The Jesus That Time Forgot

Row of artist paintbrushes closeup on old wooden rustic background

Until Christ is revealed in us and to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit we cannot know Him.

For many Christ followers our journeys begin in a similar way. We hear and believe the gospel and set out expectantly, seeking to know more about this Jesus Christ who took our place on a Roman cross. We want to get to know this irresistible, mysterious, resurrected Jesus we have discovered, and we expect spending time with the ones who’ve followed Him longer will surely help us.

But many of those we assume are best friends with this Jesus we are falling in love with, are not. In the wide world of Christian religion there exist man-made, mass produced images of Christ. We don’t yet know it, but the picture many bring us is tainted with two centuries’ worth of very inaccurate human interpretation. The genuine and original Masterpiece has been obscured beneath multiple layers of humanity’s interference.

Religion presents us with a paint-by-numbers version of Jesus, accompanied by a pre-set colour palette already mixed by those who are supposedly “older in the Lord”. Much of the canvas has already been filled in with a garish combination of opinions, tradition, culture and human ignorance. We are handed our own little brush so that we too may personalize the painting, adding our own layers to this representation of Christ that is not Christ. Eagerly we take up our brush and start filling in blanks under the tutelage of those who are said to know exactly how the image should look.

The problem with our picture is that we rarely get to start with the original. Generation after generation since Christ walked the earth in the flesh have added their own interpretations to His portrait. Men and women, often with the best of intentions, have attempted to refine the original image to match their personal ideas of how Christ should look. Each has built upon the previous layers according to their own culture, tradition, need or preference.

So a detail is altered here, a brushstroke added there and perhaps a change of hue in another spot. Some have highlighted certain aspects of the picture they felt sure are more important than others. Others have obscured details they considered irrelevant. Over the passage of history the original, undefiled Masterpiece has been tainted by layer on layer of human tampering.

The altered image passed to us has been enhanced, manipulated and distorted, but we are unaware of the contamination it has endured. We take our altered image to the scriptures, searching for affirmation and harmony with the image we hold in our hands. When we encounter passages or mysteries there that do not conform to the modified picture of Christ that has now taken up residence in our mind, we leave it to ‘greater minds’ to interpret them and run back to the comfort of our picture, for to question the image we have been handed is to enter into dangerous and often lonely territory.

There are few exceptions to this process. Sometimes our path may cross the path of another disciple who long ago threw away their paint-by-numbers canvas and their little paint brush for the pursuit of the original Masterpiece. If we are fortunate enough to stumble upon such a one we can be sure their departure from the assembly line world of modern Christianity has been costly for them. But if we stick close we will often glimpse the true Christ beckoning us onward through their lives. Should we follow, it will be costly for us also, but so very worth it.

Until Christ is revealed in us and to us by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we cannot know Him.

‘….the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.’ Luke 5:15

If Jesus is no more than a source of moral instruction in our lives (hearing), we are still holding a paint-by-numbers image in our hands. If He has no greater purpose in our lives than to meet our needs (healing) we are not yet beholding the Masterpiece. We have merely ‘heard a report’, but we are yet to know Him.

There must come a pivotal point in our journey where our relationship with Jesus surpasses the ‘report concerning Him’. We must press forward with a desire to know Him covenentally, drawing our life moment by moment from His Life. We must arrive at a place where we have ‘heard for ourselves and know’.

‘……and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”’ Jn. 4:42

To know Him in this sense is to have entered a fullness of knowledge, to be consciously and progressively experiencing the knowing of Him *.

I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.’ Jn. 1:33, 34

John the Baptiser did not know Jesus until He was revealed to him by the Spirit. He saw, that is he perceived by the power of the Spirit, and from that God-breathed revelation testimony was born.

Until we know Him by revelation of the Spirit, we cannot testify of Him in power. This ‘knowledge of Christ’ testimony is the testimony that overcomes the accuser of the brethren (Luke 21:12-17; Rev. 12:11).

Flesh and blood can never reveal Christ to us. Christ is revealed to the human spirit only by the Holy Spirit.

‘He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”’ Mat. 16:15-17

At this moment millions upon millions worship a mass produced paint-by-numbers Christ, a fictitious and deficient replica of the original Masterpiece. Religion hands us a picture of Christ that is tainted, modified and powerless. To behold that living Masterpiece as He actually is we must be willing to lay down the counterfeit images we have accumulated in whatever time we have spent in humanly controlled religious environments.

