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?
"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?
"Now to sum up — we have an ideal High Priest such as has been described above. He has taken his seat on the right hand of the heavenly majesty. He is the minister of the sanctuary and of the real tabernacle — that is the one God has set up and not man." Hebrews 8:1,2
Right now, even as you're arranging your attentions to focus on Jesus via these words, He is there, sitting at the right hand of the Father, minister of the sanctuary and of the real tabernacle, and He is totally and intently focused on you. He is ever at work. And yet He is steadfast, seated, in firm control.
So, following the opening words of this chapter, let us "sum up" - and be reminded of - all that has been described of our High Priest to this point in Hebrews. To do that, I've gone back and collated every single High Priestly description from Hebrews 1-7, and then shifted them from the third person to the second to make them all the more personal. If you have the time today, let these act as a prayer from your heart to His...
Jesus, it was imperative that you should be made like us in nature, since you were to become a High Priest both compassionate and faithful in the things of God, and at the same time able to make atonement for my – and for our – sins. For by virtue of your own suffering under temptation, you are now able to help us who are exposed to temptation… We meditate on you, the messenger and High Priest of the faith we hold, Lord Jesus. We see you as faithful to the charge your Father gave you…
Jesus, seeing that we have a great High Priest who entered the inmost Heaven – you! the Son of God! – help us hold firmly to our faith. For you are not some superhuman High Priest to whom are weaknesses are unintelligible – you yourself have shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that you never sinned. We will therefore approach your throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive – from you, Jesus! – mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need…
Jesus, you did not choose for yourself the glory of being High Priest, but you were honored by the One who said: ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’… When you had been proved the perfect Son by your death for us on the Cross, you became the source of eternal salvation to all who desire to obey you, being now recognized by your Father Himself as High Priest ‘after the order of Melchizedek…’
Jesus, by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world now have a source of strength, and can grasp the hope that you are holding out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of your Father in Heaven, where you, Jesus, have already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have learned, ‘High Priest for ever…’
Jesus, you who are described as our High Priest belonged to another tribe of Israel, no member of which had ever attended the altar! It is a matter of history that you were a descendant of Judah… You derived your priesthood not by virtue of a command imposed from outside, but from the power of indestructible life within… Quite plainly, Jesus, there is a definite cancellation of the previous commandment because of its ineffectiveness and uselessness – the Law was incapable of bringing anyone to real maturity – followed by the introduction of your better hope, through which we approach your Father. Yes, you mean a ‘better’ hope for us, Jesus, because you have become our priest by the oath of God…
Jesus, because you live forever, you possess a priesthood that needs no successor. This means that you can save fully and completely we who approach your Father through you, for you are always living to intercede on our behalf. You are the High Priest we need. A Man who is holy, faultless, unstained, beyond the very reach of sin and lifted to the very Heavens. There is no need for you, like the High Priests of the past, to offer up sacrifice, first for your own sins and then for the people’s. You made one sacrifice, once for all, when you offered up yourself… The word of the oath, which came after the Law, makes for High Priest you Jesus, the Son, who is perfect forever!
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.
"By two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world may have a source of strength, and may grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, 'High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.'" Hebrews 6:18-20
Let me do my best to paint the picture of what is being said here. Jesus, the Word and Oath of God incarnate, having lived and died for our sakes, tore the curtain between God and men, men and God, forever. Then, in rising from the dead, He showed us the unending power of the new and resurrected life that is now ours, and, in ascending to the Father, He lifted our life to Heaven. No separation now exists between Heaven and earth. Jesus is the Way, the Door, the Go-between...
And so, in bursting back through the doors of the Throneroom of Heaven, in re-approaching His Father upon the throne, it was as if He carried all our hope, our certainty, our belief, under His arm. And, in retaking His seat next to the Father, in their shared smile of acknowledgment that "It is finished," it was as if Jesus hooked the arms of the Anchor of our Hope firmly around the legs of His throne...
