“And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.” – Deuteronomy 6:24
“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” – Isaiah 42:8
In part 1 on Jesus’ statement that “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5), I wrote about one of my favorite movies, The Matrix, and how Agent Smith thought mankind stinks and he only wants them to obey his rules so he can be left alone. Also in that movie, Neo fights to free mankind from rules so they can be “free” even if that freedom does nothing to address that they stink. Agent Smith was the “malevolent incarnation,” and Neo the “ambivalent incarnation.”
By now you probably anticipated that Jesus is the “benevolent incarnation,” but to show what that means we return to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (last discussed in detail here). A messenger came to Jesus telling Him that Lazarus was ill, but instead of returning to Bethany immediately to help, Jesus intentionally delayed in coming until Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus knew all along that He would immediately raise Lazarus, but nobody else knew that and He found everyone in mourning. Martha heard Jesus’ hints but thought Lazarus would have a future “resurrection on the last day.”
Then, one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” – John 11:39
In this one exchange we see the contrast of Jesus to both Agent Smith and to Neo:
- The odor does not keep Jesus from loving His people. He does not even comment on it but responds “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” He did not become human to tell us we stink and how he can’t stand being with us, as Agent Smith did. He was willing to live among us in order to bring us to a better place, to be with Him.
- His rule is for the good of Lazarus, Martha, all the witnesses to this event, and everyone hearing the story today. When Jesus tells Martha to move the stone, He isn’t bullying her or oppressing her, but He is giving her a command. For Lazarus to come out of the tomb the stone needs to be moved, and Jesus is asking her to participate in a good work. Likewise, Jesus asks us to do many things, some listed explicitly in the Bible and others spoken to our conscience. All these rules are there to generate good works, as all His rules are expressions of “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore He is being neither malevolent nor ambivalent. As a benevolent God, Jesus cares about what we do because He knows what is good and bad for us. Unless we agree with what He knows is good and bad, we are actively rejecting the cure for our odor, the Christ who is “the resurrection and the life.”
- His rule brings Him glory, and Him alone. Jesus delayed in coming to raise Lazarus specifically “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” The entire situation was set up to deliver the lesson that as our Creator and Lord, He deserves all the credit.
In the opening verses, we see that His rules are “for our good always” (Deuteronomy 6:24), and also that He says, “my glory I give to no other” (Isaiah 42:8). In my church, prayers often end with “for our good and your glory, Amen.” I find that it’s often harder to give up the glory than it is to realize which path is the right one. But as I wrote in the last post of the series, “the value of meekness depends on who or what you are meek towards.” So giving Him the glory is just awareness that we are meek because He is worthy of our meekness.
Winning the Lottery
I’ll close with one illustration: Would you rather have someone deliver tomorrow’s newspaper to you with the winning lottery numbers, or would you rather work eternally on a system to try and predict them but never win? Rejecting God’s truth and trying to make our own is like choosing the second option. I too often would rather get credit for losing than win but not get credit for it, and I suspect I’m not the only one. Picking the second option has replaced God in the hearts of many, from the inscription across the Pantheon in Rome, a temple to the many gods they claimed to serve (“M AGRIPPA L F COS TERTIVM FECIT”, which loosely means “Marcus Agrippa built this”) to Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” or Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”
If we accept that Jesus is our God, that He is benevolent and that His rule is for our good and His glory, then we win the best prize every time – eternal life in a perfect world. Every sacrifice we make is worth it, and we end up being the person we were created to be, full of joy and peace and love. If we choose a malevolent or ambivalent lord to follow, not only do we lose the prize, but we have to take the credit for losing it. These ‘lords’ often don’t even claim to have the prize, just abstractions like “freedom” or “order.” In Jesus, the winning lottery ticket has been offered to us all along, but we didn’t want to admit where we got it from, or that its prize was more important than what we thought we wanted.
 John 11:24
 John 11:40
 From Matthew 22:37 and 39
 John 11:25
 John 11:4b
 When I visited Rome in 2003, I learned that the Catholic Church, when building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, removed the gold from above the entrance to the Parthenon and used it in the Basilica. Only exposed, rotten wood planks remain where the gold was removed. While St. Peter’s drive the Protestant Reformation since it was largely funded with the ‘indulgences’ that launched Martin Luther’s protest, the transfer of this gold was an obvious rebuke to the pantheism of the old Roman Empire.