In Matthew 8, we read a particularly rapid-fire series of encounters between Jesus and... great crowds, a leper, a centurion, Peter's mother-in-law, all the sick and possessed of Capernaum, one of the scribes, a nameless disciple, the Twelve, two demon-possessed men, some swineherds, and the townspeople of a town in the Gaderenes district.
And, reading all this, it occurs to me...
That the rest of our life, having encountered Jesus of Nazareth, is our direct reaction to having encountered Him. And, that if our sense of encounter has dimmed, or our reaction has begun to flag or fail, it is time to encounter Him all over again.
Fresh reaction to fresh encounters will always lead to the fruit He desires to see in our, and others', lives. First-handedness is everything. We cannot lead the heart of another to where ours hasn't been; or isn't, presently, itself.
"For all those words which were written long ago are meant to teach us today; that when we read in the scriptures of the endurance of men and of all the help that God gave them in those days, we may be encouraged to go on hoping in our own time. May the God who inspires men to endure, and gives them a Father’s care, give you a mind united towards one another because of your common loyalty to Jesus Christ. And then, as one man, you will sing from the heart the praises of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So open your hearts to one another as Christ has opened his heart to you, and God will be glorified." (Romans 15:4-7)
Isn't it interesting that when the original readers of these words looked back to "words which were written long ago," they were thinking only of the Old Testament? These words weren't "scripture" to them, then—they were just words written on parchment from a contemporary believer. They thought of Paul as just another follower of Jesus, like themselves. Which, to me, is what makes the last two chapters of Romans just a little more poignant...
And when I think of "endurance," of the "Father's care," of "a mind united towards one another," of a "common loyalty to Jesus Christ," of singing "from the heart," of "opening their hearts to one another as Christ had opened his heart to" them—what period of time do you think I immediately think of?
Those wondrous early days of the Early Church.
In fact, as a Monday refresher for the path we're trying to walk together this week, here's a reminder of what those days were like:
Then those who welcomed [Peter’s Pentecost] message were baptised, and on that day alone about three thousand souls were added to the number of disciples. They continued steadily learning the teaching of the apostles, and joined in their fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer. Everyone felt a deep sense of awe, while many miracles and signs took place through the apostles. All the believers shared everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods and divided the proceeds among the fellowship according to individual need. Day after day they met by common consent in the Temple; they broke bread together in their homes, sharing meals with simple joy. They praised God continually and all the people respected them. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were finding salvation. (Acts 2:41-47)
Among the large number who had become believers there was complete agreement of heart and soul. Not one of them claimed any of his possessions as his own but everything was common property. The apostles continued to give their witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great force, and a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship. Indeed, there was not a single person in need among them. For those who owned land or property would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and place them at the apostles’ feet. They would distribute to each one according to his need. (Acts 4:32-35)
By common consent they all used to meet now in Solomon’s Porch. But as far as the others were concerned no one dared to associate with them, even though their general popularity was very great. Yet more and more believers in the Lord joined them, both men and women in really large numbers. Many signs and wonders were now happening among the people through the apostles’ ministry. In consequence people would bring out their sick into the streets and lay them down on stretchers or bed, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall upon some of them. In addition a large crowd collected from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those who were suffering from evil spirits. And they were all cured. (Acts 5:12-16)
So the Word of God gained more and more ground. The number of disciples in Jerusalem very greatly increased, while a considerable proportion of the priesthood accepted the faith. (Acts 6:7)
The whole Church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria now enjoyed a period of peace. It became established and as it went forward in reverence for the Lord and in the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit, continued to grow in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
[And] the Word of the Lord continued to gain ground and increase its influence. (Acts 12:24)
When you read all that, what specifically sticks out to you for your day today?
"Christianity is not a doctrine, but an existence communication. (This is the source of all the nuisances of orthodoxy, its quarrels about one thing and another, while existence remains totally unchanged.) Christianity is an existence communication and can only be presented – by existing..."
Søren Kierkegaard, from his journals
* * *
"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son."
1 John 1:1-3, Phillips
* * *
Thought for this week: Our "witness" for Jesus is exactly equivalent to our experience of His existence. Nothing else - no "doctrine," no "orthodoxy," no "quarrel" - can stand against our first-hand, practical testimony to His living life. We must prove Him by our personal experience of His present existence.
