"It was through faith that Noah, on receiving God’s warning of impending disaster, reverently constructed an ark to save his household. This action of faith condemned the unbelief of the rest of the world, and won for Noah the righteousness before God which follows such a faith." (Hebrews 11:7)
Have you ever stopped to realize that, when Noah received the command to build the ark, he was just one man; one man tasked with building a boat approximately the size of a US Navy Destroyer; and that that task would appear, based upon the account of Genesis 6, to have consumed 50, 60 or even 70 years of his life? I think we often read the command, his obedient build-out and the flood as one quick story, when the reality is that that building alone might've consumed something like 25,000 days...
So what does faith look like? It looks like rising to the 10,000th of those days of (what appears to everyone else like) an inane, unconscionable project: building the world's biggest vessel of salvation in the midst of everyone else's complete unconcern. Imagine just one day of standing in the desert, pounding away at the hull of a 450-foot-long boat, when no one around you has ever even seen rain before!
Faith will always cast off reputation with its eyes on the salvation-work of Jesus alone. Unbelief says, "I am the center of the world," and, frankly, "To hell with everyone else." Noah teaches us everything we need to know about reputation, obedience and belief. It's one day at a time. It's today alone.
“The time is coming, indeed, it has already come, when you will be scattered, every one of you going home and leaving me alone. Yet I am not really alone for the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may find your peace in me. You will find trouble in the world — but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world!” (John 16:32,33)
For the disciples, these words have two contexts: 1) that Thursday night, when they would be “scattered” and 2) for the rest of their lives, when they’ll “find trouble in the world.” For us, not having physically been there on that night, we only interact with these words when we encounter “trouble," which is the exact moment when we’re commanded not to “lose heart” because Jesus has “conquered the world.” Isn’t that a powerful fact for us? To keep in mind this commandment and, whenever trouble comes, to simply command ourselves: “Don’t lose heart; Jesus has conquered”?
And let’s talk about the nature of that “conquering” – this is so good! In the moment when Jesus spoke these words, here (according to John) is the exact way Jesus said what He said:
“In this world, you have (Present Tense: currently the disciples are having) tribulation, but take courage, I have conquered (Perfect Tense: the “conquering” is already completed, but its results continue on in) the world.”
Do you see why this matters so deeply? It was on the night before the Cross that Jesus declared the world and its ways had been defeated, conquered, vanquished. And why does this matter? Because it is the Life, the “Way” of Jesus, that defeats the power of the world’s sin; it is the Cross that defeats sin’s condemnation.
The living life of Jesus, which is right now alive in your chest, is the actual power that has already, once and for all time, conquered the world. The Cross was your entry-point to walking in His Way, but it’s the Way that defeats the world’s ways.
My friends, you already have everything you need to conquer the world. You have Jesus. And Jesus is everything.
This is another of the parables Jesus told them: “The kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, taken by a woman and put into three measures of flour until the whole lot had risen.” (Matthew 13:33)
Did you know that, in a typical bread recipe, the dry weight of the active yeast to be added represents 3/10ths of 1% of the total weight of all ingredients? And have you observed that, once mixed into the dough, that little bit of yeast becomes invisible; that, suddenly, it is everywhere and nowhere in the mix?
Over this New Year, I've been reading in T.E. Lawrence - famously remembered as "Lawrence of Arabia" - and I've grown fascinated by his tactical thoughts as he helped steer the Arab uprisings in World War I. Take a look at how he described the difference between his force and the opposing Turkish forces:
“In [our] case the algebraic factor would take first account of the area to be conquered. A casual calculation indicated perhaps 140,000 square miles. How would the Turks defend all that—no doubt by a trench line across the bottom, if the Arabs were an army attacking with banners displayed…but suppose they were an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. The Arabs might be a vapor, blowing where they listed..."
Friends, the Kingdom of Heaven, and we who already inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven, are to be yeast, "an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a vapor." And we too, like yeast, are meant to be causing a rising up; really, like Lawrence, an uprising: our Kingdom-Army of Love is meant to be conquering this world with the love of Jesus. Everywhere and seemingly nowhere. The actual aroma of Christ.
