In many ways the message of Jesus is quite simple. We who are followers of Jesus are to love one another. Surely brothers, of all people, should love one another, yet Cain murdered his. I have often thought that there is no way I could murder my brother. Even when Tommy and I used to fight, I could never consider killing him. So, surely I am no murderer. But do I hate my brother? Do I want the worst for others, hold grudges, or harbor resentment? There was a time in my life when this described me but those feelings are long gone. So, surely I am no murderer. Up to this point I can feel quite righteous in my own eyes. Then the author of 1 John says that those who love others ought to lay down their lives for them and that to see a brother in need and refuse compassion is to act like Cain and not like Jesus. Do I look the other way when someone needs help? Am I aggressive in showing compassion? No murderer has eternal life remaining in him. How am I doing when it comes to laying down my life for others? Am I a murderer?
Perhaps I am. I am so unlike God. His love endures forever. His faithfulness lasts through every age. The LORD is God, our maker to whom we belong. We are his people. We are God’s well-tended flock. Our shepherd doesn’t just let us roam and fend for ourselves. He takes care of his people. If the author of 1 John believes that this should draw us into the mystery of God’s compassion and change us into people who truly care for others, the psalmist believes that knowing God leads to joy and, ultimately, to worship. We are to shout and cry out with joy to God. We are to enter into his presence with the sacrifice God requires: thanksgiving and gratitude. We are to bless the name of God. How can you do that and then hate your brother?
The Gospel of John has a fascinating story about Jesus. Jesus “found” Philip and said, “Follow me.” Philip not only followed Jesus, he “found” Nathanael. We have “found” the Messiah, Philip told Nathanael. Philip challenged him to “come and see.” He came but it was Jesus who did the seeing. Jesus knew everything about him. Nathanael was perplexed. How do you know me? Jesus said, “I saw you.” Nathanael is so taken by Jesus that he proclaims him to be the Messiah. Jesus assures Nathanael that he will see greater things than a Messiah who knows everything about him. He will see the “sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Nathanael knew the story of the patriarch Jacob. One night Jacob had a dream of God’s messengers going up and down on a ladder. When he woke he proclaimed that the place where he had slept was Beth-el, the house of God, the gateway to heaven. In Jesus, Nathanael will see the very dwelling place of God, the ladder to heaven.
Jesus calls us to love one another. Our model and motivation for this love is the God to whom we belong, our shepherd, the One who takes care of his flock. If we would be people of compassion and not murderers, the call to us is to come and see this great God. And, in Jesus, we see the Father. Jesus is Bethel, the house of God. Jesus is the gateway to heaven.
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