At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua gathers the people of Israel to give them his last words before he's parted from them forever. Both the final two chapters are his words to them: very poignant and pointed. But it struck me last summer that, if you only changed the context a little, changing some phrasing and the background of which Covenant we're under, his words are amazingly like something Jesus could've said.
So, as a start to our workweek, consider Joshua 23 in that new, New Covenant way:
Once the forty days after the Resurrection had passed, after Jesus had given 'life and life to the full' to His believers, and He was ready to return to the Father, He called for His disciples, for their hearers and eventual spiritual descendants, for you and for me, and said to all of us, “I have completed the days of my earthly ministry; I have died and, in your sight, lived again. You have seen all that the Father can do through my Name; for it is the Father who has lived His life in me, and I in Him. Behold, I have allotted to you the very same interrelationship – we call it 'Abiding' – to be an inheritance for you, starting in Jerusalem with my disciples, into Judaea, into Samaria and, eventually, to the ends of the earth. By living our heavenly life within you, I, the Father, and our dear friend, the Holy Spirit, will thrust Satan from before you, and drive him from out of your sight. You shall possess my Kingdom, as I have spoken to you.
“Therefore be very courageous to daily approach my Throne with confidence, to Abide in me as I Abide in you, in order that you may keep and do all that I have spoken to my disciples and will speak to your spirit, that you do not turn aside from me to the right hand or to the left; that you do not continue on anymore as a slave to sin, or to the world that remains around you; neither make mention of the name of their cultural gods, nor cause to swear by their seeming power or intrigue, neither serve their idolatrous needs, nor bow down yourselves to the world’s fleeting pleasures and experiences; but Abide in me, and I in you, as I invite you to do everyday.
“For I have driven out the evil one from before you forever. But as for you, no plan of his can prosper against you now that you are part of my Kingdom. One man of you shall stand against a thousand of his temptations; for it is I, Jesus, your Savior who fights for you, as I am speaking to you now. Take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you Abide in me, even as I Abide in you.
“But if you do at all go back, if you forget that you are now a slave to righteousness, no longer to sin, if you fall under the sway of the world, of Self, of sin, and make mistakes among them, and go in their ways, and they take over yours; know for a certainty that I, Jesus, will forgive you in my sight; and that I shall take ahold of you, chasten you as a good Father, looking you in the eyes, until you learn to love my good land, my wondrous Kingdom, my Way, which I, Jesus, have given to you personally.
“Behold, today I am going to ascend back to my Father. You know in all your hearts and souls that not one thing has failed to be revealed in Me of all the good things which the Father spoke concerning Me. All has happened so that you may believe. Not one good and glorious promise has failed to be fulfilled in Me. It shall happen that as all the good things of your Heavenly inheritance come to you of which the Father spoke through Me, so the Father will bring on you even more good things, until he has built up in you the fullness of the Kingdom which He has already given you, while you obey the New Covenant, sworn between Myself and My Father, which I have sealed for you in My blood, and then go into all the world to serve Me, and bow your hearts before Me. Then the Father’s delight will be kindled towards you, and you will live forever in the heavenly reality which He has given to you.”
Let's follow Him into this week, Brothers and Sisters!
Just as He took on flesh to become Himself - the Man, Jesus of Nazareth - so, today, that same Son will be attempting to take on your flesh, attempting to just as fully live His life again in you... if only you'll let Him.
“Pentecost showed us the way to a spiritual democracy that would have saved us from contentious centuries during which Christendom struggled over orders and validities and supremacies. When the question of validity of orders and successions is being discussed I find myself falling asleep. I am simply not interested. It is all so irrelevant. For here at Pentecost the highest was open to a person as a person, and Peter and James and John stood in a position not one whit different from the humblest of seekers and believers. The Holy Spirit was given alike to all, and this directly and immediately without the intervention of anyone. For it must be noted that when the Spirit came no one was leading the meeting.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
“Draw a line through the New Testament and on one side is spiritual fumbling, hesitancy, inadequacy, defeat, and on the other side is certainty, courage, adequacy, victory. That line runs straight through Pentecost. When we read the Acts of the Apostles, which is taken up with the doings of the apostles after Pentecost, we are struck with the incongruity between the apostles and their acts. Here were very ordinary men doing extraordinary things, thinking in an extraordinary way, leaving an extraordinary effect in the changed lives of men and society. The very temper and spirit of their lives was extraordinary. They seemed to have found power by which to live. And far from being rampant emotionalism the striking thing is their amazing balance and sanity. They burned with zeal, but they met issues and crises of the most far-reaching consequences and met them with poise and insight. They picked their way through intellectual and moral bogs and quagmires and marked out paths which we today tread with safety and salvation. And, more than that, they brought to bear upon life a power that redeemed men and made them immediately God-conscious; that changed the moral and spiritual climate; that turned dull, drab life into the spiritually delightful and taught a sad world to sing..."
