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.
Their children, whom he raised up in place [of that generation who died in the wilderness], were circumcised by Joshua; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them on the way. When they were done circumcising the whole nation, they stayed in their places in the camp until they were healed.
Yahweh said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt off of you.” Therefore the name of that place was called Gilgal, to this day. (Joshua 5:7-9)
Despite the fact that they had already crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, moved from the old to the new life, this generation was not yet able to possess the fullness of the inheritance. Without this physical act of circumcision, the “rolling away of their reproach,” they would’ve been relegated to camping at the borderland indefinitely. The same is so true for our appropriation of our salvation. Consider how much Paul says we should be grasping of our complete freedom:
“In Christ, you were circumcised, not by any physical act, but by being set free from the sins of the flesh by virtue of Christ’s circumcision. You, so to speak, shared in that, just as in baptism you shared in his death, and in him are sharing the miracle of rising again to new life — and all this because you have faith in the tremendous power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You, who were spiritually dead because of your sins and your uncircumcision (i.e. the fact that you were outside the Law), God has now made to share in the very life of Christ! He has forgiven you all your sins: Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross. And then having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, he exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in his final glorious triumphant act!” (Colossians 2)
The degree to which most Christians possess their salvation is oftentimes limited to that vague description of “going to Heaven when I die.” But, according to Paul, just in this one short section of one of his many letters, here’s what you should know about your life in Jesus, right now, today:
1. Your life is lived “in Christ”
2. You are presently “free from the sins of the flesh”
3. You have a share in Jesus’ death
4. You are presently meant to be “sharing the miracle of rising again to new life”
5. Your life has been granted a “share in the very life of Christ”
6. “He has forgiven you all your sins”
7. Jesus has erased the evidence against you, annulled it by dying under its weight, and then “exposed and shattered” the enemy on your behalf
Do you begin to see why our possessing the truth of our salvation, the forever “circumcision of our hearts,” is just as important as that physical act was for the Israelites at Gilgal? For how can we begin to really live the fullness of what Jesus has for us – how could the Israelites possess the promised inheritance – unless we are made new by the marks of the Lord?
The human body cannot live without blood and water. Just as truly, the Body of Christ, the Church, cannot live without blood (His) and water (His Holy Spirit.)
Are you and I learning to be such quick confessors when we sin that we are living more and more under the power and awareness-of-forgiveness provided by the blood?
Are you and I remembering the already-present presence of the Holy Spirit to such a degree that we are daily only asking for more and more of Him, all the time?
Both are required. Both are readily given. May this day be doubly bathed in both.
Remember: No one is drawn into the Kingdom by observing what we disapprove of. They are drawn in by the miraculous thought that, through the blood of Jesus, the Father might approve of them. May we never forget this all-important difference in the way we walk, and point to, the Way.
"For Christ suffered for you and left you a personal example, and wants you to follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, nor was guile found in his mouth’. Yet when he was insulted he offered no insult in return. When he suffered he made no threats of revenge. He simply committed his cause to the one who judges fairly. And he personally bore our sins in his own body on the cross, so that we might be dead to sin and be alive to all that is good. It was the suffering that he bore which has healed you. You had wandered away like so many sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." 1 Peter 2:21b-25
Imagine yourself standing above a large crowd in a Roman-style inner courtyard; the people below filled with rage. And now feel the firm grip of hands upon your shoulders; look behind yourself: it is Him. Without words, He now bids you stand aside and then He takes His stand in the precise spot where you'd stood. And now, watching from the side, you see Him face the crowd as they begin at once to call for His death.
He personally bore all that He bore for you. Let us remember, today.
Joshua set up those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, in Gilgal. He spoke to the children of Israel, saying, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For Yahweh your God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before you, until you had crossed over, as Yahweh your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we had crossed over; that all the peoples of the earth may know that Yahweh’s hand is mighty; that you may fear Yahweh your God forever.’” (Joshua 4:20-24)
In the second chapter of his first letter, Peter has this to say of us:
“You come to him, as living stones to the immensely valuable living stone (which men rejected but God chose), to be built up into a spiritual House of God, in which you, like holy priests, can offer those spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. There is a passage to this effect in scripture, and it runs like this: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on him will by no means be put to shame.’”
