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.
“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!
“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.”
“For You to have mercy is the same thing as for You to see. Your mercy follows after each person as long as he lives, and wherever he goes, just as Your seeing never abandons anyone. As long as a person lives, You do not cease to follow after him and to urge him on with a sweet and interior warning to leave error and to be converted to You in order to live happily. Lord, You are the companion of my pilgrimage. Wherever I go, Your eyes are always upon me. Your seeing is also Your moving. Therefore, You move with me and never cease moving as long as I move. If I am at rest, You are with me; if I ascend or descend, so do You; wherever I go, You are there (Ps 138:8). You do not forsake me in time of tribulation. As often as I call on You, You are there, for to call on You is for me to turn myself to You. You cannot fail a person who turns toward You, nor can anyone turn toward You unless you are there first. You are present before I turn myself to You, for unless you were present and invited me, I would be wholly ignorant of You.”
Nicholas of Cusa
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.
“Love does not need any cause beyond itself, nor any fruit – its fruit is its use. I love because I love; I love so that I may love. Love is a great thing. If it reverts to its own principle, if it returns to its origin, if it flows back into its source, it always draws from it the power to flow forth continuously. It is love alone of all the motions, perceptions, and affections of the soul by which the creature, though not in equal measure, can repay something to the Creator, weigh back from the same measure.”
Bernard of Clairvaux
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!
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?
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.
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.
"It is in His presence and through His grace that whatever of fragrance or beauty may be found in us comes forth. Of Him as its source, through Him as its instrument, and to Him as it end, is all that is gracious and divine. But HE HIMSELF is better far than all that His grace works in us."
Hudson Taylor, Union and Communion
Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of Yahweh your God.” Joshua said, “By this [miraculous crossing of the Jordan River] you shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Hivite, and the Perizzite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Jebusite out from before you...” Joshua 3:9,10
It’s important that the impetus for the Jordan-crossing miracle be noted before we even imagine the crossing itself: that, for all time, the Israelites might “know that the living God is among” them, and that, in the coming months and years, “he will without fail drive” the enemy peoples from the Promised Land.
For us, it’s always important that what we’ve seen Him do in the past should be our impetus for believing He can always do all things. Remembrance is an important step in believing. Non-remembrance is the first step toward unbelief.
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
Often, it seems, we are trying to show the world how important Jesus is, or how impressive, or, even, how logical; but how much better it would be if, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we simply showed them lives filled with seeming impossibilities.
The Conversion of the Warder (Acts 16), Philips Galle, 1582
“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.