“...we must not get the impression that the Christian life is one continuous conflict, one unbroken irritating struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. A thousand times no. The heart that learns to die with Christ soon knows the blessed experience of rising with Him, and all the world’s persecutions cannot still the high note of holy joy that springs up in the soul that has become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.”
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men
"His unchangeableness enters into the faith that feeds upon it, and communicates itself to it; yea, imparts itself to the soul that clings to Him as such. Look not at yourself, your feelings or attainments, but at Him who changeth not..."
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
"How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead. Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have 'arrived' spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal — my reward the honor of being called by God in Christ." (Philippians 3:9b-14)
As Paul evaluates his life, this translator, J.B. Phillips, frames what has happened within him by choosing to phrase his initial words as “How changed are my ambitions!” Which begs the question of us: What are our ambitions? In which direction are your own efforts in life aimed? After wealth? Success? Power? Title?
Because, to be truthful - and quite blunt - most of the “ambitions” that are held up highest by this world run clean contrary to the Way of Jesus. He didn’t send out His disciples and say, “Get into positions of prominence and, from the top, effect great cultural change in a downward direction with your accrued wealth and prestige.” So, for that reason, as Paul traces the shift in his own personal priorities, he gives us his “do’s and don’ts” in personally drawing ever nearer to Jesus:
1) “I do not consider myself to have ‘arrived’ spiritually”
2) “I do not consider myself to have fully grasped [the purpose for which Christ called me] even now”
1) “I long to know Christ and the power shown by his Resurrection”
2) “I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died”
3) “I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me”
4) “I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal” – “the honor of being called by Christ in God.”
Paul’s “changed ambition” was to glory in the “honor of being called”; in essence, to never get past the fact that Jesus, the Savior of the world, the King of Kings, actually chose to choose a man like him. As he “grew up” in his Belief, Paul made it a point to never grow past his ability to be surprised by the glorious salvation of Jesus.
"On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn."
G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
Christ came to open up the way, and bring us back to God. It was God who created us for himself: that he might be our blessedness and we his: that we might have our abode in him, and he in us. It is God we have lost through sin; it is to God Christ would win and take us back. God is more, infinitely more, than salvation, and than heaven: God is the eternal life and eternal love who longs to live in us, and to fill us with his love and with himself. For this Christ came; for this he suffered; that he might bring us to God.
Andrew Murray, The Cross of Christ
"I cannot help pointing out what a perfect illustration this is of the way you have been admitted to the safety of the Christian 'ark' by baptism, which means, of course, far more than the mere washing of a dirty body: it means the ability to face God with a clear conscience." 1 Peter 3:21a
Wouldn't that be a wonderful line to open any baptism with: "This 'means the ability to face God with a clear conscience'"? I love the simplicity of that language. And yet I'm not sure if we really, truly believe it.
But let's think of the context: These words are coming from the pen of the very first person in human history to prescribe being "baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that you may have your sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) This man, Simon Peter, had seen the baptism of John the Baptist, had helped administer the baptism of discipleship before the Cross, and now knew the glorious power of baptism into the Jesus who was risen and alive. So I'm kinda liking his theology around the freedom we have in Jesus. He feels like a fairly credible voice and authority, right?
So, you and I - today - may face God the Father with a clear conscience because of the finished work of His Son. Thank you, Jesus! What a way to start another week of our lives!
“Of course if the object of Christianity were to produce good, respectable people, quite a fair proportion could go on being good and respectable, and even bringing up good and respectable children, without much aid from the Church. But suppose that is not the point at all; it certainly is not the point in the New Testament. The Church is never regarded as a rallying-ground for the good and respectable. On the contrary, it is a fellowship of those whose lives have been transformed by Christ, a fellowship of those who have become aware of the vast spiritual struggle which is taking place on the stage of this planet, a fellowship of those who are the actual living instruments of God’s Purpose today.”
