Before the festival of the Passover began, Jesus realized that the time had come for him to leave this world and return to the Father... (John 13:1a)
You often hear statements like, “Jesus was born to die,” and “Jesus’ one mission was the Cross,” and yet here, and also in Luke 9, we are told that Jesus Himself marked time by His impending ascension, not by the Cross or Resurrection.
Here’s how Luke writes it: “Now as the days before he should be taken back into Heaven were running out, he resolved to go to Jerusalem…” (Luke 9:51)
It was out of His own love for the Father, with His eyes on their reunion, that He dared to approach the Cross. It was out of His love for us, with His eyes on our reunion with the Father through Himself, that He carried through the plan of the Cross. And yet it’s only as the ascended Heavenly High Priest that Jesus can administer the gifts that are ours because of the Cross and Resurrection. If He were not there, we’re not here. Let us meditate today on His Ascension and place at the right hand of the Father.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood in front of him with his sword drawn in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our enemies?”
He said, “No; but I have come now as commander of Yahweh’s army.”
Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and asked him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”
The prince of Yahweh’s army said to Joshua, “Take your shoes off of your feet; for the place on which you stand is holy.” Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15)
As you finish reading those words, and picturing that moment, may I give you a direct challenge? (I’m going to assume you said ‘yes,’ and go ahead and give it.)
If the presence of the Commander of Yahweh’s army, the Prince of Heaven, is sufficient to sanctify the ground around Him, how are you meant to be living as one who’s indwelt with His very life? Do you really think that your schedule, your busy life, your current challenge at work, your social life, can in any way compete with His power and glory? Do you really believe that the fullness of the “life, and life to the full” life that He proclaims in John 10:10 is properly captured by a single hour of “worship” each week?
I’m beginning to think there may be more for you and me!
Today, you must worship Him. You must worship Him with delight and abandon. As you go to work, to school, to meetings, to hangouts with friends, you are one who goes in the Way and Presence of the Prince and Commander of Yahweh’s army. Your whole life is spent on the holy ground of Jesus. Let’s make our whole lives a joyous act of worshipping Him... today.
"And even as the Father, with each new morning, meets you with the promise of just sufficient manna for the day for yourself and those who have to partake with you, meet Him with the bright and loving renewal of your acceptance of the position He has given you in His beloved Son. Accustom yourself to look upon this as one of the reasons for the appointment of day and night. God thought of our weakness, and sought to provide for it. Let each day have its value from your calling to abide in Christ. As its light opens on your waking eyes, accept it on these terms: A day, just one day only, but still a day, given to abide and grow up in Jesus Christ. Whether it be a day of health or sickness, joy or sorrow, rest or work, of struggle or victory, let the chief thought with which you receive it in the morning thanksgiving be this: 'A day that the Father gave; in it I may, I must, become more closely united to Jesus.' As the Father asks, 'Can you trust me just for this one day to keep you abiding in Jesus, and Jesus to keep you fruitful?' you cannot but give the joyful response: 'I will trust and not be afraid.'"
Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ
"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 Christ. Yes, now, little children remember to live continually in him." 1 John 2:27,28a
There is truly nothing I can add, no write-up that needs to supplement, the power of what you just read. So let's reread together - maybe just a little more clearly and emphatically - what John has just been trying to get across to you and me:
THE TOUCH OF HIS SPIRIT NEVER LEAVES YOU.
YOU DON'T REALLY NEED A HUMAN TEACHER.
HIS SPIRIT TEACHES YOU ABOUT ALL THINGS.
HE TEACHES YOU TO LIVE CONTINUALLY IN CHRIST.
Are we beginning to grasp the level of this glory? Jesus came that you might have life, and, that you might have His life, He gave you His very own Spirit. There is nothing higher for you than spending the whole rest of your life learning what that means and how to live it.
“I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. You must abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:9,10)
Here, rather than focusing on that conditional phrase – “If you keep my commandments you will abide” – let’s focus on the relationship Jesus provides as the precursor for what’s offered: His with the Father. Do we really think, when we examine what went on between the two of them, that Jesus’ obedience to the Father was an arduous, straining effort to get into Abiding with the Father, or that Jesus’ Abiding in the Father led to eager, joyful obedience that only enriched His abiding in the Father?
I’m placing my bet on the latter.
