"To you whom I love I say, let us go on loving one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God’s son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love cannot know him at all, for God is love. To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins. If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!" 1 John 4:7-11
When you look up the word "love" in the dictionary, here are the first four definitions given:
(1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
(2) : attraction based on sexual desire
(3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b : an assurance of affection
Okay. Very nice. Thank you, Merriam-Webster.
But what the apostle John wants you and I to realize, and to walk into this day living, is that, in reality, these are the only true definitions of real love:
(1) : Jesus Himself
(2) : His life that, living among us, gives life
(3) : Literal self-sacrificial, blood-soaked, complete personal atonement that is not only unconditional in scope but, maybe more impressively, without pre-condition: “not in the fact that we loved God, but that He loved us…”
Or, to put it another way:
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus does not dishonor others, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.”
What a wonder to be loved first by this Man!
"What Mary has conceived is conceived through the Holy Spirit, and she will give birth to a son, whom you will call Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet—‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’. (“Immanuel” means “God with us.”) Matthew 1:20b-23
And what so wonderfully strikes me as we celebrate this particular Christmas, and as we look here at Isaiah's words from Isaiah 7, is how the whole reality of this Jesus, of His Kingdom, of our God, is built on the most wonderful contradictions. Look here:
A virgin... with child.
God... with us.
No other spiritual understanding in all the history of the world, no other pattern of belief, has ever had its Center truly among its people. The way of Jesus contradicts every known normalcy:
His are regular disciples
In His presence, the blind see
The lame walk
The deaf hear
The mute speak
He is a humble King
Executed for His innocence
Whose death brought victory
Life was found in His death
And He retook life after death
He made sinful people holy
His Holy Spirit came to live in common people
His throne is meant to be shared by those commoners
The formerly lost now become their fellow-men's guides
Those who were once in darkness are now illumined by His light
Yes, God is with us
And, even more importantly, God is now within us
Perhaps this Christmas, instead of settling down into the grooves of tradition, of feel-goodness, let's give some meditation to the fact that Jesus came to overthrow everything mankind had ever known... and continues to know. An entirely new way of living is unleashed in the birth of this baby. Nothing should have ever been the same, since.
Has that been our experience?
"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And by common consent they all used to meet in Solomon’s Porch..." Acts 5:12
This was the place in the Temple environs where, two chapters before, they'd preached the message after healing the man that caused 2,000 to believe... and themselves to be arrested for the first time. But, for the original disciples, this place had more meaning than just that. The year before this, during the Festival of Dedication, what is today called Hanukkah, Jesus Himself had gone on a walk through Solomon’s Porch. So for Peter and James and John, to meet in this place was instantly to remember His presence, the way He walked, the way He talked, the way – on that day – He’d spoken these words in this place:
“My sheep recognize my voice and I know who they are. They follow me and I give them eternal life. They will never die and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. And no one can tear anything out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.” … “If I fail to do what my Father does, then do not believe me. But if I do, even though you have no faith in me personally, then believe in the things that I do. Then you may come to know and realize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10)
Now, on the very same stones, standing under that same Jerusalem sky, these men and women, His “sheep,” are living their lives as “one” with Him, “He in they and they in Him,” and the life they live in Him is, without a doubt, “eternal.” Their presence together there on these days is the visible proof of the power of His words on that earlier day, walking around Himself, at Hanukkah.
May He be so present, and visibly noticeable, in us this week, my friends!
Large crowds followed him and he healed them all, with the strict injunction that they should not make him conspicuous by their talk, thus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench, till he sends forth justice to victory. And in his name Gentiles will trust.' (Matthew 12:16-21)
What's so unbelievably wonderful about this Savior, this Man, this Jesus, what's so incredibly lovely about His plans for His Kingdom, is that He's handed all of this, every attribute, act and activity, directly to us: we are the heirs, inheritors and agents of this age-old prophecy. Read again, phrase by phrase, through Isaiah's words and then through Jesus' direct words to us, as He hands off the New Covenant Kingdom-baton:
‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen: “For you did not choose me, but I have chosen you and appointed you…” (Jn. 15:16)
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased; “your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
I will put my Spirit upon him, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8a)
And he shall declare justice to the Gentiles. “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judaea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)
He shall not quarrel nor cry aloud, “and whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:27,28a)
Neither shall anyone hear his voice in the streets. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26)
A bruised reed shall he not break, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
And smoking flax shall he not quench, “…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
Till he sends forth justice unto victory. “As for the victorious, I will give you the honor of sitting beside me on my throne, just as I myself have won the victory and have taken my seat beside my Father on his throne.” (Rev. 3:21)
And in his name Gentiles will hope. “Go you therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt. 28:19)
"Later, when Jesus was sitting at dinner in Levi’s house, a large number of tax-collectors and disreputable folk came in and joined him and his disciples. For there were many such people among his followers." Mark 2:15
Jesus' goodness and kindness are simply so good and so kind, aren't they? Here He is: sitting down to dinner in Levi's palatial house on the hill, built with stolen tax-monies, surrounded by all the "tax-collectors and disreputable folk" Galilee has to offer. And why do all these people flock to Him? Because, apparently, there had already been "many such people among His followers," even before Levi was ever called!
