“The work that our life accomplishes, the whole of this work, the meaning of it is not, nor can it be, intelligible to me… To understand it, to understand the whole of the Master’s will is not in my power. But to do His will, that is written down in my conscience, is in my power; that I know for certain. And when I am fulfilling it I have sureness and peace.”
Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection
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"...Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." Isaiah 30:20b,21
Then Peter approached Jesus with the question, “Master, how many times can my brother wrong me and I must forgive him? Would seven times be enough?”
“No,” replied Jesus, “not seven times, but seventy times seven! For the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When he had started calling in his accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. (Quick Eugene note: The actual amount he owed, in today's gold-values, was approximately $15,933,600,000 - that's right, just a shade under $16B!) And when it was plain that he had no means of repaying the debt, his master gave orders for him to be sold as a slave, and his wife and children and all his possessions as well, and the money to be paid over. At this the servant fell on his knees before his master, ‘Oh, be patient with me!’ he cried, ‘and I will pay you back every penny!’ Then his master was moved with pity for him, set him free and cancelled his debt..." (Matthew 18:21-27)
Okay, let's stop there. Let's let our imaginations go, if that moment was the end of this famous parable, to what this man might feel and to what our owner personal takeaways would be. What would the expression be on the face of this forgiven man? What would he look like as he walks out the gate of the palace? How would we hope he lives, now that he's free?
An important note: THIS MAN, IN THIS MOMENT, IS YOU!
This absolute, truly-free freedom of Jesus is meaningful (its meaning is His life), costly (it cost Him, and it will cost us, everything), utterly unlike any form of life ever offered before (as proven by its foundation being a resurrection!), and it isattached only to His person (because He is alive, and accessible, and is Himself the Way of this freedom.)
If you and I walk into this day today like that forgiven servant should've walked out of the palace, our day will know no end of deep meaning, limitless value, extraordinary uniqueness and direct Christ-connected intimacy. In other words, our lives will look like they're supposed to look! Might make for a different sort of Monday, am I right?
Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God’s message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party were full of criticism, saying to him, “You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”
But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen....
Once they heard [all his story of Cornelius and his household accepting the message and receiving the Holy Spirit] they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, “Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-3 & 18)
And that, by the way, is that. End of story. That’s how thousands of years of entrenched religious tradition and belief went out the window in the presence of a group of men and women whose first recourse was to follow the Holy Spirit only. But, you see, eleven of the men standing in that room had once sat in another room, on a particular Thursday night, and listened intently as Jesus spoke these words:
“I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now. Yet when that one I have spoken to you about comes — the Spirit of truth — he will guide you into everything that is true. For he will not be speaking of his own accord but exactly as he hears, and he will inform you about what is to come. He will bring glory to me for he will draw on my truth and reveal it to you.” (John 16:12-14)
My friends, what's your relationship like - today - with this very same Spirit of truth? And how nimble-in-obedience are you becoming as you learn to hear His voice, day by day?
"…Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder. For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live, so does the Son give life to any man he chooses…" John 5:20b,21
These two sentences are so unbelievable that I need to take a moment to type out – to get out – all my potential language of hyperbole: magnificent! marvelous! overwhelming! grandiose! transcendent! awesome! utterly stupefying! (Thank you.) But, in all seriousness, as you read through Jesus' words, did you catch the echo of a wording of another of His greatest promises? Go back and reread them and see if you can catch it…
So gloriously preposterous is the conclusion to which I’m about to drive that its foundational truth – foundational! – is the statement: “For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live…” You know about that, right? How the Heavenly Father, in the presence of death, may simply snap His fingers and – BOOM! – you’re back to life?
To Jesus, this spoken half-sentence seems almost a casual reference; for His First Century Jewish listeners, they’ve only ever heard of three such cases in all recorded human history: Elijah and the widow’s son; Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman; and that guy whose body got thrown into Elisha’s tomb, touched his bones and came back to life. Yes - Jesus says - “For just as the Father raises the dead… so does the Son give life to any man He chooses.”
