On the eve of the Battle of Cannae (ca. 216 BC) after the Roman general, Varro, had set out his lines:
"Hannibal ordered his forces to arm for battle, while he himself, with a few companions, rode to the top of a gently sloping ridge, from which he watched his enemies as they formed in battle array. When one of his companions, named Gisco, a man of his own rank, remarked that the number of the enemy amazed him, Hannibal put on a serious look and said: 'Gisco, another thing has escaped your notice which is more amazing still.' And when Gisco asked what it was, 'It is the fact,' said he, 'that in all this multitude there is no one who is called Gisco.' The jest took them all by surprise and set them laughing, and as they made their way down from the ridge, they reported the pleasantry to all who met them, so that great numbers were laughing heartily, and Hannibal's escort could not even recover themselves. The sight of this infused courage into the Carthaginians. They reasoned that their general must have a mighty contempt for the enemy if he laughed and jested so in the presence of danger."
Plutarch, The Lives
At the start of this workweek, do you realize that Jesus, looking out across the world and its waywardness, all its fear and uncertainty, is absolutely delighted that you are part of what He's up to? That you have a part in what He's planning to do? That you, along with Him, can laugh in the face of sin, death and the enemy?
You, my friend, are His favorite Gisco for the sake of the Gospel!
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
* * *
"You must not judge by the appearance of things but by the reality!"
Jesus, in John 7:24
All this we want to meet with sincerity, with insight and patience; by sheer kindness and the Holy Spirit; with genuine love, speaking the plain truth, and living by the power of God. Our sole defense, our only weapon, is a life of integrity, whether we meet honor or dishonor, praise or blame. Called "impostors" we must be true, called "nobodies" we must be in the public eye. Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always "going through it" yet never "going under." We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have "nothing to bless ourselves with" yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet in reality we have everything worth having. (2 Corinthians 6:6-10)
Isn't that lovely? The life of Jesus in Paul - in us - in you - is so radiantly glorious with heavenly potential that, no matter what life throws at you, His life in you offers the ultimate counterpoint.
If life, or the world, or a person or group of people, say to you: You’re an impostor, a nobody; your life is lifeless; what’s the point in your Jesus thing?; it’s sad and small; it has no earthly benefit; and certainly no upside.
Then you, with sincerity and insight and patience you’ve learned from Him; with the sheer kindness that comes from living by His Spirit; with genuine love for life – and the world – and this person or group of people – may answer with the plain truth and the experienced, first-hand power of God: But, you see, I have found Him to be true right here in my inner life, and it is He who has put me right here in front of you; I am alive with the life He offers me every single morning, which is why, you see, I’m never cowed or afraid. His joy in me is inextinguishable; He has blessed me with true riches that I’d love to share with you; and, in reality, I am standing before you today already possessing everything that is actually worth having in the human life.
How's that for a posture for your day?
"So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these 'clothes' but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal. Now the power that has planned this experience for us is God, and he has given us his Spirit as a guarantee of its truth." 2 Corinthians 5:4,5
"HIS Spirit as a GUARANTEE." I don't know which of those two words to talk about first - they're both so preposterously wonderful!
God...has given you...His Spirit. His own personal inner life. He has just given Him to you. You may abide within, and rely upon, the same inner resources that commanded and upheld the earthly life of Jesus.
And He has been given to you "as a guarantee" - as, in the Greek, an ἀρραβῶνα: "a present; a pledge; as earnest-money." What He has put in you - His very own Spirit - is a downpayment on the day when you'll be swallowed up in His glory.
Your experience of, and your delight in the Holy Spirit today is the degree to which you're already in Heaven.
Shall we go live there?
Consider some promises, extrapolated, and some realities - already ours! - from the words of Isaiah 51:
“I, even I, am he who comforts you.” Our only comfort is to be found in Him. In God. In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On any given day, you may stop whatever you’re doing, sit perfectly still wherever you are, and actually ask to be internally comforted. He will comfort you, right there and then.
“The cowering prisoners will soon be set free…” Or, better yet: The cowering prisoners have been set free! You are already free--today! The blood of Jesus has already warranted for your perfect, holy blamelessness; you cannot be more free than you already are. He has promised that—and then done the entire work to make it so.
