Last week, we talked about Amen, which is not only the last word in many of our prayers, it’s also the last word in the whole Bible. So in keeping with Jesus’ words about the last being first and the first last, let’s look today at the first word.
In both cases, the word begins the iconic triad ‘In the beginning’, and is a simple linguistic tool that gets us to the focal point of the phrase, beginning. ‘In’ is used in a similar utilitarian fashion countless times in the Bible – literally: a keyword search of BibleGateway.com for ‘in’ returns the following result: Your search only contains words that are very common.
Too common for even a mindless computer to bother counting, it seems.
And that’s pretty understandable. In is in everything (literally). The concept it describes is about as simple as you can get. Check out this painfully obvious – but cute – illustration from Wiktionary to see what I mean.
We use the word a thousand times a day, without even thinking about it, and while it’s possible to overuse most words (I’ve been very conscious about how often I use the word ‘word’ while crafting this series, for example), even a word nerd like me has never batted an eye over anyone’s overuse of ‘in’, because the word is utterly indispensable.
But there’s a lot more to ‘in’ than meets the eye. On the lips of God, expressed in the pages of the Bible, in is powerful.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus famously declares, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Similarly, in John 14:14, He promises, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
Cool. ‘Lord, please give me twenty million dollars in the next 15 seconds. In your name, amen.’
Hmm. I don’t seem to be any richer. Apparently, the task of asking for something in Jesus’ name isn’t as cut-and-dry as it seems. In, in this case, seems to be pointing to something bigger than praying the right words in order to get the stuff I think I want.
It’s at the climax of his ministry, mere hours before his death on the Cross, where Jesus sheds more light on what in means to Him (and can mean for us, too), during his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In John 17: 11-16, Jesus draws a clear distinction between being in the world and of the world, and implicitly commands us to do the same.
In this part of the prayer, He elevates of-ness above in-ness, suggesting that we can’t control what kind of world we exist in, but we don’t have to – and shouldn’t – let it change what we’re made of.
Then, just a few verses later, he In John 17:20-23, Jesus emphasizes a slightly different (but viva la difference) meaning of in, and in so doing, pulls back the curtain on the depth and mystery that are contained in what is normally such a simple, humdrum little word.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
The Holy Trinity is one of the great mysteries of our faith, so the non-sequitur description of the Father being in the Son and vice-versa and back again isn’t terribly startling to us veteran Jesus freaks. (Indecipherable, yes. But not unfamiliar.) But where this passage does flummox me, regardless of how many times I’ve heard it, is its implication that we are invited into a similar relationship, where Christ is in us and we are in Christ. Almost as if we are each invited to be part of a holy quadrinity.
The Apostle Paul was also captivated by the concept of being in Christ. He used the phrase many times in his Epistles, with a few slightly different connotations:
- ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ – 2 Corinthians 5:17
- ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’ – 1 Corinthians 15:22
- ‘So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith’ – Galatians 3:26
- ‘And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ – Ephesians 2:6
- ‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.
- And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.’ – 2 Corinthians 1:20
- ‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ – Philippians 4:7
- ‘And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.’ – Philippians 4:19
- ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23
If Hindus meditate on the mystical syllable om, maybe Christians should put in to use in similar fashion.
I was going to end this post here, until I remembered (all by myself) how I ended last The Last Word last week. I talked about the impossibility of doing denotative justice to the word Amen, and ended the entry with my favourite definition of the last word:
Amen = I’m in.
And thank God for that.
Peace be with you.