Then one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and let no one silence you, FOR I MYSELF AM WITH YOU and no man shall lift a finger to harm you. There are many in this city who belong to me.” (Acts 18:9,10)
Isn’t Jesus wonderful? Not just for Paul on this night, but for us everyday, we need not fear; we always have something to say that is not silenceable; He is always with us; He is our refuge; and belonging with Him means belonging toHim. We are His and no one else’s – forevermore.
Over the last while, I’ve been delighting in one of my little "experiments" around the Psalms, taking some of my favorite sections and verses, and, wherever it reads “God” or “Lord,” substituting in – and being blown away by the glory of! – the name “Jesus.” My friends, with reference to Jesus’ words to Paul here, consider just five such Psalmic sections:
Psalm 27:1 “JESUS is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? JESUS is the stronghold of my life –of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 30:11,12 “O JESUS, you turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you, JESUS, and not be silent. JESUS, my Lord and my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
Psalm 62:1,2 “My soul finds rest in JESUS alone; my salvation comes from Him. JESUS alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
Psalm 18:31-36 – “For who is God besides JESUS? And who is the Rock except Him? It is JESUS who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. JESUS makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to stand on the heights. JESUS trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. JESUS has given me His shield of victory, and His right hand sustains me; He stooped down to make me great. JESUS broadens the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”
Psalm 149:2-4 – “Let the Body rejoice in its Maker; let the people of the Kingdom be glad in their King, the Lord JESUS. Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and harp. For JESUS takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.”
Jesus, speaking to the woman at the well: “If you knew what God can give,” Jesus replied, “and if you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink’, I think you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water!” (John 4:10)
These first substantive words that Jesus speaks to this woman contain four clauses – two conditional, one connective and one resultant – that are each contingent upon each other... and on Belief. Here’s the phrases: The conditional ones – “If you knew what God can give” and “if you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink’”; the connective clause – “I think you would have asked him”; and the resultant clause – “and he would have given you living water.”
I bet the woman’s initial response to these must've been: “…Uh…okay... what?” I think our response to these words, as those who call on the name Jesus, should be complete and all-consuming.
1) “If you knew what God can give” – If you knew what God can give. My friends, do we know? Have we even begun to scratch the surface of what is offered here, offered by One whose opening argument was the Incarnation and who was just getting started at the Cross and the Resurrection? Do you want to know what all He can give?
2) “If you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink...'" Jesus. On that particular day, sweat dripping down His face, hungry, thirsty, wishing He had a fresh tunic on-hand. Today, while you’re reading these words, sitting next to His Father in the Throneroom, the answer to our hunger and thirst, the Light and Life of Heaven, always alive – alive on your behalf. Brothers and Sisters, do you know Jesus better than you did a week ago? Have you come to know Him in new ways since the New Year began? You always can. And you always must.
3) “I think you would have asked him” – Engulfed by the glories of what He offers and who He is, can you hear the prodding tone of this simple statement? Since Jesus offers all, and is Himself all that is Life, will we not ask for all of Him that’s available to us?
4) “And he would have given you living water” – “would have given you”! As it relates to the asking-for and receiving-of Jesus’ living water, when should we not only have asked for, but received it? Yesterday! So ready is He to fill us with His Holy Spirit and with His very life that its availability can only be explained like it should’ve been yours already. Wow!
"I will ask you one simple question: did you receive the Spirit of God by trying to keep the Law or by believing the message of the Gospel? Surely you can’t be so foolish as to think that a man begins his spiritual life in the Spirit and then completes it by reverting to outward observances? Has all your painful experience brought you nowhere? I simply cannot believe it of you! Does God, who gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you, do these things because you have obeyed the Law or because you have believed the Gospel? Ask yourselves that." Galatians 3:2-5
In his famous Pensées, Blaise Pascal describes the reasoning for Nicodemus’ initial interest in Jesus in this way: “He does not judge the miracles by the teaching, but the teaching by the miracles.” (Pensée 808)
Before we ourselves can even begin to deal with Paul’s questions to the Galatians, we need to examine the Spirit’s work and the miracles abounding in our own lives. For if you’re to be the only touchpoint someone has with Jesus and His Gospel, what are your days actually looking like? Consider just 24 hours with Jesus from Matthew 9 as a “model day”: He sailed the Sea of Galilee, healed a paralytic, invited Matthew to become a disciple, went to Matthew’s houseparty, met with John the Baptist’s skeptical disciples, healed a bleeding woman, raised Jairus’ daughter back to life and then, to top it off, gave two blind men sight.