This dinner, in fact, provides a clear answer to one of the age-old, all-important questions ranged against human life: From where may righteousness, or goodness, or holiness, be derived?
These broken people, confronted by the personification of Righteousness, Goodness and Holiness Himself, have answered with the correct response: They desire, by proximity, to be made better, to be made righteous and good and holy by this power outside themselves. That is the nature and the basic idea of sanctification...
Except, it's even better for us now, isn't it? Because, now, that Righteous One, Good One, Holy One, Wonderful One, Perfect One, lives within us!
Thank you, Jesus, for your overwhelming kindness to disreputable folk like us!
The Jews were amazed (at Jesus' teaching) and remarked, “How does this man know all this — he has never been taught?”
Jesus replied to them, “My teaching is not really mine but comes from the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority…” (John 7:15-17)
Do you see the roadblock that Jesus has thrown up in front of these people? They’ve been wondering about Him, having heard mysterious whisperings that have trickled down from the Galilee, and now here He stands, teaching right before them in the Temple court. Immediately they recognize the power in His words and the knowledge – the sheer immensity of knowledge – that seems to reside in His teachings. And so they want to, from the earthly side, understand it: “How does this man know all this…?” Which is a line of questioning with which He apparently does not want to deal: “My teaching is not really mine but comes from the one who sent me.”
And then He raises the stakes, so that even listening to Him speak and teach requires the self-abandonment of Belief: “If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority.” It is the desire to be of use to the Father’s will that unlocks the listening understanding; it is not first to understand, then to be about His will. And I’ll prove it to you – consider the exact inverse of these statements: “If anyone does not want to do God’s will, he will not know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority.”
Do you see? It is setting our face to be of Kingdom-use that unlocks the full potential, the full understanding, of all Jesus’ words have to offer. Oh, let's abandon ourselves to Him today!
“Some of you are fathers, and if your son asks you for some fish, would you give him a snake instead, or if he asks you for an egg, would you make him a present of a scorpion? So, if you, for all your evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more likely is it that your Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13
This wording is nearly identical to Matthew 7 – “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” – except for that ending! You and I are actually allowed to, meant to, called to pray for more and more and more of the Holy Spirit, all the time, everyday! In fact, He Himself, the glorious Holy Spirit, is almost certainly the highest prayer we can ever pray for.
How often do you ask for, desire for, hope for more and more of a portion of the Holy Spirit in your life? We can daily be like Elisha back in 2 Kings 2: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
Friends, may we never content ourselves with living half-measures in the Spirit when the whole is being offered to us - and by Jesus Himself! Ask today. And expect to receive today. Let your attitude be: more, MORE, MORE!
So Jesus re-embarked on the boat, crossed the lake, and came to his own town. Immediately some people arrived bringing him a paralytic lying flat on his bed. When Jesus saw the faith of those who brought him he said to the paralytic, “Cheer up, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:1,2
We could talk about the fact that Jesus goes after sin here before going after this man's paralysis; we could go into a little discussion of the actual nature of what "sin" is; but what I want to talk about is the fact that it's his friends' faith - not his own - his friends' faith in Jesus that gets this man set free of his nature of sin. This is just so wonderful to me.
Think about how it must've played out. His friends arrive to his little shack in the rough part of town; help him get dressed; then get him onto a pallet that they can carry through the streets of Capernaum to where they've heard Jesus will be. Along the way they're giddy with hope, not for themselves, but for their friend: "Oh, Jesus," they say to him, "He's a wonder-worker. He looks after people like us, like you. He sees us. What a delight He is! When you get near Him, you'll see. He'll do it. We just know it."
