This week, I was reminded of where C.S. Lewis took his book title, Surprised by Joy, from: a particularly mournful poem by William Wordsworth about the loss of his daughter; the way all present and future joys would be tempered by his sadness. In some ways, it is a perfect poem to describe the disciples' anguish on the Friday and Saturday of the Cross and waking to a dead-and-gone Jesus: give it a read:
Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
But then came that Sunday--Jesus is alive! Then came the neverending realization that the human journey would never again be lived alone; that the life of God would always triumph over life, death, sin and the grave!
So, feeling a little poetical this week, I reimagined Wordsworth's words in the context of our new, never-to-be-forgotten Resurrection-Reality. Let's let this be our posture on this day:
Surprised by joy—inspirited by the Word
We turn again toward the the Living One—Oh! to Him,
To Thee, so briefly swaddled in the burial scrim,
Until your mortal ear heard Heaven's resurrection-word.
Love, faithful Love, recalls me to your heart--
You will never, ever forget me!—In your love,
Never for the least division of any part,
Have you been e'er distracted by your work above
To loose your eye from mine!—That knowledge's knowing
Is the greatest joy my heart forever wears,
My Lord, My God, forever, and ever, sowing,
And knowing my heart’s treasure I may always bear;
That in both present time, and those years unrolling,
Can my reborn sight to your heavenly face repair.
Most Christians, most "evangelicals," would think they're agreeing with Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, when they say that "the Gospel" reads as such:
Jesus rose again.
Actually, that's not quite correct.
The Gospel Paul was always talking about, the Gospel that actually changes hearts, the Gospel that irrupted with such force into the world of the First Century, is this:
Jesus rose again.
Our emphasis must ever be the Man, not the mechanics: we are following, in the line and Spirit of, Jesus. Let's go follow Him today, and this week.
"What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law. And God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, let us be quite clear about that! The same God is ready to justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith also. Are we then undermining the Law by this insistence on faith? Not a bit of it! We put the Law in its proper place." (Romans 3:27-31)
And what is the "proper place" for the Old Covenant Law? By faith, where does it most properly, and permanently, live?
In the mind, body, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth who, daily, perfectly, walked it out, and thus invalidated the power of sin by obeying that Law faultlessly.
In the offered-up life of Jesus, on the Cross, shedding His blood to forever free us from the curse of sin, which was all tangled up in the curses of the Law.
Behind the risen Jesus, left like His burial garments in the abandoned tomb, "finished" in favor of the New Covenant He now offered.
Under the feet of Jesus, as He sits upon the Throne of Heaven, King of Kings of a Kingdom that is founded within all remade hearts.
The Law has been fulfilled forever - in Jesus - and, by following Him, by His Spirit, we too may "put the Law in its proper place." Its proper place is in Him.
By His life, in His death, because of His resurrection, and now, forevermore, as He sits upon the Throne, we are free with the freedom He's earned for us. All life is lived upon "a different plane."
This letter comes to you from Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called as a messenger and appointed for the service of that Gospel of God which was long ago promised by the prophets in the holy scriptures. The Gospel is centred in God’s Son, a descendant of David by human genealogy and patently marked out as the Son of God by the power of that Spirit of holiness which raised him to life again from the dead. He is our Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom we received grace and our commission in his name to forward obedience to the faith in all nations. And of this great number you at Rome are also called to belong to him. To you all then, loved of God and called to be Christ’s men and women, grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7)
It strikes you, as you read the very first words of this wondrous epistle, what Paul is up to in this opening: he wants the fellowship at Rome—and all of us—so inextricably tied up and tied into the Name and Person of Jesus that there’s nowhere else for us to go. Consider his preamble in this way:
Jesus… whose servant Paul is… as an appointed messenger of the Gospel… which, for ages past, had been promised by the prophets, in the holy scriptures, who were all of them looking only to--
Jesus… who is God’s Son… and the very center of the Gospel’s good news. Really, the Gospel itself is--
Jesus… that descendant of King David… clearly marked as the Son of God--how? By the power of the Holy Spirit, who, seeing Him dead in our sins, raised Him up to life again--
Jesus… who is our Lord… and who personally brought us grace…and who commissioned us each, personally, to bear His name and His Way to all the nations.
