Advent is a good time to read about the tiny child born in a manger, the humble beginnings of a remarkable life. But I am reading the omega of that story.
Let’s not pass thoughtlessly by the images in the Book of Revelation. Let’s not glaze over when we read the uncompromising declarations of Who He Is.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord,
and who was
and who is to come, the Almighty.”
“One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”
“I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.“
“Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.”
“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”
And that’s only the first chapter!
The passages are visually astounding. The book is so visually strong. When we read Revelation, we feel like we’re strangers dropped off in a foreign country. That’s because we are. We are meant to feel overwhelmed, awed, small, lost. It is the place to open the eyes wide and be quiet, and to listen.
There are no grey areas in the declarations of His identity.
This Jesus-God from Revelation is the baby whose first cradle was a feeding trough. The all-powerful one is who He is now, without the disarming personas He wore in his obedience and humility before His Father while on the earth. This One of the Book of Revelation is the One with whom we must make our peace.
There is only one response possible in heaven toward this One.
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”
Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.
Jesus of Nazareth was among us on earth as a humble wanderer, a simple teacher who yet could not be suffered to live by the powers that were. These are the things He told us:
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you…
You are my friends if you do what I command.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
Let us remember Whose incarnation we are celebrating at this joyous Christmastime.
He came first as a newborn baby, as helpless and meek a creature as possible, in order to become one of us. The people of the world are at a disadvantage when we celebrate the lowly child’s birthday. It’s a comforting image; whether they regard the manger story as myth or history, they feel good about celebrating the poor underdog babe and congratulate themselves on their insight about the disadvantaged child who would become the great teacher.
In the carol “We Three Kings,” each of the magi tells of his gift to the promised king. This verse from the third foreshadows Jesus’ life as a man:
Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume Breathes a life of gathering gloom. Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
We who believe know that we are celebrating the tiny babe, the simple teacher, the willing martyr and the Resurrected One, and the one to whom we are absolutely accountable. Ultimately we must remember the One who revealed himself to John and showed us who He is and will ever be.
Ultimately He will not be disregarded by anyone. This babe is really the one with all power, the One who will be the Judge of all the earth, the one with the Keys to Hell and Death.
Kiss the Son lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Painting is The Resurrection from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.Whoever hates me hates my Father as well.If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal…
For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.
I am a foreigner to my own family,
a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;
when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.
Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards…
…You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst…
All our sins are stones
at the bottom of your ocean
and all our filthy stains
have been washed away
By the blood of a son
I have overcome the grave
By the blood of a son
I have overcome the grave
~ Sins Are Stones, John Mark McMillan
The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning Rogier van der Weyden
Revenge by Jon Foreman
Crucifixion from The Isenheim Alterpieceby Matthias Grunewald
Are these the words of a man who had no idea about claiming to be God?
The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me,but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.I and the Father are one.”
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him,but Jesus said tothem, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’]?If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. John 10
Did Jesus claim to be God?
We have four separate written records by first and second hand witnesses to Jesus’s life on Earth. These are the written accounts of people who lived with Jesus for approximately three years, day in, day out. What Jesus had to say for himself as well as what those he encountered had to say about him; what he did before these witnesses, is recorded for us.
These are highly reliable historical documents by any measure. They were written by eyewitnesses, or by second-hand witnesses by gathering first hand accounts from eyewitnesses. They were written very soon after the events. We have multiplied many more early copies of Biblical scriptures than for any other ancient documents. The various copies do not contradict each other or what we have in our modern Bibles; they are remarkably consistent.
What this testimony tells us is that while Jesus went about doing good, preaching, and performing miracles, he was also proclaiming that He was God. Jesus did nothing but tell, teach and demonstrate it. Literally everything he did and said announced the truth that Jesus was God.
Which God? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I Am, The Alpha and Omega, among many other titles. He liked often to call himself Son of Man. It is a name full of meaning…to call himself Son of Man was to claim to be God become a man; Almighty holy God affectionately identifying with his created people.
The passage above is just one of several passages where Jesus explicitly describes himself as God. He was constantly identifying himself as God.
Isaiah 9:6 is rather interesting. It is recognized as a most obvious prophecy predicting the Incarnation of the Messiah, and it is universally applied to Jesus Christ:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Among other not-regular-guy names, Jesus is called “Everlasting Father.”
To call oneself The Son of God was claiming to be God. To allow oneself to be lauded as The King of The Jews was to claim to be God on the Throne.
How could Jesus hide his identity? Here was a being fully man, yet fully God: The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…
From the accounts, we see that virtually everyone he encountered understood what he was saying about himself. By his works, which were visible announcements that he was the one prophesied about; or by his words, which testified to his authority to teach rather than comment upon Scriptural teachings, everyone…everyone recognized who He was claiming to be.
