"Think of Abraham, our ancestor. Wasn’t it his action which really justified him in God’s sight when his faith led him to offer his son Isaac on the altar? Can’t you see that his faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners—that his faith was implemented by his deed? That is what the scripture means when it says: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.’ A man is justified before God by what he does as well as by what he believes." James 2:21-24
How does that last verse - 2:24 - read in the language of the original Greek?
"You see that a man is set right by works, and not by faith alone."
Let's examine that idea, step by step: If Jesus came to live the works of the Kingdom of Heaven, then we can see precisely what the life of Heaven is like by reading His exploits in the four Gospels. Yet external works were not enough for Jesus, were they? He wanted to get those works inside the hearts of those who'd repent and believe in Him.
So He died to end the separating influence and condemnation of Sin, thus giving us the possibility of being made a pure dwelling-place of His Presence. And then He rose to conquer human death, and so that He might be alive to reign over the Kingdom and rule it from within us. Then, ascending, He took His place at the head of all Kingdom of Heaven affairs, and, in sending the Holy Spirit, took His place directly in the hearts of His people...
So the reason that our justification - our being "set right" - is found in both faith and works is because, in faith and works, we are a union-place of Jesus-then and Jesus-now: we show the Kingdom as it was in the three years of His personal ministry - when He was making humanity right - and the Kingdom as it is now - with Jesus forever on the throne.
It is our joy - and our job - to act as the junction for the inner and outer workings of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us be living that life with relish this Easter Week!
One of the twelve, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came [back from the dead]. The other disciples kept on telling him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he replied, “Unless I see in his own hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe!” (John 20:24,25)
Can you imagine how long this next week must’ve been for Thomas? After arriving back to the upper room, after seeing the looks on those faces, after hearing the explanation of the Resurrection, Thomas probably felt so confused by something so implausible, hurt to be the only outsider, and, maybe, a little annoyed at the appearance of the disciples’ giddy group-dynamic.
So, immediately, Thomas takes up what will become his weeklong litany to the others: “Unless I see, I won’t believe.” Really, Thomas has chosen one of the only three available positions for all mankind in face of the news of the Resurrection. These are:
1) Total disbelief without provisions or conditions
2) Potential belief, entirely conditional upon further proofs (this is Thomas)
3) Belief as the foundation, with expectancy as the new condition of life
Since you’re reading these words from me, chances are you’re not currently in the first group: you’ve probably already opened your heart to, at least, the beginnings of Belief. So then, from there, what sounds better to you: To base your every single decision about belief on the closed system of your own intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion; or, beginning with belief that “It is finished,” that death is dead, that you are a Son or Daughter of God, to instead deliver over your intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion, in order to be invested with the very life of Heaven?
Thomas’ first impulse is to say, “If it’s real, Jesus can come to me.” (And you and I do the same - and say the same - and feel the same - all the time.) But, friends, Jesus already has come to us, visited us, done absolutely everything that we might experience the fullness of the heavenly life today. True life is found in being swallowed up in these promises, not in constantly postulating on whether or not belief is in our day-to-day best interest.
Jesus, teach us how to believe you without reservation - today! We want more!
At this point the mother of the sons of Zebedee arrived with her sons and knelt in front of Jesus to ask him a favor. “What is it you want?” he asked her. “Please say that these two sons of mine may sit one on each side of you when you are king!” she said.
“You don’t know what it is you are asking,” replied Jesus. “Can you two drink what I have to drink?” “Yes, we can,” they answered.
“Ah, you will indeed ‘drink my drink’,” Jesus told them, “but as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to grant—that belongs to those for whom my Father has planned it.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
Do you know "for whom the Father has planned it"? Have you ever dug a little deeper into that enigmatic turn of phrase?
From Revelation 20: “And I saw thrones, with appointed judges seated upon them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God… They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death cannot touch such men; they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him for the thousand years.”
And who was the one who saw this vision, this Revelation? John, the son of Zebedee.
And who was one of the "souls" he saw, the first, in fact, to be "beheaded for his witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God"? John's own brother, James.
The two men who, on this day, allow their mother to approach Jesus to secure a position, who so confidently affirm their ability to drink the cup of His sufferings, will eventually stand face to face in the Throneroom of Heaven - one there by revelation, the other by gruesome death - and, you know what?