“they will not die in their dungeon…” Your circumstances today are not the whole story. No matter what you’re presently experiencing, no matter the hardships you’re currently enduring, you are not outside of how He would seek to lead and care for you. Can you, today, trust Him? He will not allow you to languish unnecessarily. He is actually working out something in your life, right this minute.
“nor will they lack bread.” He is the only Provider you’ve ever had. Your paycheck isn’t the boss of you. Your boss isn’t the boss of you. The One who easily feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the fields isn’t without resources that specifically have your name on them. Will you trust Him—and ask?
“I have put my words in your mouth…” Jesus promised His disciples that whenever they were dragged before governors and kings for His sake, He would literally speak His words right from their mouths. Again, here, it’s promised: He will arm you with proper words. He wants His sons and daughters to always have the Holy Spirit-infused vocabulary for every situation: He has promised it.
“And covered you with the shadow of my hand…” Your life lives in the shadow—not of death, or discouragement, nor of sin, or of hopelessness, or despair—but in the cool, fresh shade of His mighty hand. Nothing can get to you that doesn’t have His allowance for your good. No arrow or word or trial can ever outflank Him. You are presently nested right within His will, under the awe-inspiringly, massive power of His hand; you are right where you belong. Your position is assured. You are beloved. You are His.
Isn't our Lord Jesus wonderful?
“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
“His desire is toward me. My soul, believe and ponder this wonderful thought, until you feel drawn with overmastering force to give yourself over to Jesus, for the satisfaction of His desire toward you: then shall you too be satisfied.”
Andrew Murray, The Lord’s Table
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20, NASB)
What’s most fascinating about the words of this well-known, well-worn promise almost aren’t the words themselves, but instead the hearers who first heard them read aloud: the “lukewarm” church at Laodicea, one of the seven First Century churches spoken about in the Book of Revelation. Can you imagine sitting in the fellowship at Laodicea, receiving that miraculous, written-down revelation-of-Heaven from John, and then hearing that you were, more likely than anything, to be “spit out of [Jesus’] mouth”? That, even though you’d been week-by-weekly going through the motions of meeting, doing your nice little services, you’d been deluding yourselves about the reality of your obedience?
What a moment that must’ve been!
But even more remarkable is the fact that, after all the difficult words Jesus speaks to this wayward fellowship, He then turns right around and offers up today’s promise to them. He changes the subject by saying, “All those whom I love I correct and discipline. Therefore, shake off your complacency and repent” (Rev. 3:19, PNT) and then speaks that “Behold…”
How wonderful is Jesus! That no matter how we’ve lost our way, wandered from His Way, got into patterns of self-delusion, fruitless living, lukewarm folly--He calls us back! He knocks at the door of our heart and—if we’ll only crack the door, say, “Who’s there?”—He’ll walk right in and set the table for dinner together! This is the glorious God we belong to! This is the Savior with that salvation-smirk on His face!
And then comes even another amazing word spoken to the hearers of this promise, that same lukewarm Laodicean fellowship:
As for the victorious, I will give him the honor of sitting beside me on my throne, just as I myself have won the victory and have taken my seat beside my Father on his throne (Rev. 3:21, PNT).
My friends, the Jesus who is knocking at your door today, wanting to take His meals at your table, is also the Jesus who will one day invite you up onto His throne. The One who’s made you holy and blameless—fit for Heaven—victorious with His victory—is the One who can’t wait to say to His Father, “Could you slide over a little? One of my best friends has finally arrived. This one who heard My knock, opened the door, let Me in, and dined with Me—well, now he’s here with us, Father. Slide on over. Let’s let him sit between us—forever.”
Thank you, Jesus.
"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
“This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9, NLT
Here’s a picture:
Imagine standing on the wide, sweeping plains on the west side of the Jordan River, listening to the sound of the wind whistling through the river rushes. Behind you, a few hundred yards away, sleep the hundreds of thousands of people you have just become the leader for; you have only just become their leader in place of the only leader they’ve ever known. You’re standing in the darkness, by yourself, listening to the whistling of the wind, wondering how you’ll ever accomplish the next day. Before you stretches the land that, all throughout your life, you’ve heard is yours; forty years before, you’d even spied it out. You have personally tasted the sweetness of its fruit, seen the beauty of its mountains and valleys, observed the mighty fortresses you’ll have to take to take it.