For me, in preparing to teach through this chapter, I’ve often just stared into space at the wonder of that thought! Do you grasp the equivalency that Jesus is purposely setting up here: “For just as…so…”? How would you react if you were at a funeral and the dead person suddenly sat up in their coffin and came back to life? You would jump out of your skin. Yet, according to Jesus, your natural reaction to that should mirror the way people are consistently reacting to the New Life expressing itself in and through you...
Which brings me to my point: “Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.” The very next time that that phrasing “even greater things” is used – μείζονα in the Greek – here is what Jesus is saying: “I assure you that the man who believes in me will do the same things that I have done, yes, and he will do even greater things than these, for I am going away to the Father.” (John 14:12)
Do you understand? According to John 5:20, the Father is planning to show the Son “even greater things” that will fill the world the whole world with wonder; and where, according to John 14:12, will those “even greater things” occur? In our lives!
May it be so today!
"We did not want any of you to lose heart at the troubles you were going through, but to realize that we Christians must expect such things. Actually we did warn you what to expect, when we were with you, and our words have come true, as you know. You will understand that, when the suspense became unbearable, I sent someone to find out how your faith was standing the strain, and to make sure that the tempter’s activities had not destroyed our work." 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
Hear Jesus Himself along these same lines: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world will hate you. Do you remember what I said to you, ‘The servant is not greater than his master’? If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you as well, but if they have followed my teaching, they will also follow yours. They will do all these things to you as my disciples because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. The man who hates me, hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them things that no other man has ever done, they would not have been guilty of sin, but as it is they have seen and they have hated both me and my Father. Yet this only fulfills what is written in their Law — ‘They hated me without a cause.’ But when the helper comes, that is, the Spirit of truth, who comes from the Father and whom I myself will send to you from the Father, he will speak plainly about me. And you yourselves will also speak plainly about me for you have been with me from the first.” (John 15)
Certainly Paul had sat with Peter and John and the others, and been told of these very words from Jesus. He knew plain-speaking about Him would invariably result in trouble… and so must we! But if we learn to receive our life, good and bad, as if from the Lord’s hand, we’ll learn to look to Him at all times, even in hardship. The pains we bear we’ll learn to bear for this exalted reason:
“Your fight against sin has not yet meant the shedding of blood, and you have perhaps lost sight of that piece of advice which reminds you of our sonship in God: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives’. Bear what you have to bear as ‘chastening’ — as God’s dealing with you as sons. No true son ever grows up uncorrected by his father. For if you had no experience of the correction which all sons have to bear you might well doubt the legitimacy of your sonship. After all, when we were children we had fathers who corrected us, and we respected them for it. Can we not much more readily submit to a heavenly Father’s discipline, and learn how to live?” (Hebrews 12:4-9)
Now as the feast of unleavened bread, called the Passover, was approaching, fear of the people made the chief priests and scribes try desperately to find a way of getting rid of Jesus. Then a diabolical plan came into the mind of Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve. He went and discussed with the chief priests and officers a method of getting Jesus into their hands. They were delighted and arranged to pay him for it. He agreed, and began to look for a suitable opportunity for betrayal when there was no crowd present. (Luke 22:1-6)
Where does this whole tragic plot really spring from? From “fear of the people,” we are told: fear of the people getting carried away with this Jesus and possibly doing something rash or foolhardy that will upset all the norms. But, as Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man will prove to be a snare…” It certainly was for Judas and these religious leaders...