My friends, if these friends' call is also our call - to bring everyone to Jesus of Nazareth - is that the way we're walking them to Him? Do we know Him? Can we tell them what He's like? Can we point to His miraculous power, His heart for the lost, His eyes for the hopeless, His delightful personal presence? And, probably most importantly, do we know what to expect when we arrive with them to Him: is our expectancy formed by our own experience of Him?
Because that's what people truly need to see in us. Expectancy built from personal experience.
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!
Large crowds followed Jesus when he came down from the hillside [after delivering the Sermon on the Mount]. There was a leper who came and knelt in front of him. “Sir,” he said, “if you want to, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:1,2)
We can really just stop right there with the impossible loveliness of that statement: the fact that the least person in that whole countryside, a lonely leper, so understands Jesus' reputation and heart that he immediately addresses Him in such a tender way: "Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean."
"If you want to..." He places this whole exchange at the level of Jesus' desire, Jesus' heart, Jesus' plan, Jesus' will. I think we often pray the words "If it's your will" like we're shooting prayer-arrows into some unknown darkness; this man spoke the word "will" while looking directly into Jesus' eyes. He would know the heart and mind and will and want of Jesus right now: "If you want to..."
"...you can make me clean." It's right there inside You, Jesus. All the wondrous power of the Godhead, every ounce of the creative energy that formed the heavens and the earth, is native to Your human frame. If You want to, this is easy for You. I don't have to strain to improve Your will or Your power. Here I am and here You are: "Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean."
Friends, I think this leprous man's life is the perfect model for how our own prayer-life should go. What a combination of boldness, belief, familiarity and expectancy!
Then Jesus got up and went straight from the synagogue to the house of Simon and Andrew, accompanied by James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a high fever, and they lost no time in telling Jesus about her. He went up to her, took her hand and helped her to her feet. The fever left her, and she began to see to their needs.
Late that evening, after sunset, they kept bringing to him all who were sick or troubled by evil spirits. The whole population of the town gathered round the doorway. (Mark 1:29-33)
From their relatively brief glimpse of Jesus down at the synagogue, from only one experience of His teaching and healing, this entire town believes that this one solitary man, sitting in the half-darkness on a humble doorstep, has the power to deal with the individual needs of everyone. Can't you imagine them coming up the footpath: limping, on makeshift crutches, blind and being led, others who scream out under the bondage of demon-possession? And at the end of their journey sits Jesus, smiling, waving them to come nearer, hearing their needs, asking questions, delighted that they'd be so bold as to come...
Let me ask you a question: Which is more difficult for you to believe - that Jesus has time for absolutely everyone, or that Jesus has time for you personally? Think about it before you answer too quickly. Because in all my many meetings with believers at various points of their journeys, I find that more people are more comfortable with generic ideas of Jesus' love for everyone, for His broad desire for intimacy with all people, than they are with the idea of, by themselves, walking up to Him alone. There's something reassuring to us about standing in a room, or standing in a church, or walking up the path toward Him, surrounded by people all thinking something similar... even if that something's a bit vague.
But He wants you - only you. He wants to watch you leave your house, light your lantern, and wind your way out toward Him, knowing that it'll only be you and Him at the end. That's what He wants with you everyday. Yes, others may happen to come to Him too; but, even if they don't, all He really wanted was to see you.
Do you come?
Will you come?
At the wedding in Cana -
Then Jesus said to the servants, “Now draw some water out and take it to the master of ceremonies,” which they did. When this man tasted the water, which had now become wine, without knowing where it came from (though naturally the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called out to the bridegroom and said to him, “Everybody I know puts his good wine on first and then when men have had plenty to drink, he brings out the poor stuff. But you have kept back your good wine till now!” Jesus gave this, the first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee. He demonstrated his power and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:8-11)
Does this actually accord with the Jesus you actually know? (Oh yes, I know: you’ve heard this account countless times and know it backwards and forwards: “Ah yes, His first miracle – water into wine – ahem.”) What I mean is: Do you personally know the Jesus who’s invited to a fairly raucous party, goes, mixes in with those who’ve had a little too much to drink, and, seeing the wine gone, the party ruined, the bride and groom potentially shamed, ramps it up to levels never seen before or since? Is that the kind of unexpectedly-acting, edgy-doing, mischievous-twinkle-in-His-eye sort of Savior you’re daily walking with?