The One who lived that day is living in your chest today! And He's asking you to consider a whole new "normal" with Him!
In 2 Samuel 7, after God makes eternal-dynasty promises to King David, David is overwhelmed with the many goodnesses of the Lord to him. In awe, "he went in and sat before the Lord," and began to pray one of the most beautiful prayers of gratitude, joy and commitment you'll ever read anywhere.
As we look to a brand new year which will be full of promises and blessings, I want you to read David's prayer... but with the wordings slightly shifted to reflect our New Covenant realities in Jesus. These words are who you are, and what you've received:
"Who am I, O Lord Jesus, and what is my life, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Lord Jesus, you have also spoken about the eternal life of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?
"What more can I say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord Jesus. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
"How great you are, O Lord Jesus! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have come to know within our own hearts. And who is like your Body, the Church - the one people on earth that you went out to redeem as people for yourself, and to make a name for yourself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out sin and Satan from before your people, whom you redeemed from death? You have established your people, your Body, as your very own forever, and you, O Lord, have become their God.
"And now, Lord Jesus, I know you will keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his heart. You will do as you promised, and I will proclaim your name to be great forever. Then the world will say, 'The Lord Almighty is God over that man!" And the Way of Jesus will be established before them and before you.
"O Lord Almighty, God of my life, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, 'You will be my temple.' So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer. O Lord Jesus, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the life of your servant, that I may continue forever in your Way; for you, O Lord Jesus, have spoken, and with your blessing the life of your servant will be blessed for all eternity."
John the Baptist was in prison when he heard what Christ was doing, and he sent a message through his own disciples asking the question, “Are you the one who was to come or are we to look for somebody else?” (Matthew 11:2,3)
And I want to immediately address a false message that I've heard spoken about this moment: This is not doubt; this is not unbelief. Doubt and unbelief operate at the level of the Self: the mind and spirit of the doubter is almost always an echo-chamber where unanswered questions may harden into opposing beliefs.
In reality, John the Baptist, languishing in prison, gives us the perfect picture of what's to be done with our questions: externalize them... and only, first, in the direction of Jesus. Think of this: If between now and Matthew 14, when John will be beheaded by Herod's executioner, he had allowed this question no egress, no voice, he would've wasted every single moment remaining to him for the rest of his life; he wouldn't have gone to his death with the equanimity that I'm sure he did.
Cynicism, skepticism, doubt and unbelief are not virtues: they do not make you, or make you appear to be, intelligent. The true student approaches the True Teacher for instruction; the honest question-asker walks his wonderings toward the Answer Himself.
Do not dwell in your doubts. Go to Him. We must not waste a moment of our lives.
Then came a violent squall of wind which drove the waves aboard the boat until it was almost swamped. Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion. They awoke him with the words, “Master, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
And he woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Hush now! Be still!” The wind dropped and everything was very still.
“Why are you so frightened? What has happened to your faith?" he asked them. (Mark 4:37-40)
Do you catch the implication implicit in those questions of His? Jesus is saying that faith in Him - belief in the realities of who He really is - should cause us to become fearless. Because if there's a logic in His mind to "Why are you fearful; have you no faith?" then the inverse is almost necessarily true: "Ah, so you have faith; now you need not ever fear."
Really, we should all question any talk of "faith" in Jesus that doesn't exhibit proportionate growth toward fearlessness for His purposes. The better we know Him the riskier it should look. The disciples' transition between the Gospels and Acts is all the proof we need.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth."
"As hydrogen and oxygen, two diverse elements, coming together produce an entirely new product, water, so the spirit of renunciation and the spirit of service coming together in a man make a new being, the most formidable being on earth - the terrible meek. They are terrible in that they want nothing, and hence cannot be tempted or bought, and in that they are willing to go to any lengths for others because they feel so deeply. Christ standing before Pilate is a picture of the Terrible Meek. He could not be bought or bullied, for he wanted nothing - nothing except to give his life for the very men who were crucifying him. Here is the supreme strength - it possesses itself, hence possesses the earth. It is so strong, so patient, so fit to survive that it inherits the earth. No one gives the earth to those who have this terrible meekness; they come into it as their natural right, they inherit it because they have the blood of God in their veins."