It'll all be worth it. For the sake of this Man, no sacrifice is any sacrifice at all. Losing all, everything is gained in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even to die is to live. Forever. At the right hand of this Man.
Let us run the race He's given us this week with joy... and endurance. He is worth it all.
“It is impossible for a good tree to produce bad fruit — as impossible as it is for a bad tree to produce good fruit. Do not men know what a tree is by its fruit? You cannot pick figs from briars, or gather a bunch of grapes from a blackberry bush! A good man produces good things from the good stored up in his heart, and a bad man produce evil things from his own stores of evil.” (Luke 6:43-45a)
What do you think Jesus’ “fruit” really is; where does it come from? Well, how do you usually define earthly, natural fruit? Isn’t it the sum total of the nutrients, water, oxygen and nourishing sap that flows into the grapes or apples or oranges or berries that are then mindlessly borne?
In the same way, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15) and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5).
Remember: You and I aren’t called to muscle it out as “good Christians” today. Those who are saturated with the Spirit of Jesus will never fail to bear His fruit…
"Now that you are employed by God, you owe no duty to sin, and you reap the fruit of being made righteous, while at the end of the road there is life forevermore." (Romans 6:22)
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:1-5)
A prophecy which, in case you're wondering, is from Zechariah 9, which also has some other words that I want you to read about this Jesus. Take a look:
“As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double… Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds... On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.”
Yes, yes, YES! For, friends, hasn’t the “blood of the covenant” set us free, no longer to be prisoners, but now to be carriers of His hope? Hasn’t His personal, personalized presence struck among us like lightning? Haven’t we heard the great trumpet-blast: that sound that throughout all human history has called His “ekklesia” – His called-out ones – together? Are we not this Man’s flock: the jewels in His kingly crown? And oh! is it not the bread of life Himself – the grain we may eat and “never die” – who makes us “flourish” eternally; is it not His “new wine” – His personally poured-out Spirit – that we may drink and live forever?
May today be triumphant in the spirit of His great Triumph! This is our King!
Then Peter approached Jesus with the question, “Master, how many times can my brother wrong me and I must forgive him? Would seven times be enough?”
“No,” replied Jesus, “not seven times, but seventy times seven! For the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When he had started calling in his accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. (Quick Eugene note: The actual amount he owed, in today's gold-values, was approximately $15,933,600,000 - that's right, just a shade under $16B!) And when it was plain that he had no means of repaying the debt, his master gave orders for him to be sold as a slave, and his wife and children and all his possessions as well, and the money to be paid over. At this the servant fell on his knees before his master, ‘Oh, be patient with me!’ he cried, ‘and I will pay you back every penny!’ Then his master was moved with pity for him, set him free and cancelled his debt..." (Matthew 18:21-27)
Okay, let's stop there. Let's let our imaginations go, if that moment was the end of this famous parable, to what this man might feel and to what our owner personal takeaways would be. What would the expression be on the face of this forgiven man? What would he look like as he walks out the gate of the palace? How would we hope he lives, now that he's free?
An important note: THIS MAN, IN THIS MOMENT, IS YOU!
This absolute, truly-free freedom of Jesus is meaningful (its meaning is His life), costly (it cost Him, and it will cost us, everything), utterly unlike any form of life ever offered before (as proven by its foundation being a resurrection!), and it isattached only to His person (because He is alive, and accessible, and is Himself the Way of this freedom.)
If you and I walk into this day today like that forgiven servant should've walked out of the palace, our day will know no end of deep meaning, limitless value, extraordinary uniqueness and direct Christ-connected intimacy. In other words, our lives will look like they're supposed to look! Might make for a different sort of Monday, am I right?
Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God’s message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party were full of criticism, saying to him, “You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”
But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen....