We will not, with joy, obey a Savior we do not know. We will begrudge every little last thing that’s asked of us. Oh, but this is Jesus, the One who “for the joy set before Him endured the Cross” for us, the One whose words and commands are the paving-stones of the Way of Life! So, yes, let’s obey and abide. And abide and obey. “He has loved us just as the Father had loved Him. We must abide in His love.”
“To think of what Christ is ready and willing to do in us and for us would frighten some of us into apoplexy, and to actually realize it would snap the frail thread of life itself. Christ’s heart is bursting with resources that the world needs and that He is ready to use if only He could find vessels ready and willing to use them. Oh, for the courage to see the power which He is waiting to place at the service of all who are consecrated enough to use it for His glory and close enough to receive the heavenly baptism! He has for us the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer, the power that will conquer circumstances and control all events for His will, and the power that will make us the trophies of His grace and the monuments of His indwelling presence and victory.”
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the 40 Days
"Yet the Lord is utterly to be depended upon by all who have faith in him, and he will give you stability and protection against all that is evil. It is he who makes us feel confident about you, that you are acting and will act in accordance with our commands. May he guide your hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ." 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5
Oh, the wondrous glory of Jesus; all the endless eternal blessings we reap in the places He has sown:
He is “utterly” dependable; there is no place, person or circumstance where we cannot utterly trust Him.
He gives “stability and protection” to us; we have absolutely nothing to fear in this life, in this world.
He gives us “confidence” in the fruitfulness of our labors for His Kingdom; they are actually His works through us.
And “May he guide our hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ.” Or, in other words, there is never any end to the depths and heights of the glories of this Jesus!
Swim down; climb up; you can’t help but overwhelm yourself in the goodness of the Gospel!
"The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die." 1 John 2:17
Isn't it interesting that the gravest human fear - death - and the highest human aspiration - the hope that our lifetime on this earth will have lasting importance: will "live past us" - are both resolved in joining the Kingdom of Heaven? In it, we become solid and permanent; and death holds no fear.
Isn't that beautiful to remember?
“How wonderful, and precious and lovely it is that our highest and best treasure, the kingdom of God, is not something exterior, but is an indwelling good that we always have with us, hidden from the whole world and from the devil himself so that neither the world nor the devil can take it from us. For it, we need no great skill, speech, or many books, but rather a heart released and surrendered to God. For this purpose let us diligently turn within to this inner, hidden, heavenly, and eternal goodness and kingdom. What should we seek for externally in the world, we who have everything within us, the whole kingdom of God and all its goods? In our hearts and souls is the true school of the Holy Spirit, the true workshop of the Holy Trinity, the true temple of God, ‘the true house of prayer in spirit and in truth’ (Jn 4:23). Although God is in all things through his general presence, not contained within them, but in an incomprehensible way filling heaven and earth, he is still in a special and singular sense in the enlightened souls of those people in whom he dwells and has his resting place (1 Cor 6:19; Is 66:2), as in his own image and likeness. There he performs the works that he himself is. There in our heart he always answers our sighs. How is it possible for him to deny those in whom he has his dwelling, whom he himself moves and draws? Nothing is more delightful and pleasant to him than to give himself to all those who seek him.”
Then the Lord said to Ananias, “Get up and go down to the street called Straight, and enquire at the house of Judas for a man named Saul from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying and he sees in his mind’s eye a man by the name of Ananias coming into the house, and placing his hands upon him to restore his sight.” Acts 9:11,12
The Book of Acts comes back to this time and again, both in Chapter 10 and across Paul’s missionary journeys throughout the rest of Acts, but here we get to see one amazing instance of an amazing facet of God's will. It’s the fact that, in our embracing the full mystery of the mission we’ve been given by Jesus, you and I get to transcend the three dimensions of our physical reality; that we are invited into the space-time construct that lives within the mind of God; that our lives grow fluid with the Holy Spirit’s fluidity. (Does that sound crazy enough for you?) Well, here what I mean:
In this particular Chapter 9 moment, there are two three-dimensional men – with height, width, and depth – living in the midst of normal human time, going about their two independent respective days. And yet – AND YET! – into those two realities comes an outside spiritual force, One who dwells outside the movement of what we call time, and He paints for both of them – one verbally, one visually – AT THE SAME TIME – a picture that is not-yet-real in time- and physical-space, and yet which is the EXACT, PERFECT will of God for both these two lives and the historical movement of the Gospel.
