The Sublimity Of Simplicity
I am a simple man. I have a simple faith. I simply believe in Jesus Christ. Consequently, I have a hard time with our tendency to complicate anything and everything these days. I remember what Alfred Lord Tennyson had to say about the great Duke of Wellington. Tennyson said, “As the greatest only are, he was in his simplicity sublime.” That’s what I long for—the sublimity of simplicity. That is one of the reasons I so love the Gospel story because for all the use and abuse which the Gospel has experienced across the centuries, it remains a story of exquisite, sublime simplicity.
The Gospel is simple because Jesus was a simple man.
Jesus was divine. Yes. But Jesus was also human. Jesus was both fully God and fully human. He talked like we talk. He went fishing early in the morning. He caught catnaps in mid-afternoon. He let children play in His lap and swing from His arms. He had to worry about where His next meal was coming from. He could be warm with tenderness, or ablaze with anger. He was not a particularly handsome man. The Scripture specifically describes some people as being beautiful and well formed. The Bible says that about Rachel, Tamar, Esther, Joseph, Saul, David and Absalom, but what does the Bible say of Jesus? It says, “He had no form or comeliness that we should desire Him.” The Shroud of Turin continues to command the attention of both the religious and the scientific communities as scholars and scientists try to determine its authenticity. But I have to tell you that if the face on the shroud is in fact the face of Jesus, then He was a rather plain looking man.
Jesus also spoke very plainly and very simply. If you translate His parables into the idiom of our day, you find that they are very commonplace. He talked of finding a diamond ring that you thought you would never find. He talked about winning the lottery and winding up going to Hell. He said it would be harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than to drive a Mercedes through a revolving door. He said, “If your child asks for a puppy, would you give him a black widow spider?” Or “If she asks for a hot-fudge sundae, would you slap her face?” You see, he spoke in very simple, earthly figures. He was a simple man.
And the Gospel is simple because it is addressed to simple people.
The Gospel is not for people who think they have arrived in life; people who think they have all the answers; people who think they are head and shoulders superior to the rest of the world. The Gospel is not for snobs. Instead the Gospel is for people who walk on common, ordinary, everyday pathways like we do; people who are very much aware of their own shortcomings; people who know that they have a deep need for God; people who know that that need can be met only through Jesus Christ.
Whenever I say that our access to God is only through Jesus Christ, there are always those who respond, “But isn’t that rather narrow? Aren’t you ruling everybody else out?” Well, you tell me if it is narrow. A Muslim believes that in order to get to God you must say your prayers five times a day; you must observe the month long Feast of Ramadan each year; you must make a pilgrimage to Mecca; you must give alms to Allah; and you must study the Qur’an. No exceptions. A Hindu believes that in order to reach spiritual bliss, you must observe certain social taboos; you must eat certain foods and not others; you must practice bodily deprivations—some of which are quite painful—and you must enter into mental disciplines which do nothing less than alter your personality. No exceptions. The Buddhist says that in order to achieve oneness with the “great all” you must negate all physical desires; you must take to yourself vows of poverty; you must punish or flagellate yourself into purity of mind and spirit. No exceptions. Now over against those complicated, involved, exclusive, and restrictive requirements and legalisms of other faiths, I set the Gospel of the Christian faith. Jesus Christ says, “Those who come to Me, I will by no means cast out.” It could not be more simple. It could not be more broad. It could not be more winsome. It could not be more open. It could not be more accepting. It could not be more uncomplicated. Jesus says, “Come and follow Me.” It is as simple as that.
And the Gospel is simple because it declares a simple message.
We see that truth in the sublime simplicity of the sacrament. When Jesus set out to establish a perpetual memorial to Himself and to His message. He chose to do it through the simple elements of a common meal. Had we established a memorial to Him, it would have been an infinitely more spectacular ceremony filled with lots more pomp and circumstance. But Jesus made it simple so that we would not so focus on the memorial that we would miss the message.
And the message is simple too: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.” That simple sentence tells us precisely what we are to do. We are to proclaim. We are to put into words. We are to show forth. We are to demonstrate in our own lives not only the death of Jesus, but also His resurrection and His coming again. We are to be taking that message of His dying, His rising, and His return out into the world aggressively and unashamedly. My dear friends, the great good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is just too good to keep to ourselves. We must take it to the world.
Now here’s my point. When we go forth into the world, we go in the name of a simple Savior trying to reach simple people in a very simple way with a very simple message: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Dear friends, it is as simple as that.