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Moun
Then they attempted to arrest Jesus, but actually no one laid a finger on him because the right moment had not yet come. Many of the crowd believed in him and kept on saying, “When Christ comes, is he going to show greater signs than this man?”
The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering these things about him, and they and the chief priests sent officers to arrest him. (John 7:30-32)
I think it's impossible to overstate how much we, most of the time, underestimate the chaos into which Jesus threw everything around Him. We preach and teach Him as so placid and calm, but there’s always so much craziness happening where He is. Look at this John 7 scene, for example: Jesus has just spoken some bold words; one group lunges forward to try to grab Him; somehow He avoids them; another group is standing back, marveling and believing He’s the One; while, in the shadows, the Pharisees call over the officers and send them to arrest Him...
Personally, I would never describe Jesus’ ministry as being particularly orderly; most of the time, His words and actions actually disordered people’s comfortable understandings and forced them to confront their set spiritual patterns and behaviors. In fact, we should probably all beware any ministry in Jesus’ name that seems to claim to have it all figured out! Because Paul didn't say in 1 Corinthians: “God is not a God of disorder but of order,” he said, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” I think we probably need less orderliness in the Body of Christ and a greater dose of the peace He brings in the midst of His own brand of chaos.
The best and most-like-Jesus charge against the Early Church came at Thessalonica: “These men who have unsettled the whole world have now come here.”
Oh, to be unsettling according to the pattern of Jesus!
"To you whom I love I say, let us go on loving one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God’s son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love cannot know him at all, for God is love. To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins. If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!" 1 John 4:7-11
When you look up the word "love" in the dictionary, here are the first four definitions given:
(1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
(2) : attraction based on sexual desire
(3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b : an assurance of affection
Okay. Very nice. Thank you, Merriam-Webster.
But what the apostle John wants you and I to realize, and to walk into this day living, is that, in reality, these are the only true definitions of real love:
(1) : Jesus Himself
(2) : His life that, living among us, gives life
(3) : Literal self-sacrificial, blood-soaked, complete personal atonement that is not only unconditional in scope but, maybe more impressively, without pre-condition: “not in the fact that we loved God, but that He loved us…”
Or, to put it another way:
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus does not dishonor others, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.”
What a wonder to be loved first by this Man!
"What Mary has conceived is conceived through the Holy Spirit, and she will give birth to a son, whom you will call Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet—‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’. (“Immanuel” means “God with us.”) Matthew 1:20b-23
And what so wonderfully strikes me as we celebrate this particular Christmas, and as we look here at Isaiah's words from Isaiah 7, is how the whole reality of this Jesus, of His Kingdom, of our God, is built on the most wonderful contradictions. Look here:
A virgin... with child.
God... with us.
No other spiritual understanding in all the history of the world, no other pattern of belief, has ever had its Center truly among its people. The way of Jesus contradicts every known normalcy:
His are regular disciples
In His presence, the blind see
The lame walk
The deaf hear
The mute speak
He is a humble King
Executed for His innocence
Whose death brought victory
Life was found in His death
And He retook life after death
He made sinful people holy
His Holy Spirit came to live in common people
His throne is meant to be shared by those commoners
The formerly lost now become their fellow-men's guides
Those who were once in darkness are now illumined by His light
Yes, God is with us
And, even more importantly, God is now within us
Perhaps this Christmas, instead of settling down into the grooves of tradition, of feel-goodness, let's give some meditation to the fact that Jesus came to overthrow everything mankind had ever known... and continues to know. An entirely new way of living is unleashed in the birth of this baby. Nothing should have ever been the same, since.
Has that been our experience?
"But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith, keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses. I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!" 1 Timothy 6:11-16
The language used here, plus the direction of that language, actually teaches this paragraph better than anything I could ever muster. Imagine the first part as if Paul is looking Timothy in the eye: “But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith…”
And then it’s as if Paul’s eyes start to lift as he keeps writing: “...keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses…”
And now he’s looking skyward, up to the heavenly places, as he continues on: “I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things…”
Then Paul begins to grin uncontrollably: “...the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!”
Paul had begun by trying to give Timothy some good quality injunctions for his life and then got lost along the way and ended up with… Jesus! And this should be us too. We should be the people whose heads are so up in the clouds of His glory and goodness that, almost unthinkingly, we just follow His ways. Look at how Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 5: “We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.” That’s the whole deal, my friends! To wed the living of our little human lives with the eternal purposes of the all-knowing, all-powerful God; to cease to be ourselves in the presence of the One who indwells our hearts and is capable of eternally overtaking our lives!
