You probably know that my book Letters from Jesus came out in paperback last week. I hope you don’t mind me banging this drum but I feel strongly about this one. Why? Because Jesus sent love letters from heaven and most of us are afraid to read them!
We have been told his letters contain bad news, even threats for Christians. That’s a contemptible lie! We try and read the letters ourselves, but lacking any sort of lens, we can’t make sense of them. So we file them away in the too hard basket telling ourselves, these letters are not for me.
And the treasures that God meant for you fall to the ground like unopened gifts.
I hope I have convinced you to take another look at the letters from Jesus, but if not, here’s another extract from the book:
Tradition teaches that the Jesus of the letters is displeased and out to punish poor performers. He is a stern taskmaster who commends us if we do well but condemns us if we don’t. He pushes us to pray more, study more, evangelize more, and insists we carry out his work with a smile on our dial. No matter how weary or broken you may be, this Christ expects results. Fail to live up to his high demands and you may lose your crown, have your name erased, and be punished with death and damnation.
I wish I was exaggerating, but I encounter this false Christ on a daily basis. I hear about him from confused preachers and burnt-out believers.
In the research I did for this book, I saw him behind comments like these: Jesus is looking for intense enthusiasm in attending all church activities (Ephesus), and he rejects those who are less than zealous (Laodicea). He punishes cowardice (Smyrna), complacency (Sardis), law breaking (Pergamum), and compromise (Thyatira). He watches, he threatens, and if we’re not totally obedient, he disciplines us in brutal ways.
The message I heard again and again was this: “God has given you a chance to prove you were worth saving, you miserable sinner. So get busy working for the Lord.” And how hard must you work? You must be willing to work until you drop for the sake of Jesus, said one preacher. It is only through hard work and bearing up under fiery trials that we are able to save our souls, said another. What was particularly startling was how these pronouncements were passed off as good news. But there is nothing good about the lie that says we must save ourselves or earn God’s favor through dead works.
Happily, the Jesus of the Gospels is not like this, and it is this Jesus—the one who came full of grace and truth—that we encounter in his letters. How do I know? Because the Jesus of the seven letters walks and talks exactly like the Jesus of the Gospels.
In these letters, Jesus does not introduce a new gospel or teaching. Instead, he repeats many of the things that he spoke about in the Gospels: how he has received authority from his Father, how he is a witness to the truth, and how we need to repent and believe the good news. This Jesus does not condemn sinners; he loves them. He does not rebuke strays; he woos them back. He speaks words of life to the lost. He gives hope to the oppressed and strength to the weary.
Study the seven letters and you will find many quotes, phrases, and images that come straight out of the Gospels. These prove beyond all doubt that the Jesus of the Gospels is the same Jesus who wrote the seven letters, and that the revelation he gave us on earth did not change after he returned to heaven. The gospel is still the gospel.
But what is the gospel?
The gospel is the good news that God is good and he loves you just as you are with a love that cannot be measured. His love was radically demonstrated on the cross of Calvary, but it is also revealed seven different ways in the letters from Jesus.
In the letter to Ephesus, Jesus is the Good Shepherd calling to his lost and weary sheep with promises of rest and comfort. In the letter to Smyrna, he is the resurrection and the life comforting those facing trials and death. In the letter to Pergamum, he is the Lord-above-all, slicing through lies and ambiguity with the sword of truth. In the letter to Thyatira, he is the exalted Son of God confronting a charlatan to protect those walking in his Father’s love. In the letter to Sardis, he is the spiritual Savior exhorting an unspiritual people to wake from their stupor and be clothed in his righteousness. In the letter to Philadelphia, he is the Holy One who opens doors, empowers the weak, and gives names to nobodies. In the letter to Laodicea, he is the faithful Witness who gives a true account regarding the lostness of the lost before inviting himself around for dinner.
What is the common theme in all these letters?
It is grace, or God’s undeserved favor for all, from the saintliest Philadelphian to the most noxious Laodicean. In none of the letters do you find Jesus making the sort of outrageous claims that are sometimes attributed to him. You just find grace upon grace—grace for salvation, sanctification, and everything besides.
Grace from start to finish.
Source: Letters from Jesus, available now.