Nothing

Might we dare to become nothing with him to bring his lost loved children home? 

Recently I read a quote by Kierkegaard that took my breath away, until I realized what he really meant: 

“I have only one word to say, but if the power were given me to utter it, that single phrase, so that it would be fixed and unforgettable, then my choice is already made and I know what I would say: ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ was nothing; O Christendom, remember this!’” — Søren Kierkegaard, Papers 

“Our Lord Jesus Christ was nothing!!” This statement was startling, even blasphemous, to me at first. But then I remembered these verses: 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as (think like, direct your mind, seek for, set your mind, have the mind and thoughts of) Christ Jesus:  

Who, being in very nature God (though he was God), did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (grasped, asserted, clung to, exploited),  

rather, he made himself nothing (emptied himself, gave up his divine privileges, made himself of no reputation, without recognition, valueless) by taking the very nature of a servant (slave), being made in human likeness.  

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled (assigned himself a lower rank, abased) himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV) 

Kierkegaard, in Denmark, was reacting, as Wilberforce had done earlier in Englandi, to the prevailing Pharisitic mindset that focused on outward appearances, and believed that all it took to be a Christian was to live in a “Christian” nation, attend the State-approved (acceptable) church, give your tithes, and, even better, have your own noticeable pew dedicated to your family. What you did the rest of the week didn’t matter. Individual responsibility for holiness was unknown or ignored. 

Most of these, especially well-to-do, churchgoers wanted to be “something.” They wanted to be “somebody.” But our worth to God does not come from outward appearances, accomplishments or wealth. In fact, these sorts of “something” may be detestable to God if they become our gods. 

He said to them [the Pharisees], “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:15  

But Jesus chose to be “nothing,” though he, of all humans to ever walk the earth, had the right to be Somebody – King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But he chose to be of no reputation, valueless, and he is our model. The word describing Jesus’ choice to become “nothing” is the Greek verb kenóō, which meansproperly, to empty out, render void; (passive) be emptied – hence, without recognition, perceived as valueless (Phil 2:7).” ii 

This Greek word comes from kenós, which means “empty, void; hence, worthless (“null”), amounting to zero (of no value, profit).”   

Very few of us choose to be a big fat zero. We may feel like one, but we rarely choose it. Most of us crave the approval, the recognition, the respect of the world. You can only choose to be nothing and valueless in the sight of the world if you have a solid-rock certainty that you are of infinite value to God – and that others also have infinite value. 

And Jesus knew his value to God – “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). And he knew our value to God, for it beat passionately, faithfully, unending, unchanging in his heart, the very heart of God. And so, he came to be a nothing and to be “obedient to death— even death on a cross” for us. You are of great value to your Father. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16  

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9 

Might I dare to become nothing with him to bring his lost loved children home? What would that look like? It would mean to trust utterly, even to the last breath. 

But he has demonstrated his own love for us … 

“God creates out of nothing—wonderful, you say: yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.” — Søren Kierkegaard, Journals 

God keeps bringing this theme back to me in different facets. See also Emptied

i A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Middle and Higher Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. William Wilberforce. Fulltext available at Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/25709  

ii Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

Image: Detail from Ford Maddox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet [1852-6], Tate Archive, image  released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Out of the Heart

God is always, relentlessly, about the inside out.

“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 

The word translated “with” here – “with all your heart” – is ek or ex. It is “a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds), from, out (of place, time, or cause literal or figurative).”i So, you could also translate this command as “Love the Lord your God out of, or, from the whole of your heart.”  

I guess what struck me about this verse is that the love that Jesus is talking about comes from the inside out. It is not just part either, like a tithe or what is convenient. It is all, whole, completely. This is like the poor widow that impressed Jesus so much. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of (ek) her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44 

She gave “out of.” She gave all.  

And, this kind of love is not pasted on the outside. There is a related Greek word, exothen, which means “from without.” It is the word Jesus used when rebuking the Pharisees. 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside [exothen] of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26 

 They did their good, religious works, not out from their hearts, but from the outside. They were “from without” like the costume and makeup and script of an actor. That is what hypocrite means in the Greek: “an actor under an assumed character.”  

