By Paul Koch –
There is this great Monty Python sketch from the movie The Meaning of Life where the vicar of a church leads the children in prayer. They repeat after him, “O Lord, you are so big. So absolutely huge. Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you…” Now, I think that is hilarious for the same reason I think those “He is greater than I” bumper stickers are hilarious. You see, they aren’t wrong. In fact, they’re absolutely right. God is bigger than you. To be God is to not be you. To say that God is greater ought to be one of the most obvious things you can say. After all, if he isn’t greater than you, he wouldn’t be much of a God. But perhaps there is something good about being reminded of this. Perhaps we need reminding. Perhaps we are predisposed to forget that He is greater than we are.
Outside of rejecting God altogether, the only other move available to you if you do not confess that God is greater than you is to believe that you are God, or at least a god. You are the maker of your own destiny, the champion of your own cause. This is the way of Adam and Eve in the garden. Remember the words of Satan to Eve, that if she eats the forbidden fruit she will not die, but her eyes will be opened and she will be like God, knowing good and evil. Who doesn’t want to be like God, a god unto themselves? So, what do they do? They take the fruit against the will of the Creator and eat. But Satan deceived them. Sure, their eyes were opened. Sure, they knew the distinction between good and evil, but that is where their resemblance to God ends. He remains greater than them, and they hide in shame.
And though we feel the ramifications of this reach upwards, though we know what it is to know good and evil while unable to do anything about it, the world in which we live has never let go of that dream. We are encouraged at every turn to believe that we are like God, that we are as good, as great, as wise as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The way of the world is to exert our will over and against the will of God. He must answer to us. He must justify himself to our judgment. Maybe silly prayers like those of Monty Python or trite bumper stickers are actually crucial reminders of who is God and who is not—reminders that we need in our sin-plagued lives.
Over and again, we find that there is a clash between the will of God and the will of man. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as simply saying He is greater than I. For it turns out that you won’t easily give up your will and subject it to the will of God. You will hold firm to your desires, lusts, and preferences in direct opposition to the will of God. You will easily cease to follow his command and turn again to your own devices for temporary pleasure. In fact, the will of God isn’t always so easy to determine, or at least it isn’t always so clear as to why he would call us to a certain action. He doesn’t always let us in on the reasoning behind his words. He simply speaks, and we confess back to him in faith, but that may go against our reason, understanding, and pride, our hopes and dreams and just about anything that begins within our hearts and minds.
As Jesus was going about his ministry, as he was teaching difficult things, things that brought forth confession of sins and repentance in the heart of the believer, the Pharisees brought a concern to him. Jesus’ words and actions are the living expression of the will of God, and yet they say to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31). Now, I don’t know if they are truly concerned with the well-being of our Lord. Nothing about their actions before or after this moment would say that the Pharisees are truly worried that Jesus might get into some trouble. More than likely, they are trying a unique tact to get rid of him. Perhaps they hope to drive him from their town while looking good to the crowds who have gathered to hear his words. But Jesus won’t budge. He won’t leave. No, he defiantly says, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” In other words, he says, “Thanks but no thanks.” He has a course to run. He is doing the will of his Father and will not be deterred from it until it is fulfilled on the third day.
But then he follows up that defiant stance with a strong accusation. He says, “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (13:33). The opposition will only get stronger. It will reach its pinnacle as he enters the city of Jerusalem, and that is the place he is determined to go. Jerusalem is the place that kills the truth. It is ground zero for the clash of the will of God and the will of man. Think of Jeremiah in our Old Testament lesson today. Jeremiah was sent to prophesy to the people of God. When they hear his words, they grab a hold of him and cry out “You shall die!” Where God speaks, there is a war between his will and the will of man. And sometimes it is really ugly. Sometimes innocent blood is spilled. Sometimes injustice reigns supreme. Sometimes it goes dark in the middle of the day and the ground shakes and the Son of God cries out “It is finished!”
It is your will that would have him silenced, your will that wants things your way. When Jesus speaks of the city of Jerusalem, he speaks of your desire, your longing, and he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (13:34). There is a song by Johnny Cash called The Man Comes Around. It’s about the end of time and the return of Christ. There is a line that goes, “Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom. Then the father hen will call his chickens home.” His desire is to gather his children under his protective wing, to shelter them, to comfort them, to save them. But they don’t want his will; they want their own. In fact, they are bound to it.
But here’s the thing: God is greater than you. His will is not subject to your will. His will is not dependent upon your will. You may scheme and devise your own plan, but he is not shaken in his commitment to love and welcome you. He goes on today, tomorrow, and finishes his work on the third day without your will. If you have ever been in that dark place where you believe that you are outside the will and work of God, where your sins are too much to overlook, too much to allow you to be welcome at his glorious feast. If you have ever stopped and looked hard in the mirror and been terrified by what you find, ashamed of your thoughts, words, and deeds, I have a powerful word for you today. It is all true! You have rejected his will and don’t deserve his gifts. You have much that you ought to be ashamed of. But he is greater than you, and his will won’t be thwarted by yours.
God is not just greater than you in power and majesty. He is greater in mercy, greater in love, greater in forgiveness. He has sought you out, welcomed you this day, and embraced you in his forgiveness. Truly, God is greater than us.