The reality for us: It’s the level to which we do get carried away with Jesus that sets us free from the fear of man. For, "He has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.' We, therefore, can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’" (Hebrews 13:5b,6)
“My friend George Mallory, for instance, who later disappeared close to the summit of Mount Everest, once did an inexplicable climb on Snowdon. He had left his pipe on a ledge, half-way down one of the Lliwedd precipices, and scrambled back by a short cut to retrieve it, then up again by the same route. No one saw what route he took, but when they came to examine it the next day for official record, they found an overhang nearly all the way. By a rule of the Climbers’ Club climbs are never named in honor of their inventors, but only describe natural features. An exception was made here. The climb was recorded as follows: ‘Mallory’s Pipe, a variation on Route 2; see adjoining map. This climb is totally impossible. It has been performed once, in failing light, by Mr. G.H.L. Mallory.’” Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That
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"But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us," the father said to Jesus.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24)
Then Jesus reprimanded the evil spirit and it went out of the boy, who was cured from that moment. Afterwards the disciples approached Jesus privately and asked, “Why weren’t we able to get rid of it?”
“Because you have so little faith,” replied Jesus. “I assure you that if you have as much faith as a grain of mustard-seed you can say to this hill, ‘Up you get and move over there!’ and it will move—you will find nothing is impossible.” Matthew 17:18-21
This is one of those encouraging-discouraging texts that can hit us totally differently depending on how our life's going, how we're feeling, how we're perceiving the nearness or distance of Jesus on a particular day. But reading it, this week, I couldn't stop thinking of something my friend, Joe Farrell, said a few weeks back, when the Anchor class was "out on the water" with Peter, walking on water to Jesus. Joe said, "Given the fact that a little tiny mustard seed is the Kingdom of Heaven, isn't it sort of a compliment to Peter to even be called a 'little-faith'?" And so here we are again: A mustard seed-sized faith, which again is the starting-point for the growth and flourishing of the Kingdom, is all that's needed to do the impossible within that Kingdom. If you can believe just that little, tiny, teensy-weensy bit, the rest is entirely Him.
But the most hideous activity possible in the Church is comparing faiths: the kind of thing where people say, or imply, "Well, you must not have believed enough for that..." How silly. Do we really think the relative size of our mustard seeds matters in that way, like, "Well, mine is this big; yours is only that big"?
The animating force in all this is Jesus: Jesus alone!
So when you're in a situation requiring belief - for a healing, an answer to prayer, just to get through a day - here is your only job: Believe in this Man just a little seed-sized amount. That way, if - in that moment - you don't see the exact answer you were praying for, you may confidently take His answer for what it is. No more wheedling, wishy-washy talk of "His Will" is needed. You can know His Will by believing that little amount, asking Him, and weighing His exact response... NOW.
"Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who have obeyed the call, who are loved by God the Father and kept in the faith by Jesus Christ—may you ever experience more and more of mercy, peace and love!" Jude v. 1,2
Two things here. First, as Jude tells us immediately, he is - like us - a servant of Jesus Christ and, he tells us, a brother of "James" - probably James the leader of the Jerusalem fellowship, James the writer of the Book of James, and, most importantly, James the brother of Jesus - meaning, Jude too is one of Jesus' brothers. Wow. One more time to get to read from the perspective of a family-member of Jesus who, despite their intimacy, eventually because of that intimacy, realizes that He is, in fact, the Christ. Imagine that! Imagine praying to, and worshipping, your very own Brother!
Second thing: There are a pair of Greek words in verse 1 that, if we stop to pay attention, could fundamentally change our theology of what all's going on between us and Jesus. The words τετηρημένοις κλητοῖς - "having been kept called (in Christ Jesus)" - are in the Perfect Participle tense and mood, meaning that - in the past - Jesus called you, once and for all time, and - in the past - He already did everything that was necessary to keep you called, now and for all time.
It's little phrases like this one that tend to make me realize I've only just begun to scratch the surface of what "It is Finished" actually means for me. Thank you, Jesus, for one more insight!
“Important events – whether serious, happy or unfortunate – do not change a man’s soul, they merely bring it into relief, just as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it blows off all its leaves. Such events highlight what is hidden in the shadows; they nudge the spirit toward a place where it can flourish.”
Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française
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"When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him." James 1:2-5
"Jesus left there, walked along the shore of the lake of Galilee, then climbed the hill and sat down. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them people who were lame, crippled, blind, mute and many others. They simply put them down at his feet and he healed them. The result was that the people were astonished at seeing mute men speak, crippled men healed, lame men walking about and blind men having recovered their sight. And they praised the God of Israel." Matthew 15:29-31
What would you think I mean if I said that "Christianity" should be nothing less, and nothing more, than these three verses?
Might I mean that it's only Jesus, alive, ever on the move, and that proximity to Him is everything?
Or that it's properly peopled by broken people, needy people, sinful people who actually expect to be forever set free?
Might I mean that "Christianity" without expectancy, without verifiable human results, is actually foolishness? Might I?
And that the goal of all this is wholehearted praise and robust direct interconnectedness with the Godhead?
What do you think? Do you think that's what I mean?
Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and after turning the minds of the people against Paul they stoned him and dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead. But while the disciples were gathered in a circle round him, Paul got up and walked back to the city... (Acts 14:19,20a)
Since the very first time that I ever read the Book of Acts – I was probably in my mid-teens – I have always been overwhelmed by this moment. Imagine if you’d seen it; if you’d been standing in that circle around him. You’d seen the mob form; you’d seen the stones start to fly: the sickening sound of their striking Paul’s flesh; you’d watched him crumple; you’d watched the people ripping at his clothes and dragging his (you thought) corpse outside the city gates, where then, like a ragdoll, they’d thrown him into a ditch at the side of the road…
Moments later, he gasps.
Painfully, impossibly slowly, stands to his feet.
Then, turning around, waving away your help, reenters the city whose populace just tried to put him to death for speaking the name Jesus.
With moments like this, you always want to find words that best sum up the spirit and sense of exactly what’s going on; words that simply say it all. Well, I believe I’ve got them for this scene; they are words written later by Paul himself to the Ephesian church. He wrote: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1).
Friends, how highly do you rate “the calling you have received”?
"While Jesus was in Jerusalem at Passover-time, during the festivities many believed in him as they saw the signs that he gave. But Jesus, on his side, did not trust himself to them — for he knew them all. He did not need anyone to tell him what people were like: he understood human nature." John 2:23-25
There’s a subtlety in the language of these verses that is huge for our understanding of Jesus and Belief. Three times in John 2, we are told that people “believed” in Him – the disciples at Cana, the disciples at the Resurrection, and “many” during this particular week. They had seen a man, seen His actions, heard His voice, watched His ways, and then they “believed” - ἐπίστευσαν - in Him. In our modern usage, this most generally means we’ve given intellectual assent to a set of beliefs about Jesus and what we know of His life. Which, let's be honest, for most of us, most of the time, is most like an add-on to our lifestyle and current way-of-life…
Not so for His disciples.
For them, “belief” implied a complete change of life; a physical following: to “believe” was to entrust one’s whole life to the object of that belief; in this case, Jesus Himself…
And particularly damning of our modern “add-on” accessorizing Christianity are verses 2:24 and 25. Here’s what they say in the precision of the Greek: “But on his side, Jesus Himself did not believe (ἐπίστευεν) in them, because of His knowing all. He had no need that any should testify concerning man; He indeed knew what was in man.” Unregenerated (or half-regenerated) human nature was not “believable” to Jesus. He knew that what was needed was wholesale death of the flesh and rebirth into Hisnature, that nature being the very one His disciples had “believed” in.
Do we understand that He alone – living His life within our lives – is the only life truly believable?
"Note the implication here — to say that Christ 'ascended' means that he must previously have 'descended,' that is from the height of Heaven to the depth of this world. The one who made this descent is identically the same person as he who has now ascended high above the very Heavens — that the whole universe from lowest to highest might know his presence." Ephesians 4:9,10
What an amazing picture of the Incarnation and Ascension! Jesus, the One who so humbled Himself that He’d leave His throne and be born into squalor, is the very same One who has now ascended and retaken that throne. You and I are the privileged ones now tasked with making His “presence” known to others; in fact, to “the whole universe.”