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
During this period some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them by the name of Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there was to be a great famine throughout the world. (This actually happened in the days of Claudius) The disciples determined to send relief to the brothers in Judea, each contributing as he was able. This they did, sending their contribution to the elders there personally through Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30)
To me, these verses are just delightful because of the way they show us the real-time vitality of the ways of the Holy Spirit in Antioch and in His people. Let’s reread them and let me point out what I mean:
During this period some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, pulled, undoubtedly, by the rumors of Holy Spirit happenings happening there; drawn as prophets to the Flame; wanting to see everything that was spiritually possible in their lifetimes. One of them by the name of Agabus – and we can only guess what a guy named Agabus must’ve looked like! – stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there was to be a great famine throughout the world. (This actually happened in the days of Claudius) – a parenthetic aside, written in the future, that tells us what they did not know when they took the following course of action: The disciples determined to send relief to the brothers in Judea, each contributing as he was able: sacrificial giving based entirely on a prophetic word given by one man in one church on one day. This they did, sending their contribution to the elders there personally through Barnabas and Saul. The former persecutor of the Way, along with the man who’d first welcomed him into the Jerusalem gathering, now travel to the headquarters of this movement with supplies demanded by the Holy Spirit through one of His prophets.
Let's be honest: Is this the kind of action we’re after? To worship in places and ways that draw the worldwide attention of other believers; to listen to the voice of the prophets; to act in quick accordance to the voice of the Spirit? To, yes, run the risk of looking strange for the intensity of our gatherings’ adherence to a Way of life that begins in the spiritual and then, and only from there, extends out through the natural? Is this description of their lives stirring your heart, causing you to crave what they possessed, especially when you consider it as an echo of the living life of Jesus?
Is this what we want?
“Next, Christ prayed that he should be in us, and we in him. This we find in many passages in the Gospel. And this is the union that is without intermediary, for the love of God is not only out-flowing but it is also drawing-in into unity. And those who feel and experience this become interior, enlightened men. Their higher faculties are raised above all practices to the bareness of their essence. There the faculties become simplified above reason in their essence and because of this they are filled and overflowing. For in this simplicity the spirit finds itself united with God without intermediary. And this union, together with the exercise which is proper to it, will endure eternally..."
"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 crafty 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
Now there's a perfect picture of what we’re aiming for! You and I are not meant to be helpless children anymore; we’re meant to mature and grow up…into Jesus. Into Jesus! And this isn’t some generic “grow up” Paul is talking about. No, the Greek word he uses means to “bring up to manhood” (sorry, ladies!) with all the power and weight involved in that wording. And how will we grow up into the fullness of that phrase?
“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.” Can you see that picture in your mind’s eye? It’s like in so many children’s movies where the characters get a set of grown-up clothes and then, by stacking themselves, working all together, defeat the bad guys by looking like a terrifying giant. But, in the arrangement of the Body of Christ, Jesus is the head of our big unwieldy, put-together, tottering giant! And how’s He working to make it a “harmonious structure”? By teaching us, as Paul writes in the beginning of Ephesians 4, to “make it your aim to be at one in the Spirit, and you will inevitably be at peace with one another”!
Amen and Amen.
“Indeed, it is important for us to realize that words like ‘Catholic,’ ‘Protestant,’ and ‘Evangelical’ have become so ambiguous as to be virtually meaningless. Nor is mere union of the denominations our primary need if we are to have renewal. The movement we need is a movement in depth, and if it is deep enough the problem of unity will take care of itself.”
Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed
“God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
For the world is becoming full of impostors—men who will not admit that Jesus the Christ really became man. Now this is the very spirit of deceit and is anti-Christ. Take care of yourselves; don’t throw away all the labour that has been spent on you, but persevere till God gives you your reward. (2 John 1:7,8)
In the Greek, that last sentence is interesting because, right in the middle, John changes the voice from 1st Person Plural - "The things we have accomplished" - to the 2nd Person Plural - "a full reward you all might receive." And that's one of the things that I find so remarkable about being part of the Family of God: that we together are accomplishing the work of the Kingdom in this generation, and yet that I, that you, are each individually getting to personally soak up all the rewards on offer.