J.B. Phillips, New Testament Christianity
John the Baptist, speaking: "For the one whom God sent speaks the authentic words of God — and there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him! The Father loves the Son and has put everything into his hand. The man who believes in the Son has eternal life. The man who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; he lives under the anger of God." (John 3:34-36)
While John the Baptist lands with a THUD on that position of non-acceptance, let’s go back and consider all the glories he first attributes to Jesus:
1) He “speaks the authentic words of God” – The Incarnate God, the “Word,” cannot fail, every time He opens His mouth, to speak the authentic, fresh, original words of God. In other words, Jesus letting out a sigh is Scripture!
2) “there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him” – And, actually, because the Greek in this phrase is fairly porous, it can also mean that there’s no measuring of the Holy Spirit Jesus can give. Glory!
3) “The Father loves the Son…” – John the Baptist is the first Christ-follower who understands the Father-Son relationship going on in front of him; he’s the first to speak of the Father-God as Father.
4) “and [the Father] has put everything into his hand” – It’s difficult to put this concept into other words. It’s almost like the exact polar opposite to the power of the U.S. President as he carries around with him the nuclear launch-codes. That power, in the negative, is the power of universal catastrophic death. Instead, Jesus carried with Him the fullness of all the heavenly things; He, a Man, walked along holding universal supernatural LIFE.
5) So, INDEED “the man who believes in the Son has eternal life” – And that’s not just “someday in Heaven” sort of language. The word for “has” here is in the 3rd Person, Present Indicative Active; the one “believing” today “HAS life eternal," ALREADY, TODAY. Are you presently experiencing that verb-tensing as your inheritance-in-Him?
And how do all these descriptions hit your heart today?
When we had finally said farewell to [the elders of the Ephesian church] we set sail, running a straight course to Cos and the next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. Here we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, and we went aboard her and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and leaving it on our left we sailed to Syria and put in at Tyre, since that was where the ship was to discharge her cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them for a week. They felt led by the Spirit again and again to warn Paul not to go up to Jerusalem... (Acts 21:1-4)
In reading that last sentence, I am struck by the offhand way the Holy Spirit is referenced: “They felt led by the Spirit again and again…” In the original language, it’s even more succinct and informal-sounding: “[they] told Paul, by the Spirit, not to go up to Jerusalem.” These people are described by Luke as “disciples,” not even necessarily as prophets, and yet they think it’s their business to be listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit for other people and then, having heard something, to speak it and not hold back.
We don’t see as much of this anymore, do we?
Well, why not?
Certainly, it’s NOT because the Holy Spirit is any less present, any less powerful, any less vocal; it’s because so few people are actively, presently listening for His actual voice. Why? Perhaps they think this sort of thing is just for “charismatics”; maybe they’re afraid they’ll “hear wrong”; maybe they’re not sure of their recipient’s ability to discern in the midst of what they’re offered.
But flip everything I just wrote on its head and here’s where you’d be: The Holy Spirit is just as present, just as powerful, just as vocal as He was to these brothers and sisters; it’s our greatest earthly-spiritual asset to be active, present listeners. He’s not just for “charismatics,” He’s for all Jesus-followers; He’ll teach you how to “hear right”; and it’s His job to teach your hearers how to discern too.
My friends, let’s listen, hear, and speak from this Spirit today. He is speaking. Let's be active to experience what He's offering!
Then Jesus took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be in terrible distress and misery. “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them, “stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he walked on a little way and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me—yet it must not be what I want, but what you want.” (Matthew 26:37-39)
Words with which we're intimately familiar. We've all heard all the talks and sermons about this passage before.
But: did you know that, in Matthew's account, that's not actually what He says? Read it in the original:
"Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you."
Out of His own experience of being human, Jesus has learned the inner reality of what it means to have a will and to express - to act upon - that will. Like us, He had a mind that perceived, pondered and made decisions; like us, He had a will that operated at His soul/spirit level. But read it again:
"Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you."
What if Jesus is telling us here that what we think of as "the will of God" is inseparable from the very nature of God: "but as you"? What if the seat of the so-called "will" in God is actually only His soul/spirit, ie. the Holy Spirit? Thus, what if to know the Spirit is to know all the mysteries of God? What if to release our own will is the first step into a complete absorption into His very being: "but as you"?
