Knowing Jesus like a cupful of the ocean

One of the things I love about Jesus is that there are always new things to discover about him. His eternal, inexhaustible nature, character and activity, mean that there are always new things to learn about who he is, what he is like, and what he is capable of.

Having written a beautiful, ordered account of the highlights of Jesus’ life and ministry, John concludes by saying:

‘Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.’

John 21:25

It’s striking that here John is only referring to the things Jesus did over the 33 years of life on this earth, let alone everything he has done in eternity past and continues to do to this day. Jesus is fully worthy of our exploration, devotion and worship, because he is inexhaustible. We will never get to the end of knowing about him.

Which is not to say that we can’t genuinely know him; we absolutely can. But we need to understand that there is a difference between knowing something or someone truly and knowing them fully.

Think of it like this. If I were to get a glass, and scoop up a cupful of the ocean, the water in that glass would truly be the ocean, but it wouldn’t be the full ocean. The glass would contain the ocean, but it wouldn’t contain the ocean, if you see what I mean. And the reason why it wouldn’t fully contain the ocean is not due to some failure of the ocean itself, but the limited size of the glass. The glass is genuinely filled with the ocean to the best of its ability and capacity, but there is way more outside the glass than there is within.

Jesus is far greater than the ocean. We can know him truly, but we can never know him fully, at least not this side of eternity. We can truly know his nature, his character and his activity, learning about them through his word, through prayer, through the Holy Spirit, and through the church, where we encounter Jesus both alongside and through others. But whilst we can know Jesus truly, we cannot know him fully, with our finite capacities.  

That is good news. You see, the reason the ocean captures our imagination and is worthy of our awe is precisely because it can’t be contained in a glass. If it could be contained, restrained and conquered, it would cease to be a marvel. In the same way, if we could know Jesus fully, he wouldn’t be worthy of our worship because he would, in the end, be just another finite being like us.

No, his inexhaustible nature is the very reason he continues to be worthy of our worship.

As John might have said, if every aspect of Jesus’ character and every good action he has done were to be scooped up and put in glasses, I suppose that the whole world would look like the house from Signs and still not have enough room for the half of it!

And what’s more, every new thing we learn about him is always good. In an age where we are constantly learning new things about people we thought we knew – and it’s rarely good – this is a great comfort. We are so used to hearing tragic stories of people who seemed to have a perfect, polished public persona, and then some information comes out that reveals a previously-hidden dark side. That will never be the case with Jesus. There is no hidden dark side to be uncovered, no scandal to be revealed. The only scandal about him is the scandal of his inexhaustible grace towards us.


Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

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