If you listen to the Unionists podcast, then you've already heard this particular thought. But, recently, in my reading, I was reminded of the life and death of the Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke, and of his haunting WWI poem that seemed to foreshadow his approaching death:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Rereading those words, I was struck by multiple parallels between Brooke's imagery and our Kingdom of Heaven-reality; how the spirit of Jesus lingers on in this world through us. So, imagining Jesus, the ultimate selfless Soldier, writing similar lines to us, I took a stab at an echoing sonnet:
When I ascend, remember only this of Me:
That there's a Spirit whispering in your soul
That is for ever Mine. There shall be
In that reborn life a richer life entirely whole:
A life which is My own, true, perfect in My Way,
Given, once, and always again, to point out Heaven;
The Spirit of My Body, breathing Heaven's ways,
Washed by My blood, enlivened with a higher leaven.
And know, My heart, all evil scorned fore'er,
My life, eternal, lessened not a mite
Will give you, everywhere, My mind and thoughts:
My wisdom, words; dreams joyous as the wind-fresh air;
And laughter, from My heart; and gentle might
Within peaceful hearts, whom Heaven hath bought.
"What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law. And God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, let us be quite clear about that! The same God is ready to justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith also. Are we then undermining the Law by this insistence on faith? Not a bit of it! We put the Law in its proper place." (Romans 3:27-31)
And what is the "proper place" for the Old Covenant Law? By faith, where does it most properly, and permanently, live?
In the mind, body, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth who, daily, perfectly, walked it out, and thus invalidated the power of sin by obeying that Law faultlessly.
In the offered-up life of Jesus, on the Cross, shedding His blood to forever free us from the curse of sin, which was all tangled up in the curses of the Law.
Behind the risen Jesus, left like His burial garments in the abandoned tomb, "finished" in favor of the New Covenant He now offered.
Under the feet of Jesus, as He sits upon the Throne of Heaven, King of Kings of a Kingdom that is founded within all remade hearts.
The Law has been fulfilled forever - in Jesus - and, by following Him, by His Spirit, we too may "put the Law in its proper place." Its proper place is in Him.
By His life, in His death, because of His resurrection, and now, forevermore, as He sits upon the Throne, we are free with the freedom He's earned for us. All life is lived upon "a different plane."
"All our persuading of men, then, is with this solemn fear of God in our minds. What we are is utterly plain to God—and I hope to your consciences as well. (No, we are not recommending ourselves to you again, but we can give you grounds for legitimate pride in us—if that is what you need to meet those who are so proud of the outward rather than the inward qualification). If we have been “mad” it was for God’s glory; if we are perfectly sane it is for your benefit. At any rate there has been no selfish motive. The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ." (2 Corinthians 5:11-14a)
That last sentence ties this whole chapter together; it is the tie that binds: "The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ." The love of Jesus is a never-ending, bubbling, flowing fountain in the inner life that both satisfies our souls and compels us in our outward, others-focused activities. Think of it these ways: the more you drink, the further it overflows; the deeper you swim, the further it spreads out.
In fact, if you read the whole of 2 Corinthians 5, you get a litany of phrases that point out how the love of Jesus is and operates: it is our "permanent house in Heaven," the "full cover...that will be ours," "the life that is eternal," "power"; the love of Jesus is "His Spirit"; it is "our persuading of men," our "inward qualification," our sanity, our "motive": "the very spring of our actions."
So, if I may, I'd like to discourage you and encourage you.
I would discourage you from attempting any form of the "Christian life" where you're not practically becoming familiar with the inward, outward-flowing, personal, personalized, actual love of Jesus of Nazareth. Don't have anything to do with any such disconnected approach.
But, I would encourage you -- today and everyday -- to make the full focus of your day experience and delight-in just how very much He loves you.
Drink deep... that it may overflow.
Swim deeper and deeper... that it may spread further and further.
Remember: "The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ."
Our actions will always manifest in the pattern of their truest source.
This letter comes to you from Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called as a messenger and appointed for the service of that Gospel of God which was long ago promised by the prophets in the holy scriptures. The Gospel is centred in God’s Son, a descendant of David by human genealogy and patently marked out as the Son of God by the power of that Spirit of holiness which raised him to life again from the dead. He is our Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom we received grace and our commission in his name to forward obedience to the faith in all nations. And of this great number you at Rome are also called to belong to him. To you all then, loved of God and called to be Christ’s men and women, grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7)
It strikes you, as you read the very first words of this wondrous epistle, what Paul is up to in this opening: he wants the fellowship at Rome—and all of us—so inextricably tied up and tied into the Name and Person of Jesus that there’s nowhere else for us to go. Consider his preamble in this way:
Jesus… whose servant Paul is… as an appointed messenger of the Gospel… which, for ages past, had been promised by the prophets, in the holy scriptures, who were all of them looking only to--
Jesus… who is God’s Son… and the very center of the Gospel’s good news. Really, the Gospel itself is--
Jesus… that descendant of King David… clearly marked as the Son of God--how? By the power of the Holy Spirit, who, seeing Him dead in our sins, raised Him up to life again--
Jesus… who is our Lord… and who personally brought us grace…and who commissioned us each, personally, to bear His name and His Way to all the nations.
