This summer and fall, I began a little writing experiment where I'd look at moments from the Gospels and then, from an oblique angle, try to give a different "glimpse" of it -- even, sometimes, beforehand or far after. What a joy it's been to imagine Jesus, and His work, that way!
Without telling too much, I wanted to share one of those with you this week. This is the "blind man from Bethsaida" in his later years, reflecting back. Hope you enjoy!
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79. Jesus heals a blind man in Bethsaida
The children gather round him in a crescent shape. His youngest granddaughter is asleep in his lap. His wife has walked down to the stream to wash the dishes from supper. The twilight is rapidly descending, outside. The little girl on his lap makes a quarter-turn; nestles her head against his beard. The others are quieting now. One says:
“Tell us how it happened, saba.”
“Oh, you children—you never tire of the same old story, do you?”
“Tell it again.”
“From the funny part.”
“From what I said—or what he did?”
“Start from the beginning.”
“Well,” the old man says, “I used to be blind, as you’ve all heard. Had never seen a single sight. Nothing. My whole world was darkness, like we’ll see in an hour or so. Then he came unto our village. Someone must’ve told him about me. So they came and took me—”
“Saba!” one of the older boys interrupts. “You’re not telling us any of the particulars.”
“How he came; what the day was like; what he looked like—those sorts of things!”
The old man smiles. “But I think you’ve forgotten something, Amos…”
“Before him, I couldn’t yet see anything at all.” He chuckles and says, “Now will you let me tell the story in order?”
The children all nod their heads. Their grandfather begins again.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” …Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-4,6 ESV).
Whenever I think of the return of Jesus—of that Beginning of the Beginning and the End of Ends—my mind often goes to a man whose story lies at the very opening of this whole glorious drama. His name is Enoch, and this is what we’re told of him:
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:21-24 NIV).
Naturally, it’s that last sentence that grabs one’s attention. The idea of “walking faithfully with God” we can readily understand; but we tend to sit up in our chairs when we hear of a heavenly disappearing act that is borne from that faithfulness—an evasion of death because of God whisking someone away in His wondrous train. I’ve often imagined that, while walking faithfully with God one afternoon enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, Enoch just suddenly found himself in Heaven! And looking around, getting his bearings, seeing the God who he’d so faithfully walked with so long, he could only laugh and say, with a shake of his head, “You!”
So, why am I talking about Enoch with this final post of 2020?
Because the only way to live with untroubled hearts, believing in God, believing in Jesus; the only way to wait upon our eventual placement in the place He has for us in Heaven; the only way to be watchful for His coming again—His great taking of us to Himself, to His Father, to Heaven—is to walk faithfully with Him today. To rise out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, get ready, get fed, get out the door to work, get home, get in your routine, get back in bed--all with Him. To let every hour of your day be one in fellowship with Him. To let Him become the rhythm of your days. To finally, firmly understand that there’s absolutely nothing higher for your human life than to walk in intimacy with Jesus of Nazareth. And to so do, just like Enoch did.
When Jesus earlier described the times of His return, He put it this way:
“There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth there will be dismay among the nations and bewilderment at the roar of the surging sea. Men’s courage will fail completely as they realise what is threatening the world, for the very powers of heaven will be shaken. Then men will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and splendour! But when these things begin to happen, look up, hold your heads high, for you will soon be free” (Luke 21:25-28 Phillips).
My friend, the reality of the mystery of the Return of Jesus is that, being totally unknown in its timing, it could be today! We might be going about the business of our mundane little routine this afternoon and—looking up--it’s happening! Jesus Himself, descending in the same glory in which He once ascended, coming again to take us away, as He promised!
How would He find you?
How would He find me?
With “heads held high” and “free”?
His best friend, the apostle John, writing many years after the Ascension, captured the spirit I would like to see in myself that day. This is how I’d want to be if Jesus happened to decide to return during this particular afternoon:
…Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is! (1 John 3:2 Phillips)
What a thought! That, today, being a son of God, not entirely knowing where my life is going, I can rest assured that, “if reality were to break through” this very afternoon, He would recognize me and I would finally, fully see Him!
