion and of the Lamb.
So this day, this week, and for the rest of your lives abide in Jesus Christ and let his perfect love transform all of who you are. The world desperately needs it.
Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor
(Featured Image artwork: The Sacrificial Lamb by Josefa de Ayala)