Friends, our belongingness, our position as those beloved by God, our calling as men and women, the grace and peace of God the Father all come from--
Let’s go see what He would have us do this day!
"For the Son of God did not come from above to add an external form of worship to the several ways of life that are in the world, and so to leave people to live as they did before, in such tempers and enjoyments as the fashion and spirit of the world approves; but as He came down from Heaven altogether Divine and heavenly in His own nature, so it was to call mankind to a Divine and heavenly life; to the highest change of their own nature and temper; to be born again of the Holy Spirit; to walk in the wisdom and light and love of God, and to be like Him to the utmost of their power; to renounce all the most plausible ways of the world, whether of greatness, business, or pleasure; to a mortification of all their most agreeable passions; and to live in such wisdom, and purity, and holiness, as might fit them to be glorious in the enjoyment of God to all eternity."
A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life
"If I imagined two kingdoms bordering each other, one of which I knew rather well and the other not at all, and if however much I desired it I was not allowed to enter the unknown kingdom, I would still be able to form some idea of it. I would go to the border of the kingdom known to me and follow it all the way, and in doing so I would by my movements describe the outline of that unknown land and thus have a general idea of it, although I had never set foot in it. And if this was a labor that occupied me very much, if I was unflaggingly scrupulous, it presumably would sometimes happen that as I stood with sadness at the border of my kingdom and gazed longingly into that unknown country that was so near and yet so far, I would be granted an occasional little disclosure."
Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
* * *
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:23-26)
An amplification of Romans 5:5-8, with the verses in bold and my words in regular text:
Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. The Holy Spirit of God, the atmosphere of Heaven itself, the communion-point of the Father and Son, the animating force of all the greatest deeds of the Old Testament, has been given, without reserve, without end, without any restraint to every believer in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is within you--now. He is the exact point on earth--within you—where the “love of God”—the life of Heaven—is choosing to express itself. Your inward experience of, your union with, this Holy Spirit is the way in which you meet and experience the incarnate life and love of Jesus. And what is that love like?
And we can see that it was while we were powerless to help ourselves that Christ died for sinful men. The love of Jesus is powerful…for the powerless. It is the perfect help of Heaven, sent to earth, for all the people of earth--everyone!—who are unable to help themselves. In fact, that is the best definition of the love of Jesus: that it is heavenly; that it cost His life; that it’s for the powerless, ie. all of us. The love of Jesus is the greatest universal, all-encompassing force that has ever swept across the face of this earth. Listen:
In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. And, by the way, it was while we were sinners that He also lived His life for us—just ask Matthew the tax-collector. Or the woman caught in adultery and hauled into the Temple. Or, for that matter, any of His disciples. And, maybe most notably, while He was in the midst of giving His life for the sake of sinners, the criminal who met Him in death—and then met Him again in Paradise. “God’s amazing love” is amazing because of how relentless it is—even beyond the bounds of life and death—in pursuing the sinner. All human history before Jesus was a record of the seeming wrath of God; everything after is a catalogue of the immensity of His love.
"The Master Plan which exists beneath the superficial activities of human beings is now becoming intelligible to them. The reconciliation between the holiness and perfection of God and the selfishness and evil of men has been unforgettably demonstrated. Death, the old dark bogey, has been exposed and resoundingly defeated. And as if this were not enough Good News for human beings to accept, they know now, by the acted parable of the Ascension of Christ, that God and man are eternally inseparable. Humanity is assured of its entry into the timeless life of God. A new dignity has been conferred upon the whole human race for God himself has become a man. New exciting possibilities appear as men begin to understand that the purpose of God’s descent to the human level is to enable them to rise and live as sons of God. And what is more, he is prepared to enter human personalities by his own Spirit to make such dreams come true."
J.B. Phillips, God our Contemporary
"Now if a man works his wages are not counted as a gift but as a fair reward. But if a man, irrespective of his work, has faith in him who justifies the sinful, then that man’s faith is counted as righteousness, and that is the gift of God." Romans 4:4,5
This is so important - let's extrapolate it out a bit:
There is a God: the I AM.
His very living essence is goodness, love: righteousness.
