"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!
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.
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!
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)
"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!
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!
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!
At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua gathers the people of Israel to give them his last words before he's parted from them forever. Both the final two chapters are his words to them: very poignant and pointed. But it struck me last summer that, if you only changed the context a little, changing some phrasing and the background of which Covenant we're under, his words are amazingly like something Jesus could've said.
So, as a start to our workweek, consider Joshua 23 in that new, New Covenant way:
Once the forty days after the Resurrection had passed, after Jesus had given 'life and life to the full' to His believers, and He was ready to return to the Father, He called for His disciples, for their hearers and eventual spiritual descendants, for you and for me, and said to all of us, “I have completed the days of my earthly ministry; I have died and, in your sight, lived again. You have seen all that the Father can do through my Name; for it is the Father who has lived His life in me, and I in Him. Behold, I have allotted to you the very same interrelationship – we call it 'Abiding' – to be an inheritance for you, starting in Jerusalem with my disciples, into Judaea, into Samaria and, eventually, to the ends of the earth. By living our heavenly life within you, I, the Father, and our dear friend, the Holy Spirit, will thrust Satan from before you, and drive him from out of your sight. You shall possess my Kingdom, as I have spoken to you.
“Therefore be very courageous to daily approach my Throne with confidence, to Abide in me as I Abide in you, in order that you may keep and do all that I have spoken to my disciples and will speak to your spirit, that you do not turn aside from me to the right hand or to the left; that you do not continue on anymore as a slave to sin, or to the world that remains around you; neither make mention of the name of their cultural gods, nor cause to swear by their seeming power or intrigue, neither serve their idolatrous needs, nor bow down yourselves to the world’s fleeting pleasures and experiences; but Abide in me, and I in you, as I invite you to do everyday.
“For I have driven out the evil one from before you forever. But as for you, no plan of his can prosper against you now that you are part of my Kingdom. One man of you shall stand against a thousand of his temptations; for it is I, Jesus, your Savior who fights for you, as I am speaking to you now. Take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you Abide in me, even as I Abide in you.
“But if you do at all go back, if you forget that you are now a slave to righteousness, no longer to sin, if you fall under the sway of the world, of Self, of sin, and make mistakes among them, and go in their ways, and they take over yours; know for a certainty that I, Jesus, will forgive you in my sight; and that I shall take ahold of you, chasten you as a good Father, looking you in the eyes, until you learn to love my good land, my wondrous Kingdom, my Way, which I, Jesus, have given to you personally.
“Behold, today I am going to ascend back to my Father. You know in all your hearts and souls that not one thing has failed to be revealed in Me of all the good things which the Father spoke concerning Me. All has happened so that you may believe. Not one good and glorious promise has failed to be fulfilled in Me. It shall happen that as all the good things of your Heavenly inheritance come to you of which the Father spoke through Me, so the Father will bring on you even more good things, until he has built up in you the fullness of the Kingdom which He has already given you, while you obey the New Covenant, sworn between Myself and My Father, which I have sealed for you in My blood, and then go into all the world to serve Me, and bow your hearts before Me. Then the Father’s delight will be kindled towards you, and you will live forever in the heavenly reality which He has given to you.”
Let's follow Him into this week, Brothers and Sisters!
“The Holy Spirit is the great gift of the [New] Covenant. His coming from heaven was the proof that the Mediator of the Covenant was on the throne in glory, and could now make us partakers of the heavenly life.
"He is the only teacher of what the Covenant means: dwelling in our heart, He wakens there the thought and the desire for what God has prepared for us.
"He is the Spirit of faith, who enables us to believe the otherwise incomprehensible blessing and power in which the New Covenant works, and to claim it as our own.
"He is the Spirit of grace and of power, by whom the obedience of the Covenant and the fellowship with God can be maintained without interruption.
"He Himself is the Possessor and the Bearer and the Communicator of all the Covenant promises, the Revealer and the Glorifier of Jesus, its Mediator and Surety.
"To believe fully in the Holy Spirit, as the present and abiding and all-comprehending gift of the New Covenant, has been to many a one an entrance into its fullness of blessing.”
Andrew Murray, The Two Covenants
"God has given you all a certain amount of spiritual insight..." 1 John 2:20a, Phillips translation
If you were reading along through 1 John 2 and came across this clause, you'd probably keep on reading without giving it much additional attention. But I want us to stop and check on the translation given here and, really, the translation given to this verse in almost every major English Bible translation. If you went and grabbed your own Bible, it'd probably read close to what the ESV says: "You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth."