The highest prayer I can pray for your life—and the reason I’ve chosen to end the year with these words—is that you’d begin to see your individual life as the place of Jesus’ greatest joy, and that Jesus Himself would overtake everything for you. That perhaps, someday, the following might be written of you:
When they had lived a certain number of years, they became, fully and consciously, a child of God. And after they became this son or daughter of God, they walked faithfully with God every day of their life and helped others to become children of God. Altogether, they walked with God every remaining year of their life, all 365 days of each one. They walked faithfully with God; then they were no more--or Jesus returned--and God took them away.
One day, while “walking faithfully with God,” enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, either Jesus will return, or you will suddenly find yourself in Heaven! And looking around, getting your bearings, seeing the God who you’ve so enjoyed walking with for so long, you’ll laugh and start to say, “You!”
But, even better, Jesus will beat you to the punch.
With that love in His glorious eyes, brimming over with tears of joy that you’re finally, eternally together forever, He’ll whisper, “You!”
Jesus, we await You today (and in this New Year) in the joy of Your presence. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Most Christians, most "evangelicals," would think they're agreeing with Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, when they say that "the Gospel" reads as such:
Jesus rose again.
Actually, that's not quite correct.
The Gospel Paul was always talking about, the Gospel that actually changes hearts, the Gospel that irrupted with such force into the world of the First Century, is this:
Jesus rose again.
Our emphasis must ever be the Man, not the mechanics: we are following, in the line and Spirit of, Jesus. Let's go follow Him today, and this week.
"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
But the gift of God through Christ is a very different matter from the “account rendered” through the sin of Adam. For while as a result of one man’s sin death by natural consequence became the common lot of men, it was by the generosity of God, the free giving of the grace of one man Jesus Christ, that the love of God overflowed for the benefit of all men. (Romans 5:15)
You see, it was the reintroduction, as a gift, of all that Adam was meant to be and receive -- all that he had lost as a consequence of the Fall -- that Jesus came to re-invite us into:
Rather than continuing the generational, earthly curse of sin and death, Jesus came to reinstitute our showcasing the full glory of God within the earthly life of man.
Rather than settling for our broken family systems and human-centered understandings of the past and the present, Jesus came to invite us into the Family of God.
Rather than being ruled over by creation -- being defined ourselves by the economies of this world, the evil one, sin, death -- Jesus came (as the new-firstborn, perfectly chosen Son of God) to restart the whole process between God and man.
And, finally, rather than walking in broken, disconnected misunderstanding, disobedience, and imperfect not-doing of the will of the Father, Jesus came to teach us how to walk with God again, just like He'd Himself once walked in Eden with that unFallen first man named Adam.
More "Amplification" in Romans 5, this time in vv. 1,2...
Since then it is by faith that we are justified, “since then”: the language of an accomplished fact. And the fact of the matter is that, by faith, aligning our lives with the life and death of Jesus, we have already been justified: made right. We have been reset to our Garden of Eden, first-creation, new-creation factory setting and there’s nothing we can do to lose that. So…
let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I’ll reiterate: “have peace.” Not “had for a minute at the moment of your prayer of salvation,” nor “will have at the moment when you breathe your last earthly breath.” No, by faith, and because of faith, and in faith, we are justified--right now—and at peace with God--right now. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the Prince of Peace, came to impart eternal peace to all creation with the victory of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every battle of the great cosmic war is over. Peace is declared. We have peace with God now. And:
Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, Everything we’re doing is meant to be new. It is not by works, not with terror and trepidation, not nebulous in its meaning and practice, not old, not joyless, sterile, or bland. It is through Jesus—that wonderful bearded Man from the Galilee—it is meant to be confident, a solid spiritual construct we can live inside, new, and relational in both grace and joy. We are each of us meant to show the world Jesus…by our confidence…as we enter further and further into the newness of this grace. And how will it look?
and here we take our stand, It is solid. Consequential. Even geographical. It is a place (the Kingdom of Heaven) where we (individually and together) may solidly stand (in the security and surety of all that Jesus has done.) Every single inch of the earth’s surface is able to be inhabited with His goodness--in us: we may take this stand anywhere. And it is not a stand of division, mankind against mankind. It is a stand of spiritual flag-planting that claims all mankind—and the earth—for the Kingdom…which has forever, already, arrived.
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
Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
This is a take on Jesus' life and ministry that is never offered before and never offered again in the whole of the New Testament: that, having always been God, having always been the Ruler on the throne of Heaven, He was incalculably "rich" with riches that are inestimable according to our earthly weights and measures. Think about it. When John later tries to describe the glories of the New Heaven, New Earth, New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation, the best he can generally do to describe all its grandeur and richness is to say, "It's like this" and "like that," where he substitutes in all the finest things human minds can understand.
