"You have not had to approach things which your senses could experience as they did in the old days — flaming fire, black darkness, rushing wind and out of it a trumpet-blast, a voice speaking human words. So terrible was that voice that those who heard it begged and prayed that it might stop speaking, for what it had already commanded was more than they could bear — ‘And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or thrust through with an arrow.' So fearful was the spectacle that Moses cried out, ‘I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.'" Hebrews 12:18-21
The reference here, obviously, is to both Moses and the Israelites' experience of the Presence of God on and around the environs of Mount Sinai. And what, are we told, was that experience like?
Flaming fire, black darkness, rushing wind, a trumpet-blast, a voice speaking human words that was so awesome that those who heard it begged and prayed that it would stop: overall, a spectacle so fearful that it terrified and caused trembling.
And what do you think made all of that so stupendously frightening? Well, put yourself in those people's shoes. They were going along through their lives, being about the business of their days, when all of the above suddenly happened to them, from the outside, absolutely externally. Normal human life was accosted by the full weight of the eternal.
So what is - what should be - the difference now for us? Only, really, the location of all that. For we too – and the Church ever since Pentecost – have been lit with flaming fire, brought out of the black darkness into light; we have heard and received the rushing wind of the Spirit who summons and sends like a trumpet-blast; we have heard the Voice speaking human words to us – so wonderful that we’ve begged and prayed that it might never stop, so awesome that it terrifies and causes us to tremble – and where has all this occurred?
Internally. Within. Inside us. Right inside the chest of the reader now reading this sentence.
One of the greatest differences between the Old and New Testaments is simply the stage upon which the drama then/now occurs. Now, the normal human life of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth has been invaded and infused by the full weight of the eternal. Your human spirit is this generation's Mount Sinai: the sights, the sounds, the words of the Kingdom of Heaven on display.
The departure point for every "theology" (θεός-λόγος: God-word: the Word of God: λόγος-θεός: Jesus) must be the Theology: that He, our God, not only humbled Himself to become incarnate and to die for us, but also that He would personally choose to inhabit us and now lives in us.
Truly, beware of any theology or theologian who doesn't constantly do business with the power of the Indwelling; for, as Jesus would remind you, "The Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)
You and I will not be able to continue on in the true faith, day by day, if our God is some unknowable externalized deity sitting up in the clouds. However, if we'll believe what the New Testament tells us - what Jesus Himself told us - then it's the knowable internalized Godhead operating within us that will carry us, day by day.
Thank you, Jesus, for your life within our lives!
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthews 28:18-20)
“The promise of this beautiful passage is not only fulfilled in the presence of Christ in the heart of the believer, which is a literal and glorious truth, but it is a presence with us. It is more than the spiritual consciousness of the Lord’s indwelling; it is His direct personality and constant companionship with all our life, and His omnipotent cooperation in all our needs. It is the presence of One who has all power in heaven and in earth, and Whose presence means the defeat of every adversary, the solution of every difficulty, the supply of every need.”
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
"For I have come down from Heaven, not to do what I want, but to do the will of him who sent me. The will of him who sent me is that I should not lose anything of what he has given me, but should raise it up when the last day comes. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and trusts in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up when the last day comes.” John 6:38-40
How often we hear people say, and even say ourselves, "Oh, I wish I knew the Lord's will" for some decision we need to make, or during a crisis, or on a question we’re presently pondering. But in these last two verses, Jesus tells us the Will of God: 1) that He "should not lose anything of what [the Father] has given [Him]" and 2) "that everyone who sees the Son and trusts Him should have eternal life." THE Will of God is to possess and redeem. How stunning!
But did you notice that each of these will-of-God statements is binary: composed of two parts? The first part in each was different, but the second was the same: He will "raise [them] up when the last day comes." The word John uses there for "raise up" means just that - "to raise up" or "raise from the dead" - but it also has a lesser definition that goes beautifully with what we know to be one of the truest definitions of our lives-in-Him: "to produce a witness."
THE Will of God is to possess and redeem, that we might be raised up - raised from the dead, in fact - and produced as witnesses of what we know and have seen of Him.
“But,” you might say to me, “it would still help to know His particular will in this one particular decision I’m trying to make.” Well, here’s your decision-making grid: “I have come down from Heaven, not to do what I want, but to do the will of Him who sent me.” The “wants” of Jesus were nothing when compared to His delighted, intimate, listening, waiting-upon expectation of having the will of God daily revealed to Him. Can’t you see Him out in those lonely places in the pre-dawn hours, simply waiting and receiving word of the Father’s particular will for each particular day?
