Oh, there is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me. ~ John 16:12-14 (NLT)
One of our difficulties following Jesus is that we have co-opted Jesus for our own purposes, inviting him along on our journey rather than following him on his.
Creating Jesus in our own image is an easy thing to do because for many of us Jesus isn’t real; Jesus is simply a two-dimensional caricature like those we have seen placed on felt boards to illustrate Bible stories—flat, lifeless, old-fashioned. We are tempted to recreate Jesus because Jesus is imprisoned in our memories, no longer an alive, vibrant part of our experience. Some would say that the church hasn’t helped us with this temptation, that in fact the church is often the very source of Jesus’ chains, having forged link after link of tradition to hold him.
Many of us are confident we know Jesus because we know all the Bible stories about him, we have studied him, we’re familiar with what he did and said two thousand years ago. Because we know the Bible, we know what he said to the woman at the well. We know that he healed the blindness of Bartimaeus. We know that when he healed ten lepers, only one of those men came back to thank him.
We know enough about Jesus to have trapped him, to have painted him as a still life: here he is blessing the children; here he is visiting with Mary and Martha; here he is frozen in time by the stories we know so well.
There were other folks who knew their Bible well too. They knew the stories of their faith. They knew the laws that governed their relationship with God. These folks brought a woman to Jesus. She had been caught in the act of adultery. She was the only one who was brought before Jesus by these people who knew their Bible so well. They knew that according to the Bible she should be executed for her sin, and they wanted to know what Jesus thought should be done (John 8:1-11). Jesus’ reaction tells me that while these people knew their scriptures, they didn’t know him. Because after thinking quietly for a bit, doodling in the sand with a stick, Jesus challenged the one among them who was without sin to throw the first stone at the accused woman. Stunned, all in the crowd dropped their rocks and left.
On a later occasion, when two of Jesus’ disciples were walking to Emmaus, still reeling from the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion, he made himself present to them, but they were unable to recognize him (Luke 24:13-16). What they knew was the past—Jesus had been killed—yet he was walking right beside them in the present, and they didn’t even realize it.
Are we like those two disciples? So much has happened to us, so much history has passed, that we are unable to recognize Jesus walking beside us in real time?
Instead of experiencing Jesus’ presence, instead of hearing him fresh in our current circumstances, instead of tapping into the power that Jesus offers us right now, we’ve chained him to the past, draining him of his power for our lives right now and making him completely unrecognizable to us. It’s dangerous to live your life with a past focus, with a two-dimensional Jesus, because you may end up following a tradition instead of following Jesus, God’s living Word.
Jesus promised never-ending presence—his Spirit, his power. He promised to provide us with a means for guidance, direction, and power, not just now but into the future, to the end of the ages. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.” (John 16:13, NLT)
If we are to follow in the Jesus way, we must recognize that Jesus offers more than sentimental memories and demands more of us as well. Jesus in real time is the only Jesus we can truly know. We can know about the Jesus who walked this earth two thousand years ago, but we can only truly know Jesus in real time through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the Jesus we are called to follow, opening ourselves to his direction for our present and our future. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit that makes Jesus present to us now. It’s the Spirit that guides us into the future, outlining for us exactly how we are to follow. The disciples may have had the privilege of living in the presence of Jesus; but we have the privilege of having the presence of Jesus living in us.
This is what Paul was desperate for us to understand when he said, “For this is the secret: Christ lives in you, and this is your assurance that you will share in his glory” (Colossians 1:27, NLT). Each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The problem for us as we follow Jesus is that we are looking “out there”—beyond us—when Jesus in real time, through the Spirit, is right here.
When we experience Jesus in real time, barriers are broken down, gates are opened, relationships are mended, bridges are built. When we allow the power of Jesus to escape the confines of statues and pictures, to actually touch us in the present and lead us into the future, lives are changed. Jesus calls us to follow him into the world. The test of our faith is not how it is contained within the church. The test of our faith is whether it can guide our experience in the world, in the here and now.
We follow the one who has the power to set us free, to deepen our lives, to heal our wounds, to mend our relationships, to break down the walls that separate us and tear down the barriers that hinder us from loving each other. This is Jesus in real time; the Jesus who wants to be alive within you. The apostle Paul prayed for his churches constantly, asking God to “give [them] spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that [they] might grow in [their] knowledge of God” (Ephesians 1:17, NLT).
How has the difference between knowing Jesus and knowing about Jesus played itself out in your life? Has your experience of Jesus been of the more two-dimensional variety, or have you experienced a living, dynamic Jesus “in real time”? In your own life, what gates need to be opened? What barriers need to be brought down? What relationships need to be mended? What bridges need to be built?
We follow the one who has the power to set us free, to deepen our lives, to heal our wounds, to mend our relationships, to break down the walls that separate us and tear down the barriers that hinder us from loving each other. This is Jesus in real time, the Jesus who wants to be alive within you.
“I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him” (Ephesians 1:18-19a, NLT). That light is the light of Christ, the light of Jesus in real time. That light is the light of Jesus, the Jesus who provides the power to love, the power to heal, the power to reach out.