Yes, YES, YES!
"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And by common consent they all used to meet in Solomon’s Porch..." Acts 5:12
This was the place in the Temple environs where, two chapters before, they'd preached the message after healing the man that caused 2,000 to believe... and themselves to be arrested for the first time. But, for the original disciples, this place had more meaning than just that. The year before this, during the Festival of Dedication, what is today called Hanukkah, Jesus Himself had gone on a walk through Solomon’s Porch. So for Peter and James and John, to meet in this place was instantly to remember His presence, the way He walked, the way He talked, the way – on that day – He’d spoken these words in this place:
“My sheep recognize my voice and I know who they are. They follow me and I give them eternal life. They will never die and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. And no one can tear anything out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.” … “If I fail to do what my Father does, then do not believe me. But if I do, even though you have no faith in me personally, then believe in the things that I do. Then you may come to know and realize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10)
Now, on the very same stones, standing under that same Jerusalem sky, these men and women, His “sheep,” are living their lives as “one” with Him, “He in they and they in Him,” and the life they live in Him is, without a doubt, “eternal.” Their presence together there on these days is the visible proof of the power of His words on that earlier day, walking around Himself, at Hanukkah.
May He be so present, and visibly noticeable, in us this week, my friends!
Large crowds followed him and he healed them all, with the strict injunction that they should not make him conspicuous by their talk, thus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench, till he sends forth justice to victory. And in his name Gentiles will trust.' (Matthew 12:16-21)
What's so unbelievably wonderful about this Savior, this Man, this Jesus, what's so incredibly lovely about His plans for His Kingdom, is that He's handed all of this, every attribute, act and activity, directly to us: we are the heirs, inheritors and agents of this age-old prophecy. Read again, phrase by phrase, through Isaiah's words and then through Jesus' direct words to us, as He hands off the New Covenant Kingdom-baton:
‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen: “For you did not choose me, but I have chosen you and appointed you…” (Jn. 15:16)
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased; “your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
I will put my Spirit upon him, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8a)
And he shall declare justice to the Gentiles. “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judaea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)
He shall not quarrel nor cry aloud, “and whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:27,28a)
Neither shall anyone hear his voice in the streets. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26)
A bruised reed shall he not break, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
And smoking flax shall he not quench, “…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
Till he sends forth justice unto victory. “As for the victorious, I will give you the honor of sitting beside me on my throne, just as I myself have won the victory and have taken my seat beside my Father on his throne.” (Rev. 3:21)
And in his name Gentiles will hope. “Go you therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt. 28:19)
"Later, when Jesus was sitting at dinner in Levi’s house, a large number of tax-collectors and disreputable folk came in and joined him and his disciples. For there were many such people among his followers." Mark 2:15
Jesus' goodness and kindness are simply so good and so kind, aren't they? Here He is: sitting down to dinner in Levi's palatial house on the hill, built with stolen tax-monies, surrounded by all the "tax-collectors and disreputable folk" Galilee has to offer. And why do all these people flock to Him? Because, apparently, there had already been "many such people among His followers," even before Levi was ever called!
This dinner, in fact, provides a clear answer to one of the age-old, all-important questions ranged against human life: From where may righteousness, or goodness, or holiness, be derived?
These broken people, confronted by the personification of Righteousness, Goodness and Holiness Himself, have answered with the correct response: They desire, by proximity, to be made better, to be made righteous and good and holy by this power outside themselves. That is the nature and the basic idea of sanctification...
Except, it's even better for us now, isn't it? Because, now, that Righteous One, Good One, Holy One, Wonderful One, Perfect One, lives within us!
Thank you, Jesus, for your overwhelming kindness to disreputable folk like us!
"For we are not separate units but intimately related to each other in Christ." Ephesians 4:25b
* * * *
“Paul’s conception of a Christian community is a body of which the Spirit of Christ is the soul. The individual members are all full of the Spirit, and their individual powers and capacities are laid hold of, vivified, and strengthened by the indwelling Spirit in such a way that each is ‘gifted’ and enabled to do some special service for Christ and for His Church in the society in which he is placed. Every true Christian is ‘gifted’ in this way. In this respect all are equal and of the same spiritual rank. The equality, however, is neither monotonous nor mechanical. Men have different natural endowments, and these lead to a diversity of ‘gifts,’ all of which are serviceable in their places, and enable the separate members to perform different services, useful and necessary, for the spiritual life of the whole community and for the growth in sanctification of every member.”