Friends, our belongingness, our position as those beloved by God, our calling as men and women, the grace and peace of God the Father all come from--
Let’s go see what He would have us do this day!
"The Master Plan which exists beneath the superficial activities of human beings is now becoming intelligible to them. The reconciliation between the holiness and perfection of God and the selfishness and evil of men has been unforgettably demonstrated. Death, the old dark bogey, has been exposed and resoundingly defeated. And as if this were not enough Good News for human beings to accept, they know now, by the acted parable of the Ascension of Christ, that God and man are eternally inseparable. Humanity is assured of its entry into the timeless life of God. A new dignity has been conferred upon the whole human race for God himself has become a man. New exciting possibilities appear as men begin to understand that the purpose of God’s descent to the human level is to enable them to rise and live as sons of God. And what is more, he is prepared to enter human personalities by his own Spirit to make such dreams come true."
J.B. Phillips, God our Contemporary
“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
"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
"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"
"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..."
"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.
"Jesus got [His] divine life by depending absolutely upon the Father all His life long, depending upon Him even down into death. Jesus got that life in the full glory of the Spirit to be poured out, by giving Himself up in obedience and surrender to God alone, and leaving God even in the grave to work out His mighty power; and that very Christ will live out His life in you and me. Oh, the mystery! Oh, the glory! And oh, the Divine certainty! Jesus Christ means to live out that life in you and me."
Andrew Murray, The Believer’s Secret of the Master’s Indwelling
* * *
"The writers of the New Testament Epistles never regarded the Christian religion as an ‘ethic,’ still less a performance. To them it was an invasion of their own lives by the living Spirit of God; their response in repentance and faith provided the means by which the divine could penetrate the merely human. They lived lives of super-human quality because they believed quite simply that Christ Himself was alive within them."
J.B. Phillips, Making Men Whole
As we prepare for a national holiday centered around thankfulness, it might be good for us to remember that NO ONE has more grounds for gratitude than ALL followers of Jesus of Nazareth. For, after all, we personally know the One who created and upholds all creation... which is something! And we have had a glimpse of the glories of the Incarnation: His arrival, His life, His words, His sparkling personality. We have been set free - been set free: past tense - by the finished work of the Cross. And we now know that life and death hold nothing daunting for us: we have seen Him walk from the tomb - totally unscathed...
And so, where are we now; who are we now?
The actual, living, flesh-and-blood, personal representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven to this generation of humanity...
...who've been imbued with the selfsame Holy Spirit of God that carried that Man through the 33 years of His human existence...
...and who may always - ALWAYS! - stop on a dime, reorient our attentions, and commune with the Living King who sits upon the throne of Heaven.
I'd say we have some reason to be thankful this week! I hope it's a wonderful one for you!
Some of you know that I did a long fiction-nonfiction writing project, a few years back, to try to bring the Book of Acts into a more first-hand focus. Below is a little bit of it. First, you'll see the passage where some of the disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene decided to go ahead and start preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch, not just the Jews. Then, from there, you'll see my imaginative write-up of, perhaps, what it was like when one of those men suddenly decided that it was time to do so. I tried to bring into focus the potential presence of Simon of Cyrene (who carried the Cross with/for Jesus) among them. Hope it stirs your heart for this Monday!
Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, giving the message as they went to Jews only. However, among their number were natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, and these men, on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus… (Acts 11:19,20)
A Man of Cyrene on the Road to Antioch
My blood is quickened within and I walk this road and I think on the ways of the Holy Spirit, and, my brothers, I am tempted to throw all constraint on the winds which blow up from the Sea, and past us. Feel them blowing by us, west to east. Smell that scent of adventure that first carried us from the coasts of Africa to there, on Shavuot, and think of all that has happened unto us since! What is man to stand before the whims of our Jesus! Who were we to think this thing could be contained within the Hebrew race! My brothers, as we approach upon Antioch, I’m of a mind to say goodbye to the past; to walk right into the courtyards and marketplaces and, yes, synagogues; to proclaim the name Jesus to any man, woman or child who’s made of flesh and blood like me; to say that it is only in the name of Jesus that anyone finds rest for their souls and a place of heavenly peace for their minds…
Peter has broken the mold – let’s shatter it now, brothers! Let us enter the town with the roving gaze of Jesus and see all mankind as the quarry, the prey, of the whispering will of the Holy Spirit! Let us conquer the hearts of man and woman, Jew or Gentile; have no fear that wrongdoing comes on the voice of the Spirit that gave Jesus life from the dead!