For me, the legalistic Jesus presented by formal Christian religion was a gross misrepresentation of the true and magnificent Jesus I am now coming to know. I have abandoned the paint-by-numbers Jesus to run with this unsurpassed Masterpiece Jesus the Holy Spirit delights to reveal. Finally I can say “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded……” (2 Tim. 1:12) Has it cost me? More than I can say. Is it worth it? Much more than I can say.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ road into the Kingdom. It is not at all easy in the wilderness outside the institution, but it can be even harder to hear, see and know for ourselves in the middle of the crowd with their mass produced paintbrushes and canvases.

Whatever the pathway we are called to tread, the testimony of Jesus Christ increases in us only as we consciously and progressively experience the knowing of Him. That testimony, alive and unquenchable, is the eternal life of Christ Himself, held within surrendered vessels, ready to be poured out on the world at any given moment. That testimony is more than words, more than a comforting story. It arises in us only as we continually behold the true and original Face of Christ, Spirit to spirit.

It is the Spirit of prophecy.

Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”Rev 19:10 NASB

*Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission. 

The Question

Question mark background

This is not the post I planned to share today.  Today many of us are grappling with deep sadness and questions no one can answer. This weekend we were brought once again to the shattering reality that humanity is in deep, agonising trouble. While politicians promise dramatic responses, musicians comfort us with gentle tunes, and newsreaders sombrely churn out details we don’t really need to know, one question rises unbidden in our searching hearts:


We hear talk of swift and unrelenting retribution. We watch world leaders speaking of unprecedented unity. We see flags flying, hear anthems being sung and deck out our social media in special colours. Some urge victory in solidarity. Others preach defiance. But the question remains unanswered:


We are quick to offer our opinions on ideology, radicalisation, religion, marginalisation, death cults and what needs to be done about all of them. But these are symptoms of something much deeper, much darker in the collective heart of humanity, that has been there longer than any of us can remember. War, destruction, hatred and murder. This is our history.


Some say the only answer is love. They are right. But Love has walked among us and we did to Him what we wanted. We crucified Him. Do we really think we can love without Him? Really?? Do we really believe this human race can find our way out of the darkness within us –  apart from Him?


The question is screaming at us and we stop our ears, desperately hope someone will turn up to solve the problem, and sadly limp on. We cannot answer the question, but are we at least ready to ask it? If not, one thing is guaranteed: we will grieve, collectively, again.

And the question will remain hovering menacingly in the air, spoken only by the brave and truthful.

When Jesus Wept

When Jesus wept at Bethany

What sorrow did His heart conceive

Was it unbelief in all its masks

That caused His overflowing grief?

That human eyes that day conveyed

While human tongues unknown betrayed?

When Jesus wept at Bethany

Did He weep for you and me?


When Jesus wept at Bethany

What aching filled His gentle soul?

Knowing well our history

Did He glimpse the unrelenting toll

Of pain and grief and misery

That death has cost humanity?

When Jesus wept at Bethany

Did He weep for you and me?


When Jesus wept at Bethany

Did creation gasp with soft surprise

And angels gaze with puzzled eyes?

Did earth and Heaven hold their breath

While tears rolled down the face of Him

The Resurrection and the Life?

When Jesus wept at Bethany

Did He weep for you and me?


When Jesus wept at Bethany

Did His tears fall down to stain the land

To mingle with the sinless Blood

That Calvary would soon demand?

Did blood and sweat from Gethsemane

Join their flow into the flood?

When Jesus wept at Bethany

Did He weep for you and me?


When Jesus wept at Bethany

Perchance He stood by all of us

And mixed His tears with yours and mine

And claimed our suffering as His own

That none of us who weep and ache

Could ever say we wept alone

When Jesus wept at Bethany

He wept for you, He wept for me


When Jesus wept at Bethany

His weeping crossed eternity

And entered every human tear

That was or is or soon will be

That in our loss and in our pain

We should know the cost is paid

And sorrow’s depth was plumbed by He

Who wept with us at Bethany

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Guest Post – Scrubbing The Competition

CompetitionToday I welcome fellow blogger Tiffany Clark as a guest poster on Bread for the Bride.  Tiffany writes with deep insight at her blogsite Messy Theology.