Once they heard [all his story of Cornelius and his household accepting the message and receiving the Holy Spirit] they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, “Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-3 & 18)
And that, by the way, is that. End of story. That’s how thousands of years of entrenched religious tradition and belief went out the window in the presence of a group of men and women whose first recourse was to follow the Holy Spirit only. But, you see, eleven of the men standing in that room had once sat in another room, on a particular Thursday night, and listened intently as Jesus spoke these words:
“I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now. Yet when that one I have spoken to you about comes — the Spirit of truth — he will guide you into everything that is true. For he will not be speaking of his own accord but exactly as he hears, and he will inform you about what is to come. He will bring glory to me for he will draw on my truth and reveal it to you.” (John 16:12-14)
My friends, what's your relationship like - today - with this very same Spirit of truth? And how nimble-in-obedience are you becoming as you learn to hear His voice, day by day?
"…Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder. For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live, so does the Son give life to any man he chooses…" John 5:20b,21
These two sentences are so unbelievable that I need to take a moment to type out – to get out – all my potential language of hyperbole: magnificent! marvelous! overwhelming! grandiose! transcendent! awesome! utterly stupefying! (Thank you.) But, in all seriousness, as you read through Jesus' words, did you catch the echo of a wording of another of His greatest promises? Go back and reread them and see if you can catch it…
So gloriously preposterous is the conclusion to which I’m about to drive that its foundational truth – foundational! – is the statement: “For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live…” You know about that, right? How the Heavenly Father, in the presence of death, may simply snap His fingers and – BOOM! – you’re back to life?
To Jesus, this spoken half-sentence seems almost a casual reference; for His First Century Jewish listeners, they’ve only ever heard of three such cases in all recorded human history: Elijah and the widow’s son; Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman; and that guy whose body got thrown into Elisha’s tomb, touched his bones and came back to life. Yes - Jesus says - “For just as the Father raises the dead… so does the Son give life to any man He chooses.”
For me, in preparing to teach through this chapter, I’ve often just stared into space at the wonder of that thought! Do you grasp the equivalency that Jesus is purposely setting up here: “For just as…so…”? How would you react if you were at a funeral and the dead person suddenly sat up in their coffin and came back to life? You would jump out of your skin. Yet, according to Jesus, your natural reaction to that should mirror the way people are consistently reacting to the New Life expressing itself in and through you...
Which brings me to my point: “Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.” The very next time that that phrasing “even greater things” is used – μείζονα in the Greek – here is what Jesus is saying: “I assure you that the man who believes in me will do the same things that I have done, yes, and he will do even greater things than these, for I am going away to the Father.” (John 14:12)
Do you understand? According to John 5:20, the Father is planning to show the Son “even greater things” that will fill the world the whole world with wonder; and where, according to John 14:12, will those “even greater things” occur? In our lives!
May it be so today!
"We did not want any of you to lose heart at the troubles you were going through, but to realize that we Christians must expect such things. Actually we did warn you what to expect, when we were with you, and our words have come true, as you know. You will understand that, when the suspense became unbearable, I sent someone to find out how your faith was standing the strain, and to make sure that the tempter’s activities had not destroyed our work." 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
Hear Jesus Himself along these same lines: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world will hate you. Do you remember what I said to you, ‘The servant is not greater than his master’? If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you as well, but if they have followed my teaching, they will also follow yours. They will do all these things to you as my disciples because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. The man who hates me, hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them things that no other man has ever done, they would not have been guilty of sin, but as it is they have seen and they have hated both me and my Father. Yet this only fulfills what is written in their Law — ‘They hated me without a cause.’ But when the helper comes, that is, the Spirit of truth, who comes from the Father and whom I myself will send to you from the Father, he will speak plainly about me. And you yourselves will also speak plainly about me for you have been with me from the first.” (John 15)
Certainly Paul had sat with Peter and John and the others, and been told of these very words from Jesus. He knew plain-speaking about Him would invariably result in trouble… and so must we! But if we learn to receive our life, good and bad, as if from the Lord’s hand, we’ll learn to look to Him at all times, even in hardship. The pains we bear we’ll learn to bear for this exalted reason:
“Your fight against sin has not yet meant the shedding of blood, and you have perhaps lost sight of that piece of advice which reminds you of our sonship in God: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives’. Bear what you have to bear as ‘chastening’ — as God’s dealing with you as sons. No true son ever grows up uncorrected by his father. For if you had no experience of the correction which all sons have to bear you might well doubt the legitimacy of your sonship. After all, when we were children we had fathers who corrected us, and we respected them for it. Can we not much more readily submit to a heavenly Father’s discipline, and learn how to live?” (Hebrews 12:4-9)
“My friend George Mallory, for instance, who later disappeared close to the summit of Mount Everest, once did an inexplicable climb on Snowdon. He had left his pipe on a ledge, half-way down one of the Lliwedd precipices, and scrambled back by a short cut to retrieve it, then up again by the same route. No one saw what route he took, but when they came to examine it the next day for official record, they found an overhang nearly all the way. By a rule of the Climbers’ Club climbs are never named in honor of their inventors, but only describe natural features. An exception was made here. The climb was recorded as follows: ‘Mallory’s Pipe, a variation on Route 2; see adjoining map. This climb is totally impossible. It has been performed once, in failing light, by Mr. G.H.L. Mallory.’” Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That
* * * * *
"But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us," the father said to Jesus.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24)
Then Jesus reprimanded the evil spirit and it went out of the boy, who was cured from that moment. Afterwards the disciples approached Jesus privately and asked, “Why weren’t we able to get rid of it?”