I think most Christians, and certainly the world around us, most of the time view Jesus like water: fine for quenching your thirst when He’s needed, but flavorless, flat, nothing to write home about. Some might see Him as – to use the master of ceremonies’ words – the “poor stuff”: there’s a hint of something there, but He’s more of a last resort than anything else…
Jesus Himself is the party; Jesus is the “good wine”; He is the joy, the flavor, the savor, the atmosphere of life that is really Life. And how wonderful that in the midst of a party whose level is never forced to drop, His disciples saw this miracle, looked at each other and “believed in him.” What a way for belief to begin!
Remember, my friends: This Man's inner life is a vast sea of the New Wine: the "Oil of Joy." Let's not forget that fact today, or this whole week!
About eight days after these sayings, Jesus took Peter, James and John and went off to the hill-side to pray. And then, while he was praying, the whole appearance of his face changed and his clothes became white and dazzling. And two men were talking with Jesus. They were Moses and Elijah—revealed in heavenly splendor, and their talk was about the way he must take and the end he must fulfill in Jerusalem.
But Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep and it was as they struggled into wakefulness that they saw the glory of Jesus and the two men standing with him. Just as they were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still talking, a cloud overshadowed them and awe swept over them as it enveloped them. A voice came out of the cloud, saying “This is my Son, my chosen! Listen to him!”
And while the voice was speaking, they found there was no one there at all but Jesus. The disciples were reduced to silence, and in those days never breathed a word to anyone of what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)
Now let’s go back and reexamine this whole scene, putting ourselves there - here are the main elements:
You see, the truth of the matter is that we’re actually in a better vantage than Peter, James and John: we have the ability to know Jesus' attributes through their writings of Him plus He’s now glorified all the time with the Father plus He now chooses to dwell right here within us. On this side of the Risen Jesus, there’s no such thing as “valleys,” only new “Mounts of Transfiguration” alongside Him.
The question is: Will we stay awake in His glorious presence and experience consistent ongoing revelation of His Glory? They are available. Today.
"We know and, to some extent realize, the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life for us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brothers in want but shuts his eyes—and his heart—how could anyone believe that the love of God lives in him? My children, let us not love merely in theory or in words—let us love in sincerity and in practice!" 1 John 3:16-18
The actual Greek words there in that last sentence are "word and tongue" and "work and truth," ie. the love of Jesus requires more than our mouth; it requires our entirety. And perhaps you've heard this quote before, but it kept coming to me as I was reading these words - it's from Elie Wiesel:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
Jesus of Nazareth was the least indifferent Man who ever lived, and it is our job to carry His spirit into this generation of humanity. And His spirit, His ethos, is literally included within His Holy Spirit, who has been given to us, and who is daily trying to teach us to love in "work and truth," no longer just in indifferent "word and tongue."
That nature of Jesus, living inside you this day, is attempting to teach you to love in His Way. Will you listen? Will you obey?
On the very night that Herod was planning to bring him out, Peter was asleep between two soldiers, chained with double chains, while guards maintained a strict watch in the doorway of the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side. His chains fell away from his hands and the angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.”
And he did so. Then the angel continued, “Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.” So Peter followed him out, not knowing whether what the angel was doing were real—indeed he felt he must be taking part in a vision. So they passed right through the first and second guard-points and came to the iron gate that led out into the city. This opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and had passed along the street when the angel suddenly vanished from Peter’s sight. Then Peter came to himself and said aloud, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel to rescue me from the power of Herod and from all that the Jewish people are expecting.” Acts 12:7-11
This little narrative – from the man sleeping in his cell to now standing outside unchained – is so fun, despite its seriousness, that to me it’s almost silly. This is the wild, whimsical, all-powerful, uncontrollable way of the God we're serving! This, in fact, is actually our story – let me prove it to you:
Under the darkness of this world, it was as if we were asleep between sin and death, chained with double chains, while the Accuser maintained a strict watch in the doorway of our prison. Suddenly the Lord Jesus appeared, and His light shone throughout the world. He took our stripes and woke us from our deathly sleep, saying, “Get up quickly, for I have risen.” Our chains fell away from our hands and then Jesus said to us, “Fasten on the Belt of Truth and put on your sandals fitted with the Gospel of peace.” (Eph. 6)
And we did so. Then Jesus continued, “Wrap the robe of my righteousness (Isa. 61:10) round you and follow me.” So we followed Him out of the old life, not knowing whether all of this was real, it seemed so good — indeed we felt we must be taking part in some heavenly dream. So we passed right through the condemnation of sin and death and came to the curtain that led into the presence of God. This tore of its own accord from top to bottom, and we went through and passed into the Holy of Holies, into the Throneroom of the Father and, at His right hand, Jesus. And there we came to ourselves and said aloud, “Now I know for certain that the Father has sent Jesus to rescue me from the power of sin and from all that the evil one was expecting...”