We’re not talking about movie-Jesus recognition. People did not recognize him by his dreamy blue-eyed, trance-inducing stare, or by the heavenly aaaah voices on the soundtrack. Jesus’ contemporaries had a context (that we do not) which was needed to recognize the claims he was making. Rather, to understand the significance of the things he said and did in the course of being who he was.
The woman at the well, a Samaritan foreigner , recognized Jesus’ qualifications to be acknowledged as the Messiah. (John 4) Mary and Martha recognized very early in his public ministry, before his disciples did, that he was the promised Messiah. (Luke 10; John 11) Mary had anointed him for his burial while the disciples were still just figuring out who he was.
For many, the recognition was not welcome. The Pharisees, for instance, completely understood that this man was checking off every single item on the checklist of Signs of the One We Are To Look For.
Yet they did not give him his place. They plotted to remove him, and saw to it that he was eliminated. How does that make sense? “OK, here’s the Messiah promised by the True God, the God of our fathers, the Omnipotent, Omniscient One… He’s threatening our authority; let’s kill him!” It doesn’t make any more sense in the parable Jesus told about it. See Matthew 21: 33-45; after Jesus tells the story of the wicked vinedressers who kill the son of the vineyard owner in order to inherit his property, they recognize themselves by their intention. “Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.”
And his claim to be God was exactly what got him killed. In the above passage, the ruling religious authorities of the Jewish nation clearly plot to have him killed because he claimed to be the Messiah; some would say because he was the promised Messiah.
And how about this one? John 8: 57-59:
“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
The Pharisees wanted to kill him there. Why, if he was not calling himself God?
Everything is personal. Someone tell Michael Corleone.
In The Godfather II, we have an opportunity to compare Michael with Vito, his father, at the same stages of life. We watch as Michael wends his way to dismal failure by his father’s standards. And it all has to do with human relationship. In Godfather I, we see where Michael departs from his father’s path, and it’s right from the start. Remember that famous line?
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
Everybody but Michael knows that’s a lie, and that it’s totally personal. His father had been gunned down, he knew by whom, and he intended to inflict payback and then some. It was what brought him into the “family.”
But to Godfather Don Vito Corleone, there was business, and there was personal. I do not think his conceptions of business and family were conflated, even though to us, they seem hopelessly mashed up and arbitrarily differentiated. His family relationships were warm and real. The business was called a “family.” It made sense to him, and to those in his world.
Even his illegal business dealings were conducted on the basis of an objective code and the justice he meted out had objective rules which adhered to his subculture’s community standards, brutal but measured in accordance with the offense. Because of this code he could put aside the personal offense of the attempted murder of himself and the murder of Sonny in order to maintain the balance of power and peace with his competitor “families.” Don Vito honored his code even when it hurt very much to do it. The code was surprisingly nuanced in its complexity, but everyone in the subculture knew the score.
You almost feel sorry for hapless Solozzo, the foreign upstart, trying to wield Old-World vendetta thuggery against this professional class of organized crime, and for thinking that his clueless police bodyguard, truly a stranger in a strange land, would be of any help. They did not understand who, and what, they were messing with.
Doors shut out Michael’s wife, Kay, more than once. Also an outsider, she could never really enter their world.
Michael brought in a newer New World. Did Michael blend the Old World (remember his Sicilian bride) with the New, and invent a third? Or was this just America? Let’s just try to stay on a track.
His sense of justice, and his code, were based on his subjective preferences and definitely more relative.
He blurred the distinctions between the business and the personal. Superficially they were strictly divided. That is seen in his fierce insistence that his wife should never ask about his business (even when business included the murder of their brother-in-law); but in practice, personal/business distinctions were self-serving. If someone offended Michael’s sense of family pride…offended him personally…it became a “strictly business” item to be punished without mercy. That nearly none of his victims suspected what was coming tells us that he was operating according to his own codebook.
Michael called all things business matters, but all offenses were personal and the only penalty was death without mercy. Personal and business were one but he rationalized acting on personal feelings by calling them business matters. Personal was business, business was personal.
By creating this professional class of criminals, Francis Ford Coppola was trying to communicate that the Mob is an illustration of American business: hypocritical, dishonest, greedy, power-hungry, murderous. Many mob characters from the older generation draw the same false dividing line, and excuse terrible personal betrayals on the basis of “strictly business.”
Tessio: “Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.”
But Michael had moved away from a family context toward a business model. He had always deceived himself with the belief that business is not personal.
The most fascinating layer of meaning to me in The Godfather films is cosmological. In this universe, Don Vito is God the Father, Sonny is Christ the Son, Tom Hagen is the Holy Ghost. Each one functions rather consistently as a corrupt version of his symbol. So who is Michael? I leave that to you, but here are some items of evidence: he lies; he twists the meaning of his father’s words in order to satisfy his own desires; he is all about personal power and revenge. He winds up alone and bitter, ruler over an empire of fear. All personal relationships are cold, estranged or literally extinguished. He murders his own brother Fredo when he is no longer a threat. It simply must be done in order to satisfy his own feelings of justice.