May it be so for us as well!
From Acts 2 with some notes -
When the Pentecost crowd heard [Peter's message] they were cut to the quick – “cut to the heart,” assailed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit – and they cried to Peter and the other apostles, “Men and fellow-Jews, what shall we do now?”
Peter told them, “You must repent – meaning, "alter the purpose of your life" – and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ – something never done before in human history – so that you may have your sins forgiven – a promise that Peter received directly from Jesus in Luke 24’s words, “So must the change of heart [the repentance] which leads to the forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” – and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this great promise is for you and your children — yes, and for all who are far away, for as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself!”
To me, it’s fascinating just how boldly Peter proclaims “this great promise” – the receipt of “the gift of the Holy Spirit” for “all who are far away, for as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself” – when he himself had only just received this Holy Spirit! How could he know that these people would receive Him too? How could he be so bold as to promise them “this promise”?
We might assume that he was leaning upon the prophecy from Joel 2 – that the Spirit would be poured out “upon all flesh” – or that, in real time, he was remembering Jesus’ Holy Spirit teachings from John 14, 15 and 16.
Or maybe just maybe this former fisherman, this present vessel of the Holy Spirit of God, is now receiving his orders directly from the Throneroom of Heaven. Again, as Jesus had said: “Yet when that one I have spoken to you about comes — the Spirit of Truth — he will guide you into everything that is true. For he will not be speaking of his own accord but exactly as he hears, and he will inform you about what is to come.” And just as thrilling: “When they bring you before the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, don’t worry as to what defense you are going to put up or what word you are going to use. For the Holy Spirit will tell you at the time what is the right thing for you to say.” (Luke 12)
Just as surely as the Father and Son discuss their plans in the Holy Spirit’s hearing, so surely does the Holy Spirit hear and speak what He has heard to us; and so surely may we learn to hear and speak, just as He has heard and spoken, so that all men may know the Good News of Jesus.
Peter is not winging it in his Pentecost message. Peter is our first pattern for how we should learn to listen… and then speak.
“The heart of the Christian faith is simple but quite revolutionary. It is that a man’s relations with God are no longer a matter of obedience to an ‘external’ God, but a willingness to be led by God’s own Spirit within him. Reconciliation with God is made possible by Christ, who is God as well as man, for, to use St. Paul’s words, 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.' And it is by believing in a living Spirit within us that we can know the friendship of God and can experience his power and love actually operating within ourselves.”
J.B. Phillips, Good News
In the Early Church, “…an immediate revelation of the mind of the Master was the one pressing religious need for which all craved.”
Thomas M. Lindsay
The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries
It isn't actually possible to "overspiritualize" life and all the situations in our lives. It's just that we've grown so adept at underspiritualizing everything that we find it feeling strange when the truly spiritual fully breaks through.
It's all, truly, spiritual. Our lives are the conduit by which He still reaches the world. Let us live a full day believing those facts.
"Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see..." Hebrews 11:1
And thus begins the beginning of the most famous "faith chapter" in all the 1,189 chapters in the whole Bible, including, if you read on, practical examples from real human lives. But first - you know me! - I want to take issue with the way, most of the time, we've heard and been taught and internalized the meaning of this very well-known opening verse. Take a read-through again in the Phillips translation and, then, in the NIV:
Yet the way it seems we've heard and understood this verse is at a position of remove, like "faith" is some remote action of shooting hopes out into the unknown darkness. The actual Greek wording would beg to differ, though: consider it:
“Faith is the foundation of the things hoped-for, the proof of things not presently seen.”
I think, oftentimes, we think of "faith" as a means to get somewhere - to peace, to calm, to Heaven - when, in fact, to believe means you've already arrived. Faith is the Heavenly we can hold onto; it's the economy of Life itself; as the King James' captures it so perfectly, it is "the substance" - the tangible, touchable - of what we claim to believe.
For us to first just sit in a room and truly believe what we say we believe about Jesus is the most powerful human activity available to us. All true Christian doings can only proceed from there.
What - and how - do we really believe?
“It is a tremendous thing, the economy of the Holy Ghost! When the Spirit of God finds a soul in which He can work, He uses that soul for any number of purposes: opens out before its eyes a hundred new directions, multiplying its work and its opportunities for the apostolate almost beyond belief and certainly far beyond the ordinary strength of a human being.”