When a man or woman - fallen, fleshly, broken and sinful by their very definition - begins to believe in God, they do something. They align their life with the goodness, love, the righteousness, of God, and they begin a different journey through their human existence.
When they believe in God, when they trust in God's ways and means, they begin choosing against all forms of self-righteousness. It is not their works - the sweat of their spiritual brow - that will justify them: it is the gift of God who, by belief, lines up His Way (His goodness, love: His righteousness) with this new, redeemed human being.
The whole thing is perfectly natural and perfectly supernatural.
It is "the gift of God" to the individual who, simply, believes.
In working through the latter half of Romans 3, I was drawn to a compare-contrast of the Old and New Covenants—especially the blessings/curses that accompanied the Old, as described in Leviticus 26. For Anchor this week, after having looked at that chapter over and over again, I decided to re-transcribe it in the context of the New—especially highlighting our overwhelming blessings upon blessings. How does this read to you?
“Walk with Me for yourselves, and let my Holy Spirit dwell within you. I am the Lord your God. Live in my rest and enjoy the joy of being my Temple. I am your Lord. As you follow my commandments and walk the path of my Way, my Spirit will become a spring within you, watering your life and yielding great crops of His fruit. Together, we will harvest the fruit of your life—I, the Vine; you, the branch—and you will be fruitful and I will be your fruitfulness.
“I will grant you my peace, and you will rest in Me and no one and nothing will be able to make you afraid. I have already vanquished the words and works of the evil one; swords and strife will not be the experience of your days. The enemy may pursue you, yes; but he is powerless in my presence—I have forever chased Him away by my finished work.
“Now I look on you with favor and I will make you fruitful and increase your fruit, and I will keep the Covenant I have made with my Father. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I have put my dwelling place within you, and I will love you to the moment when you come home. I will walk with you and be your God, and you will be my chosen child forever. For I am the Lord your God, Jesus the Christ, who brought you out of bondage so that you would no longer be slaves to the Law, sin and death. I broke the chains of your slavery and set you under the bars of my yoke and enabled you to walk, alongside Me, with our heads held high.”
There once was a mighty mountain—the tallest in the world. Its heights were so high that no eye had ever seen them. Its craggy, granite summit was wreathed around with clouds. Nothing in all the world could compare to this most permanent peak.
On the other side of the world lived a grain of sand. This speck was one of hundreds of billions of other, similar specks. Every day the grain would rise and fall with the tides. It would flow and tumble and toss with the other sand around it.
—the sand-grain heard the voice of the mountain:
“You are no grain of sand, my little one. You are part of me—a fleck of granite—permanent. Let me bring you home…”
And with that, a divine wind—a mighty blast of air from the mountain’s summit—picked up the speck and carried it all the way to the foot of the mountain. It rested now, granite to granite, like to like. It was invited to enjoy its new, permanent home forever. Around it were all the others who’d found their true identity. All was joy and peace and enjoyment now.
But, then, doubts began to rise.
I don’t look the same as all these other kinds of granite.
Is the mountain really the tallest, best, truest in the world?
I miss the tumble and toss—and togetherness—of the seashore.
Perhaps I might just go back…
The voice of the mountain spoke to the speck again:
“I will never move, change or—ever—forget you. I am the life, the truth, the place to live. You have entertained your doubts now, little speck. I am unchangeable towards you. How—where—will you choose to live?”
"You ought to know by this time that Christ is in you, unless you are not real Christians at all. And when you have applied your test, I am confident that you will soon find that I myself am a genuine Christian. I pray God that you may find the right answer to your test, not because I have any need of your approval, but because I earnestly want you to find the right answer, even if that should make me no real Christian." 2 Corinthians 13:6,7
And, having read that, I want you to internalize this eternal, internal truth from this section: according to Paul of Tarsus, the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them. (Let me type that again: the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them.)
Not just having all the rote Christian knowledges.
Nor a perfect record of faithful Sunday attendances.
Or, even, a reputation for doing nice "Christian" things.
The "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them.
"Verifiable" by who? You and the Holy Spirit.
"Inward" meaning what? This all works from the inside out.
The "life of Jesus living"--how? To the fullest, full extent of His own heavenly-earthly power and glory--to the degree that you'll abide in Him and let Him.
It's interesting: where Phillips translates verse 6 as "unless you are not real Christians at all," the simple Greek says, "if you are not unapproved"--ἀδόκιμοι. The meanings of that word are: "discredited, not approved, unsatisfactory, unconvincing, and (to me, the most interesting) not legal tender."