Tiffany teaches (and is taught) Spiritual Formation in an M.A. program offered for Christian leaders throughout Africa and Asia. In her various writing projects, Tiffany prefers grappling with the Scriptures in the context of messy life struggles to tidy, simplistic answers. Her current office is her kitchen in St. Andrews, Scotland, which is also her classroom for her three children, her counseling office for university students, and on rainy days, her laundry drying space.  

I’d like to think that I am not competitive, that I have learned to love others to the point that I can pursue my own personal excellence while rejoicing when they achieve the same. But then I run smack into the glass door of reality. The truth is that I sometimes look around a room and find fault with each person present. I struggle to celebrate when my peers get recognized or promoted beyond me. And I find ways to justify in my own mind why I am more deserving than they.

At the heart of all this I recognize a deep selfishness which hinders true community. As long as my self-interests are not threatened, I am free to love, to affirm, and to promote those around me. But as soon as their success impedes my agenda, the warm fuzzies evaporate and my green-eyed monster is laid bare.

Despite my life-long efforts to fight this tendency, I was recently ashamed to discover it still at work in me. O wretched friend that I am—who will save me from my critical, competitive self?

All of a sudden the disciples incessant bickering about which of them was the greatest doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me. They were merely saying out loud what I valiantly try to mask. At least they weren’t hypocritical about it!

But our jostling for position must put a dagger through Jesus’ heart. After all, isn’t the kingdom all about Him? There He sat at the table the night before He died, grieving over His impending suffering, savoring His farewell dinner with His friends, and predicting one’s betrayal, and all they could talk about was which of them was most important.

The answer was staring them in the face. God was sitting there in the flesh, the Creator of the Universe passed them the bread. But rather than exert His position as Potentate of Time or rebuke them for their petty arguing, Jesus simply got up from the table and silently made His point.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. John 13:3-4

He knew who He was. As painful as it was to be perpetually undercut by His leaders, misunderstood by His family, questioned by the masses, and even doubted by His friends, Jesus’ identity was firmly rooted in who the Father said He was. He didn’t have to put His disciples down to establish His worth.

Because He was secure in His own position, Jesus could voluntarily lower Himself to elevate others.

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:5

And that is exactly what He did. Jesus made His way around the table of squabbling subordinates, kneeling before each one and serving him in the most menial way possible. The hands that flung stars into space scraped the scum from between their toes. The back that would soon bear the weight of the world bent in bared effort before His uppity inferiors.

Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him…John 13:10-11

Not even His betrayer was excluded from Jesus’ tender service that night. Who could fault Him for refusing to stretch out His neck before the man who had already sold Him to His murderers? But Jesus showed the full extent of His love by washing the feet of both His competing friends and His conniving enemy.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. John 13:12-14

Jesus washing feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday - Stained GHaving made His point with His hands, Jesus reinforced it with His words. Yes, He was rightfully their superior, and it was important that they all remember that. But His exalted position was merely a platform from which He chose to raise up those around Him. If His disciples wanted to honor Him, they would have to do so by imitating His example of honoring each other.

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. John 13:15-16

And this is where Jesus’ words lodge with me. There is nothing wrong with desiring greatness. But I am going about it all the wrong way if I seek to promote myself at other’s expense. There is no room for that sort of competition in God’s Kingdom.

If coming out first involves putting others down (even in my own mind), then I have effectively made myself last.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13

The road towards greatness in His kingdom is paved through the laying down of my own self. My pursuit of excellence in His eyes should lead me to wash my competitor’s feet, not trounce them under mine. Jesus calls me to pursue the enhancement of the whole Body, of which my fellow disciples are an integral part.

After all, I am not the Bride of Christ.

We are.

*This post has also been shared on my associate blogsite, Ishshah’s Story.

Moments Like These

You know, I wasn’t planning this post.  But I saw something today that literally took my breath away and squeezed some unexpected salty tears from these jaded eyes.  Spontaneous tears….they’re the best kind don’t you think?

The Rugby World Cup Final was played out between old rivals Australia and New Zealand this past weekend.  Now, if like me you’re not much of a sports fan, don’t stop reading at this pointThis is not about sport. 

I know next to nothing about Rugby Union and wasn’t one of the thousands of Australians and New Zealanders who rose in the early hours to watch. Back to the game – it was won by defending champions New Zealand 34 to 17.   (Apparently New Zealand broke records by winning three consecutive Rugby World Cups – well done kiwis!)