I think we think of our lives as this balancing act between "my will" and "God's will"; what if it's actually a question of your will vs. the I AM? Your little drop in the bucket vs. THE WHOLE OCEAN?
"This is my prayer: That God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and the all-glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realize how great is the hope to which he is calling you — the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to us — and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. That power is the same divine power which was demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead and gave him the place of supreme honor in Heaven — a place that is infinitely superior to any conceivable command, authority, power or control, and which carries with it a name far beyond any name that could ever be used in this world or the world to come." Ephesians 1:16b-21
What is the heart of Paul's prayer for his Ephesian friends? It's that they will:
1. Know Jesus better all the time
2. Grasp how limitless is the hope offered by Him
3. Live in the power actually given to them by the Holy Spirit who both raised and ascended Jesus
And where might we find Jesus Himself in the midst of these marvelous verses? At the right hand of the Father, of course! He’s the King and High Priest who's presently reigning and ministering in two places – “up there” and “in you” - even as you read these words. And it's He who'll teach you to know Himself; He who is the limitless hope; He who is the power of your human life. And, by the way, it’s also His work to make those two places (heaven and your heart) into One place – to unite heaven and earth in every believers’ life.
That's the wonderful gentleman you're following! The One who makes it "on earth (in you) as it is in Heaven (where He is)."
“When I come to a man and he bestows upon me a gift of money, I get it and go away with it. He has given me something of his; the rest he keeps for himself. But that is not the way with the power of God. God can part with nothing of His own power, and therefore I can experience the power and goodness of God only so far as I am in contact and fellowship with Himself; and when I come into contact and fellowship with Himself, I come into contact and fellowship with the whole omnipotence of God, and have the omnipotence of God to help me every day.”
Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender
“People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce men and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity. How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us?”
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
On the first day of the week, when we were assembled for the breaking of bread, Paul, since he intended to leave on the following day, began to speak to them and prolonged his address until almost midnight. There were a great many lamps burning in the upper room where we met, and a young man called Eutychus who was sitting on the window-sill fell asleep as Paul’s address became longer and longer. Finally, completely overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground from the third storey and was picked up as dead. But Paul went down, bent over him and holding him gently in his arms, said, “Don’t be alarmed; he is still alive.” Then he went upstairs again and, when they had broken bread and eaten, continued a long earnest talk with them until daybreak, and so finally departed. As for the boy, they took him home alive, feeling immeasurably relieved. (Acts 20:7-12)
For Luke, later writing down not only these - his eyewitness accounts of the doings of Acts - but also his expertly-assembled eyewitness testimonies of the doings of Jesus - the Gospel of Luke - there had to be an almost eerie feeling of “I’ve seen that before” – déjà vu – and then also “I’ve heard that before” - déjà écouté. Keeping in mind what we’ve just read, I want you to now read a portion of Luke 8:
Then when [Jesus] came to [Jairus, the synagogue leader’s] house, he would not allow anyone to go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s parents. All those already there were weeping and wailing over her, but he said, “Stop crying! She is not dead, she is fast asleep.”
This drew a scornful laugh from them, for they were quite certain that she had died. But he turned them all out, took the little girl’s hand and called out to her, “Wake up, my child!”
And her spirit came back and she got to her feet at once, and Jesus ordered food to be given to her. Her parents were nearly out of their minds with joy, but Jesus told them not to tell anyone what had happened. (Luke 8:51-56)
Perhaps you’re starting to think that I overemphasize my main life-message (but, you see, I actually think it’s the only message) – that Jesus is alive and He’s attempting to live His life over again right through our lives. But I believe, in the midst of the screaming and panic and fear and anxiety of this moment, it is only Paul’s personal communion with the Spirit of Jesus that tells him what to do and how to do it. And I believe, in the midst of the screaming and panic and fear and anxiety of our world, that it is only your personal communion with the Spirit of Jesus that can tell you how to live by revealing His live, alive, in you.