So let's flip this on its head, shall we? As we choose to engage more and more with the inward reality of the indwelling of Jesus within us, what will we become--and be? Creditable with His words and witness; approved by Him for the purposes of His Kingdom; utterly, meaningfully satisfactory to His very own heart; mightily convincing--to Him and others--in the devotion of our lives; and (and, again, my favorite) legal tender of the heavenly economy, ready to spend and be spent, unable to be counterfeited because our weights and measures are GLORY.
One last time: the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them. My friends, let us never stop moving in the direction of greater and greater encounter with Him, right here within!
At the end of 2 Corinthians 12, Paul, writing from a position of remove, writes the following of his potential upcoming visit to Corinth:
Are you thinking that I am trying to justify myself in your eyes? Actually I am speaking in Christ before God himself, and my only reason for so doing is to help you in your spiritual life. For I must confess that I am afraid that when I come I shall not perhaps find you as I should like to find you, and that you will not find me coming quite as you would like me to come. I am afraid of finding arguments, jealousy, ill-feeling, divided loyalties, slander, whispering, pride and disharmony. When I come, will God make me feel ashamed of you as I stand among you? Shall I have to grieve over many who have sinned already and are not yet sorry for the impurity, the immorality and the lustfulness of which they are guilty? (2 Corinthians 12:19-21)
Reading this, in its clearly negative tone, made me think of where we've been, in the (relatively) much more positive, as we've transited through these last few strange months. In all this time, rather than being together—at places like Anchor, church, out to coffee, out to lunch, etc.—we have all been living in varying degrees of isolation and remove.
And I remember saying to Jenny, about the middle of the first full week of the shutdown: "Well, now begins the battle of the inner life."
Is that how you've found it to be, too? As a battle to win the battlefield of your heart and mind? As a time to fight the feelings of desperation and, instead, to present your inner life as a ready place for communion with Jesus?
Indeed, reading through this Chapter 12 conclusion this week, I've been hearing Paul's words in a different way:
All this time, we have had ample opportunity to dig down deep into the realities of our forever-finished justification. Christ Himself, God Himself, has been leaning forward to speak to us personally; His only reason for so doing is to establish His spiritual life in us. For He professes that He’s always delighted to come to us and to make us into the people He should like to find us being, and I guarantee that, when His presence is fully manifest, we will find Him even better than we'd hoped He could be. He will come to end all argument, all human need for comparison, hatred, division, lying speech, rumor-milling, pride and disharmony--within us. And when He comes, He will be so proud of our inviting Him to come! He will wipe the every tear from our eyes, remind us of our perfect freedom from sin—eradicating all guilt and shame—and He will teach us of the glory of His Way and of the righteousness He’s already imputed to us.
Friends, isn’t Jesus wonderful?
All this we want to meet with sincerity, with insight and patience; by sheer kindness and the Holy Spirit; with genuine love, speaking the plain truth, and living by the power of God. Our sole defense, our only weapon, is a life of integrity, whether we meet honor or dishonor, praise or blame. Called "impostors" we must be true, called "nobodies" we must be in the public eye. Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always "going through it" yet never "going under." We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have "nothing to bless ourselves with" yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet in reality we have everything worth having. (2 Corinthians 6:6-10)
Isn't that lovely? The life of Jesus in Paul - in us - in you - is so radiantly glorious with heavenly potential that, no matter what life throws at you, His life in you offers the ultimate counterpoint.
If life, or the world, or a person or group of people, say to you: You’re an impostor, a nobody; your life is lifeless; what’s the point in your Jesus thing?; it’s sad and small; it has no earthly benefit; and certainly no upside.
Then you, with sincerity and insight and patience you’ve learned from Him; with the sheer kindness that comes from living by His Spirit; with genuine love for life – and the world – and this person or group of people – may answer with the plain truth and the experienced, first-hand power of God: But, you see, I have found Him to be true right here in my inner life, and it is He who has put me right here in front of you; I am alive with the life He offers me every single morning, which is why, you see, I’m never cowed or afraid. His joy in me is inextinguishable; He has blessed me with true riches that I’d love to share with you; and, in reality, I am standing before you today already possessing everything that is actually worth having in the human life.
How's that for a posture for your day?
"So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these 'clothes' but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal. Now the power that has planned this experience for us is God, and he has given us his Spirit as a guarantee of its truth." 2 Corinthians 5:4,5
"HIS Spirit as a GUARANTEE." I don't know which of those two words to talk about first - they're both so preposterously wonderful!
God...has given you...His Spirit. His own personal inner life. He has just given Him to you. You may abide within, and rely upon, the same inner resources that commanded and upheld the earthly life of Jesus.