At the end of the game the New Zealand team did the customary victory lap, during which a young excited fan leapt from his seat, ran towards the team, and was heavily tackled to the ground by a rather burly security guard, (who was of course just doing his job).

A player named Sonny Bill Williams, better known as SBW, saw what happened, lifted the boy up and proceeded to protectively escort him back to his family in the stands, just as if he was his own child.  He then removed the World Cup gold medal he’d just received from around his neck and placed it around the neck of the little boy.

You can watch the scene unfold on this short You Tube video:

So why am I sharing this on Bread for the Bride?  Because God is so desperately in love with us He uses such everyday ‘moments’ to prophetically reveal His all-consuming Love in ways that reach us just where we are.  And ninety-nine per cent of the time we don’t recognize Him right there in the moment with us.

Look at the rugby hero and the child together: the man wholly focused on protecting, delivering, befriending and restoring, covering the child’s head with team colours, arms sheltering him from over excited journalists, and finally bestowing on him a symbol of himself that only he and no other could ever give away.

Now look at the child: one moment in full flight, the next not knowing what hit him, hardly believing his eyes when the hero steps in to rescue him.  Look at the way he reaches up in total, unquestioning trust, just knowing SBW is not going to push him out-of-the-way, shame him, or reject him.   In wide-eyed adoration, he clings to SBW, chattering with excitement, hardly believing he is where he is – in the arms of this strong hero, welcomed and safe.

Then, finally, savor the priceless look on the boy’s face as he realises his hero has bestowed on him something uniquely of himself, something that cannot be bought,  something that will bind the two of them together for the rest of both their lives.

Yes, there are those who may snicker, cynically mumbling about publicity stunts, unhealthy hero-worship, and ‘he didn’t need that medal anyway’.  Or we could go digging for possible dirt on SBW’s past life, or self-righteously complain about parents who don’t control their kids.  There are way too many ways to justify our embarrassment at having God show up at a worldly football game.

Or we can, with both hands, humbly seize this visual opportunity God has given us to understand the gospel afresh.

I am not ashamed of the spontaneous tears that filled my eyes when I came across this scene in my news feed.  I am not apologetic because I have momentarily equated a muscular, imperfect New Zealand athlete with Christ.  And most of all I am not sorry that I can’t help seeing the deepest need of every one of us in that child’s wondering, adoring face.

When I look into the face of Christ, I want to be that child.

When I realise the height, width and breadth of the random grace of my inheritance in Him, I want to be that child.

When I sense His proximity, calling me through the latticework,  I want to be that child – leaping with innocent, abandoned trust into the unknown with Him, whatever the cost.

God dares to turn up in our moments, even in the chaos of a shouting throng out for a few hours relief from the aching questions of their every day lives.  He chooses to be there.   In the moment.  Telling us His story, singing His Song over us, inviting us to the biggest victory party going.

With. Us.

Emmanuel.  God With Us.  Glory!!

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

The Tyranny of Empty Nets


A dark mood enveloped the seasoned fisherman as he dragged his boat onto shore. Pulling an empty net up beside him he began to wash away the night’s debris. Simon could hear the Rabbi’s voice speaking softly and firmly to the crowd further up the beach. But he was tired, sore and irritated at the futility of his all night effort and listened only half-heartedly to the Rabbi’s words.

Pressed by the pushing crowd the Rabbi stepped into the fisherman’s boat, asking Simon to pull out a little from the shore so he could better address the people.  Simon didn’t mind, in fact he was quietly proud that Rabbi Jesus had deemed his little fishing boat fit for His purposes. He had had his own encounter with Jesus not many days before when Andrew and John had excitedly sought him out claiming to have found Messiah. Not being one for fables, Simon had gone to investigate their fanciful tale.

But soon Simon too was intrigued by this unknown prophet who had apparently come wandering in from the wilderness with His tradesman’s hands and disarming smile. Jesus had looked directly at the suntanned fisherman smelling of salt and sea, and stated: ‘You are Simon, son of Jonah, but now you’ll be called Peter’, as if they had been acquainted for years¹. Amused, Andrew and John had wasted no time in teasingly addressing him by his newly acquired name.   And that was that.