As Joshua piles up the unexpectedly-acquired stones of the Jordan as a testament to the goodness and power of Yahweh, we are getting a glimpse of one of the highest purposes for our own human lives. Allow me to repurpose the end of the chapter in our New Covenant context:
Jesus set up His living stones, which He’d rescued from sin and death, in this world. He spoke to His Sons and Daughters, saying, “When anyone asks in time to come, saying, ‘What do these living stones mean?’ then you shall let all people know, saying, ‘We have entered into life eternal by the blood of Jesus. For Jesus our God laid down His life everyday before us, so that we might know the ways of the Kingdom, and Jesus our God went to death, poured out His blood upon Skull Hill, until we had crossed over to life; that all the peoples of the earth may know that Jesus’ hand is mighty; that you may fear and be loved by Jesus your God forever.’”
My friends, what a joy it is to be His living-breathing-working-loving-ministering “living stones” and His “holy priests” who walk in His ways within this world! Your everyday life-in-Him and His-in-yours is His chosen Ebenezer so that all people have the chance to know and see Him!
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.
Philippians 3:7-9 with some notes in italics -
"Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him… "
I think a lot of times we read these kind of words, are impressed by them, and yet then chalk them up to a sort of superhumanity that only the Early Church had. Don’t do that! For, in fact, Paul is then so kind as to conclude this series of thoughts with the reason by which they’re humanly possible for us: “For now my place is in him…” Paul interpreted his whole earthly life from his location “in Jesus,” from this locale of Union-with-the-God-of-the-Universe. So, in actuality, as he’s tallying up the “Profit & Loss” for his life in verses 7-8, the gains and losses are crystal clear for him. The whole economy of his life is Heavenly now; it’s easy for him to leave behind so much of what the world claims life is about…
"…and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ."
Do you actually believe the things that Paul is saying here? Do you hear him echoing Ephesians 1’s “in Christ we are holy and blameless children”? Too often, I think we think it’s a form of humility to always point to our sin as if that’s still the truest thing about us. Yet it’s our righteousness in Christ that actually proves the power of His incarnation, life, death, resurrection and inhabitation-of-us. Persistent agreement with our former “fallenness” tends to keep our eyes on ourselves; belief in His indwelling righteousness teaches our eyes to be on Him alone.
“I leave behind with you — peace; I give you my own peace and my gift is nothing like the peace of this world. You must not be distressed and you must not be daunted.” John 14:27
Just as He does with “joy” in the next chapter, Jesus here tells us that He’s leaving us with peace, and it’s not some vague sort of peace, is it? “I give you my own peace,” He says – the very same peace with which we see Him operating throughout His life. In the midst of the crushing crowds: peace. In the midst of fierce opposition: peace. In a storm on the water: peace. On the night before a chosen death: peace.
It’s in the context of His offering peace that’s actually His peace that we should read the command on which He then lands: “You must not be distressed and you must not be daunted.” Why? Because whenever we’re “distressed and daunted,” we show we’re not trusting in His personal peace and we make His peace look insufficient for life’s trials. But Jesus’ peace is utterly sufficient for life’s trials. After all, it carried Him through His own! But the only way to prove it is actually to trust Him; to “throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” (1 Peter 5)
“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.
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it..." Matthew 16:24,25
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During the 1812 Battle of Ostrovno: “To messengers of doom requesting permission to retreat or warning that more and more Russian guns were being put out of action, General Ostermann-Tolstoy responded by his own example of calm and by orders to ‘stand and die.’ Radozhitsky commented that ‘this unshakeable strength of our commander at a time when everyone around him was being struck down was truly part of the character of a Russian infuriated by the sufferings being inflicted on his country. Looking at him, we ourselves grew strong and went to our posts to die.’”