“Because you have so little faith,” replied Jesus. “I assure you that if you have as much faith as a grain of mustard-seed you can say to this hill, ‘Up you get and move over there!’ and it will move—you will find nothing is impossible.” Matthew 17:18-21
This is one of those encouraging-discouraging texts that can hit us totally differently depending on how our life's going, how we're feeling, how we're perceiving the nearness or distance of Jesus on a particular day. But reading it, this week, I couldn't stop thinking of something my friend, Joe Farrell, said a few weeks back, when the Anchor class was "out on the water" with Peter, walking on water to Jesus. Joe said, "Given the fact that a little tiny mustard seed is the Kingdom of Heaven, isn't it sort of a compliment to Peter to even be called a 'little-faith'?" And so here we are again: A mustard seed-sized faith, which again is the starting-point for the growth and flourishing of the Kingdom, is all that's needed to do the impossible within that Kingdom. If you can believe just that little, tiny, teensy-weensy bit, the rest is entirely Him.
But the most hideous activity possible in the Church is comparing faiths: the kind of thing where people say, or imply, "Well, you must not have believed enough for that..." How silly. Do we really think the relative size of our mustard seeds matters in that way, like, "Well, mine is this big; yours is only that big"?
The animating force in all this is Jesus: Jesus alone!
So when you're in a situation requiring belief - for a healing, an answer to prayer, just to get through a day - here is your only job: Believe in this Man just a little seed-sized amount. That way, if - in that moment - you don't see the exact answer you were praying for, you may confidently take His answer for what it is. No more wheedling, wishy-washy talk of "His Will" is needed. You can know His Will by believing that little amount, asking Him, and weighing His exact response... NOW.
"Jesus left there, walked along the shore of the lake of Galilee, then climbed the hill and sat down. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them people who were lame, crippled, blind, mute and many others. They simply put them down at his feet and he healed them. The result was that the people were astonished at seeing mute men speak, crippled men healed, lame men walking about and blind men having recovered their sight. And they praised the God of Israel." Matthew 15:29-31
What would you think I mean if I said that "Christianity" should be nothing less, and nothing more, than these three verses?
Might I mean that it's only Jesus, alive, ever on the move, and that proximity to Him is everything?
Or that it's properly peopled by broken people, needy people, sinful people who actually expect to be forever set free?
Might I mean that "Christianity" without expectancy, without verifiable human results, is actually foolishness? Might I?
And that the goal of all this is wholehearted praise and robust direct interconnectedness with the Godhead?
What do you think? Do you think that's what I mean?
"While Jesus was in Jerusalem at Passover-time, during the festivities many believed in him as they saw the signs that he gave. But Jesus, on his side, did not trust himself to them — for he knew them all. He did not need anyone to tell him what people were like: he understood human nature." John 2:23-25
There’s a subtlety in the language of these verses that is huge for our understanding of Jesus and Belief. Three times in John 2, we are told that people “believed” in Him – the disciples at Cana, the disciples at the Resurrection, and “many” during this particular week. They had seen a man, seen His actions, heard His voice, watched His ways, and then they “believed” - ἐπίστευσαν - in Him. In our modern usage, this most generally means we’ve given intellectual assent to a set of beliefs about Jesus and what we know of His life. Which, let's be honest, for most of us, most of the time, is most like an add-on to our lifestyle and current way-of-life…
Not so for His disciples.