And He has been given to you "as a guarantee" - as, in the Greek, an ἀρραβῶνα: "a present; a pledge; as earnest-money." What He has put in you - His very own Spirit - is a downpayment on the day when you'll be swallowed up in His glory.
Your experience of, and your delight in the Holy Spirit today is the degree to which you're already in Heaven.
Shall we go live there?
Consider some promises, extrapolated, and some realities - already ours! - from the words of Isaiah 51:
“I, even I, am he who comforts you.” Our only comfort is to be found in Him. In God. In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On any given day, you may stop whatever you’re doing, sit perfectly still wherever you are, and actually ask to be internally comforted. He will comfort you, right there and then.
“The cowering prisoners will soon be set free…” Or, better yet: The cowering prisoners have been set free! You are already free--today! The blood of Jesus has already warranted for your perfect, holy blamelessness; you cannot be more free than you already are. He has promised that—and then done the entire work to make it so.
“they will not die in their dungeon…” Your circumstances today are not the whole story. No matter what you’re presently experiencing, no matter the hardships you’re currently enduring, you are not outside of how He would seek to lead and care for you. Can you, today, trust Him? He will not allow you to languish unnecessarily. He is actually working out something in your life, right this minute.
“nor will they lack bread.” He is the only Provider you’ve ever had. Your paycheck isn’t the boss of you. Your boss isn’t the boss of you. The One who easily feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the fields isn’t without resources that specifically have your name on them. Will you trust Him—and ask?
“I have put my words in your mouth…” Jesus promised His disciples that whenever they were dragged before governors and kings for His sake, He would literally speak His words right from their mouths. Again, here, it’s promised: He will arm you with proper words. He wants His sons and daughters to always have the Holy Spirit-infused vocabulary for every situation: He has promised it.
“And covered you with the shadow of my hand…” Your life lives in the shadow—not of death, or discouragement, nor of sin, or of hopelessness, or despair—but in the cool, fresh shade of His mighty hand. Nothing can get to you that doesn’t have His allowance for your good. No arrow or word or trial can ever outflank Him. You are presently nested right within His will, under the awe-inspiringly, massive power of His hand; you are right where you belong. Your position is assured. You are beloved. You are His.
Isn't our Lord Jesus wonderful?
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27 (NASB)
Personally, I can’t recall another question spoken in the Scriptures that holds the same meaning and weight as the question with which this implied promise concludes: “is anything too difficult for Me?” Because if there’s any doubt in our minds as to His ability to encounter, overcome and, even, demolish any difficulty, then--what are we doing? Who do we think we’re going to follow, next, if this One, this God, can’t surmount any challenge, hardship, barrier or impasse?
My friends, I want us to truly know this God, this One: “the Lord, the God of all flesh” who is unstoppable in face of difficulty.. I want you so unshakably resolved upon His power and sheer dynamism that there’s never any more question for you in your day to day.
So, for that reason, I want to take you on a journey of His ability, over the aeons, to overcome every difficulty, every trial, every divide, every impossibility that might’ve seemed insurmountable. And, to do that, I want us to consider, in each era or day, His and our “state of existence”—Who He was and who we were—during that precise period of time (or, even, pre-time).
Before Creation – God was. We weren’t. He existed and we didn’t exist at all. And yet He manifested existence and time and space and being, and made the triune choice to make us “in His image.”
In the Garden of Eden – He was. We were now also. And He overcame any potential boundary lying between the Divine and those Made-in-the-Image-of-the-Divine, and He walked with us “in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8, ESV).
From the Fall until the Incarnation – He was God: perfect and holy. We were fallen: imperfect and broken. And yet, for the remainder of human history until His coming, He continued to manifest His grace and to reveal His voice across the divide. It was only by His grace that “history” didn’t end with the Fall: He might’ve scrapped the whole thing because humanity was no longer perfect.
The Incarnation – He was Himself and yet with us. We were still imperfect and yet with Him. He actually allowed humanity to see the very face of God.
The Cross – He was Himself and yet totally in our place, on our behalf. We were our broken selves, and yet our sin-existence hung suspended-in-time upon that Man on the Cross. And He personally overcame sin, that separating force that had destroyed mankind ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.
The Resurrection – He was alive again—God and Man—entirely by His own power. We were still imperfect, and yet now offered a new sinless, deathless, human existence. And He had permanently, once for all time, overcome death, “the last enemy” of mankind (1 Cor. 15:26, NIV).
