~ Here I am, Lord! ~
In a previous Reflection, "Dreamers, Wake Up!", a question was posed regarding what you would do if you were the chief archangel for ten minutes and God turned you loose. A scenario was described wherein the archangel returned to God, proud of his good deeds, and was surprised and crushed at God's condemnation.
Some readers may have disagreed with God's hypothetical reaction. After all, we are directed to tend to the poor, serve those in bondage and illness, and facilitate peace and reconciliation. But let's ponder Jesus' remarks: "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name? Didn't we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?' Then I will tell them publicly, 'I've never known you. Get away from me, you evil people'" (Matthew 7:22-23, GW).
The Levitical Laws distinguish five different kinds of sacrificial offerings for different purposes. Sin and Guilt Offerings were mandatory for atoning for sin requiring restitution and cleansing from defilement. Burnt Offerings were voluntary acts of worship, devotion and full surrender to God, using bulls, rams and male birds that were completely consumed by fire. It was this kind of offering God was telling Abraham to do, using his son, Isaac, as the sacrificial male. Indeed, this was the most difficult test or indicator of commitment, worship, and complete surrender of all to God.
Many think that what was required of Abraham is unique to him, and cannot imagine ourselves in his place, or believe that God was bluffing and would never follow through, which was true in Abraham's case. But Jesus taught that what God required of Abraham is required of all of us. He said unless we are prepared and willing to forsake all at His command, we cannot be His followers. Thousands of martyrs have and still are doing that.
While no details are given of Isaac's reaction upon learning he was the sacrifice, it is accurate to assume that the young man was compliant for he, too, was surrendered to God. Just before that, Abraham told his beloved son that God would provide a lamb. Prophetically, God did, and does, what He requires of us: emptying Himself and surrendering His all for our sakes. God provided Abraham and Isaac with a ram, which was required for a burnt offering. The Perfect Lamb would be provided later, as the sin offering, on that very same hill.
"Here I am" is a formal Hebrew response of a servant to his master. Adam failed at serving God. When his creator called his name, Adam was hiding (Genesis 3:8). God called Abraham who responded, "Here I am!," before he even knew what God wanted of him (Genesis 22:1). Just when Abraham was at the peak of his unspeakable anguish in his obedience, God called his name again. Not knowing what else God would possibly want over and above what he was ready to do, Abraham still answered the servant's reply of devotion and commitment: "Here I am!" (Genesis 22:8b).
From out of the mystifying burning bush, God said only one thing: "Moses!" When Moses replied "Here I am!" (Exodus 3:4b), he didn't mean, "I'm here. What do you want?" Moses gave the reply of an obedient servant.
As a boy, Samuel was serving Eli, the priest, who, in turn, was preparing Samuel to be a priest, prophet and judge over Israel. "In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions" (1 Samuel 3:1b, NIV). So when God called Samuel's name, he naturally thought it was Eli and, three times, went to Eli with the formal servant salutation, "Here I am!" Finally realizing Samuel was being called by God, Eli did his priestly instruction and told Samuel to answer with an equally formal servant response, with the same meaning: "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:9).
Isaiah saw a vision of God and his humble heart was in anguish. "'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty'" (Isaiah 6:5, NIV). As happened with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:9), Isaiah's mouth was divinely touched and now he could respond to God as a servant with "Here I am!" (Isaiah 6:8b).
What love, devotion, and sacrificial surrender it takes to say "Here I am!" to God! Self-surrender means you say it without knowing what will be required of you. The very young woman of about fifteen years whom God chose to bear and raise the Redeemer, the mother of all mothers, accepted an unimaginably awesome and sacrificial task. Mary told God's messenger, "I am the Lord's servant" (Luke 1:38a). The Gospels frequently mentioned how she marveled at what was said about Jesus, "pondering these things in her heart." Simeon prophesized to Mary that "a sword will pierce your own heart too" (Luke 2:35). Indeed, she followed Jesus' ministry and witnessed His brutal torture and death. Mary was also among the first hundred and twenty to receive His Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The most astonishing "Here I am!" announcement is quoted from the prophetic Psalm (40:6-7) in the book of Hebrews: "Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said, 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am - it is written about me in the scroll - I have come to do your will, O God'" (Hebrews 10:5-7, NIV). The Incarnate Word of God made a suffering servant. What a wondrous, incomprehensible mystery to which we can only meagerly respond by falling prostrate on the ground and humbly whispering, "My Lord and my God!"
Obedience and love are interwoven. Jesus taught we cannot love God without obedience (John 14:15). "Here I am!" is a declaration of love, not fear or bondage. I believe these three words surpass another glorious three: "I love you!" Imagine being immobile with distress, sickness, pain or helplessness. Then your father, mother, son, daughter, friend or God Himself appears by your side and tells you, "Here I am!" In those powerful words is not only the manifestation of love, but also of sacrificial service, of hope fulfilled, of redemption.
How sweet are those three words to the ears of the poor, the hungry, destitute, imprisoned, afflicted, hurting! Jesus instructed us to say "Here I am" to all those. And as we do, we are saying it to Him. How can we hide, like Adam, and deprive our Beloved Lord of those beautiful words? I suppose we can hide behind our busy-ness, work, obligations, duties, and worldly cares and pursuits.
We can also hide behind our unbelief. We don't really believe Jesus meant all that literally, do we? He really isn't among us watching through the eyes of the poor, afflicted and persecuted, is He? He really is in blissful glory and we are just hanging on waiting for Him to rescue us from tribulations and triumphantly throw all infidels into hell, right?
What a disgrace we did to nickname a chosen apostle "Doubting Thomas." Mark writes (Mark 16:14) that Jesus put all His apostles to shame for their unbelief. Matthew recorded (Matthew 28:17) how Jesus' disciples bowed in worship just before He gave them the "Great Commission" on the mount, but some still had doubts. Sadly, we can all say that there were and are times we stand with those disciples, doubting by our actions and hidden thoughts that Christ is literally among and in us.
Governments and agencies love to make committees to "study" a problem. As long as we are researching the plight of the destitute, homeless, energy shortages, environmental destruction, and cultural decay among other social ills, we are busy doing something. So long we keep researching and debating matters of the spirit and what it means to be Christian, we put the required exercise of faith on hold. If we actualize faith, we than have no choice left but to say, "Here I am" and obey what follows.
We marvel at how the Holy Spirit of our Creator impregnated a virgin with Himself. Mary believed it and said "Let it be done do me." Later, after a divine dream, Joseph believed too and both said "Here I am!" in unshakable faith. Let's marvel also that the same Holy Spirit abides within us, wanting to put flesh on our prayers, to incarnate the desires of our hearts and the many promises of Christ as His physically visible witness to the world from out of us as the Word was made flesh from out of Mary. What restrains Him so much?
Can you believe that we are more blessed than the first apostles? Jesus told Thomas, "You believe because you've seen me. Blessed are those who haven't seen me but believe" (John 20:29). Believe what? That Christ is living in and among us right now: "And remember that I am always with you until the end of time" (Matthew 28:20b). And what shall we do with this blessing treasure? Bury it like the fearful servant in one of Jesus' parables? Or invest it in the heavenly kingdom where the interest yield is more than we can imagine?
O how wondrous is our
God! Let us pray with St. Paul "That [we], being rooted and established
in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide
and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love
that surpasses knowledge - that [we] may be filled to the measure of all
the fullness of God"!
(Ephesians 3:17b-19, NIV).
Our make-believe archangel with free will, given his ten minutes by God to go do his thing, would have best knelt in God's presence and exclaimed, "Here I am, Lord!"
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © February 23, 2002
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