For them, “belief” implied a complete change of life; a physical following: to “believe” was to entrust one’s whole life to the object of that belief; in this case, Jesus Himself…
And particularly damning of our modern “add-on” accessorizing Christianity are verses 2:24 and 25. Here’s what they say in the precision of the Greek: “But on his side, Jesus Himself did not believe (ἐπίστευεν) in them, because of His knowing all. He had no need that any should testify concerning man; He indeed knew what was in man.” Unregenerated (or half-regenerated) human nature was not “believable” to Jesus. He knew that what was needed was wholesale death of the flesh and rebirth into Hisnature, that nature being the very one His disciples had “believed” in.
Do we understand that He alone – living His life within our lives – is the only life truly believable?
"For when a man has something, more is given to him till he has plenty. But if he has nothing even his nothing will be taken away from him. This is why I speak to them in these parables; because they go through life with their eyes open, but see nothing, and with their ears open, but understand nothing of what they hear. They are the living fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.' But how fortunate you are to have eyes that see and ears that hear! Believe me, a great many prophets and good men have longed to see what you are seeing and they never saw it. Yes, and they longed to hear what you are hearing and they never heard it." Matthew 13:12-17
Because Jesus is meaning, is life, is the Way, is God, is Heaven come to set all things right, then we are perfectly within our rights to revisit everything He's just said from the vantage-point of what His chosen proximity to us has accomplished. We should not just understand, but experience this:
“For when a man, a woman, has JESUS, more and more is given to him until he has plenty: his cup truly overflows. And if he has JESUS even his little will be added to until he has absolutely everything. This is why He speaks to us in our hearts by His Spirit; so that we may go through life with our eyes open, seeing EVERYTHING, and with our ears open, understanding EVERYTHING HE HAS FOR US. We will be a living fulfillment – in reverse – of Isaiah’s prophecy, which would say: ‘Hearing we will hear and shall forever understand, and seeing we will see and be blessed to perceive; for the heart of His people has grown vibrant and alive: full of life. Our ears are keen to hear His voice, and our eyes He has opened, so that we may see Him with our eyes and hear Him with our ears, and that we may understand with our hearts and turn, and there He is: our Healer. And oh! how fortunate we are to have eyes that see and ears that hear HIM! It is true: a great many prophets and good men once longed to see JESUS and yet they never saw HIM. Yes, and they longed to hear what we are hearing - and they never heard HIM.”
Friends, are we not overwhelmed with joy to be in the Heavenly position we are?! Our lives are the inheritance the whole Old Testament full of saints positively yearned for! Thank you, Jesus!
When Jesus emerged from his retreat he saw a vast crowd and was very deeply moved and cured the sick among them. As evening fell his disciples came to him and said, “We are right in the wilds here and it is very late. Send away these crowds now, so that they can go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
“There’s no need for them to go away,” returned Jesus. “You give them something to eat!”
“But we haven’t anything here,” they told him, “except five loaves and two fish.”
To which Jesus replied, “Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:14-18)
Which, in my opinion, may be the most powerful line in this whole very famous narrative: "Bring them here to me." Five loaves and two fish are clearly not enough for these thousands of people: "Bring them here to me."Jesus, I'm not sure if we have enough to make it through this next month: "Bring that here to me." Jesus, I'm between jobs and getting pretty anxious: "Bring that here to me." Jesus, our entire modern financial system is built upon contradictions and contraventions to what you said about money, wealth and possessions: "Bring yourself here to me."
If this whole account of the "Feeding of the 5000" is the perfect picture of how Jesus will provide and take care of us, then this opening line tells us where to begin: "Bring them here to me." Your life is already in His hands, my friends: it's your will and your trust being placed there that will close the circuit on all this.
Bring it here to Him.
“The time is coming, indeed, it has already come, when you will be scattered, every one of you going home and leaving me alone. Yet I am not really alone for the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may find your peace in me. You will find trouble in the world — but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world!” (John 16:32,33)
For the disciples, these words have two contexts: 1) that Thursday night, when they would be “scattered” and 2) for the rest of their lives, when they’ll “find trouble in the world.” For us, not having physically been there on that night, we only interact with these words when we encounter “trouble," which is the exact moment when we’re commanded not to “lose heart” because Jesus has “conquered the world.” Isn’t that a powerful fact for us? To keep in mind this commandment and, whenever trouble comes, to simply command ourselves: “Don’t lose heart; Jesus has conquered”?
