In June of 2013, a man dressed in a sport coat and a neatly pressed blue shirt, walked into a bank in Des Moines, Iowa, and explained to a teller that he needed a new debit card. He presented his identification card to a bank official, who looked at the card, looked at him, and then said, “Sir, you don’t look anything like the man on this ID card.” The photo on the ID card was of a middle-aged man with gray hair, but the man looking for the new debit card was in his mid-twenties. Undaunted, the man explained that his lack of resemblance to the photo on the card was because of a recent accident. Suspecting a fraud, the bank manager called the police.
When the police arrived, they found a 25-year-old man with gray powder in his hair and beard. He was wearing a foam neck brace with an ace bandage wrapped awkwardly around his head. The headwrap caused his thick hair to stick out on one side of his head making him resemble the cartoon figure Gumby. The disguise used by this attempted identity thief was so bad that it prompted the police officer to ask him, “Are you seriously trying to pass yourself off as the man on this ID card?” The man hung his head and said meekly, “I know.” It was soon discovered that the real owner of the ID card had lost it when his car had been recently stolen, after which he had wisely notified the bank to flag his bank account.
As I move from Epiphany, the season in which Jesus reveals himself to me, into the season of Lent, a time in which my sin is revealed to him, I can be assured that there is no need to try to fake my identity, for he already knows me. Indeed, he has known me intimately long before I ever gave him any thought. In the words of that well-known sinner David:
"O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways." (Ps. 139:1-3 NASB)
“Searched” of vs. 1 (“cha-qar” in the Hebrew) carries a meaning of “to thoroughly search, examine, explore” and is intensified by “za-rah” (vs. 3); an interesting word translated as “scrutinize” (NASB), “discern” (NIV), and “searched” (ESV). But “za-rah” is a term used in the “sifting” and “winnowing” of grain. The word picture created here is that our Lord has carefully spread us out and picked through the totality of who we are. Or, as Leupold writes,
“God has let the full force of His Omniscience play upon every thought and activity of the psalmist and therefore has always known him more intimately than he knows himself.” (H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 943)
And, from the words of Jesus, this same omniscient God in the flesh who rubbed elbows with real people, when a skeptical Nathaniel asked him “How do you know me?” we hear:
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48 NASB)
Turn a few pages more in John’s Gospel and we see this enlightening exchange between an all-knowing God and a woman struggling with a mountain of bad life choices:
"[Jesus] said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” (John 4:16-18 NASB)
Now, before I see Jesus as some cosmic killjoy, I should first realize that he came to this woman in her own personal spiritual desert, offering her the gift of Himself as “living water” (vs. 10, 14). She had come to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the glares, stares, and snarky comments from others, but she couldn’t avoid Jesus. There he was, sitting in her messy world, at her destination, at the time of her arrival – waiting for her and her alone. Yes, he called her religious worldview into question and painfully sifted through her broken life, but then he explained his end game:
"...true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24 NASB)
So what’s the point in all of this for me? Like it or not, I cannot put God off or hold him at bay. Like the woman at the well, I must allow Jesus to unmask me, even though it may be painful to confront my failings. In the end, there is just the raw reality of who Jesus is, and the revealing but gracious way he acts with me. I may want to debate with him – marshaling all my complaints, objections, and excuses, but he just looks at me and says, “I have seen you; I know you. I know the passion of your soul, the depth of your wounds, the carelessness of your rebellions, the stupidity of your stumbles; I know it all, but here I am. I see you, I know you, and I want you – “Follow me.” Like the woman at the well, Jesus offers me a new identity as He pours His living water of God’s forgiveness and friendship into my thirsty soul.
I may feel today that the Lord has not found me, but in fact he has – he is intimately acquainted with all my ways. And the good news of his Gospel is that in spite of what he knows about me, out of his great love for me, he willingly laid his life down for me. Because of him and his grace alone, I live beneath an open heaven, both known and forgiven. His knowledge of me, and his all-sufficient grace, calls out to me to be honest with him, as the late Helmut Thielicke put it:
"But where Jesus is the air is clean and clear. Here dirty hands are called dirty; here sin is called sin, and dishonesty is called dishonesty… We Christians can be utterly honest with ourselves because we have nothing to fear, because we don't need to be so painfully worried about putting up a good front. For we know about forgiveness. We know that Jesus Christ died for the sake of our dirty hands. We know that "Jesus' blood and righteousness" is our "beauty and glorious dress," and that this is a more dependable garment than all the respectable, easily soiled vestments we may show the world. We do not need to be afraid of the hard truth, because no matter what happens Jesus Christ is for us and he will go with us and stand beside us before the throne of judgment."
Yes, as I move from Epiphany into Lent, I rejoice that he has found me, embraced me, forgiven me, and he is traveling with me on my stumbling through this fallen world. So take off the disguise, he sees right through it anyway.
“How do you know me, Lord?” “I have always known you,” he answers.
"How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You." (Ps. 139:17-18)
Such knowledge is indeed wonderful! To God be the glory! Amen.