Ananias’ visit to Saul exists already in the timeless, four-dimensional (or more?) mind of God even before he takes a step toward the street called Straight…
THIS, my friends, is how we’re meant to be living, making plans, doing ministry and missions, raising our families: in a posture of three-dimensional waiting and listening and watching for the moments when the supernatural reality breaks in. Had you asked Ananias how to reach into the life and heart of Saul of Tarsus, he would’ve had his own best guesses... bounded by all normal human constraints. The Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit, know no such constraints; their imagination should form the basis of all that we dream of doing.
This week, Jesus wants personal communion - κοινωνία, "union with" or "fellowship" - with you, just you and Him. It's what He died to provide. Are you willing to oblige Him with your time, with your schedule, with your efforts, with your will, with your personal interest?
I guarantee your answer to that question will define this week.
In view of this great prospect, we pray for you constantly, that God will think you worthy of this calling, and that he will effect in you all his goodness desires to do, and that your faith makes possible. We pray that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may become more glorious through you, and that you may share something of his glory — all through the grace of our God and Jesus Christ the Lord. (2 Thessalonians 1:11,12)
This is one of those very “Paul paragraphs” that’s so totally packed with phrasing and power that we’ll oftentimes read it and then take nothing from it. Something like, “Ah yes, hmmm, that’s quite deep…”
But, through the lens of Jesus, consider the full reality of what Paul is saying to us:
1. “worthy of this calling” – We read the word “worthy” and think: “Uh, oh. Me? Worthy?” And yet the Greek word utilized there is the exact same word spoken by the Prodigal Son to his father: “I’m not worthy to be called your son.” And the father’s response – really Jesus’ response – to his, and to our, sinful self-assertion of unworthiness? “‘Hurry!’ called out his father to the servants, ‘fetch the best clothes and put them on him! Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and get that calf we’ve fattened and kill it, and we will have a feast and a celebration! For this is my son — I thought he was dead, and he’s alive again. I thought I had lost him, and he’s found!’ And they began to get the festivities going.” (Luke 15:22-24)
2. “his goodness desires to do” – Or, in other words, HE will effect what HE desires in your life. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)
3. “your faith makes possible” – Yes! That’s the “faith” you can’t get away from in all the four Gospels! In "Luke" alone, consider the statements of Jesus that “It is your faith that has made you well,” cf. Luke 5:20, 7:50, 8:48, 8:50, 17:19, 18:42.
4. “share something of his glory” – If you know the Westminster Shorter Catechism at all, you probably know the first question: “What is the chief end of man?” And the famous answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” Yet it’s the Larger Westminster Catechism that adds two additional descriptors that make that question and answer even more fun: “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” Let’s you and I be “Larger” rather than “Shorter” believers in the way we go after the highest, fullest enjoyment of our Savior, Jesus!
5. “all through the grace” – And, yes, it’s ALL through the grace of Him alone! Thank you, Jesus!
“…no one learns to know the Father except the Son, and no one learns to know the Son except the Father and him to whom He chooses to reveal Him (Mt 11:27). These are the Lord’s words. The Father and the Son reveal this to certain persons then, to those to whom they will, to those to whom they make it known, that is, to whom they impart the Holy Spirit, who is the common knowing or the common will of both. Those therefore to whom the Father and the Son reveal themselves recognize them as the Father and the Son recognize themselves, because they have within themselves their mutual knowing, because they have within themselves the unity of both, and their will or love: all that the Holy Spirit is.”
William of Saint-Thierry
Isn't it a fascinating thought that the Holy Spirit would constitute the "common knowing" and "common will" of the Father and the Son; that He is their internal means of recognizing each other fully; their mutual knowing of each other; the spiritual mechanism of their unity, will and love?
I think I'd like a fuller indwelling of that Spirit!
Now Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have discovered the man whom Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom the Prophets wrote too. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph and comes from Nazareth.”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” retorted Nathanael. “You come and see,” replied Philip.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him and remarked, “Now here is a true man of Israel; there is no deceit in him!”
“How can you know me?” returned Nathanael.
“When you were underneath that fig-tree,” replied Jesus, “before Philip called you, I saw you.”
At which Nathanael exclaimed, “Master, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel!”