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
When we consider the lives of the Early Church, might we not call them "mystical realists" - people making the mysteries of God utterly real, and their realities a true experience of the mysteries of the living Christ?
If so, I'd like to walk in that lifestyle today! How about you?
“Only when you descend into yourself and encounter the Other, do you then experience goodness as the ultimate reality – united and living – in Him and through you.”
2nd Secretary-General, U.N.
There is no one better to lead us into the fullness of the life of Abiding, no one better to teach us the way of the Holy Spirit, than the very One who first taught of that life, and sent us that Other, for the purpose of His Kingdom's arrival upon this earth.
Truly, daily, our only job is to ask Jesus for the forward steps that that day solely holds. And then take them.
"The Lord said first to Elijah, 'Go, HIDE THYSELF' then, 'Go, SHOW THYSELF.' He who does not first hide himself in the secret place to be alone with God, is unfit to show himself in the public place to move among men. [George] Müller afterward used to say to brethren who had 'too much to do' to spend proper time with God, that four hours of work for which one hour of prayer prepares, is better than five hours of work with the praying left out; that our service to our Master is more acceptable and our mission to man more profitable, when saturated with the moisture of God's blessing - the dew of the Spirit.”
Arthur Pierson, George Müller of Bristol
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:33,34
All of you reading this certainly know my passion for the Early Church, for learning the ins and outs of what made their experience of Jesus so explosive and so world-changing. And I think what keeps me up at night about it is that nothing - not Jesus' life, not His death, not His resurrection, not His ascension, not the work of the Holy Spirit - none of it has changed from back then and yet, on our end, we so often think, "Hmmm, doesn't it all seem really different back then?"
No! Again, nothing has changed! "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever." If we want to see the Book of Acts alive in our day, this prophetic passage from Jeremiah 31 is like a checklist for the fullness of the experience:
Is that the sense of the Kingdom of Heaven as it pours through us? Through you?
Hebrews 8:3 - "Every High Priest is appointed to offer gifts and make sacrifices. It follows, therefore, that in these [heavenly] holy places Jesus has something that he is offering..."
...which is a logic that made perfect sense to the Hebrew readers of this epistle, but, let's be honest, you and I are not Hebrew readers and, I bet, most of us don't know all the forms and functions of the historical High Priests of Israel. Beyond, say, the Day of Atonement and the regularly-offered sin offerings, do you know what a High Priest's main duties and responsibilities were? Because, if they're a representation of what Jesus is now perfectly up to on our behalf, I'd sure like to know what those duties were and are...
Well, in doing some research this week, I think I found the full list of all that they did. And wow! do they delight my heart in what Jesus is up to for me!
Here we go...
I. The High Priest conducted the service on the Day of Atonement and entered the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16 & Exodus 30) – which, as it pertains to Jesus, I'll leave for further thoughts from Hebrews 9 & 10 - there's just too much for right now!
II. The High Priest offered continual sin offerings not only for the sins of the whole congregation, but also for himself (Leviticus 4) – which, with Jesus, was unnecessary: He Himself was perfect; and His one perfect offering – Himself! – covers all our sin for all time, end of story.
III. The High Priest was the mediator between God and the people (Numbers 16:20-22) – wherein, as Hebrews 7 said of Jesus, “he is always living to intercede on our behalf” – in fact, He has probably turned to the Father half a dozen times over the last few minutes to explain you and me – and our faults – to Him!
IV. The High Priest was charged with the responsibility of pronouncing blessings over the people (Numbers 6:22-27) – which, with Jesus, would seem to be one of His highest and favorite works toward us, as He is Himself the best and greatest Blessing – a living alive Blessing! – that mankind has ever received.
V. The people could go to the High Priest in order to know the will of God, (ie. the Urim & Thummim) (Moses, Numbers 27:21) – which Jesus now reveals to us – anytime we ask! – by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) and by His bestowal of the “thoughts of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2) within our minds.
VI. The High Priest oversaw the responsibilities of all the other priests (Jehoshaphat, 2 Chronicles 19:11) – which, since we are now the new “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2) for the Kingdom of Heaven, means that we are directly under His perfect, ever-helpful oversight.
VII. The High Priest offered a meal-offering every morning and evening for himself and the whole body of the priesthood (Leviticus 6) – of which, perhaps, Jesus was thinking when He said, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6) and then “Do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matthew 6), ie. He will take care of tomorrow!