All in all, you are scared. And excited.
But, really and truly, scared.
Looking back, you begin studying the swirling- and flaring- and expanding- and contracting-movements of the pillar of fire that hangs just this side of the camp. It’s funny: There are times – like right now – when it’s become easy to forget the power of the presence of God; when that great theophany fades into the commonplace. You walk a little closer, opening out the fullness of your spirit, wishing you could just hear a voice to help you know how to--
“Moses my servant is dead…” the Fire suddenly speaks directly to you.
You are already on your face on the ground.
Within a few moments, the words of today’s promise become the centerpiece of the command of God that is spoken to you on behalf of all the people: “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When you rise to your feet, when you look back toward the promise of the Promised Land standing before you, this command – and its promise – now leads the way.
“God is with you” now leads the way.
Now, here’s another picture:
Imagine standing within the open, unknown sweeps of the dawning of a new day, listening to the sound of your schedule, plans, expectations and worries for it. Around you, in every home, on every street, all over the whole world, live the billions of people you have been called to serve; you have been called to serve them by the One who came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). You’re standing in the daylight or the darkness, by yourself, listening to the beatings of your heart, wondering how you’ll ever accomplish this day. Before you stretches the realities of Heaven that, all throughout your life, you’ve heard to be yours; here and there, in reality, you’ve actually even spied some out. You have personally tasted the sweetness of its fruit, seen the beauty of its peaks and hidden places, observed the mighty fortresses by which it protects your everyday.
All in all, you are still a little uncertain. Excited, yes.
But, really and truly, uncertain.
Taking a moment, you begin remembering the swirling- and flaring- and firing- and calming-movements of the Holy Spirit who lives within you. It’s funny: There are times – like right now – when it’s easy to forget the power of the presence of God; when His great theophany fades into the commonplace. So, you focus a little bit closer, opening out the fullness of your spirit, wishing you could just hear a voice to help you know how to--
“Jesus, my Servant, has died for you…” the Spirit reminds you.
You should already be on your face on the ground.
And within a few moments, the words of today’s promise become the centerpiece of the command of God that is spoken to you on behalf of the whole world: “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When you rise to your feet, when you look back toward the day, toward the promise of Heaven standing before you, this command – and its promise – must now lead the way.
God Within You must now lead the way.
Are you ready, now, to go?
“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 Church will outlive the universe; in it the individual person will outlive the universe. Everything that is joined to the immortal Head will share His immortality... If we do not believe it let us be honest and relegate the Christian faith to museums. If we do, let us give up the pretense that it makes no difference. For this is the real answer to every excessive claim made by the collective. It is mortal; we shall live for ever. There will come a time when every culture, every institution, every nation, the human race, all biological life, is extinct, and every one of us is still alive. Immortality is promised to us, not to these generalities. It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for men. In that sense Christianity must seem to secular collectivists to involve an almost frantic assertion of individuality. But then it is not the individual as such who will share Christ’s victory over death. We shall share the victory by being in the Victor. A rejection, or in scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. That is just how Christianity cuts across the antithesis between individualism and collectivism. There lies the maddening ambiguity of our faith as it must appear to outsiders. It sets its face relentlessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it gives back to those who abandon individualism an eternal possession of their own personal being, even of their bodies. As mere biological entities, each with its separate will to live and to expand, we are apparently of no account; we are cross-fodder. But as organs in the Body of Christ, as stones and pillars in the temple, we are assured of our eternal self-identity and shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale."
C.S. Lewis, "Membership"
"This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us." 2 Corinthians 4:7
Which is a wonderfully helpful verse because of the way it centers on those interconnected elements: priceless treasure; a common earthenware jar; splendid power; and, God. You see, it's the overwhelming pricelessness of the treasure that properly proves the commonness of the earthenware jar. It's the degree to which the power is shown and proved to be splendid that throws all glory at the feet of God, not us.
