A Twilight Musing
We have a politician on the national scene who consistently speaks in superlatives, a practice which leads to some skepticism about when the superlative is really applicable to the thing he’s talking about—sort of the “boy who cried ‘Wolf!’ principle. We all have some temptation to exaggerate in order to enhance people’s perception of our talents and accomplishments, but we always run the risk of being caught out by doing so. The only being who can legitimately speak in, or be spoken of, in superlatives is God, and that occurs frequently in Scripture. Take Eph. 1:17-22 as an example, in which Paul prays for the Ephesians,
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Note that the greatness of God’s power toward believers is “immeasurable”; that Christ has been seated “far above all rule and authority” and “above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come,” that is, for all eternity, without end.
A little later in the epistle, Paul prays again that the disciples in Ephesus will be “rooted and grounded in love, [and] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17b-19). Paul is not one to speak in moderate terms when he refers to what God has done and is doing for those in Christ; he wants all of his readers to “comprehend . . . the breadth, and length and height and depth” of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” But that understanding is not to be achieved by human effort, but by the superlative “power that is at work in us,” which is able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” The fountainhead of such an immeasurable outpouring of God’s Spirit is the atoning death of Jesus, an unfathomably extravagant gift of the Father, an unbelievably radical act of obedience by the Son. As Paul says in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (8:31b-32).
In the Apostle’s description of his own response to such extravagant love we see the challenge for all of us to be similarly committed, without restraint or reservation: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). In another place he describes being fully possessed by the Spirit of Christ, keeping nothing of his former self, so that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus Himself expected an extravagant commitment from those who proposed to follow Him, calling His inner twelve to leave their occupations to become fishers of men, bidding a rich man to sell all he had and give to the poor, and challenging people to put the kingdom of God ahead of all other earthly ties.
I will conclude with a poem that depicts a contrast between moderate, conventional responses to Christ and a radical, all-giving act of love. In the scriptural account on which the poem is based, Jesus draws a symbolic parallel between her action and Jesus’ own pouring out of Himself on the cross: “She has done a beautiful thing to me . . . . She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (Mark 14:6, 8). We should remember her when we’re tempted to be merely moderate Christians.
The Broken Jar
The ointment with abandon
Runs down His cheek,
Sweetly joining tears of love
Set flowing by her extravagance.
Beauty and prescience
Are mingled there,
While spare and cautious faces
Grimace at the waste.
They advocate the shorter way—
Slipping pennies to the poor,
And making sure the books are kept.
But Jesus wept
That one should share His sacrifice,
And break the jar to pour out all.
--Elton D. Higgs
(Jan 9, 1977)