VIII. The High Priest kept guard over the sanctuary (Numbers 18) – and Jesus’ "sanctuary" is now both the Throneroom of Heaven and your inner life: It is His work within you that matters most toward your experience of being made new.
IX. And – (and how good is this?!) - when a High Priest died, all those in the cities of refuge were granted freedom (Numbers 35:28) – and it is by Jesus’ death that, once and for all time, we WERE and ARE and FOREVERMORE SHALL BE free!
I think this is just a beginning of the flavor of the activities and blessings and offerings that Jesus is engaged with - on our behalf - in the presence of the Father right now, today. And isn't that all pretty wonderful?
"Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb..." Revelation 22:1
"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells." Psalm 46:4
"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38
What a wonderful joy to know that we are branches of the great River - "streams who make glad the city of God" - as we abide in Him, find ourselves overflowing with Him, and then pour forth His overwhelming goodness to the world. Let us never dam the tide or muddy the heavenly. Let us believe, find life for ourselves, and then flow onward.
When the Sabbath was over, just as the first day of the week was dawning Mary from Magdala and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. At that moment there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven, went forward and rolled back the stone and took his seat upon it. His appearance was dazzling like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards shook with terror at the sight of him and collapsed like dead men. But the angel spoke to the women, "Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here - he is risen, just as he said he would. Come and look at the place where he was lying. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead. And, listen, he goes before you into Galilee! You will see him there! Now I have told you my message."
Then the women went away quickly from the tomb, their hearts filled with awe and great joy, and ran to give the news to his disciples.
But quite suddenly, Jesus stood before them in their path, and said, “Peace be with you!” And they went forward to meet him and, clasping his feet, worshipped him... (Matthew 28:1-9)
This first touch that those Mary's had with the risen Jesus - down there in the dust, clasping His actual alive feet with their own two hands - must have carried those two ladies through the rest of their lives, giving unlimited riches of courage. To actually grasp and feel and touch a living Savior is to have true immutable knowledge of a Power who is unshakable.
By His Holy Spirit, may that sort of knowledge be more ours today.
"Out of that Upper Room which had been the place of fears [the disciples] burst with the glad Good News. They smiled at poverty, rejoiced under stripes, were elated at their humiliations, sang in midnight prisons, courted death and shared with every man, everywhere, their own abundant life. God had matched them against that need and they were spiritually adequate. I see nothing, absolutely nothing, that will get the church of today out from behind closed doors except it be this one thing – Pentecost. Increase the ornateness of its ritual as you will, improve the quality and quantity of its religious education as you may, raise the standards of qualifications of the ministry as high as you can, pour money without stint into the coffers of the church – give it everything – everything except this one thing that Pentecost gave, and you are merely ornamenting the dead. Until this sacred Fact takes place, preaching is only lecturing, praying is only repeating formulas, services cease to be service – it all remains earth-bound, circumscribed, inadequate, dead.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
"Let us leave behind the elementary teaching about Christ and go forward to adult understanding. Let us not lay over and over again the foundation truths — repentance from the deeds which led to death, believing in God, baptism and laying-on of hands, belief in the life to come and the final judgment. No, if God allows, let us go on." (Hebrews 6:1-3)
Following hard on the heels of Chapter 5's closing tongue-lashing, we now get this: A charge to stop, in the Church, always talking about the original stuff - and did you catch this? - the "original stuff" is essentially the Gospel! And let me say this too: If these three verses weren't set here in stone in the New Testament canon, there would be plenty of voices all too happy to say that this writer must be some kind of heretic.
But he's not. He simply knows that it is impossible to transact with the living Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit and stay as you are, stay in the same conversations. Jesus is the Way. The Way is movement. We must move.
But we can read those verses and think - let's be honest: "But where are we supposed to go? What's next?"
Well, if we tweak every clause within those three verses and consider what might follow each aspect - sort of the inverse, converse, or contrapositive of each part - I think we get a pretty clear picture of what we're supposed to be after. Give it a read:
“Let us go toward the advanced teaching about Christ and leave behind the childish understanding. Let us build the house that rises from the foundation truths — accepting the holiness and deathlessness fully acquired at the hour of our repentance; believing God for the fullness of His promises, not just for our basic salvation; receiving our totally new life and living only from it; operating only in the power of the Holy Spirit, experiencing the life of Heaven now and not only after death; and living as those utterly free from judgment so that we might set about the rescue of those presently enwrapped by judgment. Yes, since God allows, let us stand firm.”