And let’s talk about the nature of that “conquering” – this is so good! In the moment when Jesus spoke these words, here (according to John) is the exact way Jesus said what He said:
“In this world, you have (Present Tense: currently the disciples are having) tribulation, but take courage, I have conquered (Perfect Tense: the “conquering” is already completed, but its results continue on in) the world.”
Do you see why this matters so deeply? It was on the night before the Cross that Jesus declared the world and its ways had been defeated, conquered, vanquished. And why does this matter? Because it is the Life, the “Way” of Jesus, that defeats the power of the world’s sin; it is the Cross that defeats sin’s condemnation.
The living life of Jesus, which is right now alive in your chest, is the actual power that has already, once and for all time, conquered the world. The Cross was your entry-point to walking in His Way, but it’s the Way that defeats the world’s ways.
My friends, you already have everything you need to conquer the world. You have Jesus. And Jesus is everything.
This is another of the parables Jesus told them: “The kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, taken by a woman and put into three measures of flour until the whole lot had risen.” (Matthew 13:33)
Did you know that, in a typical bread recipe, the dry weight of the active yeast to be added represents 3/10ths of 1% of the total weight of all ingredients? And have you observed that, once mixed into the dough, that little bit of yeast becomes invisible; that, suddenly, it is everywhere and nowhere in the mix?
Over this New Year, I've been reading in T.E. Lawrence - famously remembered as "Lawrence of Arabia" - and I've grown fascinated by his tactical thoughts as he helped steer the Arab uprisings in World War I. Take a look at how he described the difference between his force and the opposing Turkish forces:
“In [our] case the algebraic factor would take first account of the area to be conquered. A casual calculation indicated perhaps 140,000 square miles. How would the Turks defend all that—no doubt by a trench line across the bottom, if the Arabs were an army attacking with banners displayed…but suppose they were an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. The Arabs might be a vapor, blowing where they listed..."
Friends, the Kingdom of Heaven, and we who already inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven, are to be yeast, "an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a vapor." And we too, like yeast, are meant to be causing a rising up; really, like Lawrence, an uprising: our Kingdom-Army of Love is meant to be conquering this world with the love of Jesus. Everywhere and seemingly nowhere. The actual aroma of Christ.
Then one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and let no one silence you, FOR I MYSELF AM WITH YOU and no man shall lift a finger to harm you. There are many in this city who belong to me.” (Acts 18:9,10)
Isn’t Jesus wonderful? Not just for Paul on this night, but for us everyday, we need not fear; we always have something to say that is not silenceable; He is always with us; He is our refuge; and belonging with Him means belonging toHim. We are His and no one else’s – forevermore.
Over the last while, I’ve been delighting in one of my little "experiments" around the Psalms, taking some of my favorite sections and verses, and, wherever it reads “God” or “Lord,” substituting in – and being blown away by the glory of! – the name “Jesus.” My friends, with reference to Jesus’ words to Paul here, consider just five such Psalmic sections:
Psalm 27:1 “JESUS is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? JESUS is the stronghold of my life –of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 30:11,12 “O JESUS, you turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you, JESUS, and not be silent. JESUS, my Lord and my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
Psalm 62:1,2 “My soul finds rest in JESUS alone; my salvation comes from Him. JESUS alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
Psalm 18:31-36 – “For who is God besides JESUS? And who is the Rock except Him? It is JESUS who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. JESUS makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to stand on the heights. JESUS trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. JESUS has given me His shield of victory, and His right hand sustains me; He stooped down to make me great. JESUS broadens the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”
Psalm 149:2-4 – “Let the Body rejoice in its Maker; let the people of the Kingdom be glad in their King, the Lord JESUS. Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and harp. For JESUS takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.”