But what that last part of that phrase really says in the Greek is far more thrilling, far more in line with a promise that Jesus made to us Himself: "and you know all things." Do you see the difference?
"All of you know the truth" v. "You know all things"
When Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit "will teach you all things" (Jn. 14:26), when the Apostle Paul wrote that we "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16), do you think that we were supposed to receive those promises as "all having some of the truth," like a scratching at the surface, or, as John appears to be hinting at here, and by the glorious power of the Holy Spirit, that all of us are meant to be learning to know all of Jesus?
What Jesus promised, and what Paul later wrote and proclaimed, are both part of the New Birth experience; we are actually called to hear, to learn and to know - as both Jesus and John say it - "all things."
Hear me: There's more for you. Today. Now feel free to go and get what's yours!
John the Baptist: "It is true that I baptize you with water as a sign of your repentance, but the one who follows me is far stronger than I am — indeed I am not fit to carry his shoes. He will baptize you with the fire of the Holy Spirit..." Matthew 3:11
Isn't it fascinating that the forerunner of the Kingdom, the only one with the microphone, the voice crying in the wilderness to make the Way ready and the path straight, when he describes the intent and scope of Jesus's coming work, says it's what?
"He will baptize you with the fire of the Holy Spirit."
John the Baptist says that Jesus is primarily, too, a baptizer. And why does this matter so much to John, why should it matter so much to us? Romans 7:6 - “…We are free to serve God not in the old obedience to the letter of the Law, but in a new way, in the Spirit.”
John's work, John's life was to prepare for the new Way of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is a Kingdom of the Spirit, not the Law. The old was over, the new had come, and the bringer of this baptism of the Holy Spirit was just coming over the nearest hill, right about now...
Do we know that One for ourselves?
When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.
Today, I am challenging you to live in the true reality that there's complete uniformity of concrete experience available in the progression of the words in these verses. When your "foot slips" - either your actual foot or you just "feel like you're slipping" - stop and do nothing and wait for an actual, practical experience of His unfailing love to bubble up from within you. When anxiety feels great and overwhelming within you, I personally challenge you to stop what you're doing and talk to Him and wait not only for His peace (which will come, by the way) but even, far more fantastically, for Him to lift your heart unto a joy that conquers the world: His own joy!
These are the offerings He has for you. Unfailing love and Joy.
“Spiritual power is seldom found because it is so often sought. It cannot be found if sought directly. If sought directly for itself, the seeking will be tinged, most likely, with desire for spiritual power for purposes of personal success in religious work, for the acclaim that comes to anyone who spiritually excels. This introduces a fatal element. Spiritual power is a by-product of something deeper. It comes out of inward fellowship with God and abandonment to his purposes. Most of us have no spiritual power because we are not abandoned. ‘Blessed are the pure [literally, the single-minded] in heart: for they shall see God.’ We are not single-minded, hence we do not see God in inner fellowship and in outward power. It is not that we do not love him but that we do not love him completely. We give to him, but do not give up to him.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
On three Sabbath days Paul argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and quoting passages to prove the necessity for the death of Christ and his rising again from the dead. “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you,” he concluded, “is God’s Christ!” Some of them were convinced and threw in their lot with Paul and Silas, and they were joined by a great many believing Greeks and a considerable number of influential women.
But the Jews, in a fury of jealousy, got hold of some of the unprincipled loungers of the market-place gathered a crowd together and set the city in an uproar. Then they attacked Jason’s house in an attempt to bring Paul and Silas out before the people. When they could not find them they hustled Jason and some of the brothers before the civic authorities, shouting, “These are the men who have turned the world upside down and have now come here…” Acts 17:2b-6
Which is certainly my favorite accusation against the Early Church that we ever get to hear of. ἀναστατώσαντες: these men have "unsettled" the world; have shifted the ground beneath the world’s feet; have upset the established way of doing things, doing normalcy, doing life…
Yet before we start thinking in the wrong direction – how we need to start being more “outspoken,” more “visible,” more “radical” – let’s remind ourselves of how, to date in Acts, Paul and his companions have gone about “unsettling” everything. They have proclaimed Jesus in Jewish synagogues and, when asked to, before whole cities of people interested to hear of this Gospel. They have, at times, persevered in cities where they weren’t wanted and, at others, simply gone with the flow and left. They have performed physical healings; encouraged people; shown tremendous spiritual courage; endured hardship; and seen people the world around them chooses not to see. When you read all that – the content of the first two Missionary Journeys – who does it start to sound like?
Paul and Silas, Luke and Timothy, Barnabas and John Mark – The whole Early Church – “unsettled” the world because they were a direct living extension of the actual life of Jesus. There were no other tricks up their sleeve; only His alive life. And coming up against that, the world had no answers.