The jewel of his father’s life, his family, is utterly destroyed. Kill, steal, destroy. And it was so easily done for Michael the Berserker.
All this to illustrate something I’ve learned from the Bible? The cosmology of The Godfather strikes me as remarkably consistent and valid. Don Vito, Michael, Sonny and Tom Hagen, as well as Clemenza, Tessio, and Kay, sometimes in spite of themselves, act out some of the deepest and most significant principles that I find in God’s Word.
If I look at the Word through the lens of relationship, as surely God wants us to, I can distill three messages.
Everything is personal. Life is all about relationship. The God of the Bible is a personal being. He has personality and mind; He is not an impersonal force or a principle. He defines himself as love, and expresses Himself in loving His human creations.
In the Upper Room, Jesus celebrated his relationships with the men who had followed him:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command.I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
This is my command: Love each other. John 15: 9-17
Relationship means identification. In the Gospels, the purest and most ideal relationships shown to us are those of connection so close that the participants lose distinctions and become intertwined. The marriage relationship, in which two become “one flesh,” is the perfect symbolic illustration for the truest intimate relationship: God’s love for each of us.
My beloved is mine, and I am his. Song of Solomon 2: 16
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me… John 14: 9-11
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14: 20
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Even within our closest relationships, there are limits to intimacy. We are imprisoned in our bodies and in our own minds. We can empathize but we cannot literally feel any feelings but our own. We can’t enter the thoughts, the emotions, the soul of another human being. At times we feel this desperate isolation even in a crowd of family.
But with God, there is no limit to intimacy. He is a Spirit who communes with our spirits. There are no barriers on God’s side. If I find brick walls or blank ceilings when I try to communicate with God, I am the builder.
“I am in you and you are in me, and I am in the Father.” “I and the Father are one.” When Jesus has stood in your place in your greatest need, God does not distinguish between you and His Son. And that is the third theme that I see shining through the pages.
My life for yours.
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15: 12,13
Jesus Christ, True God of True God, chose to suffer lonely torture and horrible execution in our place. His life for mine, his life for yours.
And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. John 1:1-2
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. I John 4:10
Sadly, there is no Savior in the cosmology of The Godfather. If Sonny is the Savior figure, he fails famously. Without a savior, a redeemer, a reconciler, there is no hope. There is no foundation or reason for maintaining a code.
In conducting his family and his business as he did, Godfather Vito Corleone had a distinct goal: “Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone…” The Godfather’s goal was that his dearest son Michael would one day be on the throne, a legitimately powerful man.
But Vito also said ,”A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” Michael’s reach for power blends those two worlds and he is surprised at the inevitable price to his family.
In the end, we see that Michael Corleone has tragically missed the value of the things his father lived for, and thrown away that which was his father’s dearest goal to give him. He has substituted power, control and retribution for familial love. He has cynically destroyed the future his father built for him.
As do we if we miss our Father’s message of personal relationship, identification, and selfless love.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1: 1-3
Human beings like to construct a God who we feel we are justified in rejecting. That way we can rationalize doing as we please, being accountable only to ourselves. We all do this. We prefer a Straw God.
But the book he wrote says we ought to recognize him by His Son. God = Jesus Christ.
We ought to see in Him not the god who commits genocide, the god who punishes disobedient children in eternal torment, the god who holds us accountable to silly rules and whose only response is to punish, the god who expects to be appeased. Or the god who winks at our mistakes because we’re really good deep inside. Not the distant god, the irrelevant one, the god of that Old boring Testament.
The Bible says Jesus represents God; He is the exact representative of who He is. Jesus said so himself too.
I and the Father are one. John 10: 30
All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Luke 10: 22
I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me. John 5:30
Do you have any bones to pick with Jesus? He went about doing good. He healed, he raised the dead, he lived an utterly selfless life. He was always kind and patient. He validated the worth of women, children, the lowly, the socially unfavored, the outcast. Then…
He went to torture, humiliation, abandonment and painful death. This is how we should think of God. Here was God become fully human, hanging on a torture device and dying of blood loss and suffocation. Not for his own crimes, but for some abstruse offense assigned to him by those in power who wanted him out of the way.
He had no crimes to die for. He died on the behalf of others who deserved to die: me and you. He did all of this to show us Who God is. That is the True God. That’s how we ought to think of GOD.
Then, in order to show us the power and acceptance of this self-sacrifice, His death was undone. He became alive again. The penalty was accepted and it is we who are credited with forgiveness.
All I need to do is recognize this and accept his gift for myself. It is a gift because I can in no way earn it; God had to do this for me.