I want to think just a little more about the aspect of “receiving” that I wrote about in the last post in this series. Here’s Jesus, extending a gift. What is that gift? In its essence, the gift is himself. The eternal life of which he speaks is not something that can be commodified – some sort of heavenly elixir, a “Get Into Heaven Free” card, a set of doctrines, or secret knowledge. Jesus wants to give himself.
It is true that when we face the possibility of receiving Jesus, knowledge is involved. As we seek to articulate who Jesus is, what he’s done, and how we experience him, we start moving into the realm of doctrinal development. It’s also true that one of the experiences we expect to have as we receive Jesus is a healing that takes us from now through eternity.
Notice another aspect at work here. Our act of “receiving” Jesus is not a once for all event. Sure, there is a sense in which we can narrate our lives and look at a time or occasion in which we “received Jesus,” much like if we’re married we can tell of the occasion of our wedding. But receiving Jesus is an act that begins and then continues. We keep receiving. There is always more Jesus than we now have.
On the one hand, there is nothing mystical here. When we receive any person and remain in healthy relation with that person there is a depth of relationship. We grow in union with each other in an ongoing act of giving and receiving. We perhaps see this most clearly, again, in marriage. Marriages that are not characterized by a lifetime of giving and receiving, much more than a “Ok, we’ve had our wedding, now let’s get on with it,” are not likely to last long.
But there is a mystical element here also. At least I’m having trouble thinking of a better word than mystical. The Jesus we receive is a historical person – but a historical person that lived two thousand years ago. This Jesus is also – not just was– God incarnate. When we receive Jesus, we are entering a history, a history of God. One way I’ve put it before is that in our act of receiving Jesus we are becoming willing participants in his story. Before our initial reception, we were participant in his story, though perhaps unwilling or unwitting. We are all part of God’s story as created beings. We are all part of God’s story as people Jesus had in mind when he lived and died for us. We are all part of God’s story as the Spirit draws us toward God through prevenient grace. We can understand and study our relationships with other humans – at least to a degree. Scientists and scholars churn out the works all the time. Many are deeply insightful. But with Jesus there is a depth that is beyond our sciences, our rationalizings, and our quest for understanding. God is always beyond us, more than we can imagine or grasp.
This is good news. The God we receive in Jesus is bigger than we are. This God, though beyond our understanding, wants to know us and be known by us. Even more, this God wants to live in us. Paul writes, nay prays, in Ephesians 3 that “all the fullness of God may dwell in us.” All the fullness of God. How sad when we think we’re signing up for something as mundane (ha!) as continuing existence through eternity. When we receive Jesus we’re receiving life beyond our imagining, a life so deep we can explore it throughout this lifetime and innumerable lifetimes to come and only scratch the surface. I think of Charles Wesley’s image of trying – and failing – to “sound the depths of love divine.” There’s infinite depth here, life, blessing, beyond our imaging. How could we miss that?