I see the fear in your eyes, Simon, my brother of Cyrene. What for? Did not you yourself once fall under the gaze of the darkhearted Gentiles and are you not the very man whose shoulders quaked under the cross with our Savior, our Jesus? Brother! Have we not come too far to ever turn back now? Sometimes I place myself within your flesh and mind, using of my imagination to imagine that day, and here’s what I come to – tell me if any of this reprises anything like any of your memories…
I am standing, that day, along the road watching him pass. The smell of the crowd is thick and pungent with sweat and rage. Suddenly, all eyes turn from him to me – to you, I mean! – and I’m thrust from within my hiding into the hot sun of the Jerusalem day. I feel naked under the gaze of the people, the soldier who calls, and, most of all, him – Jesus, the sufferer under the weight of the cross. I slip under the right side of the horizontal crossbeam – Jesus slides over – his fleshless shoulders shearing against the grain – and he turns his eyes to meet my eyes.
That moment, Simon, what was it like? What came upon your mind? Did you not know that this was the Christ, our Savior, our God?
Together, as yokefellows walking, we trudge up the hill with crowds a-lining both sides of the twisting path and I talk to him of my sin, of their sin, of the whole world’s sin – past, present and for all the futures to come. He listens, walking, and I know he hears. When we finally arrive at the top of Skull Hill, I am shoved aside by that same soldier who first called me, and I disappear from the center of the moment I’d shared with Jesus. I look back down the hill and relive each and every step with him. Coming up and up the path we just trod together, Jesus and I, I see the thick drag-mark of the upright of the cross which has furrowed the dirty of the trail so deeply. His side, the right side of that furrow, is a way marked thick with blood. My side, the left side of that furrow, is clean and spotless…
Brother Simon, look ahead! Look at the town of Antioch! This town is filled with men, women and children who know nothing of the Kingdom of Heaven; who are lost as we once ourselves were; and who hunger and thirst for the taste of life – the taste of that blood – the taste of Jesus of Nazareth! Shall we not go and set them free with the Way you once trod with Him? What have we to fear when you’ve seen him dead and then risen again!
All you, fellow Wayfarers, listen unto me! Where’er and from whence you hail, I renounce all ties to the age-old past! I will descend to this city and preach to Jew and Greek alike!
Who follows? Who walks the way I walk?
I know the One who leads it!
"Christ wants us to show Him to the world. Our argument is not our logic and theology, but our Lord Himself: ‘you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8). This is all He needs, that we shall tell about Him and make Him real to men. This also is the solution of all the sinner’s difficulties. You cannot save him by preaching theology to him, but show him Christ, his crucified, living, welcoming Savior, and all his doubts will flee. This is the solution to all questions about sanctification. We may seek for blessings and experiences, for states and conditions and find that we have to go over it all again and again; but let us only see Jesus ‘who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30) and we are satisfied, and go forth with the joyful cry, ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ (Phil. 4:13). This is the solution to all questions about healing. It is not enough to know the theory and doctrine; we must behold the life and receive it from Him."
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
“...we must not get the impression that the Christian life is one continuous conflict, one unbroken irritating struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. A thousand times no. The heart that learns to die with Christ soon knows the blessed experience of rising with Him, and all the world’s persecutions cannot still the high note of holy joy that springs up in the soul that has become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.”
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men
"How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead. Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have 'arrived' spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal — my reward the honor of being called by God in Christ." (Philippians 3:9b-14)
As Paul evaluates his life, this translator, J.B. Phillips, frames what has happened within him by choosing to phrase his initial words as “How changed are my ambitions!” Which begs the question of us: What are our ambitions? In which direction are your own efforts in life aimed? After wealth? Success? Power? Title?
