Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Jesus Comes to Sabbath School - A Parable

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Imagine you are one of the disciples of Jesus. This should take little to no imagination, because all Christians are His disciples! But, stretch your imagination a little further and imagine you are one of the twelve, sitting at His feet daily for the three years of His earthly ministry. 

Now imagine the rest of the disciples are your Sabbath School class members. In your mind’s eye, look around the circle of people you study with each Sabbath. 

As you scan the circle, you recognise each face and then, between two Sabbath School classmates, you see Jesus — the same Jesus who “had tact to meet the prejudiced minds, and surprise them with illustrations that won their attention. Through the imagination He reached the heart” (Desire of Ages, 254).

Jesus says, “I will be leaving you soon. It is my hope that you will fully remember and represent me when I am gone.”

“Leaving us?” you say, “But we still have so much to learn!”

“Yes,” Jesus says. “And yet, you have each come so far.” His eyes scan the circle, “Remember the day I found you?”

Heads nod around the group. 

“I was lost in sin,” a disciple says.

“As were we all,” you say.

“All have sinned,” Jesus says, “and all will be forgiven once they think to ask.”

“We have repented,” a disciple says.

“And we have been forgiven!” says another.

“And yet one thing I still have against you,” Jesus says.

“What one thing?” you say.

“The one thing I have yet to forgive you,” Jesus says. “The one thing you have yet to confess.”

“I was a liar,” one disciple says. “Many of us were. But I have confessed that.”

“As have you all,” Jesus said. “And you have been forgiven.”

“I hated my Father, and let it be known,” another disciple says.

“Confessed, long ago,” Jesus says. “And forgiven.”

“What sin is it that remains?” you ask.

“Yes, what is it?” the group says.

“You know what it is,” Jesus says. “But you dare not speak it.”

The group goes silent. 

You discretely make eye contact with Jesus, furrowing your brow, silently asking if it is that thing which He knows because you have told Him in private confession. He shakes His head ever so slightly. 

Jesus looks around the group making eye contact with each disciple and in turn gently shaking his head from side to side. “I have forgiven you for all this,” He says.

“Then what?” the group asks.

“If you truly believed,” Jesus says, “you would know.”

“I believe,” you cry, “help my unbelief!”

The other disciples grunt their agreement. 

“Repentance is a gift,” Jesus says. “When you truly know what to repent of, and are forgiven for it, you can begin to bear God’s image with clarity and love.”

“Is that the answer?” you ask.

“Hmm?” Jesus says.

“We need to love others?” You say.

“We have failed to love!” another disciple says.

“I love some people deeply,” you say.

“But not every person,” another disciple says, slowly. “If we are to love them all, why are many so unlovely?” 

Jesus’ smile quivers, pain fills his eyes.

You see Jesus’ suffering and begin to understand. “How do you do it?” you ask, almost in a whisper.

“Do what?” Jesus asks.

“Love all,” you say. 

“I look to my Father,” Jesus says. “He is Love.”

“Show us the Father,” a disciple says, “So we can see His Love.”

“If you have seen me,” Jesus says, “You have seen the Father.”

The disciples look from one to another. 

“This is a hard teaching,” you say. 

“Yes!” the group agrees.

“Look to me,” Jesus says. “Fix your eyes on me. I have mine fixed on the Father. I show you the fullness of His character in my Love.”

One of the disciples begins to cry. Then to sob. “I’m sorry Jesus,” he says, “I’m not worthy of such love.” 

Jesus leaves His chair and kneels in front of the weeping disciple, resting His hands on the disciple’s convulsing shoulders. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks. 

“You know everything,” the disciple sobs. “and that means you already know that I love you more than life itself.”

“Then feed my sheep,” Jesus whispers. 

Jesus returns to His chair. Your eyes scan the group and you see tears flowing down many faces. 

“Lord,” you say, “we all love you! You are the author and the finisher of each of us — of our hearts, our faith our very lives.”