But God is always, relentlessly, about the inside out. 

Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” … [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of (ek) a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.” Mark 7:15, 20-23 

Maybe that is what circumcising your heart is all about. Getting rid of the outside, the “from without” attempts to be right with God – the attempts that so often end up in play-acting and self-righteousness – and get down to what is really in there. 

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that (for the purpose, to the intent that, to the end that) you may live. Deuteronomy 30:6 (ESV) 

In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus is quoting the “Shema” in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. When I went back to see the corresponding Hebrew word for the Greek ek, “out of,” I was surprised to find that the word translated “with” is not in the Hebrew at all. It is as if the commandment is:  

Love the Lord your God heart! Love him soul! Love him strength! All and completely – the whole of, altogether, the totality! 

The Shema talks straight to the heart, and God’s passionate desire is that the heart respond straight back. Like the poor widow, there might not be much of worth in there. I know there is not much good in mine, except what He has given. But, out of the poverty of my spirit, out of my yearning heart, I want to respond completely and totally.  

As you are one, Lord, may our hearts and mind and strength respond to your command in love as one. Unified and pure. 

The goal of this command is love, which comes from (ek = out of) a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5 

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11 

Love the Lord your God heart! 

Image, Widow’s Mite – Ancient Roman Bronze Coins, by Royce Bair https://flic.kr/p/7kuEAk  

With

This seemingly insignificant Hebrew word – here humbly translated into English as “with” – carries within it the very heart of God.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (beside, by, among, accompanying) your God. Micah 6:8

“… to walk humbly with your God.” That little word translated into English as “with” is the Hebrew word ‘im (עִם). Within this lowly word lies an amazing hidden treasure. It is related to the Hebrew word ‘am, which means people, nation, clan, tribe, family. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ‘am is “predominantly used to express two basic characteristics of [people] considered as a grouping: 1) relationships sustained within or to the group and 2) the unity of the group.”

Already, ‘im carries this meaning of relationship. The Wordbook goes on to say:

“‘im, the preposition, as ‘am the noun, expresses the concept of inclusiveness, togetherness, company … the basic conception conveyed is that of fellowship, companionship, common experiences of suffering, prosperity etc. … the term, as all other prepositions, may have definite theological implications. All prepositions indicate relationships, and ‘im in particular stresses a close relationship. This type of relationship should be maintained between God and man, man and man since it is essential for any person’s salvation, eternal life and the worship and service of God.”[i]

This little word translated “with” is the first part of the word Immanuel which is the “symbolic and prophetic name of the Messiah, the Christ, prophesying that He would be born of a virgin and would be ‘God with us.’”[ii]

This seemingly insignificant Hebrew word – here humbly translated into English as “with” – carries within it the very heart of God. His heart that we should walk with him in relationship, fellowship and companionship. That we would share in his sufferings here on earth. That we would be part of a people and a family as his children. That we should accomplish, bring about justice. That we should do, and love doing, good deeds of mercy and kindness. That we should grow more and more like him, walking humbly beside and among our brothers and sisters and our Lord, who accompanies us always.  

By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2:5-6 (NASB)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:14-15

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

Lord, give us grace to walk humbly with You.

Photo copyright by Jack Bair 2019


[i] Archer, Gleason L., Jr., Harris, Robert, Waltke, Bruce K., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody, 1980.

[ii] Gesenius, H. F. W., Brown, Francis, Robinson, Edward, Driver, S. R., Briggs, Charles A., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.

Brokenhearted God

Brokenhearted God
Who comforts the comfortless
Let us comfort you
We whose hearts are broken here on earth
Let your tears fall
And join with ours
Let them form that mighty justice river
Let it water the brokenhearted earth
Along with the blood of the sufferers
The blood of your Son

 

But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40

 

Bible verses from the New American Standard Bible

Image in the Public Domain

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