Because, to be truthful - and quite blunt - most of the “ambitions” that are held up highest by this world run clean contrary to the Way of Jesus. He didn’t send out His disciples and say, “Get into positions of prominence and, from the top, effect great cultural change in a downward direction with your accrued wealth and prestige.” So, for that reason, as Paul traces the shift in his own personal priorities, he gives us his “do’s and don’ts” in personally drawing ever nearer to Jesus:
1) “I do not consider myself to have ‘arrived’ spiritually”
2) “I do not consider myself to have fully grasped [the purpose for which Christ called me] even now”
1) “I long to know Christ and the power shown by his Resurrection”
2) “I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died”
3) “I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me”
4) “I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal” – “the honor of being called by Christ in God.”
Paul’s “changed ambition” was to glory in the “honor of being called”; in essence, to never get past the fact that Jesus, the Savior of the world, the King of Kings, actually chose to choose a man like him. As he “grew up” in his Belief, Paul made it a point to never grow past his ability to be surprised by the glorious salvation of Jesus.
"On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn."
G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
Imagine Jesus on the Cross, one moment after His death. His body hangs limp: all his weight sagging down and forward against the pinioning of the nails. His face is unrecognizable, bruised and bloodied. His nakedness is covered head to toe with black and blue, with threads of flesh hanging here and there; and all of this is crowned by thorns.
Now imagine Jesus less than forty-eight hours later. The earth-shaking sound of the stone rolling away; the presence of the angels; the sight of Roman soldiers falling down like dead men. And here He comes: His head stopped as He clears the low ceiling of the tomb until, outside, He stands full height with the rising sun on His face. He looks around at the soldiers, at the angels, and then walks out into the coolness of the garden.
This Jesus derives “his priesthood not by virtue of a command imposed from outside, but from the power of indestructible life within” (Heb. 7:16). Human beings can try to make any man anything. But, really, a man can only truly be what he is. In the old days, Aaron and his sons were made into high priests. Jesus is our High Priest forever. His Priesthood existed before creation; it preexisted everything; it is indestructible, unchangeable and solely His.
This is who we’re dealing with when we wake up in the morning…
When the Sabbath was over, just as the first day of the week was dawning Mary from Magdala and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. At that moment there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven, went forward and rolled back the stone and took his seat upon it. His appearance was dazzling like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards shook with terror at the sight of him and collapsed like dead men. But the angel spoke to the women, “Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here—he is risen, just as he said he would. Come and look at the place where he was lying. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead. And, listen, he goes before you into Galilee! You will see him there! Now I have told you my message.” (Matthew 28:1-7)
'He is risen... just as He said He would."
What a wonderfully matter-of-fact way the angels speaks that: 'He is risen... just as He said He would." RISEN: ἠγέρθη: He has "been raised from the dead, awakened, stirred up, been excited by passion, arisen like a song, awoken to battle."
So, right now, right as you're reading this, according to this angel, Jesus of Nazareth is alive, awake, stirred to His depths, impassioned by His Passion, singing over His people, as He rides into battle?
Sounds about right to me!
'HE IS RISEN... JUST AS HE SAID HE WOULD!"
Let's go encounter that Alive Jesus all day today!
"This is my prayer: That God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and the all-glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realize how great is the hope to which he is calling you — the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to us — and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. That power is the same divine power which was demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead and gave him the place of supreme honor in Heaven — a place that is infinitely superior to any conceivable command, authority, power or control, and which carries with it a name far beyond any name that could ever be used in this world or the world to come." Ephesians 1:16b-21
What is the heart of Paul's prayer for his Ephesian friends? It's that they will:
1. Know Jesus better all the time
2. Grasp how limitless is the hope offered by Him
3. Live in the power actually given to them by the Holy Spirit who both raised and ascended Jesus
And where might we find Jesus Himself in the midst of these marvelous verses? At the right hand of the Father, of course! He’s the King and High Priest who's presently reigning and ministering in two places – “up there” and “in you” - even as you read these words. And it's He who'll teach you to know Himself; He who is the limitless hope; He who is the power of your human life. And, by the way, it’s also His work to make those two places (heaven and your heart) into One place – to unite heaven and earth in every believers’ life.
That's the wonderful gentleman you're following! The One who makes it "on earth (in you) as it is in Heaven (where He is)."
"You, my brother, are not a servant any longer; you are a son. And, if you are a son, then you are certainly an heir of God through Christ.