Do you and I always have grounds for hope? Why, yes! We have our Friend, our Teacher, our Savior, alive, upon the very Throne of Heaven. Do you and I always have grounds for an audacious certainty in this life? Why, yes! Our hope is hooked like an anchor to Jesus Himself.
My friends, as we prepare to start another month, do you see Him there, watching you, loving you?
You and I never lack for anything - especially hope - when our hope is in this Man, a Man we know and love, a Man who is God, the One we know as Jesus.
The power and unity of the whole worldwide Body of Christ begins with my own - and your own - accession to, and appropriation of, all the glorious things we're offered in personal Union with the living Jesus. Your inner life is the landscape of, the building-block toward, the showroom for, making the Church what it was intended to become.
Grateful for our wonderful friend, Dale Brooks, who sent us this gem from Thomas Merton:
"Make ready for the Christ whose smile, like lightning, sets free the song
of everlasting glory that now sleeps, in your paper flesh, like dynamite."
Brothers and sisters, "the everlasting song of glory" is within us, "like dynamite," and it's our daily experience of the face - of the smile! - of Jesus that lights off this powder keg!
Closer, Jesus, draw us ever closer!
From John 14 with some thoughts:
“There are many rooms in my Father’s House. If there were not, should I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am.”
These are verses that you’ll often hear spoken at a funeral, in a typically lofty funereal tone: “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” or, if it’s a King James funeral (they up the ante a little), “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” My sense, sitting in those pews, would be that these words have a “later” meaning for me, rather than right “now,” that only the one in the casket is enjoying the fullness of what Jesus is saying. But, more and more, I’m thinking it’s both, just as, on this night when Jesus is speaking, there’s both “now” – meaning that Friday through Sunday – and also “later” – when He will one day return – probably happening in His mind.
Consider two alternate readings, taking into account the potential “now” and “later” meanings of Jesus’ words:
NOW - “It is true that I am going away tomorrow to the Cross and the grave to prepare a place for you by destroying the law of Sin and death, but it is just as true that I am coming again – do NOT make plans this Sunday! - to welcome you into my own home and, by the way, into Me and I into you, so that you may be where I am and I always with you.”
LATER - “It is true that I am going away for a space of what you people call “time” to prepare a place for you in the eternal never-ending glories of the Kingdom of Heaven, the New Earth, the New Jerusalem, but it is just as true that I am coming again as the Bridegroom, with the sky rolled back like a scroll to welcome you, my Bride, into my own home where I am Light and Life, so that you may be where I am and that the wedding feast of the Lamb might never end.”
My friends, you are just as much a citizen of Heaven right now as you will be on the day you die. Your room – or mansion! – is already yours; live that way!
"This is the reason why the Father loves me—that I lay down my life, and I lay it down to take it up again! No one is taking it from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again. This is an order that I have received from my Father.” John 10
Theologically, there is so much going on in these sentences that it hurts your brain if you stop and really give your thoughts to it. Let me prove it to you.
At the Creation of man, Adam and Eve walked perfect and perfectly with God; they lived effortlessly in the center and enjoyment of the Father's will. It didn't occur to them, until it was suggested to them by Satan, that their self-will might have any interest for them. But, in their exerting it against God, they Fell and were now forever Fallen. The constant presence of the imperfect self-will was upon them; that was Sin.
Then, at some point in what we call time, Jesus given an "order" from the Father that it would be His job to wage war upon the self-will, Sin and Satan. His weapon? To rob sin of its power by, everyday, every minute of every day, denying the self and walking in the exact will of His Father. He plainly says this in John 6:38 - "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me." And do you understand that He understood this to absolutely include the death it would cost Him?
Hence the Cross being the world's most glorious moment as His "authority" to lay down His life perfectly meets the Father's will to redeem mankind. That was Jesus' most powerful act of self-abandonment.
But do you also understand that Jesus was not externally raised-from-the-dead, like when He raises Lazarus, but that it was His own authority, His own expression of His own will, that would cause Him to "take up" His life again?