This verse is a practical lesson in contingency. The more priceless you find Jesus to be, the more reasonable you'll be about your own self-importance. If you are struggling with pride and self-importance, spend more time with Jesus.
And, with that: The more practically powerful you find the Kingdom of Heaven to be, the more you will naturally ascribe all glory to God. If you're fighting to be the god of your own universe, it would be worth your while to compare your power to His power.
We find true freedom when we find the promises of God to be verifiably true in everyday experience. Test the contingencies.
"Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakeable 'scent' of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16a).
Could I paint a little picture for you?
You are in Rome. The streets are full of shouting and celebration. It is the day when the conquering general – whether Pompey, or Caesar, or Octavian – is going to proceed through the streets in his triumph. Everyone is ready. The whole city now waits in a hush.
And now here he comes: through the Porta Triumphalis – the Triumph Gate: with the senators and senior officials at the head of the march; with the trumpeters blowing their horns in glorious unison; then the wagon-trains upon wagon-trains full of the spoils of war; then a white bull, silently being led, who will, at the end of all this, be slaughtered in sacrifice; then, in chains, the conquered princes and kings and generals who have been defeated, who have surrendered; then the bodyguards and priests who spread both the sense and the fragrance of death and life…
And then finally… the general. The victor. The conqueror. He is being pulled in his tall golden chariot by four massive horses. He is wearing a kingly robe and his face is painted with red to remind the crowds of the power of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Over his head is held a laurel wreath by an auriga, a gladiator, whose job it is to whisper in his ear: “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!” – “Look behind you. Remember that you are but a man. Remember that you will die!” so that this conqueror won’t forget that he is still just a servant of Rome.
And then, behind his chariot, his officers, his staff, and then, behind them, the men of the ranks: the ones who have fought and bled and lost their friends to make this triumph a reality. They sing songs with their off-key soldier voices, in order to – in their own words: “ward off the jealousy of the gods…” And their favorite song is “Io Triumphe!” - O Triumph!
Why do I tell you all this?
Because Paul would have you there!
“Thanks be to God, the One always leading us in triumph in Christ...”
He would have you remember the angels and saints who came before the coming of Jesus; those prophets and kings who sounded the trumpet of the One to come. He would have you learn the overwhelming realities of the spoils of war – the infinitudes of bounty – that have been won by the victory of Jesus. He would have you look into the eyes of the once-for-all-time sacrifice who is the Lamb of God; Jesus’ perfect knowledge that His perfect life would end in death for us. And he would have you be a conquered one: a person whose personal surrender to Jesus only serves to spotlight His greatness, His glory.
And then comes this fragrance he mentions here: the “unmistakable scent of Christ,” which is both life and death.
And then Paul would have you turn the fullness of your gaze upon that One who rides in the golden chariot of Heaven. He is robed in kingly purple and His face is crimson with the blood He shed: He is the incarnate reality of the Godhead. And Paul would have you in the chariot, holding the crown above the head of Jesus with your life and worship; he would have you constantly whispering, in life and death, these words: “Jesus, I look unto you. I will never forget that you are man and God. I will never forget that you can never die!”
And Paul would have you there behind Him, a part of the General’s field staff – an officer always attached – and he would also have you in the ranks. And no matter the sound of your song, the timbre or cadence of your particular voice, he would have you never stop singing: “O Triumph! O Jesus!”
“Thanks be to God, the One always leading us in triumph in Christ..."
"It was God who preserved us from imminent death, and it is he who still preserves us. Further, we trust him to keep us safe in the future, and here you can join in and help by praying for us, so that the good that is done to us in answer to many prayers will mean eventually that many will thank God for our preservation." 2 Corinthians 1:9,10
In these two verses, there's a Greek verb that's used three times, and implied once, that I think it's absolutely imperative you leave from this email knowing. In the Phillips translation, above, and because of its changing tensing, it's translated as: "preserved us," "still preserves us," "keep us safe in the future," and "our preservation." The word is ῥύομαι (pronounced Hroo-oh-my).