He is alive and He is attempting to live His life over again through your life. Today.
Then Jesus went out of the Temple, and was walking away when his disciples came up and drew his attention to its buildings. “You see all these?” replied Jesus. “I tell you every stone will be thrown down till there is not a single one left standing upon another.” And as he was sitting on the slope of the Mount of Olives his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will this happen? What will be the signal for your coming and the end of this world?” Matthew 24:1-3
Now this I find fascinating - and, in a way, fascinatingly familiar. Here the disciples are: Sitting on a shoulder of the Mount of Olives, under the shade of the trees, looking across the Kidron Valley toward the city and the Temple. Right next to them is the Event-of-all-human-history Himself: the One who has come: the Bringer - for all time - of the Kingdom-Age of humanity: He who makes it "on earth as it is in heaven." And their questions to Him? "When will some events happen? When will you show up? When will Heaven's ways arrive?" And while I know that they are thinking toward the Second Coming, I don't think their questions are too terribly dissimilar to how we like to ask: "When will things change for me? Are you really with me, Jesus? Can't you just do this one little thing for me?"
If the disciples had had the self-possession to actually possess the moment they're now in, they might've wanted to use this conversation this way: "Jesus, you've been mentioning being betrayed, being killed, rising from the dead: can you tell us more about that?" Or: "Jesus, what would you like each of us to do for you... even just for the rest of this day?"
For us - and did you know this? - the greatest answer to all our theological questions and the very best way to await the Second Coming with great expectancy is to actively, demonstratively, listen to and obey this Jesus of Nazareth - today. The future is His realm: Eternity. Our place, our time, is Today. With Him.
What are today's questions you have for Him?
"You, my brother, are not a servant any longer; you are a son. And, if you are a son, then you are certainly an heir of God through Christ.
"At one time when you had no knowledge of God, you were under the authority of gods who had no real existence. But now that you have come to know God, or rather are known by him, how can you revert to dead and sterile principles and consent to be under their power all over again? Your religion is beginning to be a matter of observing certain days or months or seasons or years. Frankly, you stagger me, you make me wonder if all my efforts over you have been wasted!" Galatians 4:7-11
Consider the underlying statements in that second paragraph, one by one:
1) “gods who had no real existence” – Can you picture people who’ve made their own god by their own labor and now bow down to worship it in all its false glory? “Oh, thou Chair that I hath crafted and hath hewn with my own hands, certainly you are the god of all the planets!”
2) “you have come to know God, or rather are known by him” – Aren’t you floored by that sentiment?! The actual God of the universe who actually crafted the entirety of Creation is the One who actually knows you! The One who saw our fallen sinful selves and wouldn’t accept our separation and, so, sent His Son to redeem us by His blood! The One who literally took on flesh and then walked out a perfect life, giving us a glimpse of the immensity of the Godhead in human form! The One who took the penalty of our sin – tried, mocked, flogged, condemned, murdered – so that we might taste His life eternal! The One who strode out of the tomb to show the power of the unquenchable Life and ascended to take His kingly-priestly place at the right hand of the Father! Yes, that One “knows” us!
3) “Your religion” is becoming a matter of “seasons or years” – If you and I choose to become “Sunday-only Christians,” observing only one day as our “season” for worship, we’re taking the enormity of our God and treating Him as befits a mute idol. Essentially, we’re sitting ourselves down in the lap of that false god “Chair”; we just so happen to call it a church pew...
You see, the greatest glory in all human history is the Eternal God conforming Himself into the shape of a man to save us from our sin. But then the greatest human tragedy is when we try to conform that overwhelming glory to the whims of our lifestyle. May it never be so for us, Brothers and Sisters! We are Sons and Daughters now!
In Luke's Gospel, we get to witness an interesting little scene between Jesus and His disciples, regarding prayer and "how to pray." The text from Luke 11 is below in bold italics with some thoughts to follow each stanza:
One day it happened that Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John used to teach his disciples.”