For just a moment, try to imagine that night alongside Peter. Feel the cold wet stones of the prison floor; smell the filth, the sickness of that place; look out into the unlit darkness of the cell: that sort of darkness that hurts the eyes as they find nothing to focus upon…
And now, moments later, imagine standing in an empty city street, looking up at the twinkling of the stars overhead! Friends, this is how good Jesus is, how fully free He’s set us free; we must learn to relish in our absolute freedom! We are free!
Then the devil took Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of mankind in a sudden vision, and said to him, “I will give you all this power and magnificence, for it belongs to me and I can give it to anyone I please. It shall all be yours if you will fall down and worship me.” Luke 4:5,6
Satan will show you whatever it takes to sway your heart away from Jesus. Whether it be “the kingdoms of mankind,” wealth, possessions, power, sex or influence, it’s his favorite practice to see which axe will fell the tree of our belief. So what are we to do? How can we steel ourselves against his alluring voice?
Brothers and sisters, we must become so practiced in dwelling in the midst of our Kingdom-inheritance that we’re absolutely ruined for anything less. We must daily walk the hallways of Heaven and know the glories that are actually already ours through Christ, so that nothing else compares!
How's that as a barometer for your "quiet time"?
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.
"Everything that my Father gives me will come to me and I will never refuse anyone who comes to me. For I have come down from Heaven, not to do what I want, but to do the will of him who sent me. The will of him who sent me is that I should not lose anything of what he has given me, but should raise it up when the last day comes. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and trusts in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up when the last day comes." John 6:37-40
How often we hear people say, and even say ourselves, "Oh, I wish I knew the Lord's will" for some decision we need to make, or crisis, or question we’re presently pondering. But in those last two verses, Jesus tells us the Will of God: 1) that He "should not lose anything of what [the Father] has given [Him]" and 2) "that everyone who sees the Son and trusts Him should have eternal life." THE Will of God is to possess and redeem. How stunning!
But did you notice that each of these will-of-God statements is binary, meaning they’re composed of two parts? The first part in each was different, but the second was the same: He will "raise [them] up when the last day comes." The word John uses there for "raise up" means just that - "to raise up" or "raise from the dead" - but it also has a lesser definition that goes beautifully with what we know to be one of the truest definitions of our lives-in-Him: "to produce a witness."
THE Will of God is to possess and redeem, that we might be raised up - raised from the dead, in fact - and produced as witnesses of what we know and have seen of Him.
“But, Eugene,” you might say, “it would still really help to know His particular will in this one particular decision I’m trying to make.” Well, here’s your decision-making grid: “I have come down from Heaven, not to do what I want, but to do the will of Him who sent me.” The “wants” of Jesus were nothing when compared to His delighted, intimate, listening, waiting-upon expectation of having the will of God daily revealed to Him. Can’t you see Him out in those lonely places in the pre-dawn hours, simply waiting and receiving word of the Father’s particular will for each particular day?
May it be so for us as well!
The Zacchaeus account, from Luke 19, with some notes throughout -
Then Jesus went into Jericho and was making his way through it. And here we find a wealthy man called Zacchaeus, a chief collector of taxes, wanting to see what sort of person Jesus was. That turn of phrase is simply perfect because Luke has only just told us “what sort of person” Zacchaeus was: “wealthy” and a “chief collector of taxes,” ie. the very best at extortion, intimidation and financial shenanigans. (Plus don’t forget how “wee” he was!)
But the crowd prevented him from doing so, for he was very short. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to get a view of Jesus as he was heading that way. This action is absolutely delightful! In the face of his circumstances – short and crowded out – Zacchaeus does whatever it’ll take, whatever embarrassment he might feel, in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus. What a model for our own journey after intimacy!
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and saw the man and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down. I must be your guest today.” And this is even more delightful! Jesus stops, looks up and chats with Zacchaeus, causing the whole entire crowd to stop and look up at Zacchaeus too!
So Zacchaeus hurriedly climbed down and gladly welcomed him. But the bystanders muttered their disapproval, saying, “Now he has gone to stay with a real sinner.”