And why does this matter? Because our collective-yet-individual, subjective, personal experience of Him turns the words of verse 7 on their head:
“For the world will become full of truth-tellers – men and women who will prove that Jesus the Christ really became man. Now this is the very spirit of truth and is pro-Christ.”
How absolutely wonderful that our lives may prove the truth of His life!
Among the large number who had become believers there was complete agreement of heart and soul. Not one of them claimed any of his possessions as his own but everything was common property to all... (Acts 4:32)
When we read those words, even though they sound like an echoing of the spirit of Acts 2:42-47, they probably frighten us a little, as modern western believers. In this translation, the all-and-nothing character of the Fellowship really comes across in the language: “there was complete agreement”; “Not one of them claimed any of his possessions; “everything was common property to all.” Yet before we become afraid of what we see here, or self-conscious of what we’re not yet willing to part with, or, even, get carried away into thoughts of some sort of Soviet-style collectivization, it’s the language of Luke’s original words that should actually form our view for what’s happening here.
This is the first part of Acts 4:32 directly from the Greek: “And the multitude, having believed, were in heart and soul one…”
The miracle of this verse is not the outward action of sharing between the believers; the miracle is that a multitude of people, by believing in the Risen Jesus, are, by Him, made one. A M U L T I T U D E become one. That is Jesus’ work, as the only Head of this one Body. The activities of unity are a natural outflow of the reality of unity. It’s not terribly difficult – is it? – to share with yourself? And that’s how this Body was learning to view itself, as one very heterogeneous fellowship that found its one life in the one Savior, Jesus. And isn’t that what we want to see in our day too?
"I am not really writing to tell you of any new command, brothers of mine. It is just the old, original command. You may think that the original message is old, and yet as I give it to you again I know that it is always new and always true - in your life as it was in His." 1 John 2:7,8
Two things are really beautiful to me in these two verses: the fact that John doesn't even really need to name the "old, original command" for his readers to know what he means; and the fact that John has grown so old in the doing of that command that he calls "old and original" what Jesus, when He first spoke it, called "new."
Do you know which command he's talking about?
“Now I am giving you a new command – love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”
To be a "modern American Christian" would seem to require all sorts of things: attendances, reading, a particular worldview, a dash of patriotism, etc, etc.
To be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth requires only one thing: LOVE.
“For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and he who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and by receiving adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality.”
Irenaeus of Lyons
“…no one learns to know the Father except the Son, and no one learns to know the Son except the Father and him to whom He chooses to reveal Him (Mt 11:27). These are the Lord’s words. The Father and the Son reveal this to certain persons then, to those to whom they will, to those to whom they make it known, that is, to whom they impart the Holy Spirit, who is the common knowing or the common will of both. Those therefore to whom the Father and the Son reveal themselves recognize them as the Father and the Son recognize themselves, because they have within themselves their mutual knowing, because they have within themselves the unity of both, and their will or love: all that the Holy Spirit is.”
William of Saint-Thierry
Isn't it a fascinating thought that the Holy Spirit would constitute the "common knowing" and "common will" of the Father and the Son; that He is their internal means of recognizing each other fully; their mutual knowing of each other; the spiritual mechanism of their unity, will and love?
I think I'd like a fuller indwelling of that Spirit!
“The unique thing about the early Christians was their radiant relation to a Person. ‘The Lord,’ they called Him tenderly, and when they used the term they gave it its own New Testament meaning. It meant Jesus Christ, who a short while before had been among them but was now gone into the heavens as their High Priest and Advocate. It was this engrossment with a victorious Person that gave verve and vibrancy to their lives and conviction to their testimony. They bore witness joyously to the One who had lived as a true Man among men. Their testimony was not weakened by the pale cast of metaphysical thought. They knew that Jesus was very Man and very God, and He had died, had been raised from the dead and had ascended into heaven. They accepted literally His claim to be invested with authority over everything in heaven, earth and hell. How it could be they never stopped to inquire. They trusted Him absolutely and left the details to their triumphant Lord.”