- Thomas M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries
* * * *
Specifically, what are your spiritual giftings? Have you been using them this week? Will you be using them today?
Because, don't forget: Those gifts are the way that the Holy Spirit is showing Himself to others; they are where the Lord Jesus is laying hold of you, giving you life, strengthening you; they are for the special service of the whole worldwide Body of Christ; they are useful and absolutely necessary for the spiritual life of the Church and all of its members: for we are not separate from each other but intimately - and always - related to each other in this wonderful Jesus!
The Jews were amazed (at Jesus' teaching) and remarked, “How does this man know all this — he has never been taught?”
Jesus replied to them, “My teaching is not really mine but comes from the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority…” (John 7:15-17)
Do you see the roadblock that Jesus has thrown up in front of these people? They’ve been wondering about Him, having heard mysterious whisperings that have trickled down from the Galilee, and now here He stands, teaching right before them in the Temple court. Immediately they recognize the power in His words and the knowledge – the sheer immensity of knowledge – that seems to reside in His teachings. And so they want to, from the earthly side, understand it: “How does this man know all this…?” Which is a line of questioning with which He apparently does not want to deal: “My teaching is not really mine but comes from the one who sent me.”
And then He raises the stakes, so that even listening to Him speak and teach requires the self-abandonment of Belief: “If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority.” It is the desire to be of use to the Father’s will that unlocks the listening understanding; it is not first to understand, then to be about His will. And I’ll prove it to you – consider the exact inverse of these statements: “If anyone does not want to do God’s will, he will not know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority.”
Do you see? It is setting our face to be of Kingdom-use that unlocks the full potential, the full understanding, of all Jesus’ words have to offer. Oh, let's abandon ourselves to Him today!
Jesus, speaking instruction to the Twelve: "Be on your guard against men. For they will take you to the court and flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought into the presence of governors and kings because of me—to give your witness to them and to the heathen. But when they do arrest you, never worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be told at the time what you are to say. For it will not be really you who are speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." Matthew 10:17-20
Isn't that the most miraculous promise? Jesus is saying that the external world, with all its pressures and threats and anxieties and trials, is secondary to our internal life. If we are able to meet with the Spirit of the Father in our heart and mind, we have nothing to fear in the whole world outside ourselves.
Do we live that way?
Do we value that inner dialogue above all else?
Are we living situationally - meaning, in every single situation - where our first recourse is to listen for His voice from within?
I can't stop thinking of just how free He was making His friends... just... to truly live!
May the Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father (who has loved us and given us unending encouragement and unfailing hope by his grace) inspire you with courage and confidence in every good thing you say or do. (2 Thessalonians 2:16,17)
Today, if you're ever feeling like your courage is running out, turn immediately to Jesus and ask Him for His encouragement that is “unending.”
Likewise, if your hope feels like it's failing you, lift your eyes to Him and ask Him for His hope that can never, ever, ever fail.
And thank you, Jesus, for the promise of your instantaneously transferable spiritual attributes! What a blessed gift is our life in you today! We belong to you and You belong to us!
Ananias set out and went to the house, and there he laid his hands upon Saul, and said, “Saul, brother, the Lord has sent me—Jesus who appeared to you on your journey here—so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got to his feet and was baptized. Then he took some food and regained his strength.
Saul stayed with the disciples in Damascus for some time. Without delay he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues declaring that he is the Son of God. All his hearers were staggered and kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who so bitterly persecuted those who called on the name in Jerusalem, and came down here with the sole object of taking back all such people as prisoners before the chief priests?” Acts 9:17-21
The word Luke uses to describe how “staggered” the crowds were when they heard the heart of Saul’s new message – ἐξίσταντο: 'to be displaced, changed, altered, driven mad, deranged' – is also used thrice to describe people’s amazement with Jesus, twice on the day of Pentecost and, finally, here in this passage. The alive life of Jesus, the never-ending work of the Holy Spirit, and the confluence of those two elements in the lives of men and women like us, are supposed to be, meant to be, cannot help being “staggering” when men and women like us let Him fully have His way.