Andrew Murray paints this beautifully in The Holiest of All: The Resurrection occurs; forty days pass; Jesus ascends; then, ten days later, come the events of Pentecost. Murray’s assertion is that the Holy Spirit had witnessed the activity and glory of Jesus’ return-to-Heaven and then came to bear witness from within us to that glory.
That is what your day is "for" today. Now let's go live it to the full.
"For when a man has something, more is given to him till he has plenty. But if he has nothing even his nothing will be taken away from him. This is why I speak to them in these parables; because they go through life with their eyes open, but see nothing, and with their ears open, but understand nothing of what they hear. They are the living fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.' But how fortunate you are to have eyes that see and ears that hear! Believe me, a great many prophets and good men have longed to see what you are seeing and they never saw it. Yes, and they longed to hear what you are hearing and they never heard it." Matthew 13:12-17
Because Jesus is meaning, is life, is the Way, is God, is Heaven come to set all things right, then we are perfectly within our rights to revisit everything He's just said from the vantage-point of what His chosen proximity to us has accomplished. We should not just understand, but experience this:
“For when a man, a woman, has JESUS, more and more is given to him until he has plenty: his cup truly overflows. And if he has JESUS even his little will be added to until he has absolutely everything. This is why He speaks to us in our hearts by His Spirit; so that we may go through life with our eyes open, seeing EVERYTHING, and with our ears open, understanding EVERYTHING HE HAS FOR US. We will be a living fulfillment – in reverse – of Isaiah’s prophecy, which would say: ‘Hearing we will hear and shall forever understand, and seeing we will see and be blessed to perceive; for the heart of His people has grown vibrant and alive: full of life. Our ears are keen to hear His voice, and our eyes He has opened, so that we may see Him with our eyes and hear Him with our ears, and that we may understand with our hearts and turn, and there He is: our Healer. And oh! how fortunate we are to have eyes that see and ears that hear HIM! It is true: a great many prophets and good men once longed to see JESUS and yet they never saw HIM. Yes, and they longed to hear what we are hearing - and they never heard HIM.”
Friends, are we not overwhelmed with joy to be in the Heavenly position we are?! Our lives are the inheritance the whole Old Testament full of saints positively yearned for! Thank you, Jesus!
When Jesus emerged from his retreat he saw a vast crowd and was very deeply moved and cured the sick among them. As evening fell his disciples came to him and said, “We are right in the wilds here and it is very late. Send away these crowds now, so that they can go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
“There’s no need for them to go away,” returned Jesus. “You give them something to eat!”
“But we haven’t anything here,” they told him, “except five loaves and two fish.”
To which Jesus replied, “Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:14-18)
Which, in my opinion, may be the most powerful line in this whole very famous narrative: "Bring them here to me." Five loaves and two fish are clearly not enough for these thousands of people: "Bring them here to me."Jesus, I'm not sure if we have enough to make it through this next month: "Bring that here to me." Jesus, I'm between jobs and getting pretty anxious: "Bring that here to me." Jesus, our entire modern financial system is built upon contradictions and contraventions to what you said about money, wealth and possessions: "Bring yourself here to me."
If this whole account of the "Feeding of the 5000" is the perfect picture of how Jesus will provide and take care of us, then this opening line tells us where to begin: "Bring them here to me." Your life is already in His hands, my friends: it's your will and your trust being placed there that will close the circuit on all this.
Bring it here to Him.
"No proofs were given of [Jesus's] teaching, except the truth, except the correspondence of the teaching with the truth. The whole teaching consisted in the knowledge of the truth and in following it, in a greater and ever greater approximation to it, in matters of life. According to this teaching, there are no acts which can justify a man, make him righteous; there is only the model of truth which attracts all hearts, for the inner perfection — in the person of Christ, and for the outer — in the realization of the kingdom of God. The fulfillment of the teaching is only in the motion along a given path, in the approximation to perfection — the inner — the imitation of Christ, and the outer — the establishment of the kingdom of God."
Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You
"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.