And here's the reason I want you to know it: its definition. ῥύομαι means: "to rescue, to save, to deliver," and yet the means of that action are very pictorial, like, "to draw to oneself" or "to hold close as a means of salvation."
So, my friends, the next time you feel troubled, afraid, anxious or in-need-of-rescue, I want you to say aloud - to yourself and to Him: ῥύομαι! (Hroo-oh-my!) The Jesus we're following doesn't complete His rescues at a remove or from a distance: the way He does this, always, is up-close and in His arms. That's where all this ends. So why not be there now?
"I shall come to you after my intended journey through Macedonia and I may stay with you awhile or even spend the winter with you. Then you can see me on my way — wherever it is that I go next..." 1 Corinthians 16:5-7
And I would remind you that that last is not some sort of throwaway line: "wherever it is that I go next." No. In fact, from his moment on the Damascus road, to the moment of this letter being written, take a look at some of the ways that Paul's next steps have been navigated:
- After his conversion, he “stayed” in Damascus … but “without delay he proclaimed Jesus…”
- Then, under almost immediate threat of assassination, he was “let down through an opening in the wall… in a basket”
- After which, for three years, he communed with Jesus in the deserts of Arabia
- Then to Jerusalem, where he “joined... in all their activities, preaching fearlessly”
- Until, after “several attempts on his life,” the brothers “took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus”
- Out of the blue, Barnabas arrives in Tarsus “to find Saul” - then, together, they go to Antioch where, “for a whole year they met together with the Church”
- Then, those in Antioch wanted to send famine relief to the fellowship in Jerusalem, and did so “through Barnabas and Saul”
ACTS 13: THE FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY IN THE HISTORY OF THE BODY: HOW DID IT BEGIN?
- While everyone there was worshipping and fasting, “the Holy Spirit spoke… saying, ‘Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task to which I have called them.’”
- So, immediately, they sail off…
ACTS 16: LATER, on the THE SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY:
- While “making their way through Phrygia and Galatia… the Holy Spirit prevented them from speaking God’s message…” in that region.
- Then, when they “came to Mysia… the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them” to enter in there, either.
- After which, in a town called Troas, Paul “had a vision of a Macedonian man” saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”
- And so, immediately, they set sail for the unknown…
Really, it's apropos how much of Paul's life and ministry happened because of ships, because, like a ship's, Paul's obedient ear acted like a rudder for the Early Church. WHOLE MASS MOVEMENTS are set off on their way because this ONE MAN was listening and obeying the Spirit of Jesus.
I will consistently maintain, until the day I'm dead, that nothing is different now: that individual lives in the Body can hear, respond and help direct the whole Body. Is that life your life? Are you "the one"?
The only way for you to find out is by listening today... and obeying.
"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
* * *
"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.
"Once leave your own knowledge of God, your own sentiment, and take secondary knowledge, as St. Paul's, or George Fox's, or Swedenborg's, and you get wide from God with every year this secondary form lasts, and if, as now, for centuries, — the chasm yawns to that breadth, that men can scarcely be convinced there is in them anything divine.
"Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil. Friends enough you shall find who will hold up to your emulation Wesleys and Oberlins, Saints and Prophets. Thank God for these good men, but say, 'I also am a man.' Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it, because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator, something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.
"Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, — cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
from An Address at Harvard Divinity School
"At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror..." (1 Corinthians 13:12a)
Which may be one of the starkest, clearest descriptions of human life you'll ever read anywhere. Our lives are subjective, individualistic, only-personally-experienced, so the mirror-as-lens is an apt analogy. And oh! how true is the puzzlement we almost always feel!
But: "...The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!" (1 Corinthians 13:12b)
Which takes us to the book-end of this mirror analogy - to its completion, its fulfillment - also written by Paul to the Corinthian fellowship. 2 Corinthians 3:18 - "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory..."
You see, the time is coming - the time has come - when we may see reality whole and face to face... in His face! At present all we know is a little fraction of the truth - of this Jesus - but the time is coming - the time has come - for knowing God as He knows us.
