Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12 v 2)
Last year, I did a new thing for Advent, searching the bible for names of Jesus, and using one each day to help me to focus on him, the reason for this season! I pick them out of the bowl at random, and then make an effort to think during the ensuing day about what that title means, and how it enriches my understanding of Jesus and all that he is.
Yesterday, it was this verse from Hebrews, reminding me that Jesus is both the author – the source of the plan of salvation – and also the perfecter of our faith. He not only drew up the blueprint, but came from heaven, from the glory of his father’s throne, and worked it out down to the last detail in his own body. Stuart Townend & Keith Getty put it succinctly in their song ‘See what a morning’ – ” See God’s salvation plan, born in love, wrought in pain, paid in sacrifice”.
There is nothing left for me to add…. no ticking of boxes, no achieving of prescribed standards of behaviour, or conforming to a particular mould. I can only receive, agreeing in my heart with a holy God, that I have nothing worthwhile to offer him, and that I stand in desperate need of a Saviour. My human pride rebels over and against this, seeking any way that I might put God in my debt, and somehow deserve this priceless gift which he is offering me. Surely, if I pray with great persistence, give sacrificially, witness at every opportunity, then I will have earned God’s favour?
What did Paul say in 1 Corinthians chapter 13? That one can be the most gifted, dedicated servant but without love – without that response to God in my heart – I am NOTHING. All my labours achieve is to wear me out with well-doing, creating a bitter and resentful heart as I see that God continues to bless others who do not try as much as I do, and that hard and painful things continue to happen to me.
What a relief it is by comparison to accept that it is only in Christ that I have any claim on God, and then to recognise that Christ’s claim is absolute! In him, I am a beloved child of the King of Kings, acceptable to a holy God, secure in my new family ties and with an eternal life in which to enjoy and work them out. The perfect son of God is the one who planned my salvation from the beginning, and is also the one who carries it through to completion, so that in the end he will present us – all his people – pure and spotless before the throne of God. It is not my labours after perfection which determine my future, but his finished work which guarantees it.
Yes, it is right and proper that in our response to this love we should desire to become like Jesus in his holiness, that we should long to share the good news of his death and resurrection, and to care for all his children. But while we remain in frail human flesh, our efforts will remain flawed and compromised. It’s ok! God knows and understands, welcoming our desire to be changed, to serve and love in his name, and enabling us more and more to live in this way as we trust him for daily strength and perseverance.
I don’t have to be perfect, because Jesus is perfect for me. I just need to remain in his presence, depending on and loving him more than anything else. The apostle Paul wrote to his Philippian church to encourage them in this kind of faithful living, reminding them that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. (Phil 1 v 6)
The title of this piece, two Greek letters which stand at the beginning and end of that alphabet, is another of the names given to Jesus (Rev 22 v 13). This idea that he is before and after all things, somehow holding it all together, is a richly satisfying picture for me, and ties in very closely with the verse from Hebrews with its sense of the completeness of his work. The words are also quoted in a very old hymn, not often sung nowadays, but full of good theology and worth revisiting! I will close with it this week, and pray that as you take these words and think over them, you will be filled with praise for Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he,
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!
(Aurelius Clemens Prudentius 348-413, translated by J M Neale 1818-66)