“Alas for you, you blind leaders! You say, ‘if anyone swears by the Temple it amounts to nothing, but if he swears by the gold of the Temple he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools, which is the more important, the gold or the Temple which sanctifies the gold? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar it doesn’t matter, but if he swears by the gift placed on the altar he is bound by his oath.’ Have you no eyes—which is more important, the gift, or the altar which sanctifies the gift? Any man who swears by the altar is swearing by the altar and whatever is offered upon it; and anyone who swears by the Temple is swearing by the Temple and by him who dwells in it; and anyone who swears by Heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by the one who sits upon that throne." Matthew 23:16-22
Yesterday, at the Anchor gathering, we talked about how, if you invert the wordings/meanings of Matthew 23, you end up with a glorious picture of the New Covenant life that is ours. Take a look at these seven verses, turned upside-down into the Way of Jesus and see what I mean:
“Oh, and blessed are you, you wide-eyed servants! You say, ‘if anyone lives by the Presence of God it amounts to absolutely everything, and if he lives by the inheritance of the Kingdom he is freed by the blood of Jesus.’ You brilliant friends, they are really the same, aren’t they: the Kingdom-inheritance and my Presence that brings the Kingdom? And you also say, ‘If anyone is saved by the Cross, it is life, and if he then lives by the power of the Resurrection, he is given a brand new life.’ Oh! I’m so impressed by your spiritual eyes! For, yes, the two go perfectly together, don’t they: the Cross and the New Life that springs from the tomb? So, any man who lives under the blood of the Cross need only go a step further to meet me at the dawn of Easter and receive the ‘life, life to the full’ I offer. And anyone who lives by my Presence is living already in the Kingdom and by me who dwells in it; and anyone who delves deep into my inheritance is living at the throne of God already, and by me who sits upon that throne."
Isn't it amazing that we follow the Man who spoke Matthew 23's judgments in the new and living Way given by His Spirit? Thank you, Jesus!
On the Way to the Dance-Floor
"Then the king said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is quite ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it. So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’ So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike. And the hall became filled with guests. But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding. ‘How did you come in here, my friend,’ he said to him, ‘without being properly dressed for the wedding?’ And the man had nothing to say. Then the king said to the ushers, ‘Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside. There he can weep and regret his folly!’ For many are invited but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:8-14
Since you and I have already been "invited" to the Wedding Feast, and now are getting ready, standing in front of the mirror, combing our hair, checking our teeth, what are we meant to be wearing... today and everyday?
How about these:
Isaiah 61 – “he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…”
1 Peter 5 – “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
Ephesians 4 – “… be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Colossians 3 – “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…”
Oh, but how will we ever put on all of these things; how will we ever be properly clothed; how will we ever fit in at this wondrous Wedding Feast?!
Romans 13 – “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ…”
The reason that the king in the parable so immediately noticed the wrongly-dressed man was that he specifically wasn't "dressed for a wedding." The reason that this Christianity thing doesn't seem to be working, seems hard, seems burdensome, is because we haven't started by putting Jesus on. "Abide in me," He says, "and I in you."
Friends, don't try to come to the Wedding Feast dressed as yourself: the only way through the door, the only way out onto the dance-floor, is in His likeness. The Father wants to see Jesus. He is the Bridegroom and the way for the Bride to get into the party.
This Royal Privilege
“We must have faith; and let us not apologize for it, for faith is an organ of knowledge and can tell us more about ultimate reality than all the findings of science. We are not opposed to science, but we recognize its proper limitations and refuse to stop where it is compelled to stop. The Bible tells of another world too fine for the instruments of scientific research to discover. By faith we engage that world and make it ours. It is accessible to us through the blood of the everlasting covenant. If we will believe we may even now enjoy the presence of God and the ministry of His heavenly messengers. Only unbelief can rob us of this royal privilege.”
