The Best Gift Ever
The best Christmas present I received this year wasn’t one wrapped with pretty paper and a matching bow and found under the tree on Christmas morning. It wasn’t even one found in a decorative bag handed out at the office or given by a friend. The best present was one I received early Christmas Eve morning from the Lord Himself, as I studied the scriptures for that day.
That morning I followed the Spirit — starting at the first chapter of Luke with the announcement of the birth of John, on to the Mount of Transfiguration, then to the Mount of The Beatitudes and ending at the Cross. It was quite a journey, but it was also quite a gift.
In the first chapter of Luke, we are told that John will come in the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah wasn’t just a prophet; he was the prophet noted for praying it would not rain, and it didn’t rain for three and a half years. He then prayed for rain and the sky poured forth. He was the prophet who turned the hearts of the Israelites back to God after challenging the prophets of Baal to a showdown between their god and his. Elijah was bold and prayerful, honest in his fears, and listened with a finely tuned ear to the voice of the Lord. He was one of two individuals mentioned in the Old Testament who never died, but was taken straight to heaven.
Focusing on John’s comparison to Elijah, the Lord brought to mind Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, so I followed the Spirit there. Whenever I read this passage in Mark, I am usually taken by the fact that Peter, not knowing what to do or say as he suddenly sees Jesus standing on the Mount with Moses and Elijah, offers to build three shrines as if they were all staying. For some reason Peter always wants to offer an answer before a question is even asked.
But that day, what struck me most wasn’t what Peter and the others saw, it was what they didn’t see. After God proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus only. One moment there were three of them: Moses, the giver of the Law; Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of the old scriptures; and Jesus, all standing together in community. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was just Jesus.
In the past, I have not given much thought to their departure as I always focused on their presence and Peter wanting to build shrines. But that morning, I keyed in on these words “no one with them anymore, except Jesus only.” Except Jesus only. That phrase kept replaying in my mind, and suddenly I realized, it was as if God was showing them in the past the Law and the words of the Prophets were of prime importance. But now the time had come to listen and fully heed what Jesus says, Jesus only.
From there I felt drawn to Jesus’ words about the Law on the Mount of The Beatitudes, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
Jesus was telling his followers He wasn’t coming to overthrow the Law or the words of the Prophets. Instead, if we look up the word fulfill, what Jesus was really saying is that He was coming to complete the Law and the words of the Prophets. In thinking about the fact that His mission was to complete the Law and to complete something means to finish it, suddenly the next phrase that crossed my mind was Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished.”
“It is finished.” I had never given much thought before to what “It” was or is. Was it His work? Yes. Was it His life? Yes, that too. But what if He was referring to the specific task assigned to Him, to fulfill the Law and the words of the Prophets? What if for a moment, we view it from that perspective? Maybe when He said, “It is finished,” He meant the time of the Law and the words of the Prophets in being a governing force has ended. Moses and Elijah are no longer on the Mount. Just Jesus only, with the Father instructing His disciples to “Listen to Him!”
What God gave me that morning was a vision for Jesus’ mission: the importance of His work in bringing the Law and the words of the Prophets to completion before ushering in His new and indwelling presence into the lives of His disciples. Then there would be no question as to whom they should listen to. “This is my Beloved Son,” He told them, “Listen to Him!” Jesus understood His task, the Father confirmed it, and He brought it to completion before putting in place A New Way of living in direct relationship with the Father.
Many of us don’t understand the importance of completing one initiative before starting another, but Jesus did. And I am eternally grateful. There is no confusion about who to follow. It’s always Jesus. Jesus only.
What a beautiful gift I received this Christmas.