Dominic Lieven, Russia Against Napoleon
“[This] was the answer of God to the world which nailed Christ to the cross: blessing. God does not repay like with like, and neither should the righteous person. No condemning, no railing, but blessing. The world would have not hope if this were not so. The world lives and has its future by means of the blessing of God and of the righteous person. Blessing means laying one’s hands upon something and saying: You belong to God in spite of all. It is in this way that we respond to the world which causes us such suffering. We do not forsake it, cast it out, despise or condemn it. Instead, we recall it to God, we give it hope, we lay our hands upon it and say: God’s blessing come upon you; may God renew you; be blessed, you dear God-created world, for you belong to your creator and redeemer.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word
Just a little reminder of your position and inheritance:
Your past is swallowed up by what Jesus did in the past on the Cross; your present is lived in His presence because He rose - He's alive!; and your future is to spend all eternity with the One who's presently sitting on the throne, loving you, empowering you, being your living hope.
No aspect of your human experience is untouched by His love. No aspect of this particular day is unknown to Him; He is with you.
Acts 4:13 with some notes in italics -
"When the Sanhedrin saw the complete assurance of Peter and John – the “παρρησίαν”: the outspokenness, the frankness, the freedom of speech, the freedom of action, the fearlessness, the liberality and lavishness – even though they were obviously uneducated and untrained men, they were staggered. They recognized them as men who had been with Jesus…"
And not in some sort of facial-recognition sort of “recognized them” - that would not have “staggered” the members of the Council. No, “they recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” – Jesus, the protagonist of that sentence, the antagonist of the Old Way, the One who somehow died, lived again, and now seemed to be standing here right before them – HE is the power that, through these two uneducated untrained men, “staggers” this whole group of educated, well-trained ones. Nothing is more frightening to their foundational historical religious-spirited suppositions than this earthquake of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven impossible: Jesus somehow lives on – in His followers. What the Council had attempted to murder cannot be killed!
And, since you know me well, you know where I’m going next: Have we been with Jesus in that same way? Have we accepted His call to “Follow Me” not as only a prayer of salvation, but as His actual invitation to be saved, to be changed, to be made fruitful; indeed to actually, everyday, learn to better follow Him? Have we grown hungrier and thirstier for understanding of the four Gospels, not just intellectually, but as the way His life still hungers and thirsts to break forth out of our hearts? Have we gone to the Cross and died with Him? Is it only His life that now raises us up, breathes in us, speaks through us, shows the world that He’s never ceased to live?
Friends, is there anything about our “Christianity” that staggers anyone? Oh, that it would be so! And ever more, everyday!
As we launch into this New Year and make all kinds of personal resolutions about what we'd like to do and be within it, here's a little reminder to keep in front of ourselves all year long:
You and I are part of a Kingdom that cannot die because we follow a King who cannot be kept dead. May we take up an indomitable spirit all throughout this year, living by His Spirit, so that all the world may know.
“If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, he must give up all right to himself, carry his cross every day and keep close behind me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it, but the man who loses his life for my sake will save it..." Luke 9:23,24
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"With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers and sisters, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity." Romans 12:1,2
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“Everyone has to give up a great deal of life to live anything deeply. But it’s worth it.”
John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers
The ending of 1 Thessalonians 1 (vv. 6b-10), with some thoughts in italics -
You remember how, although accepting the message meant bitter persecution, yet you experienced the joy of the Holy Spirit. And, by the way, the Holy Spirit is joy. No circumstances, no human hardships, trump the Holy Spirit’s ability to invest our spirits with His wondrous and eternal joy! (Test that fact today – and everyday - and you'll see what I mean.)
You thus became examples to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia. You have become a sort of sounding-board from which the Word of the Lord has rung out, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but everywhere where the story of your faith in God has become known. We find we don’t have to tell people about it. They tell us the story of our coming to you: how you turned from idols to serve the true living God, and how your whole lives now look forward to the coming of his Son from heaven…
Don’t you just love the sentiment of that section? How absolutely wonderful that these believers, simply by believing and loving and hoping in Jesus, have become a “sounding-board” for the whole Gospel to the whole world! Their story needs no telling because the fruit is so obvious. And what joy Paul felt at how his friends were making the name Jesus famous!
And where did the Thessalonian church source its spiritual power? … the Son Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, and who personally delivered us from the judgment which hung over our heads.