But Zacchaeus himself stopped (Normally, Jesus would be the one to answer the crowd's “sinner” charge, but, here, Zacchaeus, enamored with what he’s gaining in Jesus, answers for Him) and said to the Lord, “Look, sir, I will give half my property to the poor. And if I have swindled anybody out of anything I will pay him back four times as much.” 50% immediately out the door, plus 4x the majority of his earnings must mean he’s giving away all he has. Zacchaeus’ life is destined to be the fulfillment of the “rich young ruler’s” earlier calling...
Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today! Zacchaeus is a descendant of Abraham, and it was the lost the Son of Man came to seek — and to save.” Again in Luke's Gospel, Jesus uses the language of a sinner “saved,” plus the wording “salvation has come to this house today!” Which, again, shows the utter inadequacy of how we often describe personal salvation in our modern context. Zacchaeus never “prays the prayer”; he doesn’t know any deep theology; he knows next to nothing. He simply interacted with Jesus and then fundamentally reordered his reality because of that personal experience.
Is that us?
“The living center round which all the perfections of God cluster, the living energy through which they all do their work, is the will of God. The will of God is the life of the universe; it is what it is because God wills it; His will is the living energy which maintains it in existence. The creature can have no more of God than he has of God's will working in him. He that would meet and find God must seek Him in His will; union with God's will is union with Himself. Therefore it was that the Lord Jesus, when He came to this world, always spoke of His having come to do one thing—the will of His Father. This alone could work our salvation.”
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
A little section from Luke 15, with notes in italics -
Now all the tax-collectors and “outsiders” were crowding around to hear what Jesus had to say. When we read those words, especially if you take the time to read this chapter in context, it causes us to cast our attentions both backward and forward. Looking back, isn’t it amazing that, given His most-recent teaching on “counting the cost,” and “giving up all your possessions,” that these tax-collectors and outsiders still crowded to Him?! And, looking ahead, and trying to understand the nature of that crowd's "crowding," what is the atmosphere of being around the person of Jesus?
Celebration, celebration, celebration!
If we’re to be the "Body of Christ" in this present day, just as He Himself was the visible-tangible-literal Body back in His day, are “outsiders” and rejects clinging to us, right now? Are they flying through the doors of our modern churches? What exactly are we inviting people into? A Sunday “service” or a party-like atmosphere of Heaven?
The Pharisees and the scribes complained of this, remarking, “This man accepts sinners and even eats his meals with them.” Remember: Our words and lives tend to tell people what we think Jesus is like. His name and renown are utterly unchanging; but His day-to-day reputation is in our hands everywhere we'll go this week.
“It was by His union with us in our life in the flesh, by His identifying Himself with our nature, that Jesus was able to claim and to work out and enter into possession of the glory God had promised to man. It is by our receiving His nature, and identifying ourselves with Him in this life on earth and in heaven, that what He has achieved for us can really become ours.”
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
From the Lazarus account in John 11 -
“I myself am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus told [Martha]. “The man who believes in me will live even though he dies, and anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die at all. Can you believe that?”
It would be difficult to rate or order the “I AM” statements in terms of their incomprehensibility – they are all impossibly glorious and mysterious in their own way – and yet, given the grieving woman standing in front of Him, and the clouded Jewish understanding of the concept of resurrection, this statement almost has to take the cake.
Isn’t it striking? The Resurrection is not an event, He is a person. Who yet lives, even today! And that’s because, of His own volition, out of that part of His "Resurrection-personality" with the power to do so, He Himself was resurrected from the dead for our sake.
And did you notice our point of access for both partaking in, and enjoying the benefits of, His being the Resurrection? “The man who believes in me will live even though he dies, and anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die at all. Can you believe that?” Belief is the only currency that holds open the door of death for life to come walking through; Belief is the only human possession that grants fearlessness in the face of death. To know and believe in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life grants us full understanding and experience of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1: “For you are the sons of God now; the live, permanent Word of the living God has given you his own indestructible heredity.”
As Jesus just asked Martha, “Can you believe that?”
“What the Hebrews needed is what we need. Not in ourselves or our efforts is salvation, but in Christ Jesus. To see Him, to consider Him, to look to Him, as He lives in heaven, that will bring the healing. As little as the Hebrews with the Old Testament, its God-given law, its temple service, and its prophecy, could withstand the temptation to 'wax weary and grow faint,' can the New Testament, with a sound Church and Church doctrine, and its religious services, give us the true life and power of godliness. It is Jesus Christ we must know better. It is He who lives today in heaven, who can lead us into the heavenly sanctuary, and keep us there, who can give heaven into our heart and life. The knowledge of Jesus in His heavenly glory and His saving power; it is this our Churches and our Christians need.”
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All