“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!
“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!
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." Hebrews 8:10
Friends, this is so important for us to note: What are the qualifications for His being our God and we being His people?
'He will put His laws in our minds and write them on our hearts.'
And how much of that sounds like studiousness, self-discipline or rigorous Christian self-education? Read it again:
'He will put His laws in our minds and write them on our hearts.'
And so, how does the Father "put" and "write" His Way onto the canvas of our human minds and hearts? It is only the work of His Holy Spirit. Other actions and works may be helpful for our growth in knowing Jesus, but they can never supplant that which He is planting in us Himself.
Our personal study, our church-attendance, our fellowship groups, our podcast-listening, our reading-the-latest-Christian-book must never preempt the all-importance of the direct work of the Holy Spirit within. Otherwise we're not just putting the cart before the horse; we're staring at a cart without a horse and wondering why it will not go...
'He will put His laws in our minds and write them on our hearts.'
“The work that our life accomplishes, the whole of this work, the meaning of it is not, nor can it be, intelligible to me… To understand it, to understand the whole of the Master’s will is not in my power. But to do His will, that is written down in my conscience, is in my power; that I know for certain. And when I am fulfilling it I have sureness and peace.”
Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection
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"...Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." Isaiah 30:20b,21
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)
Now as the feast of unleavened bread, called the Passover, was approaching, fear of the people made the chief priests and scribes try desperately to find a way of getting rid of Jesus. Then a diabolical plan came into the mind of Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve. He went and discussed with the chief priests and officers a method of getting Jesus into their hands. They were delighted and arranged to pay him for it. He agreed, and began to look for a suitable opportunity for betrayal when there was no crowd present. (Luke 22:1-6)
Where does this whole tragic plot really spring from? From “fear of the people,” we are told: fear of the people getting carried away with this Jesus and possibly doing something rash or foolhardy that will upset all the norms. But, as Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man will prove to be a snare…” It certainly was for Judas and these religious leaders...
The reality for us: It’s the level to which we do get carried away with Jesus that sets us free from the fear of man. For, "He has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.' We, therefore, can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’" (Hebrews 13:5b,6)
“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.
"Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who have obeyed the call, who are loved by God the Father and kept in the faith by Jesus Christ—may you ever experience more and more of mercy, peace and love!" Jude v. 1,2
Two things here. First, as Jude tells us immediately, he is - like us - a servant of Jesus Christ and, he tells us, a brother of "James" - probably James the leader of the Jerusalem fellowship, James the writer of the Book of James, and, most importantly, James the brother of Jesus - meaning, Jude too is one of Jesus' brothers. Wow. One more time to get to read from the perspective of a family-member of Jesus who, despite their intimacy, eventually because of that intimacy, realizes that He is, in fact, the Christ. Imagine that! Imagine praying to, and worshipping, your very own Brother!
Second thing: There are a pair of Greek words in verse 1 that, if we stop to pay attention, could fundamentally change our theology of what all's going on between us and Jesus. The words τετηρημένοις κλητοῖς - "having been kept called (in Christ Jesus)" - are in the Perfect Participle tense and mood, meaning that - in the past - Jesus called you, once and for all time, and - in the past - He already did everything that was necessary to keep you called, now and for all time.
It's little phrases like this one that tend to make me realize I've only just begun to scratch the surface of what "It is Finished" actually means for me. Thank you, Jesus, for one more insight!
“Important events – whether serious, happy or unfortunate – do not change a man’s soul, they merely bring it into relief, just as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it blows off all its leaves. Such events highlight what is hidden in the shadows; they nudge the spirit toward a place where it can flourish.”
Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française
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"When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him." James 1:2-5
"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?
Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and after turning the minds of the people against Paul they stoned him and dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead. But while the disciples were gathered in a circle round him, Paul got up and walked back to the city... (Acts 14:19,20a)
Since the very first time that I ever read the Book of Acts – I was probably in my mid-teens – I have always been overwhelmed by this moment. Imagine if you’d seen it; if you’d been standing in that circle around him. You’d seen the mob form; you’d seen the stones start to fly: the sickening sound of their striking Paul’s flesh; you’d watched him crumple; you’d watched the people ripping at his clothes and dragging his (you thought) corpse outside the city gates, where then, like a ragdoll, they’d thrown him into a ditch at the side of the road…
Moments later, he gasps.
Painfully, impossibly slowly, stands to his feet.
Then, turning around, waving away your help, reenters the city whose populace just tried to put him to death for speaking the name Jesus.
With moments like this, you always want to find words that best sum up the spirit and sense of exactly what’s going on; words that simply say it all. Well, I believe I’ve got them for this scene; they are words written later by Paul himself to the Ephesian church. He wrote: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1).
Friends, how highly do you rate “the calling you have received”?
"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?
"Note the implication here — to say that Christ 'ascended' means that he must previously have 'descended,' that is from the height of Heaven to the depth of this world. The one who made this descent is identically the same person as he who has now ascended high above the very Heavens — that the whole universe from lowest to highest might know his presence." Ephesians 4:9,10
What an amazing picture of the Incarnation and Ascension! Jesus, the One who so humbled Himself that He’d leave His throne and be born into squalor, is the very same One who has now ascended and retaken that throne. You and I are the privileged ones now tasked with making His “presence” known to others; in fact, to “the whole universe.”
Andrew Murray paints this beautifully in The Holiest of All: The Resurrection occurs; forty days pass; Jesus ascends; then, ten days later, come the events of Pentecost. Murray’s assertion is that the Holy Spirit had witnessed the activity and glory of Jesus’ return-to-Heaven and then came to bear witness from within us to that glory.
That is what your day is "for" today. Now let's go live it to the full.
"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.