Jesus, speaking to the woman at the well: “If you knew what God can give,” Jesus replied, “and if you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink’, I think you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water!” (John 4:10)
These first substantive words that Jesus speaks to this woman contain four clauses – two conditional, one connective and one resultant – that are each contingent upon each other... and on Belief. Here’s the phrases: The conditional ones – “If you knew what God can give” and “if you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink’”; the connective clause – “I think you would have asked him”; and the resultant clause – “and he would have given you living water.”
I bet the woman’s initial response to these must've been: “…Uh…okay... what?” I think our response to these words, as those who call on the name Jesus, should be complete and all-consuming.
1) “If you knew what God can give” – If you knew what God can give. My friends, do we know? Have we even begun to scratch the surface of what is offered here, offered by One whose opening argument was the Incarnation and who was just getting started at the Cross and the Resurrection? Do you want to know what all He can give?
2) “If you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink...'" Jesus. On that particular day, sweat dripping down His face, hungry, thirsty, wishing He had a fresh tunic on-hand. Today, while you’re reading these words, sitting next to His Father in the Throneroom, the answer to our hunger and thirst, the Light and Life of Heaven, always alive – alive on your behalf. Brothers and Sisters, do you know Jesus better than you did a week ago? Have you come to know Him in new ways since the New Year began? You always can. And you always must.
3) “I think you would have asked him” – Engulfed by the glories of what He offers and who He is, can you hear the prodding tone of this simple statement? Since Jesus offers all, and is Himself all that is Life, will we not ask for all of Him that’s available to us?
4) “And he would have given you living water” – “would have given you”! As it relates to the asking-for and receiving-of Jesus’ living water, when should we not only have asked for, but received it? Yesterday! So ready is He to fill us with His Holy Spirit and with His very life that its availability can only be explained like it should’ve been yours already. Wow!
"I will ask you one simple question: did you receive the Spirit of God by trying to keep the Law or by believing the message of the Gospel? Surely you can’t be so foolish as to think that a man begins his spiritual life in the Spirit and then completes it by reverting to outward observances? Has all your painful experience brought you nowhere? I simply cannot believe it of you! Does God, who gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you, do these things because you have obeyed the Law or because you have believed the Gospel? Ask yourselves that." Galatians 3:2-5
In his famous Pensées, Blaise Pascal describes the reasoning for Nicodemus’ initial interest in Jesus in this way: “He does not judge the miracles by the teaching, but the teaching by the miracles.” (Pensée 808)
Before we ourselves can even begin to deal with Paul’s questions to the Galatians, we need to examine the Spirit’s work and the miracles abounding in our own lives. For if you’re to be the only touchpoint someone has with Jesus and His Gospel, what are your days actually looking like? Consider just 24 hours with Jesus from Matthew 9 as a “model day”: He sailed the Sea of Galilee, healed a paralytic, invited Matthew to become a disciple, went to Matthew’s houseparty, met with John the Baptist’s skeptical disciples, healed a bleeding woman, raised Jairus’ daughter back to life and then, to top it off, gave two blind men sight.
The One who lived that day is living in your chest today! And He's asking you to consider a whole new "normal" with Him!
In 2 Samuel 7, after God makes eternal-dynasty promises to King David, David is overwhelmed with the many goodnesses of the Lord to him. In awe, "he went in and sat before the Lord," and began to pray one of the most beautiful prayers of gratitude, joy and commitment you'll ever read anywhere.
As we look to a brand new year which will be full of promises and blessings, I want you to read David's prayer... but with the wordings slightly shifted to reflect our New Covenant realities in Jesus. These words are who you are, and what you've received:
"Who am I, O Lord Jesus, and what is my life, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Lord Jesus, you have also spoken about the eternal life of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?
"What more can I say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord Jesus. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
"How great you are, O Lord Jesus! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have come to know within our own hearts. And who is like your Body, the Church - the one people on earth that you went out to redeem as people for yourself, and to make a name for yourself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out sin and Satan from before your people, whom you redeemed from death? You have established your people, your Body, as your very own forever, and you, O Lord, have become their God.
"And now, Lord Jesus, I know you will keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his heart. You will do as you promised, and I will proclaim your name to be great forever. Then the world will say, 'The Lord Almighty is God over that man!" And the Way of Jesus will be established before them and before you.
"O Lord Almighty, God of my life, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, 'You will be my temple.' So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer. O Lord Jesus, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the life of your servant, that I may continue forever in your Way; for you, O Lord Jesus, have spoken, and with your blessing the life of your servant will be blessed for all eternity."