"At one time when you had no knowledge of God, you were under the authority of gods who had no real existence. But now that you have come to know God, or rather are known by him, how can you revert to dead and sterile principles and consent to be under their power all over again? Your religion is beginning to be a matter of observing certain days or months or seasons or years. Frankly, you stagger me, you make me wonder if all my efforts over you have been wasted!" Galatians 4:7-11
Consider the underlying statements in that second paragraph, one by one:
1) “gods who had no real existence” – Can you picture people who’ve made their own god by their own labor and now bow down to worship it in all its false glory? “Oh, thou Chair that I hath crafted and hath hewn with my own hands, certainly you are the god of all the planets!”
2) “you have come to know God, or rather are known by him” – Aren’t you floored by that sentiment?! The actual God of the universe who actually crafted the entirety of Creation is the One who actually knows you! The One who saw our fallen sinful selves and wouldn’t accept our separation and, so, sent His Son to redeem us by His blood! The One who literally took on flesh and then walked out a perfect life, giving us a glimpse of the immensity of the Godhead in human form! The One who took the penalty of our sin – tried, mocked, flogged, condemned, murdered – so that we might taste His life eternal! The One who strode out of the tomb to show the power of the unquenchable Life and ascended to take His kingly-priestly place at the right hand of the Father! Yes, that One “knows” us!
3) “Your religion” is becoming a matter of “seasons or years” – If you and I choose to become “Sunday-only Christians,” observing only one day as our “season” for worship, we’re taking the enormity of our God and treating Him as befits a mute idol. Essentially, we’re sitting ourselves down in the lap of that false god “Chair”; we just so happen to call it a church pew...
You see, the greatest glory in all human history is the Eternal God conforming Himself into the shape of a man to save us from our sin. But then the greatest human tragedy is when we try to conform that overwhelming glory to the whims of our lifestyle. May it never be so for us, Brothers and Sisters! We are Sons and Daughters now!
“Alas for you, you blind leaders! You say, ‘if anyone swears by the Temple it amounts to nothing, but if he swears by the gold of the Temple he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools, which is the more important, the gold or the Temple which sanctifies the gold? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar it doesn’t matter, but if he swears by the gift placed on the altar he is bound by his oath.’ Have you no eyes—which is more important, the gift, or the altar which sanctifies the gift? Any man who swears by the altar is swearing by the altar and whatever is offered upon it; and anyone who swears by the Temple is swearing by the Temple and by him who dwells in it; and anyone who swears by Heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by the one who sits upon that throne." Matthew 23:16-22
Yesterday, at the Anchor gathering, we talked about how, if you invert the wordings/meanings of Matthew 23, you end up with a glorious picture of the New Covenant life that is ours. Take a look at these seven verses, turned upside-down into the Way of Jesus and see what I mean:
“Oh, and blessed are you, you wide-eyed servants! You say, ‘if anyone lives by the Presence of God it amounts to absolutely everything, and if he lives by the inheritance of the Kingdom he is freed by the blood of Jesus.’ You brilliant friends, they are really the same, aren’t they: the Kingdom-inheritance and my Presence that brings the Kingdom? And you also say, ‘If anyone is saved by the Cross, it is life, and if he then lives by the power of the Resurrection, he is given a brand new life.’ Oh! I’m so impressed by your spiritual eyes! For, yes, the two go perfectly together, don’t they: the Cross and the New Life that springs from the tomb? So, any man who lives under the blood of the Cross need only go a step further to meet me at the dawn of Easter and receive the ‘life, life to the full’ I offer. And anyone who lives by my Presence is living already in the Kingdom and by me who dwells in it; and anyone who delves deep into my inheritance is living at the throne of God already, and by me who sits upon that throne."
Isn't it amazing that we follow the Man who spoke Matthew 23's judgments in the new and living Way given by His Spirit? Thank you, Jesus!
"Think of Abraham, our ancestor. Wasn’t it his action which really justified him in God’s sight when his faith led him to offer his son Isaac on the altar? Can’t you see that his faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners—that his faith was implemented by his deed? That is what the scripture means when it says: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.’ A man is justified before God by what he does as well as by what he believes." James 2:21-24
How does that last verse - 2:24 - read in the language of the original Greek?