The Cross was the final abandonment of His self-will; the Resurrection was the most complete exertion of self-will in all human history. That Friday and Sunday gave birth to a new sort of human will: a will totally redeemed from the self and Sin.
This week, in reading through 2 Peter 1, I've been stirred by Peter's remembrance of the things he'd seen and heard from Jesus during their years together. As he is now an old man, not far from death himself, you can feel how lovingly he recalls every minute with his Savior. Consider the original accounts and then Peter's reflections back...
The day he was called -
One day the people were crowding closely round Jesus to hear God’s message, as he stood on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. Jesus noticed two boats drawn up on the beach, for the fishermen had left them there while they were cleaning their nets. He went aboard one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to push out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and continued his teaching of the crowds from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Push out now into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Simon replied, “Master! We’ve worked all night and never caught a thing, but if you say so, I’ll let the nets down.”
And when they had done this, they caught an enormous shoal of fish—so big that the nets began to tear. So they signalled to their friends in the other boats to come and help them. They came and filled both the boats to sinking point. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell on his knees before Jesus and said, “Keep away from me, Lord, for I’m only a sinful man!”
For he and his companions (including Zebedee’s sons, James and John, Simon’s partners) were staggered at the haul of fish that they had made. Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid, Simon. From now on your catch will be men.”
So they brought the boats ashore, left everything and followed him. LUKE 5
Peter's reflection upon that day -
He has by his own action given us everything that is necessary for living the truly good life, in allowing us to know the one who has called us to him, through his own glorious goodness. It is through him that God’s greatest and most precious promises have become available to us men, making it possible for you to escape the inevitable disintegration that lust produces in the world and to share in God’s essential nature. 2 PETER 1
* * * * *
The Mount of Transfiguration -
Six days later Jesus chose Peter, James and his brother John, to accompany him high up on the hill-side where they were quite alone. There his whole appearance changed before their eyes, his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as light. Then Moses and Elijah were seen talking to Jesus.
“Lord,” exclaimed Peter, “it is wonderful for us to be here! If you like I could put up three shelters, one each for you and Moses and Elijah—”
But while he was still talking a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice came out of the cloud: “This is my dearly loved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When they heard this voice the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear. Then Jesus came up to them and touched them.
“Get up and don’t be frightened,” he said. And as they raised their eyes there was no one to be seen but Jesus himself. MATTHEW 17
Peter's reflection upon that experience -
We were not following a cleverly written-up story when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—we actually saw his majesty with our own eyes. He received honor and glory from God the Father himself when that voice said to him, out of the sublime glory of Heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’.
We actually heard that voice speaking from Heaven while we were with him on the sacred mountain. The word of prophecy was fulfilled in our hearing! 2 PETER 1
* * * * *
With the Risen Jesus by the Sea of Galilee -
...Then for the third time, Jesus spoke to him and said, “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” Peter was deeply hurt because Jesus’ third question to him was “Are you my friend?”, and he said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I am your friend!”
“Then feed my sheep,” Jesus said to him. “I tell you truly, Peter, that when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you liked, but when you are an old man, you are going to stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and take you where you do not want to go.”
(He said this to show the kind of death—by crucifixion—by which Peter was going to honor God.) Then Jesus said to him, “You must follow me.” JOHN 21
Peter's reflection upon that prophecy -
I shall not fail to remind you of things like this although you know them and are already established in the truth. I consider it my duty, as long as I live in the temporary dwelling of this body, to stimulate you by these reminders. I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. Consequently I shall make the most of every opportunity, so that after I am gone you will remember these things. 2 PETER 1
* * * * *
The questions for us: Are we so present to His presence right now that we'll, years from now, remember what He's actually doing today? Are we expert cataloguers of the glories we're seeing of Him right now so that our whole lives bear witness to His goodness?
Your day today is your opportunity to remember for tomorrow. Will you be one who deeply enjoys Him today on behalf of then?