“Do you believe in me,” replied Jesus, “because I said I had seen you underneath that fig-tree? You are going to see something greater than that! Believe me,” he added, “I tell you all that you will see Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending around the Son of Man!” (John 1:45-51)
Years ago, I was in a seminar given by the wonderful Dale Bruner, and he was teaching through this particular chapter. And I’ll never forget his conclusion here. He asked – and I ask you – when you hear the phrase “Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending,” does that ring any scriptural bell for you? Does any certain passage from the Old Testament come to mind?
From Genesis 28 – “Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring…. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
What a scene! And Jacob’s immediate reaction is one of fitting awe: “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”
Thus, by conjuring this moment in Nathanael’s memory of the Torah, Jesus not only associates Himself with that passage, but also with the place in that passage – Beth’el, "the house of God." And did you notice how He transposed Himself for the place: “you will see Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending around the Son of Man”?
So now reconsider Jacob’s reaction when in the frame-of-reference of Jesus: “‘Surely the Lord is in this Jesus, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this Jesus! This Jesus is none other than the house of God, and this Jesus is the gate of Heaven.”
How good is that!
Today, if you would consider yourself to be a Nathanael, an "enlightened Christian skeptic," (Ha!) I challenge you to bring your every doubt to Jesus Himself. For not only will He answer your doubts, He’ll so raise the stakes that your highest questioning considerations don’t stand a chance; His personal presence undoes unbelief.
The children of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, as Yahweh spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel. They carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there. Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day. (Joshua 4:8,9)
So, over on the shore, there would be those twelve stones picked up and arranged by the twelve men, while, in the middle of the river-channel, now stand twelve stones picked up and arranged by Joshua himself. In a few moments, the river-waters will hurtle down the dry riverbed and engulf the pile of stones that Joshua set up to commemorate the crossing, but, up above, the other stack will stand.
Can you see these two ebenezers in your mind’s eye? The visible one onshore and the other submerged beneath the green waters?
I love this idea that we should have markers to the majesty of Jesus that others can see and ask about, and also other memorials that are unseen, private to us and Him, swallowed up within an impenetrable flood of our shared intimacy.
Would you say that you have some of both?
“Do small things as if they were great, because of the majesty of Christ, who does them in us and lives our life, and great things as if they were small: easy, because of his almighty power.”
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
We shouldn't be concerned that people aren't "doing anything" for the Kingdom of Heaven. The real concern is that doing nothing isn't possible when we know this Jesus; that perceived inaction is the same as not knowing Him.
For us, pressing further into Jesus - modeling complete intimacy - is the only answer. We must show everyone as much of His goodness and glory as we personally can. He will provide the work of His call every time we ask. So let's ask. And then live as exhibits of heavenly wonder.
His 33-year union with our humanity set us free. Now, it is as we daily accept, and abide in, union with His sitting-at-the-Father's-right-hand heavenliness that He teaches us to become like Him.
Is that how you read the scriptures? Is that how you pray? Is that how you fellowship? Is that how you worship? Is that how you attend church?
He is truly, presently waiting for you to ask for more of His life, His personality, His exact Way for this day.
"I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me." Philippians 4:12,13
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"Called 'impostors' we must be true, called 'nobodies' we must be in the public eye. Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always 'going through it' yet never 'going under.' We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have 'nothing to bless ourselves with' yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet in reality we have everything worth having." 2 Corinthians 6:8b-10
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“She wanted nothing because she had everything.” - Ivan Turgenev, On the Eve
“The unique thing about the early Christians was their radiant relation to a Person. ‘The Lord,’ they called Him tenderly, and when they used the term they gave it its own New Testament meaning. It meant Jesus Christ, who a short while before had been among them but was now gone into the heavens as their High Priest and Advocate. It was this engrossment with a victorious Person that gave verve and vibrancy to their lives and conviction to their testimony. They bore witness joyously to the One who had lived as a true Man among men. Their testimony was not weakened by the pale cast of metaphysical thought. They knew that Jesus was very Man and very God, and He had died, had been raised from the dead and had ascended into heaven. They accepted literally His claim to be invested with authority over everything in heaven, earth and hell. How it could be they never stopped to inquire. They trusted Him absolutely and left the details to their triumphant Lord.”