The Ascension – He was Himself—Man and God—on the throne again. We were able, by His blood, to have direct access. And nothing can now separate our confident earth-to-Heaven approach: He has said “It is finished” to all human-to-God separation.
Pentecost until Today – He is with the Father--and with us: within our hearts. We are here on earth, as new Kingdom creations--and yet “raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6, NIV). His and our shared, bi-locational reality means there’s no difficulty unable to be overcome, no provision meant to be unmet, no spiritual deficit He won’t personally invade, overwhelm and conquer. He is there and here; we are here and there.
In every portion of history and pre-history, we have dealt with a God who is unable to be stopped, unable to encounter any natural or supernatural difficulty that has any ounce of power against Him. Let us say to our hearts today: Behold, I am following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing is too difficult for Him!
Lack of seeming substance? He created existence!
Lack of connection? He personally comes to encounter us!
Lack of holiness? He will never stop pursuing His people!
Lack of understanding of God? He has showed us His face!
Fear of the consequences of sin? He ended it!
Fear in the face of death? He has conquered it forever!
Desire to know God? He invites you into the throneroom of Heaven!
Desire for a new life? He invites Himself right into your heart!
Let me type it once again with confidence, from me to you: Behold, you and I are following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing in the heavens or the earth is too difficult for Him
“This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9, NLT
Here’s a picture:
Imagine standing on the wide, sweeping plains on the west side of the Jordan River, listening to the sound of the wind whistling through the river rushes. Behind you, a few hundred yards away, sleep the hundreds of thousands of people you have just become the leader for; you have only just become their leader in place of the only leader they’ve ever known. You’re standing in the darkness, by yourself, listening to the whistling of the wind, wondering how you’ll ever accomplish the next day. Before you stretches the land that, all throughout your life, you’ve heard is yours; forty years before, you’d even spied it out. You have personally tasted the sweetness of its fruit, seen the beauty of its mountains and valleys, observed the mighty fortresses you’ll have to take to take it.
All in all, you are scared. And excited.
But, really and truly, scared.
Looking back, you begin studying the swirling- and flaring- and expanding- and contracting-movements of the pillar of fire that hangs just this side of the camp. It’s funny: There are times – like right now – when it’s become easy to forget the power of the presence of God; when that great theophany fades into the commonplace. You walk a little closer, opening out the fullness of your spirit, wishing you could just hear a voice to help you know how to--
“Moses my servant is dead…” the Fire suddenly speaks directly to you.
You are already on your face on the ground.
Within a few moments, the words of today’s promise become the centerpiece of the command of God that is spoken to you on behalf of all the people: “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When you rise to your feet, when you look back toward the promise of the Promised Land standing before you, this command – and its promise – now leads the way.
“God is with you” now leads the way.
Now, here’s another picture:
Imagine standing within the open, unknown sweeps of the dawning of a new day, listening to the sound of your schedule, plans, expectations and worries for it. Around you, in every home, on every street, all over the whole world, live the billions of people you have been called to serve; you have been called to serve them by the One who came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). You’re standing in the daylight or the darkness, by yourself, listening to the beatings of your heart, wondering how you’ll ever accomplish this day. Before you stretches the realities of Heaven that, all throughout your life, you’ve heard to be yours; here and there, in reality, you’ve actually even spied some out. You have personally tasted the sweetness of its fruit, seen the beauty of its peaks and hidden places, observed the mighty fortresses by which it protects your everyday.
All in all, you are still a little uncertain. Excited, yes.
But, really and truly, uncertain.
Taking a moment, you begin remembering the swirling- and flaring- and firing- and calming-movements of the Holy Spirit who lives within you. It’s funny: There are times – like right now – when it’s easy to forget the power of the presence of God; when His great theophany fades into the commonplace. So, you focus a little bit closer, opening out the fullness of your spirit, wishing you could just hear a voice to help you know how to--
“Jesus, my Servant, has died for you…” the Spirit reminds you.
You should already be on your face on the ground.
And within a few moments, the words of today’s promise become the centerpiece of the command of God that is spoken to you on behalf of the whole world: “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When you rise to your feet, when you look back toward the day, toward the promise of Heaven standing before you, this command – and its promise – must now lead the way.
God Within You must now lead the way.
Are you ready, now, to go?
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this — though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You fathers — if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:5-13, NLT (Italics mine)
So, suppose instead you went to the house of your friend, Jesus, whether at midnight or whenever, wanting to borrow a dash of His Holy Spirit. You say to Him, “The whole world is in need of your presence, a fresh experience of your visitation, and I myself have nothing to give them.” And instead of, say, calling out from His bedroom, you can hear Him rushing to the door; it gets thrown open and almost pulls you in with its gust of wind blowing by. “I’m so glad you called on me first,” Jesus smiles. “My door is never locked, and I’m absolutely never in bed. I can help any time, any minute, any day.”
