Last week, I began a discussion (that went a bit long) on the meaning of Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” In general, I focused last week’s discussion on what it does not mean. In doing so, I argued against the idea of the impassibility of God and the immutability of God, something that in centuries past was considered borderline (or actually) heretical, but which is overwhelmingly accepted today. My reasons? The primary one being the incarnation, bodily resurrection, and physical ascension of Jesus Christ. God the Son was not physical human stuff prior to the incarnation, but was and is now a (albeit glorified and transformed) human being in heaven.
So, then, what does it mean?
This World Changes, God does not
In my bible study where we were discussing this, one of the other guys said, “Well, to me, it’s good to know that in our world that isconstantly changing, where we keep having to adapt, Jesus is the same.”
Another way to put that is this:
We constantly need to adapt to our ever-changing world, but our ever-changing world is constantly adapting to Jesus. Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom already. This world was always God’s, but God has now begun to exert his rule more explicitly. And so this world is changing. But it’s not just changing for the sake of change. It’s moving toward Christ. Yes there are pockets of resistance, sometimes particularly stubborn ones, that crop up again and again. I’m not saying it’s a cakewalk, and I’m not saying it’s done by human effort. I am saying, though, that even when we can’t see how, God is in control of the uncontrollable world, moving it towards its goal; and that goal is Jesus Christ.
It’s like a parent to his or her child. I may change my exact wording, or my method, or how I approach my kids, but ultimately, I am guiding and moving them toward (I hope) becoming better people, good citizens, and, most of all, disciples of Christ. I am not changing that goal, they are having to adapt to it. Sometimes they resist it, hate it, throw fits. But they still move in that direction. However, I’m not a perfect parent, but God is. So God is moving us perfectly toward a perfect goal (Jesus Christ). And it’s comforting to know that God is constant and unchanging in that.
Faithful and Faithless
Here’s where I really get to what I think the Bible is trying to communicate to us when it says God does not change, or is the same.
What it is trying to convey is something about God’s faithfulness. God is faithful. That’s why it is comforting, why it is empowering, why it is so amazing. God is faithful.
“So what?” You might be asking. “Aren’t we all called to be faithful?” Well, yes. But we are also called to be holy like God is holy. We fail at that one without even breaking a sweat. “Yes,” you might say (you figurative verbal sparring partner), “but I’ve known people who are faithful. Spouses faithfully married to each other for years. Christians who remain in the church even under heavy persecution.” Are those people faithful? Sure. But not like God. Not like our God, Yahweh.
2 Timothy 2:11-13 has always intrigued me (here’s the NIV):
11 Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.
It’s that last line that always sticks with me. Where we expect the equal counterpart (he desserts us), we are left with a surprise: “he remains faithful.” Why? That’s just who God is. He can’t help himself. If he’s not faithful, he wouldn’t be God because, as 1 John 4:8 tells us “God is love.” And as 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, love always hopes, always endures, never gives up, believes in us, and never, not-in-an-infinity-of-years, fails. Never. Even when we try to spit in God’s face, slap him and run away: He remains faithful.
God doesn’t just do it from now on, either. God, and Jesus, is faithful “yesterday” too. Before we were faithful. He loved us before we loved him. He was faithful before we even knew who God was, or that there was a God, or anything at all. He was faithful before we were born, before we were conceived, before the world began. God was faithful to you before there were a heavens and an earth (see Ephesians 1).
He was so faithful he came to where we are, because we could not go to where he was.
He remained faithful when we betrayed and denied him.
When we had him arrested.
And paraded around so others could join in the insults.
He was faithful.
He was faithful when we nailed him down (literally!).
And let him hang naked.
So faithful, even when we killed him.
And was even more faithful than that. So faithful, that this couldn’t be the end. God was so faithful to us, the very people who killed him, that he couldn’t stay dead.
He was so faithful he came back to life. And became transformed.
So faithful he is our advocate before the Father.
And he sent his spirit.
That’s how faithful God was.
So faithful, one life couldn’t even begin to express it; from eternity to eternity. That’s what it means to say “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Our God is the faithful God. Even when we are not. Even when we try to kill him. Even before we existed, and after we die. God is faithful because God is love. That’s just who He is.
What does it mean to you to know God is faithful?