“Yes! Yes!” Jesus claps his hands and then rubs them together in excitement. “You are so close! What do you see when you look to me? Close your eyes and imagine the scene. What do you see when you see me as the author of your faith?” He pauses for a moment. “What do you see when you see me as the finisher of your faith?” He pauses again. “Where are you in each of those moments in time?”

You close your eyes and imagine Jesus creating you. You imagine Him shaping you. You imagine Him finishing you. 

“Watching you”, you say. “I see you forming me, shaping me.” 

Jesus smiles. “When an artist prepares to author something new which he intends to finish, what must he have in mind?”

“A goal,” a disciple says.

“A template,” says another.

“What is God’s goal in the authoring and finishing of you?” Jesus pauses before adding, “What template does He use?”

“Himself?” you say.

“Yes,” Jesus says, rubbing his hands together again. “God began a good work in you with Himself in mind. You were authored in His image. It is His goal to finish you in His likeness. Not physically, but spiritually.” 

“You mean, we are to be like you,” you say. “Because you came from God.”

“Yes,” Jesus says. “I am the express image of God. I have come to show you how to have life to the full. My life is to be your example. I bear my Father’s image in fullness. You bear it as if looking through a dark glass. But, as I and the Father are one, my prayer is that you will be one with me!”

“But, we have so far to go,” a disciple says.

“Yes,” Jesus says.

“And so much to let go,” another disciple adds.

“Yes,” Jesus says.

“Jesus, I want to be like you,” you say. “But I am ashamed.”

Jesus slides forward off His chair, onto His knees. He folds His hands in front of his face, looking at you, wide-eyed, clearly anticipating your next words.

You continue, barely able to speak aloud, “I have so poorly bore the image of God in which I was created.” 

Tears fill Jesus’ eyes. He sits back, resting on his ankles. A tear trickles slowly down His cheek. Everyone watches it, transfixed, until it disappears into his beard. Jesus gently says, “What do you do when you are ashamed and sorry for something?”

“I repent,” you say, as you also slip off your chair onto your knees.

“I also repent,” each group member says in turn, sliding to their knees.

“And I confess my need for your grace,” you say.

The rest of the group murmurs their agreement.

Jesus straightens up tall on His knees and holds his hands out to the disciples on his left and right saying, “Join hands, let us pray.” The group joins hands until they are one.

“O righteous Father,” Jesus prays, “the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them” (John 17:25, 26).

“Today I bring my disciples to you in prayer,” Jesus says, “So they might confess that which we hold against them.”

Jesus goes quiet, waiting.

One bold disciple speaks into the silence, “I am sorry, Father, for always seeking the highest position. You always put those you love before yourself and therefore I have misrepresented you in my selfishness. I confess my marring of your image in this way.”

There is murmured agreement of confession by others who have seen the same selfishness in themselves.

“I too have tarnished your image, Father,” another disciple says. “I have hoarded my wealth. I don’t have much, but what I do have, I hide away so that it will not be grabbed at by needy hands, mouths and hearts. I am sorry.”

Sobs flow as one from the circle. Many heads nod in agreed contrition. 

“I confess my failure to be your living image on earth,” you say. “I am selfish with my time. Help me to be like your Son, always willing to be interrupted by the least of these, for the sake of your Kingdom.”

One by one, confessions of selfishness and repentance of smudged image-bearing come from the mouths of each member of your Sabbath School class. There is healing in repentance, a unity of heart in this circle of brokenness before God.

“Father,” Jesus concludes, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17: 20, 21). 

One by one, eyes open around the circle. Jesus releases the hands of His neighbours and presses his palms together, “I pray of you,” Jesus says, “my image-bearers, never let self rule your hearts again. It is, indeed, the enemy’s greatest weapon. Hold on to the oneness we have as Father, Son and Holy Spirit as He lives in you.” Jesus smiles. “Bless you. Bless you all. Your sins are forgiven.”

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