We cannot understand how glorious Jesus was before!
And He left all that--
He stepped down from the throne of glory, was born into the midst of vicious Roman rule, became a refugee to escape from murderous King Herod, and then lived three decades in a town of, perhaps, a couple hundred peasants.
All - don't forget! - that He might, then, minister for three years, die to set us free, and ascend to bring us - spiritual peasants that we are - into that very throne room in which this whole plan was hatched.
Today, will we remember the generosity of Jesus, the Lord of us all? He was literally rich beyond our literal telling or understanding, yet he actually became poor for our actual sakes so that his literal poverty might make us actually, spiritually rich!
Will you remember?
"The moment the truth dawns upon us that the purpose of God’s visit to this planet was not to establish another religion but to reveal the reality behind the appearance of things, we see what I believe to be another unique feature of the Christian Faith—its utter inescapability. Its principles and laws do not merely apply to religion and the religious way of life, they apply to life itself, wherever and whenever it is lived."
J.B. Phillips, God Our Contemporary
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"You must not judge by the appearance of things but by the reality!"
Jesus, in John 7:24
Below might be the best description of the experience, and feeling, and fruit of "Union with Jesus" that I've ever read anywhere. Montaigne was writing of his closest earthly friend; but try reading it as describing your pursuit of intimacy with Jesus:
In the friendship I speak of, our souls mingle and blend with each other so completely that they efface the seam that joined them, and cannot find it again. If you press me to tell why I loved him, I feel that this cannot be expressed, except by answering: Because it was he, because it was I.
Beyond all my understanding, beyond what I can say about this in particular, there was I know not what inexplicable and fateful force that was the mediator of this union. We sought each other before we met because of the reports we heard of each other, which had more effect on our affection than such reports would reasonably have; I think it was by some ordinance from heaven… Our friendship has no other model than itself, and can be compared only with itself… Our souls pulled together in such unison, they regarded each other with such ardent affection, and with a like affection revealed themselves to each other to the very depths of our hearts, that not only did I know his soul as well as mine, but I should certainly have trusted myself to him more readily than to myself.
Michel de Montaigne, Of Friendship
“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
"[Jesus] taught, and his teaching is as difficult to follow now as it was then, that what is apparently happening may bear little or no relation to what is really happening. The reality, according to him, is the establishment and growth of a Kingdom of inner loyalty which transcends all human barriers. Therefore, the realization of the existence of this Kingdom, working for its expansion, living according to its principles, and, if necessary, dying for it, is the real significance of man’s temporary existence upon the earth. Jesus taught, and demonstrated in person, that the very things which the world values most highly are irrelevant and ineffectual in the dimension of permanent reality. He neither denied the existing world nor despaired of its inhabitants, but by setting up an entirely different standard he showed the way of constructive human living. He showed men how they need not be overinvolved with this world, how they need be neither deluded by its glamours, nor confined by its limitations."
J.B. Phillips, God Our Contemporary
"Certain people declared in my hearing, ‘Unless I can find a thing in our ancient records, I refuse to believe it in the Gospel’; and when I assured them that it is indeed in the ancient scriptures, they retorted, ‘That has got to be proved.’ But for my part, my records are Jesus Christ; for me, the sacrosanct records are His cross and death and resurrection, and the faith that comes through Him. And it is by these, and by the help of your prayers, that I am hoping to be justified.
"The priests of old, I admit, were estimable men; but our own High Priest is greater, for He has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies, and to Him alone are the secret things of God committed. He is the doorway to the Father, and it is by Him that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets go in, no less than the Apostles and the whole Church; for all these have their part in God’s unity. Nevertheless, the Gospel has a distinction all its own, in the advent of our Savior Jesus Christ, and His Passion and Resurrection. We are fond of the prophets, and they did indeed point forward to Him in their preaching; yet it is the Gospel that sets the coping-stone on man’s immortality."
Ignatius of Antioch
from his letter to the Philadelphian fellowship
ca. Early 2nd Century
“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.