"You see that a man is set right by works, and not by faith alone."
Let's examine that idea, step by step: If Jesus came to live the works of the Kingdom of Heaven, then we can see precisely what the life of Heaven is like by reading His exploits in the four Gospels. Yet external works were not enough for Jesus, were they? He wanted to get those works inside the hearts of those who'd repent and believe in Him.
So He died to end the separating influence and condemnation of Sin, thus giving us the possibility of being made a pure dwelling-place of His Presence. And then He rose to conquer human death, and so that He might be alive to reign over the Kingdom and rule it from within us. Then, ascending, He took His place at the head of all Kingdom of Heaven affairs, and, in sending the Holy Spirit, took His place directly in the hearts of His people...
So the reason that our justification - our being "set right" - is found in both faith and works is because, in faith and works, we are a union-place of Jesus-then and Jesus-now: we show the Kingdom as it was in the three years of His personal ministry - when He was making humanity right - and the Kingdom as it is now - with Jesus forever on the throne.
It is our joy - and our job - to act as the junction for the inner and outer workings of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us be living that life with relish this Easter Week!
One of the twelve, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came [back from the dead]. The other disciples kept on telling him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he replied, “Unless I see in his own hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe!” (John 20:24,25)
Can you imagine how long this next week must’ve been for Thomas? After arriving back to the upper room, after seeing the looks on those faces, after hearing the explanation of the Resurrection, Thomas probably felt so confused by something so implausible, hurt to be the only outsider, and, maybe, a little annoyed at the appearance of the disciples’ giddy group-dynamic.
So, immediately, Thomas takes up what will become his weeklong litany to the others: “Unless I see, I won’t believe.” Really, Thomas has chosen one of the only three available positions for all mankind in face of the news of the Resurrection. These are:
1) Total disbelief without provisions or conditions
2) Potential belief, entirely conditional upon further proofs (this is Thomas)
3) Belief as the foundation, with expectancy as the new condition of life
Since you’re reading these words from me, chances are you’re not currently in the first group: you’ve probably already opened your heart to, at least, the beginnings of Belief. So then, from there, what sounds better to you: To base your every single decision about belief on the closed system of your own intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion; or, beginning with belief that “It is finished,” that death is dead, that you are a Son or Daughter of God, to instead deliver over your intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion, in order to be invested with the very life of Heaven?
Thomas’ first impulse is to say, “If it’s real, Jesus can come to me.” (And you and I do the same - and say the same - and feel the same - all the time.) But, friends, Jesus already has come to us, visited us, done absolutely everything that we might experience the fullness of the heavenly life today. True life is found in being swallowed up in these promises, not in constantly postulating on whether or not belief is in our day-to-day best interest.
Jesus, teach us how to believe you without reservation - today! We want more!
At this point the mother of the sons of Zebedee arrived with her sons and knelt in front of Jesus to ask him a favor. “What is it you want?” he asked her. “Please say that these two sons of mine may sit one on each side of you when you are king!” she said.
“You don’t know what it is you are asking,” replied Jesus. “Can you two drink what I have to drink?” “Yes, we can,” they answered.
“Ah, you will indeed ‘drink my drink’,” Jesus told them, “but as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to grant—that belongs to those for whom my Father has planned it.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
Do you know "for whom the Father has planned it"? Have you ever dug a little deeper into that enigmatic turn of phrase?
From Revelation 20: “And I saw thrones, with appointed judges seated upon them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God… They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death cannot touch such men; they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him for the thousand years.”
And who was the one who saw this vision, this Revelation? John, the son of Zebedee.
And who was one of the "souls" he saw, the first, in fact, to be "beheaded for his witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God"? John's own brother, James.
The two men who, on this day, allow their mother to approach Jesus to secure a position, who so confidently affirm their ability to drink the cup of His sufferings, will eventually stand face to face in the Throneroom of Heaven - one there by revelation, the other by gruesome death - and, you know what?
It'll all be worth it. For the sake of this Man, no sacrifice is any sacrifice at all. Losing all, everything is gained in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even to die is to live. Forever. At the right hand of this Man.
Let us run the race He's given us this week with joy... and endurance. He is worth it all.