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men
Set Right into Faith
"Think of Abraham, our ancestor. Wasn’t it his action which really justified him in God’s sight when his faith led him to offer his son Isaac on the altar? Can’t you see that his faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners—that his faith was implemented by his deed? That is what the scripture means when it says: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.’ A man is justified before God by what he does as well as by what he believes." James 2:21-24
How does that last verse - 2:24 - read in the language of the original Greek?
"You see that a man is set right by works, and not by faith alone."
Let's examine that idea, step by step: If Jesus came to live the works of the Kingdom of Heaven, then we can see precisely what the life of Heaven is like by reading His exploits in the four Gospels. Yet external works were not enough for Jesus, were they? He wanted to get those works inside the hearts of those who'd repent and believe in Him.
So He died to end the separating influence and condemnation of Sin, thus giving us the possibility of being made a pure dwelling-place of His Presence. And then He rose to conquer human death, and so that He might be alive to reign over the Kingdom and rule it from within us. Then, ascending, He took His place at the head of all Kingdom of Heaven affairs, and, in sending the Holy Spirit, took His place directly in the hearts of His people...
So the reason that our justification - our being "set right" - is found in both faith and works is because, in faith and works, we are a union-place of Jesus-then and Jesus-now: we show the Kingdom as it was in the three years of His personal ministry - when He was making humanity right - and the Kingdom as it is now - with Jesus forever on the throne.
It is our joy - and our job - to act as the junction for the inner and outer workings of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us be living that life with relish this Easter Week!
Beginning with Belief
One of the twelve, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came [back from the dead]. The other disciples kept on telling him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he replied, “Unless I see in his own hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe!” (John 20:24,25)
Can you imagine how long this next week must’ve been for Thomas? After arriving back to the upper room, after seeing the looks on those faces, after hearing the explanation of the Resurrection, Thomas probably felt so confused by something so implausible, hurt to be the only outsider, and, maybe, a little annoyed at the appearance of the disciples’ giddy group-dynamic.
So, immediately, Thomas takes up what will become his weeklong litany to the others: “Unless I see, I won’t believe.” Really, Thomas has chosen one of the only three available positions for all mankind in face of the news of the Resurrection. These are:
1) Total disbelief without provisions or conditions
2) Potential belief, entirely conditional upon further proofs (this is Thomas)
3) Belief as the foundation, with expectancy as the new condition of life
Since you’re reading these words from me, chances are you’re not currently in the first group: you’ve probably already opened your heart to, at least, the beginnings of Belief. So then, from there, what sounds better to you: To base your every single decision about belief on the closed system of your own intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion; or, beginning with belief that “It is finished,” that death is dead, that you are a Son or Daughter of God, to instead deliver over your intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion, in order to be invested with the very life of Heaven?
Thomas’ first impulse is to say, “If it’s real, Jesus can come to me.” (And you and I do the same - and say the same - and feel the same - all the time.) But, friends, Jesus already has come to us, visited us, done absolutely everything that we might experience the fullness of the heavenly life today. True life is found in being swallowed up in these promises, not in constantly postulating on whether or not belief is in our day-to-day best interest.
Jesus, teach us how to believe you without reservation - today! We want more!
Released & Harnessed
Now there were in the Church at Antioch both prophets and teachers — Barnabas, for example, Simeon surnamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen the foster-brother of the governor Herod, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, saying, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task to which I have called them.” At this, after further fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them and set them free for this work. (Acts 13:1-3)
For your own Bible-reading interest, this would be the fourth example of the laying-on of hands in the book of Acts, and what is it for, this particular time? To “set them free for this work.”
And compared to every other Biblical translation, this translator, J.B. Phillips, does a pretty good job of giving a properly robust rendering of what Luke actually wrote there. Most every other translation just reads, “And they sent them off.” Blah!