John the Baptist was in prison when he heard what Christ was doing, and he sent a message through his own disciples asking the question, “Are you the one who was to come or are we to look for somebody else?” (Matthew 11:2,3)
And I want to immediately address a false message that I've heard spoken about this moment: This is not doubt; this is not unbelief. Doubt and unbelief operate at the level of the Self: the mind and spirit of the doubter is almost always an echo-chamber where unanswered questions may harden into opposing beliefs.
In reality, John the Baptist, languishing in prison, gives us the perfect picture of what's to be done with our questions: externalize them... and only, first, in the direction of Jesus. Think of this: If between now and Matthew 14, when John will be beheaded by Herod's executioner, he had allowed this question no egress, no voice, he would've wasted every single moment remaining to him for the rest of his life; he wouldn't have gone to his death with the equanimity that I'm sure he did.
Cynicism, skepticism, doubt and unbelief are not virtues: they do not make you, or make you appear to be, intelligent. The true student approaches the True Teacher for instruction; the honest question-asker walks his wonderings toward the Answer Himself.
Do not dwell in your doubts. Go to Him. We must not waste a moment of our lives.
Then came a violent squall of wind which drove the waves aboard the boat until it was almost swamped. Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion. They awoke him with the words, “Master, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
And he woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Hush now! Be still!” The wind dropped and everything was very still.
“Why are you so frightened? What has happened to your faith?" he asked them. (Mark 4:37-40)
Do you catch the implication implicit in those questions of His? Jesus is saying that faith in Him - belief in the realities of who He really is - should cause us to become fearless. Because if there's a logic in His mind to "Why are you fearful; have you no faith?" then the inverse is almost necessarily true: "Ah, so you have faith; now you need not ever fear."
Really, we should all question any talk of "faith" in Jesus that doesn't exhibit proportionate growth toward fearlessness for His purposes. The better we know Him the riskier it should look. The disciples' transition between the Gospels and Acts is all the proof we need.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth."
"As hydrogen and oxygen, two diverse elements, coming together produce an entirely new product, water, so the spirit of renunciation and the spirit of service coming together in a man make a new being, the most formidable being on earth - the terrible meek. They are terrible in that they want nothing, and hence cannot be tempted or bought, and in that they are willing to go to any lengths for others because they feel so deeply. Christ standing before Pilate is a picture of the Terrible Meek. He could not be bought or bullied, for he wanted nothing - nothing except to give his life for the very men who were crucifying him. Here is the supreme strength - it possesses itself, hence possesses the earth. It is so strong, so patient, so fit to survive that it inherits the earth. No one gives the earth to those who have this terrible meekness; they come into it as their natural right, they inherit it because they have the blood of God in their veins."
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Moun
Then they attempted to arrest Jesus, but actually no one laid a finger on him because the right moment had not yet come. Many of the crowd believed in him and kept on saying, “When Christ comes, is he going to show greater signs than this man?”
The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering these things about him, and they and the chief priests sent officers to arrest him. (John 7:30-32)
I think it's impossible to overstate how much we, most of the time, underestimate the chaos into which Jesus threw everything around Him. We preach and teach Him as so placid and calm, but there’s always so much craziness happening where He is. Look at this John 7 scene, for example: Jesus has just spoken some bold words; one group lunges forward to try to grab Him; somehow He avoids them; another group is standing back, marveling and believing He’s the One; while, in the shadows, the Pharisees call over the officers and send them to arrest Him...
Personally, I would never describe Jesus’ ministry as being particularly orderly; most of the time, His words and actions actually disordered people’s comfortable understandings and forced them to confront their set spiritual patterns and behaviors. In fact, we should probably all beware any ministry in Jesus’ name that seems to claim to have it all figured out! Because Paul didn't say in 1 Corinthians: “God is not a God of disorder but of order,” he said, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” I think we probably need less orderliness in the Body of Christ and a greater dose of the peace He brings in the midst of His own brand of chaos.
The best and most-like-Jesus charge against the Early Church came at Thessalonica: “These men who have unsettled the whole world have now come here.”
Oh, to be unsettling according to the pattern of Jesus!