And right there is the source of the Early Church’s zeal and steadfastness: their foremost belief in Jesus’ present “aliveness.” Nothing could faze them in the face of a Living Christ. For them, the Resurrection perfectly proved the power of the atoning Cross forevermore and they’d learned to live in this “personally delivered” posture with wild and unflappable joy.
How about us today?
“Thus I stretch out my arms to my Savior, who, after being foretold for four thousand years, came on earth to die and suffer for me at the time and in the circumstances foretold. By his grace I peaceably await death, in the hope of being eternally united to him, and meanwhile I live joyfully, whether in the blessings which he is pleased to bestow on me or in the afflictions he sends me for my own good and taught me how to endure by example." (Blaise Pascal, Pensees)
"Yes, and I shall go on being very happy, for I know that what is happening will be for the good of my own soul, thanks to your prayers and the resources of the spirit of Jesus Christ. It all accords with my own earnest wishes and hopes, which are that I should never be in any way ashamed, but that now, as always, I should honor Christ with the utmost boldness by the way I live, whether that means I am to face death or to go on living. For living to me means simply 'Christ,' and if I die I should merely gain more of him." (Philippians 1:18b-21)
Just this morning, I was reading through Romans 5 and relishing how Paul describes our freedom from the Old and our complete, joyous inheritance of the New through Jesus. And reading the latter half of the chapter, I started realizing the degree to which he was using point- and counter-point analysis to show us what's now ours.
Below, for your reading pleasure are his phrase-by-phrase juxtapositions from Romans 5:15-21. I found it helpful to see it broken out by columns...
This is the story of how good our life in Jesus really is! Let's relish it, and Him, today!
"It is through the Son, at the cost of his own blood, that we are redeemed, freely forgiven through that full and generous grace which has overflowed into our lives and opened our eyes to the truth. For God had allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: he purposes in his sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in him. And here is the staggering thing — that in all which will one day belong to him we have been promised a share (since we were long ago destined for this by the one who achieves his purposes by his sovereign will), so that we, as the first to put our confidence in Christ, may bring praise to his glory!" Ephesians 1:7-12
"Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7-11
Isn't it interesting that our life in Jesus is the juxtaposition of these two elements: inestimable inheritance and complete cost? Yet what a beautiful, impossible balance it creates within us: our only hope to live it rightly will be He Himself!
"Do not be swept off your feet by various peculiar teachings. Spiritual stability depends on the grace of God, and not on rules of diet — which after all have not spiritually benefited those who have made a speciality of that kind of thing. We have an Altar from which those who still serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. When the blood of animals was presented as a sin-offering by the High Priest in the sanctuary, their bodies were burned outside the precincts of the camp. That is why Jesus, when he sanctified men by the shedding of his own blood, suffered and died outside the city gates. Let us go out to him, then, beyond the boundaries of the camp, proudly bearing his 'disgrace.'" Hebrews 13:9-13
Like so much of what we've seen throughout Hebrews, these few verses have hidden deep depths of goodness and richness for us to enjoy. There's also a kind of rhetorical elegance here. Have any of you ever heard the term "chiasmus" before? It's a figure of speech that turns in on itself in the arrangement A-B-B-A; the most famous example of which is probably JFK's, "Ask not what your country (A) can do for you (B), ask what you (B) can do for your country(A)." These kind of expressions stick with us because they tend to pull us in, and sort of enwrap us in their logic...
That's what happening here in Hebrews 13:9-13. As it now pertains to the priesthood of believers over against the old Hebraic systems of the priests:
"Grace is not to be found through our food and our location, it is by His food and His location that we are invited into His grace."
In the Old Covenant, the priests sought and maintained grace by the careful keeping of meal and meat offerings in the cloistered confines of holy sequestered spaces not open to the common man. In the New Covenant, by feasting upon Jesus, by going outside the religious camp, we encounter His grace, even while "sharing in his disgrace," and show His availability to everyone we meet.
That's why - all along - the writer of Hebrews has been saying, "Don't let the Way of Jesus get under its own systems" - because that had been Judaism and it was no longer the way. The engine of this thing is now the Holy Spirit and He is miles ahead of our best human-religious systems and plans. All this happens outside of safe churchly spaces and at the pace of the Spirit, not our pace. And may we never forget that!