Remember: Subscribing to a set of beliefs about Jesus will not stagger people.
Don't forget: Being against the ways of this world will not amaze them.
But, rising to each new day, setting your heart upon the Savior who is the truest thing about you, aligning your spirit so as to be a wide-open channel of the Holy Spirit, and then walking out the door with Belief, and open eyes and ears: NOW you are living out your day like Saul learned to do: with the life of Jesus on display, the power of the Holy Spirit always at the ready; full belief in the promises; and eyes of love upon the world’s great need.
Now yes, that will “stagger” the world around you!
“Some of you are fathers, and if your son asks you for some fish, would you give him a snake instead, or if he asks you for an egg, would you make him a present of a scorpion? So, if you, for all your evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more likely is it that your Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13
This wording is nearly identical to Matthew 7 – “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” – except for that ending! You and I are actually allowed to, meant to, called to pray for more and more and more of the Holy Spirit, all the time, everyday! In fact, He Himself, the glorious Holy Spirit, is almost certainly the highest prayer we can ever pray for.
How often do you ask for, desire for, hope for more and more of a portion of the Holy Spirit in your life? We can daily be like Elisha back in 2 Kings 2: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
Friends, may we never content ourselves with living half-measures in the Spirit when the whole is being offered to us - and by Jesus Himself! Ask today. And expect to receive today. Let your attitude be: more, MORE, MORE!
So Jesus re-embarked on the boat, crossed the lake, and came to his own town. Immediately some people arrived bringing him a paralytic lying flat on his bed. When Jesus saw the faith of those who brought him he said to the paralytic, “Cheer up, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:1,2
We could talk about the fact that Jesus goes after sin here before going after this man's paralysis; we could go into a little discussion of the actual nature of what "sin" is; but what I want to talk about is the fact that it's his friends' faith - not his own - his friends' faith in Jesus that gets this man set free of his nature of sin. This is just so wonderful to me.
Think about how it must've played out. His friends arrive to his little shack in the rough part of town; help him get dressed; then get him onto a pallet that they can carry through the streets of Capernaum to where they've heard Jesus will be. Along the way they're giddy with hope, not for themselves, but for their friend: "Oh, Jesus," they say to him, "He's a wonder-worker. He looks after people like us, like you. He sees us. What a delight He is! When you get near Him, you'll see. He'll do it. We just know it."
My friends, if these friends' call is also our call - to bring everyone to Jesus of Nazareth - is that the way we're walking them to Him? Do we know Him? Can we tell them what He's like? Can we point to His miraculous power, His heart for the lost, His eyes for the hopeless, His delightful personal presence? And, probably most importantly, do we know what to expect when we arrive with them to Him: is our expectancy formed by our own experience of Him?
Because that's what people truly need to see in us. Expectancy built from personal experience.
"I have written like this to you who already believe in the name of God’s Son so that you may be quite sure that, here and now, you possess eternal life. We have such confidence in him that we are certain that he hears every request that is made in accord with his own plan. And since we know that he invariably gives his attention to our prayers, whatever they are about, we can be quite sure that our prayers will be answered." 1 John 5:13-15
Now having read that, I want to describe a particular person to you and then, based upon what I tell you, to have you imagine exactly what that person would be like; how you would describe them in your own words; what it would be like to have that person in your life.
This person I'm thinking of wakes in the morning with no anxiety at all because they are perfectly provided for; they have peace and full-hearted joy; and there's nothing in the day ahead that is stronger or scarier than their peace and joy. All day long, everyday, they are accompanied everywhere by their closest friend, who is the perfect confidante, the ultimate encourager, a friend who cannot fail in any way. There is no fear in this person: life and death hold nothing that brings the slightest palpitation. They take life as it comes, one day at a time, knowing that all of this is moving - both today and everyday - toward an eminent, wondrous, beautiful good.
How would you feel about that person? What is their life and outlook like? What do they look like? How would it be to live your life in the orbit of their life?
Well, friends, that person is you. That reality is your New-Birthright reality. Any sense of deficiency you feel between what I just described and your actual experience of life-in-Jesus is where He would love to have you surrender further. He would love to inhabit the full width and breadth of your heart today. It's His plan to so fill you that the whole world may see Him. Would you let Him?