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
God’s Spirit specifically tells us that in later days there will be men who abandon the true faith and allow themselves to be spiritually seduced by teachings of the devil, teachings given by men who are lying hypocrites, whose consciences are as dead as seared flesh. These men forbid marriage, command abstinence from food — good things which, in fact, God intends to be thankfully enjoyed by those who believe in him and know the truth. Everything God made is good, and is meant to be gratefully used, not despised. The holiness or otherwise of a certain food, for instance, depends not on its nature but on whether it is eaten thankfully or not. It is consecrated by the man who has accepted the message, and thanks God for food.
You will be doing your duty as Christ’s minister if you remind your church members of these things, and you will show yourself as one who owes his strength to the truth of the faith he has absorbed and the sound teaching he has followed. But steer clear of all these stupid Godless fictions... (1 Timothy 4:1-7a)
In actuality, either our life with Jesus is a matter of Union-with-Him (in His Life, Way, Death, Resurrection and an Experience-of-His-alive-Life-within-us) or it all becomes external observances, things measurable, rules followable, ie. a state of disunion. I highly doubt that the people trying to foist these ideas upon Timothy’s fellowship were “bad people”; more likely, they were just trying to be careful: “Timothy, this stuff you and Paul are talking about is pretty out there; let's rein it in a little, shall we?”
But, my friends, it’s our personal digging-into-Jesus, our Branch-clinging-to-Vine-ness that’s most imperative for us each playing our proper part in the Body of Christ. Without your Belief and experience of Him, we’re all in danger of descending into “stupid Godless fictions,” into externals disconnected from the Life and Way of Jesus.
So what do you say? Shall we dig in - and delight - this day?
"We are near the end of all things now, and you should therefore be calm, self-controlled men of prayer. Above everything else be sure that you have real deep love for each other, remembering how ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.' Be hospitable to each other without secretly wishing you hadn’t got to be! Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each of you, as faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God." 1 Peter 4:7-10
This week, in slowly reading and rereading through these verses, it was like my heart took a deep breath, savored for a moment, and then let it out. Because, I thought: What a wonderful thing it is to know Jesus of Nazareth. What freedom we're given. What simple joy. What purpose.
Think about the admonitions in these four verses. Even if the world should be coming to its close, we're called to be - in fact, we're resourced to be - calm, self-controlled conversationalists with our Savior, our Friend. Our work is love. Our tool for that is hospitality: in the Greek, "acts of friendship." The only talents in us that end up mattering are the "particular gifts God has given us"; we are esteemed as the "faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God." That's who we are in God's sight.
If you know Jesus at all, then you must realize that we are all neck-deep in the roaring, powerful River of Life that flows from His throne. But I think we think, sometimes, that we shouldn't get too carried away with our identity being too fully in Him. This week, I thought: No, let's get swept away; let's fully be who we're supposed to be in Him!
What do you think? Are you with me?
Then Jesus said, “I shall be with you only a little while longer and then I am going to him who sent me. You will look for me then but you will never find me. You cannot come where I shall be.”
This made the Jews say to each other, “Where is he going to hide himself so that we cannot find him? Surely he’s not going to our refugees among the Greeks to teach Greeks? What does he mean when he says, ‘You will look for me and you will never find me’ and ‘You cannot come where I shall be’?” John 7:33-36
Six chapters from now, sitting at the Last Suppertable after standing up from washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus will reflect back upon these words – “Where I am going, you cannot follow” – but in the context of the Cross – what He then calls “the glory of the Son of Man.” Here, however, He is speaking of the Ascension – “then I am going to him who sent me.” As He will then be sitting back on His throne at the right hand of the Father, “[they] will look for [Him] but [they] will never find [Him]. [They] cannot come where [He] will be…”
But the greatest glory of the Ascension isn’t just Jesus sitting in remote celestial thronerooms, it’s His supernatural ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to actually make His dwelling in us. He’s bodily living in you right now: do you know it? Imagine the crowd’s surprise if, in light of His coming indwelling, He had honestly answered these questions they were posing to each other…
1) “Where is going to hide himself so that we cannot find him?” – I picture Jesus, with a grin, pointing over at Peter, James, John and the rest of the disciples and saying, “Oh, I’m thinking right inside them seems like a pretty good plan...”
2) “Surely he’s not going to our refugees among the Greeks to teach Greeks?” – To which Jesus might’ve replied, “Just wait till you see next Pentecost!” From Acts 2: “Then those who welcomed his message were baptized, and on that day alone about three thousand souls were added to the number of disciples.” And where were they from? “There [were] Parthians, Medes and Elamites; there [were] men whose homes [were] in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Africa near Cyrene, as well as visitors from Rome! There [were] Jews and proselytes, men from Crete and men from Arabia, yet [they could] all hear [the Apostles] speaking of the magnificence of God in their native language.”