And, furthermore, Jesus tells us this Himself — that what He does He does for friendship’s sake – you are His friend – and if you continually knock, He will continually answer because of your joyous persistence. And it is He Himself who tells you, keep on asking, and you will literally receive what you actually ask for. He says: Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door of the Kingdom will be opened to you. For everyone who asks… “everyone” most certainly including you… receives. Everyone who seeks… “everyone” still most certainly including you… finds. And to everyone who knocks… and you are still a part of “everyone” here… the door will be opened.
If you yourself are a father – or if you can imagine a good father – if his children ask for a fish, he would not give them a snake, would he? Or if they ask him for an egg, would he give them a scorpion?
“Of course not!” Jesus laughs, as He says.
“So if sinful people know how to give good gifts to their children” – and here Jesus grins with the readiness of a wonderful reminder coming – “or, if formerly sinful people who I’ve set free with my blood know how, then how much more – listen… HOW MUCH MORE will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26,27, NASB)
Imagine meeting a Man on the street-corner, or at a beach, or along a mountain path, and He immediately stops His day to talk with you, to hear your story, to know you. His initial opening question had caught your attention by its directness; you’d never met the Man before and now you’re pondering and answering equally directly. For some reason, as you answer Him about your day – and your life – you feel a strange relaxation of your usual guardedness. You are apt to trust this Man’s ability to understand you. It is a strange sensation, instantaneously trusting Him.
Why, you ask yourself, are you talking to this Man in this way?
Perhaps it’s because of the way, when He first saw you, that His eyes lit up: the look in His eyes was a look of immediate recognition: like He knew you. And then, too, there was the way He totally stopped His own momentum – His walk, His day – and became consumed with the answer you gave to His initial inquiry. And, especially, it was the way that – as you talked – He was so totally rapt with attention at every detail you felt so strangely comfortable sharing. Again, you had never met this Man till fifteen minutes ago; now, you are wanting to spend the rest of the day together.
What is it about this Man?
It feels to you like every ounce of His energy is brought into focus for the particular moment He’s inhabiting. That’s something. And the set of His eyes – the openness of His countenance – seems to reflect an inner peacefulness that’s nothing like anything in the whole world. He is fully alive, right now, to you. Unto you. Directly toward you. There is something within this Man that calls down into the inside of you and whispers of wonders and newness and new life offering itself to you. His presence – even without words – somehow speaks of a whole new thing He’s offering… if you’ll only just--
What is He asking? you wonder.
Whatever it is, you’re interested in giving it.
Ezekiel 36 probably made absolutely no sense to Ezekiel’s original hearers and readers because they’d never set eyes on Jesus of Nazareth. Ezekiel 36 should make perfect sense to us because we’ve already met, we already know, that Man I was just writing about.
I was describing, of course, Jesus Himself. As it’s very clear He was, when you read through the four Gospels. His face and carriage and countenance and the way He spoke to any and all were the most arresting experience anyone had ever had. They found themselves “telling Him the whole story.” They broke the necks of bottles of alabaster and anointed His feet. They sang in the streets when He came through. They clamored and clung to Him; they “jostled at His elbow.”
Because the “new heart” and the “new spirit” of Heaven had been revealed, once for all time, and the people’s “hearts of stone” and fleshly spirits yearned for exchange. Even if they couldn’t have explained that fact. When they crowded Him by the tens, and hundreds, and thousands, and tens of thousands, what they really wanted was Ezekiel 36. They wanted what was in Him, in them. And they had to be in that Presence, as long as they had it.
The glory of this promise is that – already and forever – the realities it speaks of are already and forever yours. Jesus has already and forever given you a new heart and a new spirit; He has plucked the old right out of you. Already and forever, He has lavishly poured His own Spirit upon you and – to the degree you’ve desired – within you. There is every opportunity – now and already and forever – for you to knowingly walk in His statutes.
Jesus is your sanctification. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life.
And while I love the heavenly reality that everything I’ve just said is already and forever accomplished for you, I also appreciate the last line of this promise: “And you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” There is demonstrable work for you to do, today. The only action that you properly bring to the equation of your sanctification is to get LOST in the words and life of Jesus. To listen to Him. And obey.
So, let’s go meet that Man in the circumstances of this day. It’s the only one we have. And He’s the only one we need.