But we can read those words and think: "Yeah, but that sounds pretty intense, pretty costly; aren't I just as much a child of God if I just kinda stay put?"
But I want to give you an image that was given to me by a friend, years ago, of the difference we're talking about:
Imagine two sons of a king, one a man, one a little boy. Both are equally, deeply loved and cherished by their father; both sit with him at his banquet table as princes...
But when the enemy comes and lays siege to that castle, the little one is stowed away in a cupboard, and the older one is told, "Go put on your armor."
That's the difference we're talking about.
The question is: What kind of son do you want to be?
"There is a great deal that we should like to say about this high priesthood [of Jesus], but it is not easy to explain to you since you seem so slow to grasp spiritual truth. At a time when you should be teaching others, you need teachers yourselves to repeat to you the ABC of God’s revelation to men. You have become people who need a milk diet and cannot face solid food! For anyone who continues to live on 'milk' is obviously immature — he simply has not grown up. 'Solid food' is only for the adult, that is, for the man who has developed by experience his power to discriminate between what is good and bad for him." Hebrews 5:11-14
Along these lines, can we ponder for a moment - have a candid little talk about - the nature of the Church, as we know it? In reality, most people identify "church" entirely with Sunday morning, with "services," with brick-and-mortar edifices down the street from their house. Perhaps, if they've lifted their gaze a little higher, they can move past those conceptions and talk about the worldwide Church, the unseen spiritual fellowship of all believers. Yet the word that Jesus used for "church" - I'm sure we've most of us heard it before - was ἐκκλησία, "ecclesia." And I want you to read what that word would've actually meant in the ears of the 1st Century Jews and Gentiles; this is from a book called The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries:
“To the Jew, the Ecclesia had been the assembly of the congregation of Israel, summoned to meet at the door of the Tabernacle of Jehovah by men blowing silver trumpets. To the Greek the Ecclesia was the sovereign assembly of the free Greek city-state, summoned by the herald blowing his horn through the streets of the town. To the followers of Jesus it was to be the congregation of the redeemed and therefore of the free, summoned by His heralds to continually appear in the presence of their Lord, who was always to be in the midst of them.”
And that's where I want to tie in to Hebrews 5:11-14. For Jesus to be present with us in a higher "We are the Body of Christ" sort of way, how many people do we think are truly necessary? 5,000? 1,000? 50? 12? Well, what did Jesus Himself say?
“For wherever two or three people come together in my name, I am there, right among you!” (Matthew 18:20)
Two or three! So anytime two or three of us - or more - are together, should not our quickest activity be a joint-realization of His present aliveness and activity in our midst? If even just two together can represent and embody the Body, we nearly never are not in the ἐκκλησία, are we?
So at what point do you and I suddenly think we need a teacher or pastor in this numbers' game; how quickly do we relegate "solid food" work to professionals, and to ourselves "milk"? Is it with congregations of 10, 20, 100, 500 - what is our own personal threshold? At what point do we think we know "enough" and, from there, allow another person to go "further" on our behalf?
Random question for you: Have you ever read any of Blaise Pascal's Pensees? Well, whether or not you have, consider this one - No. 149 - it's got some dark humor and zing on its meaning:
“We do not care about our reputation in towns where we are only passing through. But when we have to stay some time we do care. How much time does it take? A time proportionate to our vain and paltry existence.”
Do you see the point he's trying to make about our self-importance and self-perception? Well, in our present consideration, I'd rewrite his words like this:
"We do not need another teacher in situations where one, two, or a few, are gathered together. But when we meet at 'Church,' or in greater numbers, we suddenly do. How many people in a room does it take? A number inversely proportionate to our belief in the alive presence of Jesus."
Friends, in 1 John 2, John, the best friend and closest confidant of Jesus, writes to us:
“Yet I know that the touch of his Spirit never leaves you, and you don’t really need a human teacher. You know that his Spirit teaches you about all things, always telling you the truth and never telling you a lie. So, as he has taught you, live continually in him.” (1 John 2:27)
If your favorite Christian writer stopped writing, if your pastor walked off the stage and called you up in his stead, what would you have to share for the good of the Body? My friends, because Jesus is alive and because He delights to reveal Himself to His followers, we should never not have anything to speak of Jesus. Truly, He gives Himself as "solid food" to all who ask. Are you asking? Do you want the more He's offering?