3) “What does he mean when he says, ‘You will look for me and you will never find me’ and ‘You cannot come where I shall be’?” – To which He might’ve said, “Are you even remotely prepared for what I'm about to say? ‘When that day comes, [my followers] will realize that I am in my Father, that [they] are in me, and I am in [them]’ (John 14). ‘It is the man who shares my life and whose life I share who proves fruitful’ (John 15). You see, ‘the Christ [they’ll] have to deal with is not a weak person outside [them], but a tremendous power inside [them]’ (2 Corinthians 13). ‘And [their] life [will] not [be] that of the old “I,” but the living Christ within [them]’ (Galatians 2). [They will be] ‘ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within [them]’ (Philippians 4). ‘So [their] love for [me will grow] more and more, filling [them] with complete confidence for the day when [I] shall judge all men – for [they will] realize that [their] life in this world is actually [my] life lived in [them] (1 John 4).’”
"To sum up, you should all be of one mind living like brothers with true love and sympathy for each other, generous and courteous at all times. Never pay back a bad turn with a bad turn or an insult with another insult, but on the contrary pay back with good. For this is your calling—to do good and one day to inherit all the goodness of God. For: ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking guile: let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'" 1 Peter 3:8-12
Okay, let's parse our way backward through these verses to get to their purpose - their actual practical purpose - for our lives. What is constantly trained upon the ways of mankind? The face of the Lord, His ears, and the eyes of the Lord. And for what sort of men and women does His heart yearn? Those who would seek peace and pursue it… Those who would turn away from evil and actively do good… Those whose lips speak no guile; whose tongues hold back from evil… These are the ones who truly love life and do, in truth, see good days… And why do they live this way? Because it is their calling - to do good and one day to inherit all the goodness of God. But what is good; what does the "goodness of God" look like? It looks like avenging ourselves by doing good, never evil; being courteous, generous, sympathetic, truly-loving brothers and sisters of everyone we meet.
But, hmmmm... who does all that sound like? Jesus. The One whose face, whose ears, whose eyes are lovingly, always, trained upon us.
But how do we live in the manner of 1 Peter 3:8-12? Well, Peter actually led off the whole section with the answer: "you should all be of one mind." And does that mean we all just try really hard to be united, to have similar nice thoughts? No. It means what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2: "But we have the mind of Christ."
Friends, what if a single line of thinking exists for us? What if that single thought, that single mind, caused people to be brothers and sisters, produced true love, sympathy, generosity, courteousness, a gentle spirit; taught its thinkers real goodness, leading them in the way of everlasting goodness; showed them how to love life and see good days, to control their tongues, to pursue the right, to make peace, so that the GIVER of that single thought, that single mind, that LOGOS, could SEE, HEAR and EXPERIENCE His own sons and daughters living as He Himself once lived upon this earth for 33 years?
Would it be of interest to give all our thoughts to that Thought? By the Holy Spirit, that's our actual daily invitation!
“It takes many differing instruments to make up a symphony. We must let the Spirit pull out all the stops and play every key of our personalities. We must be utterly ourselves. We must be natural. But we must also remember that we need other Spirit-played instruments to complement and complete our partial tones. The one who most differs from us may have most to give us. The Spirit comes not to uniform us but to unify us.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
"For our example of the patient endurance of suffering we can take the prophets who have spoken in the Lord’s name. Remember that it is usually those who have patiently endured to whom we accord the word “blessed!” You have heard of Job’s patient endurance and how God dealt with him in the end, and therefore you have seen that the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men." James 5:10,11
That's probably the most casual reference to the sufferings of Job in all the scriptures: "You've heard about Job, right? See, that worked out..."
But, seriously, as we read through both these verses, as we consider the Greek subject-words in all three sentences - "suffering," "patience," "blessed," "endured," "endurance," "outcome," "full of tender mercy" and "compassionate" - we have to remember two important things:
1. The unbelievable, real-time pressure James' original readers were under because of Jesus, because of belief in Him
2. The fact that we are now pretty soft
For us - and let's be honest! - much of what we often call "suffering" is just things not going our way. (And, please, understand me: I'm well aware that many of us have dealt with tragedy before; that we've seen our share of true suffering.) But "things not going my way" was certainly not what James' readers were thinking when they read these words...