Since you probably know that I don't particularly admire "apologetics," here’s a thought to consider: Rather than trying to “defend our faith,” what if we just got down to living it, living HIM, so that all the world’s counterpoints become indefensible? Because what unsettled the Thessalonian populace was not really “these men,” it was the shining contrast of Jesus standing back of them. It was like experiencing the Mount of Transfiguration after a lifetime of darkness.
Just as He took on flesh to become Himself - the Man, Jesus of Nazareth - so, today, that same Son will be attempting to take on your flesh, attempting to just as fully live His life again in you... if only you'll let Him.
“Pentecost showed us the way to a spiritual democracy that would have saved us from contentious centuries during which Christendom struggled over orders and validities and supremacies. When the question of validity of orders and successions is being discussed I find myself falling asleep. I am simply not interested. It is all so irrelevant. For here at Pentecost the highest was open to a person as a person, and Peter and James and John stood in a position not one whit different from the humblest of seekers and believers. The Holy Spirit was given alike to all, and this directly and immediately without the intervention of anyone. For it must be noted that when the Spirit came no one was leading the meeting.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
Here's a simple way to describe what we could be after today:
Psalm 48:8a - "As we have heard, so have we seen..."
Let's spend today in expectation of seeing, experiencing, and living those beliefs that we have always heard so much about. Rather than listening to a sermon, nodding our heads, and going out the door into our "normal lives," let's listen with a heart that will expect all those truths to live in our lives in reality.
For either this Jesus is truly alive and ready to minister in/through us by His Holy Spirit... or we should stop pretending that we believe what we say we believe.
“Draw a line through the New Testament and on one side is spiritual fumbling, hesitancy, inadequacy, defeat, and on the other side is certainty, courage, adequacy, victory. That line runs straight through Pentecost. When we read the Acts of the Apostles, which is taken up with the doings of the apostles after Pentecost, we are struck with the incongruity between the apostles and their acts. Here were very ordinary men doing extraordinary things, thinking in an extraordinary way, leaving an extraordinary effect in the changed lives of men and society. The very temper and spirit of their lives was extraordinary. They seemed to have found power by which to live. And far from being rampant emotionalism the striking thing is their amazing balance and sanity. They burned with zeal, but they met issues and crises of the most far-reaching consequences and met them with poise and insight. They picked their way through intellectual and moral bogs and quagmires and marked out paths which we today tread with safety and salvation. And, more than that, they brought to bear upon life a power that redeemed men and made them immediately God-conscious; that changed the moral and spiritual climate; that turned dull, drab life into the spiritually delightful and taught a sad world to sing..."
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
Paul speaking in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, from Acts 13 - “Men and brothers, sons of the race of Abraham, and all among you who fear God, it is to us that this message of salvation has now been sent!”
Do you ever have the experience, when you’re reading through the scriptures, of reading through a particular verse or sentence, and, when you get to the punctuation mark at its ending, there’s something inside you that says, “There’s something more about that verse”? Do you know what I’m talking about – that sensation? Well, it happened to me strongly with those words, that verse: verse 26. (And I’d love to remind you that you should always stop and wait upon Him whenever you yourself have that experience while reading the Word. For, nine times out of ten, I bet you, it’s the Holy Spirit working out His ways within you…)
So what, for me, did I learn from waiting with that last verse? The importance of the present moment, over and above the past or future, when it comes to the full salvation Jesus has already bought us. Here’s what I mean: For Paul’s hearers in the synagogue that day, “salvation” from God was entirely a system of promises from Yahweh, anchored in their people’s Old Testament past; and a distant someday-hope, glowing out there in the ever unknowable future. But now – right now – Paul tells them, even as they sit in their uncomfortable seats in their small local synagogue, “it is to us” – meaning himself, Barnabas and them – “that this message of salvation has now been sent.” Can you imagine hearing that? That not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today you may – right now – interact with the message that will save and set you free?
I think the reason I’m so fiery about this idea is because I realize how often we don’t properly interact right now – not in the past, not in the future – with all that Jesus offers. We conflate “knowledge about” with Knowing Him, and wishful hopefulness with Hope; and we’re so often left with a present “experience” of Jesus that has nothing to do with the experiential, experimental moment-by-moment, day-by-day life in Union with Him that is actually what this is meant to be.
But is that what we want?
