After a number of the disciples are arrested, from Acts 5:
Then Peter and the apostles answered the High Priest, “It is our duty to obey the orders of God rather than the orders of men. It was the God of our fathers who raised up Jesus, whom you murdered by hanging him on a cross of wood. God has raised this man to his own right hand as prince and savior, to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins to Israel. What is more, we are witnesses to these matters, and so is the Holy Spirit which God gives to those who obey his commands.”
Such bold and courageous words. Such trust in the realities of the Gospel. And while these words read like an amalgam of the messages given in Acts 2, 3 and 4, it’s the opening words Peter uses that capture my heart: “It is our duty to obey the orders of God rather than the orders of men.” As I read and reread those words in thinking through this section, a snippet of scripture kept coming into my mind – “I am under vows to you” – even though I couldn’t remember where exactly that was from. Turns out it’s Psalm 56, when David himself had also been arrested.
My friend, I don’t where today finds you – whether happy or feeling harassed – but, in light of the example of the apostles, their stoutheartedness for the sake of this Gospel we share with them, consider with full heart and ready spirit all of Psalm 56:
Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise--
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
All day long they twist my words;
all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.
Because of their wickedness do not let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.
Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll--
are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise--
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
I am under vows to you, my God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
Yes, Jesus, teach us to follow you like the saints of old! Teach us to live the bold spirit of your Early Church, your first friends!
From the Lazarus account in John 11 -
“I myself am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus told [Martha]. “The man who believes in me will live even though he dies, and anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die at all. Can you believe that?”
It would be difficult to rate or order the “I AM” statements in terms of their incomprehensibility – they are all impossibly glorious and mysterious in their own way – and yet, given the grieving woman standing in front of Him, and the clouded Jewish understanding of the concept of resurrection, this statement almost has to take the cake.
Isn’t it striking? The Resurrection is not an event, He is a person. Who yet lives, even today! And that’s because, of His own volition, out of that part of His "Resurrection-personality" with the power to do so, He Himself was resurrected from the dead for our sake.
And did you notice our point of access for both partaking in, and enjoying the benefits of, His being the Resurrection? “The man who believes in me will live even though he dies, and anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die at all. Can you believe that?” Belief is the only currency that holds open the door of death for life to come walking through; Belief is the only human possession that grants fearlessness in the face of death. To know and believe in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life grants us full understanding and experience of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1: “For you are the sons of God now; the live, permanent Word of the living God has given you his own indestructible heredity.”
As Jesus just asked Martha, “Can you believe that?”
“We have no business to be living subnormal, unhealthy, anaemic spiritual lives and call them Christian. They are sub-Christian. Our greatest difficulty is not antichristianity, but this sub-Christianity. It takes the facts of Christ’s life – his life, his death, his resurrection – but not the living fact of Christ. To take the first three and miss this is, I repeat, the supreme tragedy in present-day Christian living.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
“The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service one of unspeakable pleasure. He is all love, and those who trust Him need never know anything but that love. He is just indeed and He will not condone sin; but through the blood of the everlasting covenant He is able to act toward us exactly as if we had never sinned. Toward the trusting sons of men His mercy will always triumph over justice. The fellowship of God is delightful beyond all telling. He communes with His redeemed ones in an easy, uninhibited fellowship that is restful and healing to the soul. He is not sensitive or selfish nor temperamental. What He is today we shall find Him tomorrow and the next day and the next year. He is not hard to please, though He may be hard to satisfy. He expects of us only what He has Himself first supplied. He is quick to mark every simple effort to please Him, and just as quick to overlook imperfections when He knows we meant to do His will. He loves us for ourselves and values our love more than galaxies of new created worlds.”
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
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.
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
* * * * *
“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!