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?
"I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you... Until now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full." John 16:22b & 24
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“Life is fleeting; do not therefore show yourself so hard to please in face of the happiness at hand; make haste to enjoy it.”
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
I've often noticed that when people are talking about their "quiet times," or the space they make for their "devotions," they will refer to it as "my time with Him." But how much better would it be, how much more likely to lead us into active obedience, if we began to think of it as "His time with me"?
May we each give Him time to move within our hearts, our minds, our spirits, so that our hearts, minds, and spirits are brought into a daily alignment. Such waiting upon Him presumes He is alive and able to be heard from. Anything less verges toward mere religiosity.
"Set your minds, then, on endorsing by your conduct the fact that God has called and chosen you. If you go along the lines I have indicated above, there is no reason why you should stumble, and if you have lived the sort of life I have recommended God will open wide to you the gates of the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 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." 2 Peter 1:10-14
Those last words are so rich with real life, with real living, and with the power of memory! Here is a man, Simon Peter, writing to men and women scattered all over the Roman Empire, brothers and sisters in the Way of Jesus the Christ, and all this man wants is that his friends should live their lives fully in that Way. That's the import of verses 10-13.
But then verse 14 - "I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me" - is Peter leaning back in his chair and remembering a particular moment. In it, he was standing facing the Risen Jesus. It was early morning on the Sea of Galilee. The breeze was blowing fresh off the water. The sun was only just coming up over the Golan Heights. And 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... You must follow me."
That memory, that moment, is precisely what Peter thinks of as he writes these words in 2 Peter 1. And the moment described, that death Jesus foretold for him, is not very far off now...
Friends, what are the memories with Jesus that are animating our lives today? How quickly do we hearken back to our shared history with our Savior, our Lord, our Friend, as we go about our days?
“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
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.
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.
From John 21's scene on the beach, between Jesus and Peter:
Then Jesus said to him, “You must follow me.”
Then Peter turned round and noticed the disciple whom Jesus loved following behind them. (He was the one who had his head on Jesus’ shoulder at supper and had asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”) So he said, “Yes, Lord, but what about him?”
“If it is my wish,” returned Jesus, “for him to stay until I come, is that your business, Peter? You must follow me.”
* * * * *
"There is no more subtle temptation than to wait with what God calls us to do till we are first informed what others are to do, or what God is to do with the rest of the world. We may safely leave to Him who is ruler of all, the All-wise, what will come of obedience to His commands. To every question, And what shall this man do? Christ's answer is, What is that to thee? Follow thou Me. If we are disciples of Christ, each one of us must seek to have as much of His Spirit as can be. If we are to be led by Him in the new and living way, to live with Him in the Holiest of All, we must, like Him, live here as pilgrims and strangers."
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
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.
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?
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!
Then on the same day (Easter) we find two of them going off to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they went they were deep in conversation about everything that had happened. While they were absorbed in their serious talk and discussion, Jesus himself approached and walked along with them, but something prevented them from recognizing him. Then he spoke to them, “What is all this discussion that you are having on your walk?” (Luke 24:13-17)
Before Jesus can take over our lives, it seems to me that we must let him overtake our lives. I pray that my and your "Today," every minute of this particular day, may be a personal experience of the road to Emmaus.
Let's keep an eye out, my friends! For here He comes - risen and alive!
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.