[The wily Gibeonites said to Joshua] - “Your servants have come from a very far country because of the name of Yahweh your God; for we have heard of his fame, all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon and to Og king of Bashan, who was at Ashtaroth. Our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, ‘Take supplies in your hand for the journey, and go to meet them. Tell them, “We are your servants. Now make a covenant with us.”’ This our bread we took hot for our supplies out of our houses on the day we went out to go to you; but now, behold, it is dry, and has become moldy. These wine skins, which we filled, were new; and behold, they are torn. These our garments and our shoes have become old because of the very long journey.” The men sampled their provisions, and didn’t ask counsel from Yahweh’s mouth. (Joshua 9:9-14)
When we read this account, our temptation may be to scoff at the foolishness of watching Yahweh hold up a river, shatter a city with shouts, turn the tide of battle supernaturally, and yet not pause here for a little prayer. But, really, don’t we do the same thing everyday?
Consider all the countless ways you’ve seen the hand of the Lord manifest His miracles across the whole sweep of your life in Him – and even before you knew Him. Think of how He’s personally proven Himself to be so present in your circumstances; how He’s, in fact, given you His Holy Spirit to be your “Counselor.” Yet not a day passes when we don’t forget to ask counsel from Yahweh’s mouth; we’ll consult just about anything and anyone – our friends, our feelings, our first impulse – before we approach Him. And yet, my friends, there is nothing that we can’t approach Him for; He delights to counsel and lead and guide His children – let us come to Him! Yes, let us approach Him for His counsel, right now, today, all day long, and everyday, as He delights to incline His ear to our questions and considerations!
"Let the presence of God be thy one desire; the will of God thy one choice; the help of God thy one trust; the likeness to God thy one hope. Let every day, the most ordinary one, the most difficult one, be a day with God, as one of the days of heaven upon earth, a day of which faith is the beginning and the end."
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
My prayer for you is that you may have still more love — a love that is full of knowledge and wise insight. I want you to be able always to recognize the highest and the best, and to live sincere and blameless lives until the day of Jesus Christ. I want to see your lives full of true goodness, produced by the power that Jesus Christ gives you to the praise and glory of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
What were Paul’s great hopes for his friends in Philippi?
1) that they “may have still more love”…and of what kind? “full of knowledge and wise insight”
2) that they’d “recognize the highest and the best”
3) that they’d “live sincere and blameless lives” that were “full of true goodness, produced by the power” of Jesus.
In essence, he wants their thoughts and activities to be on a plane of heavenly, Christ-likeness: no longer worldly and earth-bound. And so, how were they – how are we – to achieve that goal? By more earnest striving? By more and more rigorous study? No! It’s Jesus Himself who has “more love” – is love! – “full of knowledge and wise insight” that’s ours for the taking. It’s Jesus Himself who always recognizes “the highest and the best” and is “sincere and blameless” Himself.
So, along those lines, let me tell you my favorite “Chapter 2 realities” - the two greatest “newnesses” we’re given by Jesus that just so happen to land in the second chapters of their respective books: In Acts 2, we receive the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit of God supplants our formerly human spirit forever! And, in 1 Corinthians 2, we’re told we possess the “mind of Christ”; our wayward human mind is superseded by the very thoughts of Jesus! Mind and spirit, my friends, we’ve been granted complete newness! All of Paul’s best hopes for his friends in Philippi are only possible in their personal life of abiding in the Living Jesus. And the same is so for us today.
After a number of the disciples are arrested, from Acts 5:
Then Peter and the apostles answered the High Priest, “It is our duty to obey the orders of God rather than the orders of men. It was the God of our fathers who raised up Jesus, whom you murdered by hanging him on a cross of wood. God has raised this man to his own right hand as prince and savior, to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins to Israel. What is more, we are witnesses to these matters, and so is the Holy Spirit which God gives to those who obey his commands.”
Such bold and courageous words. Such trust in the realities of the Gospel. And while these words read like an amalgam of the messages given in Acts 2, 3 and 4, it’s the opening words Peter uses that capture my heart: “It is our duty to obey the orders of God rather than the orders of men.” As I read and reread those words in thinking through this section, a snippet of scripture kept coming into my mind – “I am under vows to you” – even though I couldn’t remember where exactly that was from. Turns out it’s Psalm 56, when David himself had also been arrested.
My friend, I don’t where today finds you – whether happy or feeling harassed – but, in light of the example of the apostles, their stoutheartedness for the sake of this Gospel we share with them, consider with full heart and ready spirit all of Psalm 56:
Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise--
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
All day long they twist my words;
all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.
Because of their wickedness do not let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.
Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll--
are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise--
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
I am under vows to you, my God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
Yes, Jesus, teach us to follow you like the saints of old! Teach us to live the bold spirit of your Early Church, your first friends!