Something unfamiliar had been stirring deeply inside Simon Peter ever since that strange encounter. He was further unsettled when Jesus had healed his own mother in law and many others in his village. If he was honest he would have loved nothing more than to follow Jesus for a while and learn more about this new Kingdom of which He spoke. But a fisherman knew his place. And besides, there was a business to run and a family to feed.

That is if he was really any sort of fisherman at all, which right at this moment he very strongly doubted. The empty net in his hand was evidence enough of the many nights he had given the best he had in him, yet still returned in the morning with nothing to show for his backbreaking toil.

Simon’s sober thoughts were interrupted by the Rabbi’s voice: ‘Go out where it’s deeper and let your nets down for a catch’. As much as he respected Jesus, Simon quietly doubted this Rabbi had a high level of proficiency in fish-catching. Any good fisherman knew that night was the best fishing time. ‘Master, we worked hard all through the night, and didn’t catch a thing,’ he replied despondently.

Couldn’t this prophet see that he was weary down to his bones and just wanted to go home? But there was something irresistible about this Man. ‘But because You say so, I will let down the nets again.

The resulting catch was far more than one little fishing boat could handle. And when the others responded to Simon’s shouts for help the multitude of fish kept coming, more fish than any of them had ever seen. Empty nets, newly cleaned and mended, soon broke apart under the strain. Boats, filled to overflowing, threatened to sink.

And in the midst of the chaotic scene a simple fisherman named Simon knelt before a mysterious rabbi-prophet-messiah and worshiped Him.Hands of commercial fisherman mending nets

Have you ever gotten tangled up in an empty net? I’d argue that you probably have. That smelly old net might even be wrapped around you right now.

The thing about empty nets is they demand our attention. All. Of. It.

They demand our attention to the point where our vision becomes increasingly limited. You might call it ‘empty net syndrome’ (but you don’t have to.)

Simon Peter had an empty net problem. The name of his empty net was ‘Failure’. It’s no fun to work your heart out all through the dark night and find you’ve got nothing to take home when morning light appears. And if it’s happened more than once…well, you know.   Pretty soon life becomes all about that old empty net, with its great big upper case ‘F’ stamped on it, and everything else fades from sight, right?

I’ve been there, trust me….more often than Simon Peter had fish dinners.

Maybe your net doesn’t have an ‘F’. Maybe it has an ‘S’ for Shame, a ‘D’ for Dumb, an ‘R’ for Rejected, or a ‘W’ for Why. There’s no shortage of empty, stifling nets vying for our undivided attention.

Typically, Simon Peter’s empty net had stolen center stage and had become his only perspective. Entwined in its fibers he was unable to see what Jesus could see – an unprecedented school of fish poised to break that empty net and usher in a brand new season in Simon Peter’s life-journey.

But the morning was to end vastly differently to the way it had begun. Simon Peter looked up from his nets and his fishing and fell in love….with Christ. ‘Don’t be afraid’, Beloved smiled back, or more literally ‘Stop being fearful’. And with a twinkle in His eyes: ‘Fish make a nice catch, but people are better.’

And then the fisherman left all – nets, business, boats – and followed His Messiah. Forever.

We read this Bible narrative found in Luke chapter 5 and we marvel at the miracle of the fish. But the beautiful wonder of what happened that day on Galilee Lake is not so much the great catch of fish as it is the broken nets that just moments before had lain empty and ugly in the fisherman’s hands, a symbol of fruitless toil.

Our journeys are not yet completed. The ink has not dried on our histories.  Our Lord is not done with us. He is peering through the empty nets we so often wear as shrouds, calling us onward to new journeys and spiritual vistas as yet unimagined. He loves us too much to leave us entwined in our empty, suffocating nets. He believes in us too much to let us go home to bed.

Simon Peter could have continued clinging indefinitely to his toxic empty net, allowing it to go on defining his life and his future. He very nearly did.

We too can live paralyzed and defeated by our empty nets, like a discouraged Shulamite lamenting: ‘I have taken off my robe; how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; how can I defile them?’² Can anyone identify?

But a gentle familiar Voice whispers: ‘Come with Me out into deeper water, and let go of your net. This journey’s not finished, I have so much more to show you. You have already given up so much for Me, but to follow Me further you need to surrender that old empty net that is slowly crippling you. Trust Me, I know what I’m doing’.

May you hear the Filler of Empty Nets whispering to your spirit this day. And may all your empty nets be broken.

¹John 1:35-42

²Song of Songs 5:3

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.