Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is a mental picture many of us have embraced since childhood. We love the idea of the softly spoken shepherd tenderly leading His sheep, don’t we? There is a good reason Psalm 23 is one of the most often quoted and well-loved Bible passages. It comforts us to know our Shepherd lovingly cares for us, leads us over difficult paths, and tends to our needs. Many are the nights when, tossing and turning over painful situations, I too have drifted into sleep reminding myself of my Shepherd’s faithful watchfulness and care.
But the heart of Christ is many faceted. Jesus is not only our Shepherd, He is our Prophet, Commander, High Priest, Apostle and King. There is an aspect of His character that is often (willingly?) overlooked, and that is His unbendable resolve. While His Shepherd’s rod and staff may comfort and reassure us, His Hands also hold a sceptre of righteousness and a rod of iron with which to rule the nations.
Earlier this week I listened to a You-Tube recording of a letter sent from Pastor Saeed Abedini to his wife and family in the U.S.A. Pastor Abedini is currently serving an eight year sentence in an Iranian prison on account of His faith in Jesus Christ. You can find out more about his story here .
In his letter Ps. Abedini talks about God using his sufferings to make him into a ‘man of steel’. “I always wanted God to make me a godly man. I didn’t realise in order to become a godly man I would have to become a man of steel” he writes.
What might Ps. Abedini mean when he refers to becoming a ‘man of steel’? I believe he is speaking of steadfast, purposeful resolve. The kind of fixed and unwavering resolve demonstrated by Jesus in the gospels, in those parts we often prefer to skip over because they don’t fit well with our need for the comforting, gentle Shepherd image so popular in today’s Christian culture. Steel is forged through intense heat by a complex process of refinement. It is made from iron ore found naturally in the earth, and is iron at the most refined stage known to man.
If we care to look, we can see this steely resolve in Jesus’ interactions with the religious authorities, with His family, with His disciples and with the world. “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” He asks within earshot of His natural family waiting outside. Then stretching His hand towards His followers: “Here are my mother and my brothers!¹” He fashions a whip and takes angrily after the money changers and traders at the Temple². To a man requesting some time to wait for his father’s death he uncompromisingly replies: “Let the dead bury their own dead³.”
And then of course there are those deeply confronting words to Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men⁴.” Ouch! None of us would want to be on the receiving end of that one, would we?
A time arrived when Jesus “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” and the impending Cross. His resoluteness was such that it must have been evident in His very face and manner, for a whole village of Samaritans refused to receive Him “because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalemᵃ”. Gentle Jesus meek and mild, healer and miracle worker was welcome. This Man of steel with His face set towards His life’s mission was not.
So who is this un-shepherd like Jesus we don’t often talk about? He’s a man on a mission from His Father and no-one, not the host of Hell, the religious authorities, or even those He loves dearly, will divert Him. This is a man who will not be swayed, detoured or distracted. He has set His face.
Therein lies a secret that Ps. Abedini and no doubt many others in his situation have learned and embraced. Paul expressed it this way in His fervent prayer for the Ephesian church:
“…..that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner manᵇ”
To be strengthened with might in the inner man! Might that is steadfast, immoveable and undaunted by whatever besets us; might that knows unquestioningly our identity in Christ, our eternal future and our present purpose; might to walk this earth with faith like steel and a backbone of iron; might to stand firm and unflinching for Christ when everything around us is being redefined, shaken, dismantled or demolished.
This kind of might is not human determination or strength of character. It cannot be gained by wishful thinking or strident religious discipline. It is supernatural (dunamis) power imparted into our spirits, our inner man. And it is bestowed by God alone on those who desire to walk as Christ walked.
I too want to be made of this kind of steel. This also is my prayer for the Bride.
Father grant to us also this inner steel, this inner might, that we may be fit for the Kingdom you are bestowing upon us, that we may stand undaunted amidst the spiritual flood of uncertainty and fear overtaking this world. Most of all may we now know what it is with Christ to resolutely ‘set our face’!
“No-one, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
ͣ Luke 9:51-53