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
Because Jesus has come, because He has taken on flesh to set us free, because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Him, and because He now sits at the right hand of the Father to dispense all His grace and glory upon those who would believe and ask, our present life in Him is as rich as we would have it be. Any sense of lack is simply you and I not living up to our heavenly privileges.
There is more for us. And it's all to be found in Him. Right now. Today.
God’s Spirit specifically tells us that in later days there will be men who abandon the true faith and allow themselves to be spiritually seduced by teachings of the devil, teachings given by men who are lying hypocrites, whose consciences are as dead as seared flesh. These men forbid marriage, command abstinence from food — good things which, in fact, God intends to be thankfully enjoyed by those who believe in him and know the truth. Everything God made is good, and is meant to be gratefully used, not despised. The holiness or otherwise of a certain food, for instance, depends not on its nature but on whether it is eaten thankfully or not. It is consecrated by the man who has accepted the message, and thanks God for food.
You will be doing your duty as Christ’s minister if you remind your church members of these things, and you will show yourself as one who owes his strength to the truth of the faith he has absorbed and the sound teaching he has followed. But steer clear of all these stupid Godless fictions... (1 Timothy 4:1-7a)
In actuality, either our life with Jesus is a matter of Union-with-Him (in His Life, Way, Death, Resurrection and an Experience-of-His-alive-Life-within-us) or it all becomes external observances, things measurable, rules followable, ie. a state of disunion. I highly doubt that the people trying to foist these ideas upon Timothy’s fellowship were “bad people”; more likely, they were just trying to be careful: “Timothy, this stuff you and Paul are talking about is pretty out there; let's rein it in a little, shall we?”
But, my friends, it’s our personal digging-into-Jesus, our Branch-clinging-to-Vine-ness that’s most imperative for us each playing our proper part in the Body of Christ. Without your Belief and experience of Him, we’re all in danger of descending into “stupid Godless fictions,” into externals disconnected from the Life and Way of Jesus.
So what do you say? Shall we dig in - and delight - this day?
There is really no need to "defend our faith." If you and I would only live it - enjoying all the wonders of the splendor of our inheritances in Jesus - the world's counterpoints would become utterly indefensible.
Joshua said to the people [just before the crossing of the Jordan], “Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow Yahweh will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)
And rather than asking you to imagine the burning look in Joshua’s eyes while saying these words, or the rapt attention of the millions of people listening, I want you to – for a moment – instead imagine just Jesus and yourself, sitting together, tomorrow morning. You’ve only just woken up and brushed your teeth; you now walk out to the kitchen table; He is sitting there, waiting for you. With the warmest smile, He then motions you to sit directly opposite Him, and, for the longest while, He just looks at you – like the proudest father might look on his little boy or girl. Finally He speaks, short and sweet: “I have sanctified you; today I will do wonders in your midst.” Only that. That’s all He says.
If you and I gave our whole “quiet times” everyday to arriving at that reality, we would be the most fruitful, joyous, connected disciples of Jesus that the Modern Era has ever seen. Our acceptance of what He’s done for us, our expectancy of what He’s bound to do today, would define our every moment.
What do you do, personally, when you meet with Him? Is it time for a change to what's become, perhaps, just a routine?
"We are near the end of all things now, and you should therefore be calm, self-controlled men of prayer. Above everything else be sure that you have real deep love for each other, remembering how ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.' Be hospitable to each other without secretly wishing you hadn’t got to be! Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each of you, as faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God." 1 Peter 4:7-10
This week, in slowly reading and rereading through these verses, it was like my heart took a deep breath, savored for a moment, and then let it out. Because, I thought: What a wonderful thing it is to know Jesus of Nazareth. What freedom we're given. What simple joy. What purpose.
Think about the admonitions in these four verses. Even if the world should be coming to its close, we're called to be - in fact, we're resourced to be - calm, self-controlled conversationalists with our Savior, our Friend. Our work is love. Our tool for that is hospitality: in the Greek, "acts of friendship." The only talents in us that end up mattering are the "particular gifts God has given us"; we are esteemed as the "faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God." That's who we are in God's sight.
If you know Jesus at all, then you must realize that we are all neck-deep in the roaring, powerful River of Life that flows from His throne. But I think we think, sometimes, that we shouldn't get too carried away with our identity being too fully in Him. This week, I thought: No, let's get swept away; let's fully be who we're supposed to be in Him!
What do you think? Are you with me?