"When you pray,” returned Jesus, and you can picture the Twelve piously closing their eyes…
“you should say, ‘Father… All their eyes must’ve immediately opened. “No, Jesus! We want you to teach us how to pray, not just hear how you do it! Something like, ‘O Eternal Smiter of the Amalekites, Jebusites, Hittites etc…’” But Jesus actually meant this opener, didn't He? He wants you and I to draw near to the Creator and Sustainer of all things, lifting up our hands and hearts to Him, and begin with…"Dad!" Doesn’t that thought make your heart leap with joy?
may your name be honored… By which we’re expressing both our desire and our personal intent. Do we want to see His name honored? Well then, let’s honor it ourselves...
may your kingdom come! When we pray these words, we’re doing three concurrent things: 1) We’re drawing a demarcation between this world and the Heavenly Kingdom of Jesus 2) We’re expressing our desire that His Kingdom’s “otherness” would actually show up 3) Hopefully we’re aligning our lives and hearts with the doings that actually cause that Kingdom to arrive on the scene.
Give us each day the bread we need… This phrase reminds our minds and hearts that only He provides for our needs. And that our need/desire/gratitude should only look to this particular day, not to the future. For He gives no frame of reference for weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual consumption of bread, does He? He is the provider of the manna, after all...
and forgive us our sins, for we forgive anyone who owes anything to us… This is the only phrase He prays with a qualifying clause: “Please do this for us because we’re already doing it ourselves…” And I love how casually He seems to throw that last part in! Imagine Him looking at His friends with twinkling eyes and a hint of a smile, as He prayed these words. That clause calls up - or it should call up - hearts of true forgiveness in us everyday: Our forgiveness by Him must elicit forgiveness of others for Him...
and keep us clear of temptation.’” Remember: Our greatest weapon against sin – in fact, our only weapon against sin – is the hand and presence of our God, leading us along. Truly, we have nothing else but Him!
“Alas for you, you blind leaders! You say, ‘if anyone swears by the Temple it amounts to nothing, but if he swears by the gold of the Temple he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools, which is the more important, the gold or the Temple which sanctifies the gold? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar it doesn’t matter, but if he swears by the gift placed on the altar he is bound by his oath.’ Have you no eyes—which is more important, the gift, or the altar which sanctifies the gift? Any man who swears by the altar is swearing by the altar and whatever is offered upon it; and anyone who swears by the Temple is swearing by the Temple and by him who dwells in it; and anyone who swears by Heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by the one who sits upon that throne." Matthew 23:16-22
Yesterday, at the Anchor gathering, we talked about how, if you invert the wordings/meanings of Matthew 23, you end up with a glorious picture of the New Covenant life that is ours. Take a look at these seven verses, turned upside-down into the Way of Jesus and see what I mean:
“Oh, and blessed are you, you wide-eyed servants! You say, ‘if anyone lives by the Presence of God it amounts to absolutely everything, and if he lives by the inheritance of the Kingdom he is freed by the blood of Jesus.’ You brilliant friends, they are really the same, aren’t they: the Kingdom-inheritance and my Presence that brings the Kingdom? And you also say, ‘If anyone is saved by the Cross, it is life, and if he then lives by the power of the Resurrection, he is given a brand new life.’ Oh! I’m so impressed by your spiritual eyes! For, yes, the two go perfectly together, don’t they: the Cross and the New Life that springs from the tomb? So, any man who lives under the blood of the Cross need only go a step further to meet me at the dawn of Easter and receive the ‘life, life to the full’ I offer. And anyone who lives by my Presence is living already in the Kingdom and by me who dwells in it; and anyone who delves deep into my inheritance is living at the throne of God already, and by me who sits upon that throne."
Isn't it amazing that we follow the Man who spoke Matthew 23's judgments in the new and living Way given by His Spirit? Thank you, Jesus!