"The administration of the Law which was engraved in stone (and which led in fact to spiritual death) was so magnificent that the Israelites were unable to look unflinchingly at Moses’ face, for it was alight with heavenly splendor. Now if the old administration held such heavenly, even though transitory, splendor, can we not see what a much more glorious thing is the new administration of the Spirit of life? If to administer a system which is to end in condemning men was a splendid task, how infinitely more splendid is it to administer a system which ends in making men good! And while it is true that the former temporary glory has been completely eclipsed by the latter, we do well to remember that is eclipsed simply because the present permanent plan is such a very much more glorious thing than the old." 2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Do you see how Paul is comparing-contrasting this clear dichotomous pair - the Law vs. the Spirit - to bring our NEW REALITY into focus? Well, let me make the contrast even more clear!
In verses 7-11, Paul gets absolutely carried away in using different forms of the same Greek word: δόξα - "glory." In just these four sentences, he uses the word TEN TIMES:
has been glorified
having been made glorious
One senses that Paul is trying to make a point...
Well, here it is: The overriding, overpowering, overmastering reality of Jesus is GLORY. If you've ever had the sense that this is anything less than TEN GLORIES WORTH OF GLORY, you've been getting the wrong impression. We are dealing in a GLORIOUS way of life.
Which begs the question of our hearts today: Is what we're doing with all of this absolutely GLORIOUS? Do you find yourself, more often than not, feeling a little carried away by the glorious wonder of Jesus?
Or... does it feel scheduled, routine, manageable, based upon a specialized knowledge that some have and others don't; does it feel (let's be honest) a little boring? Systematic? Something that can be picked up or set back down dependent upon the way a week's going?
My friends - again - the Way of Jesus is GLORY. Anything less - anything like the old Law - is not what we're after.
Jesus Himself is what we're after. Together. Today.
"We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love." Ephesians 4:14-16
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"As far as I am concerned, the value of an ideal is measured not by its abstract beauty or purity, but simply by its capacity for being made incarnate. My realism is not the realism of the flesh; it is an incarnate realism. There is a world of difference here: the saint is the least carnal of men for the simple reason that he is the most incarnate."
Gustave Thibon, Back to Reality
"For I passed on to you Corinthians first of all the message I had myself received—that Christ died for our sins, as the scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the scriptures foretold. He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve, and subsequently he was seen simultaneously by over five hundred Christians, of whom the majority are still alive, though some have since died." (1 Corinthians 15:3-6)
Now, even though we don't have a record in the Gospels or Acts of this 500-person encounter with the Resurrected Jesus, I want us to ponder on it just a little. FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE! Presumably, with there being FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE there, these must've been people who had tracked with Him over part, or all, of His three-year ministry.
So, perhaps they'd sat amongst the 5,000 and had a share of the bread and fish. Maybe they'd been there for the Sermon on the Mount. I wonder how many of them had been standing along the street at His triumphal entry, waving the palms, shouting the praises?
For these people, whether with Him for a day or for the whole three years, I can almost guarantee I know the thought that ran through their minds throughout: "What I'm seeing here is historic. This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff..."
BUT... then He died. Thereby moving from "historic" to "historical." What yesterday was unprecedented always get crushed under the weight of the Present...
EXCEPT... if death - and time - no longer rule. If a Man should walk back out of the tomb...
For these FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE, imagine assembling, being together, and then - THERE HE IS - ALIVE - JUST LIKE BEFORE. For the entirety of the rest of their human lives, Jesus would never be "historical": He will always be contemporary.
Where is He, for you, on that timeline? Is He "back there" or "right here"? Is His life "historical" or contemporaneously "historic" - happening right now and all the time?
Here's a hint at your answer: The way you live your daily life. It will tell you. It knows.
"Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself." 1 Corinthians 11:1
Really, this is the exact definition of the generational process we now call "discipleship": to, as closely as possible, imitate and take on the way another person intimately interacts with, imitates and personally follows Jesus. This has been an important thought for our community for years, so let's start off the New Year by saying again: Discipleship is not knowledge-about; it is not knowing-all-the-right-answers; discipleship is the literal process of literally, demonstrably following Jesus of Nazareth. And one of the best ways of doing that is to copy another - to apprentice yourself to another - who is literally, demonstrably doing that already.
Again, as Paul says it: "Copy me... as I copy Christ himself."
Which raises a pair of good New Year's looking-forward-and-looking-back questions to consider:
Who, personally, are you learning the Way from?
Who, right now, are you leading along that Way?
Happy New Year, my friends! May it be a rich one in Him!