So, if living - if life - if seeking the way of love - is like looking into a mirror, then the question becomes: Whose reflection are we looking for? Will we always assume that the Self and its puzzlement are our only lots in life, or will we look deeper? Will we strive to experience, delight to experience, our new unveiled, curtain-torn reality where the face reflected in the glass becomes more His? Will we be looking for Jesus' likeness today?
"Men have different gifts, but it is the same Spirit who gives them. There are different ways of serving God, but it is the same Lord who is served. God works through different men in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all. Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may make the most of it." 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
One of my favorite words in French - and one that came to mind as I read these verses - is élan: it means "impetuous ardor; a combination of style and energetic confidence; a vigorous spirit; an enthusiastic and assured vigor and liveliness; and spirited self-assurance, verve, dash, enthusiasm."
Because, I don't know about you, but I get a little bit more "dashing" when I remember that the "same Spirit," the very life of Heaven, is inhabiting all of us. I get a little revved up with "impetuous ardor" when, together with you, I realize that I may directly follow and serve the "same Lord" who is Lord of all. My spirit gets a bit "vigorous" when I'm told that the "same God" who created Creation is working to achieve His eternal purposes through me. I can't help feeling a little "enthusiastic," a little "lively," I've got some "verve" for the version of my life where I can "make the most" of what the Holy Spirit's given me.
There are "gifts" - there is "service" - there is "work" - and there is opportunity for glory in this Kingdom of Heaven. Because there is a "Spirit" of this "Lord" who is "God" who is calling our human spirits to the highest heights of Heaven.
Friends, will we live these lives with élan this week? Will we "make the most" of the spiritual gifts He's so readily given us?
Then Jesus made his way round the villages, continuing his teaching. He summoned the twelve, and began to send them out in twos, giving them power over evil spirits...
(Later) The apostles returned to Jesus and reported to him every detail of what they had done and taught. “Now come along to some quiet place by yourselves, and rest for a little while,” said Jesus, for there were people coming and going incessantly so that they had not even time for meals. They went off in the boat to a quiet place by themselves... (Mark 6:7 & 6:30-32)
Those last three verses, along with the sending-and-going verse above them, really give us the whole cycle of face-to-face intimacy, sending, going, ministering, testifying and intimacy that should be the cycle we're never not part of. Think of the disciples' experience of those last few days: being called near to Him, His breath on their face, His hand on their shoulder as He sent them out, two by two; then going out to preach and to cast out evil spirits and to heal many people of their diseases; and then to return, overwhelmed with joy at all they'd seen Him do through them, and to have Him invite them to come and be alone with Him; and to sail off across the waters to an unknown place...
Jesus is showing these men a pattern of life that is THE pattern for life: an ongoing continuum that proceeds from intimacy toward intimacy, traveling over roads that are only passable as we walk in intimacy with Him. Our ability to do anything in the economy of the Kingdom of Heaven is borne from how we're intimate with Him.
Intimacy with Jesus is not part of it.
Let's intimately walk with Him into this New Year of our life!
"The kingdom of God is the most astoundingly radical proposal ever presented to the human race. It means nothing less than the replacing of the present world-order by the kingdom of God. It is the endeavor to call men back from the present unnatural, unworkable world-order to a new one based on new principles, embodying a new spirit and led by a new Person. As Jesus announces this new kingdom we find some things begin to rise into prominence as essential elements. God is our Father, and trust in him with its rest and poise is to replace the present order based on self-centeredness with its worry and inward frictions. Men are brothers, and the brotherhood of our common humanity is to replace the present order based on race, color, money, and class distinctions. Human personality is of infinite value, and this conception is to replace the present order based on the exploitation of others. Service is the only sign of any way to greatness, and is to replace the present order based on conceptions of power through command of the service of others. Self-renunciation is the way to self-realization and must replace the present order based on self-assertion. The cross is its manifestation and symbol. Love is to be the working force of the new kingdom and is to replace the present dependence upon force. The seat of this new kingdom is in the heart — 'the kingdom of heaven is within you' — and it works from this center to every human relation. This is to replace that in the present order which organizes life in things outside of the man."
E. Stanley Jones, Christ at the Round Table