When the Holy Spirit specifically calls a man or woman – which, remember, He’s done for each of us who’ve given their life to Jesus – I want you to read, by the definitions of the word Luke uses, just how totally He calls you out – and then back in:
You are “loosed from,” “set free, released, relieved from,” “acquitted of,” “freed by payment of ransom from,” “discharged from,” “divorced from,” “dismissed from” your former life...
and, on the other side, the Calling side:
you are conversely now bound to, yoked with, harnessed to, drawn deeper into, charged with, purchased by payment of ransom for, called further in, permanently married to, and forever appointed to the Heavenly plans planned exactly for you.
I think we wander around far too often, wondering, “Does God even notice me?” when the better question is: “Do we even notice Him?” That list of definitions and counter-definitions you just read is precisely how freely He’s personally set you free and how fully He’s personally set you apart for His work. Now won’t we just give in and BE HIS today?!
At this point the mother of the sons of Zebedee arrived with her sons and knelt in front of Jesus to ask him a favor. “What is it you want?” he asked her. “Please say that these two sons of mine may sit one on each side of you when you are king!” she said.
“You don’t know what it is you are asking,” replied Jesus. “Can you two drink what I have to drink?” “Yes, we can,” they answered.
“Ah, you will indeed ‘drink my drink’,” Jesus told them, “but as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to grant—that belongs to those for whom my Father has planned it.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
Do you know "for whom the Father has planned it"? Have you ever dug a little deeper into that enigmatic turn of phrase?
From Revelation 20: “And I saw thrones, with appointed judges seated upon them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God… They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death cannot touch such men; they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him for the thousand years.”
And who was the one who saw this vision, this Revelation? John, the son of Zebedee.
And who was one of the "souls" he saw, the first, in fact, to be "beheaded for his witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God"? John's own brother, James.
The two men who, on this day, allow their mother to approach Jesus to secure a position, who so confidently affirm their ability to drink the cup of His sufferings, will eventually stand face to face in the Throneroom of Heaven - one there by revelation, the other by gruesome death - and, you know what?
It'll all be worth it. For the sake of this Man, no sacrifice is any sacrifice at all. Losing all, everything is gained in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even to die is to live. Forever. At the right hand of this Man.
Let us run the race He's given us this week with joy... and endurance. He is worth it all.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 with some notes in italics -
But we can thank God continually for you, brothers, whom the Lord loves. He has chosen you from the beginning to save you, to make you holy by the work of his Spirit and your own belief in the truth. Or, in other words: There’s a chosenness from the dawn of time that works hand-in-hand with our (in the Greek) “salvation in the sanctification of the Spirit” and our “belief of the truth.” Or, to put it even more simply: Our Belief, while the Holy Spirit does His inner work in us, is our experience of our "chosen" status.
It was his call that you followed when we preached the Gospel to you, and he has set before you the prospect of sharing the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So stand firm, and hold on! Be loyal to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or in writings. In essence, Paul is saying to the Thessalonians: “Just believe what you already know.” And what a perfect word for us too, today! You and I must cultivate the abiding, deep and first-hand knowledge of Jesus that we presently possess and then live so as to believe Him.
Living all you know of Him is all you have to do today. It really is just that simple!
“It is impossible for a good tree to produce bad fruit — as impossible as it is for a bad tree to produce good fruit. Do not men know what a tree is by its fruit? You cannot pick figs from briars, or gather a bunch of grapes from a blackberry bush! A good man produces good things from the good stored up in his heart, and a bad man produce evil things from his own stores of evil.” (Luke 6:43-45a)
What do you think Jesus’ “fruit” really is; where does it come from? Well, how do you usually define earthly, natural fruit? Isn’t it the sum total of the nutrients, water, oxygen and nourishing sap that flows into the grapes or apples or oranges or berries that are then mindlessly borne?
In the same way, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15) and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5).
Remember: You and I aren’t called to muscle it out as “good Christians” today. Those who are saturated with the Spirit of Jesus will never fail to bear His fruit…
"Now that you are employed by God, you owe no duty to sin, and you reap the fruit of being made righteous, while at the end of the road there is life forevermore." (Romans 6:22)