"Then the king said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is quite ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it. So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’ So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike. And the hall became filled with guests. But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding. ‘How did you come in here, my friend,’ he said to him, ‘without being properly dressed for the wedding?’ And the man had nothing to say. Then the king said to the ushers, ‘Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside. There he can weep and regret his folly!’ For many are invited but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:8-14
Since you and I have already been "invited" to the Wedding Feast, and now are getting ready, standing in front of the mirror, combing our hair, checking our teeth, what are we meant to be wearing... today and everyday?
How about these:
Isaiah 61 – “he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…”
1 Peter 5 – “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
Ephesians 4 – “… be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Colossians 3 – “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…”
Oh, but how will we ever put on all of these things; how will we ever be properly clothed; how will we ever fit in at this wondrous Wedding Feast?!
Romans 13 – “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ…”
The reason that the king in the parable so immediately noticed the wrongly-dressed man was that he specifically wasn't "dressed for a wedding." The reason that this Christianity thing doesn't seem to be working, seems hard, seems burdensome, is because we haven't started by putting Jesus on. "Abide in me," He says, "and I in you."
Friends, don't try to come to the Wedding Feast dressed as yourself: the only way through the door, the only way out onto the dance-floor, is in His likeness. The Father wants to see Jesus. He is the Bridegroom and the way for the Bride to get into the party.
“We must have faith; and let us not apologize for it, for faith is an organ of knowledge and can tell us more about ultimate reality than all the findings of science. We are not opposed to science, but we recognize its proper limitations and refuse to stop where it is compelled to stop. The Bible tells of another world too fine for the instruments of scientific research to discover. By faith we engage that world and make it ours. It is accessible to us through the blood of the everlasting covenant. If we will believe we may even now enjoy the presence of God and the ministry of His heavenly messengers. Only unbelief can rob us of this royal privilege.”
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men
"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!
Now there were in the Church at Antioch both prophets and teachers — Barnabas, for example, Simeon surnamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen the foster-brother of the governor Herod, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, saying, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task to which I have called them.” At this, after further fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them and set them free for this work. (Acts 13:1-3)
For your own Bible-reading interest, this would be the fourth example of the laying-on of hands in the book of Acts, and what is it for, this particular time? To “set them free for this work.”
And compared to every other Biblical translation, this translator, J.B. Phillips, does a pretty good job of giving a properly robust rendering of what Luke actually wrote there. Most every other translation just reads, “And they sent them off.” Blah!
When the Holy Spirit specifically calls a man or woman – which, remember, He’s done for each of us who’ve given their life to Jesus – I want you to read, by the definitions of the word Luke uses, just how totally He calls you out – and then back in:
You are “loosed from,” “set free, released, relieved from,” “acquitted of,” “freed by payment of ransom from,” “discharged from,” “divorced from,” “dismissed from” your former life...
and, on the other side, the Calling side:
you are conversely now bound to, yoked with, harnessed to, drawn deeper into, charged with, purchased by payment of ransom for, called further in, permanently married to, and forever appointed to the Heavenly plans planned exactly for you.
I think we wander around far too often, wondering, “Does God even notice me?” when the better question is: “Do we even notice Him?” That list of definitions and counter-definitions you just read is precisely how freely He’s personally set you free and how fully He’s personally set you apart for His work. Now won’t we just give in and BE HIS today?!
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.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 with some notes in italics -
But we can thank God continually for you, brothers, whom the Lord loves. He has chosen you from the beginning to save you, to make you holy by the work of his Spirit and your own belief in the truth. Or, in other words: There’s a chosenness from the dawn of time that works hand-in-hand with our (in the Greek) “salvation in the sanctification of the Spirit” and our “belief of the truth.” Or, to put it even more simply: Our Belief, while the Holy Spirit does His inner work in us, is our experience of our "chosen" status.
It was his call that you followed when we preached the Gospel to you, and he has set before you the prospect of sharing the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So stand firm, and hold on! Be loyal to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or in writings. In essence, Paul is saying to the Thessalonians: “Just believe what you already know.” And what a perfect word for us too, today! You and I must cultivate the abiding, deep and first-hand knowledge of Jesus that we presently possess and then live so as to believe Him.
Living all you know of Him is all you have to do today. It really is just that simple!