Many of those people would live the remainder of their lives, after meeting Jesus, with the strong possibility of death-for-Him hanging over every day of their daily experience. They woke like that; worked like that; raised children like that; had friendships like that; and, most importantly, worshipped like that. And so, in the midst of their sufferings, in the midst of our oftentimes pseudo-sufferings, what is James saying to keep our hearts and minds trained upon?
In the Greek, the "tender mercy" and "compassion" of his brother, Jesus.
We are to keep those attributes right in front of our face, like, "I know He's merciful; I know He's compassionate; so I know I can trust Him to the end."
Acts 4:13 with some notes in italics -
"When the Sanhedrin saw the complete assurance of Peter and John – the “παρρησίαν”: the outspokenness, the frankness, the freedom of speech, the freedom of action, the fearlessness, the liberality and lavishness – even though they were obviously uneducated and untrained men, they were staggered. They recognized them as men who had been with Jesus…"
And not in some sort of facial-recognition sort of “recognized them” - that would not have “staggered” the members of the Council. No, “they recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” – Jesus, the protagonist of that sentence, the antagonist of the Old Way, the One who somehow died, lived again, and now seemed to be standing here right before them – HE is the power that, through these two uneducated untrained men, “staggers” this whole group of educated, well-trained ones. Nothing is more frightening to their foundational historical religious-spirited suppositions than this earthquake of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven impossible: Jesus somehow lives on – in His followers. What the Council had attempted to murder cannot be killed!
And, since you know me well, you know where I’m going next: Have we been with Jesus in that same way? Have we accepted His call to “Follow Me” not as only a prayer of salvation, but as His actual invitation to be saved, to be changed, to be made fruitful; indeed to actually, everyday, learn to better follow Him? Have we grown hungrier and thirstier for understanding of the four Gospels, not just intellectually, but as the way His life still hungers and thirsts to break forth out of our hearts? Have we gone to the Cross and died with Him? Is it only His life that now raises us up, breathes in us, speaks through us, shows the world that He’s never ceased to live?
Friends, is there anything about our “Christianity” that staggers anyone? Oh, that it would be so! And ever more, everyday!
The ending of 1 Thessalonians 1 (vv. 6b-10), with some thoughts in italics -
You remember how, although accepting the message meant bitter persecution, yet you experienced the joy of the Holy Spirit. And, by the way, the Holy Spirit is joy. No circumstances, no human hardships, trump the Holy Spirit’s ability to invest our spirits with His wondrous and eternal joy! (Test that fact today – and everyday - and you'll see what I mean.)
You thus became examples to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia. You have become a sort of sounding-board from which the Word of the Lord has rung out, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but everywhere where the story of your faith in God has become known. We find we don’t have to tell people about it. They tell us the story of our coming to you: how you turned from idols to serve the true living God, and how your whole lives now look forward to the coming of his Son from heaven…
Don’t you just love the sentiment of that section? How absolutely wonderful that these believers, simply by believing and loving and hoping in Jesus, have become a “sounding-board” for the whole Gospel to the whole world! Their story needs no telling because the fruit is so obvious. And what joy Paul felt at how his friends were making the name Jesus famous!
And where did the Thessalonian church source its spiritual power? … the Son Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, and who personally delivered us from the judgment which hung over our heads.
And right there is the source of the Early Church’s zeal and steadfastness: their foremost belief in Jesus’ present “aliveness.” Nothing could faze them in the face of a Living Christ. For them, the Resurrection perfectly proved the power of the atoning Cross forevermore and they’d learned to live in this “personally delivered” posture with wild and unflappable joy.
How about us today?
The eleven went to the hill-side in Galilee where Jesus had arranged to meet them, and when they had seen him they worshipped him, though some of them were doubtful. But Jesus came and spoke these words to them, "All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. You, then, are to go and make disciples of all the nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you and, remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world." (Matthew 28:16-20)
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On one occasion, while he was eating a meal with them, he emphasized that they were not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “You have already heard me speak about this,” he said, “for John used to baptize with water, but before many days are passed you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
This naturally brought them all together, and they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
To this he replied, “You cannot know times and dates which have been fixed by the Father’s sole authority. But you are to be given power when the Holy Spirit has come to you. You will be witnesses to me, not only in Jerusalem, not only throughout Judea, not only in Samaria, but to the very ends of the earth!”
When he had said these words he was lifted up before their eyes till a cloud hid him from their sight… (Acts 1:4-9)
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“Great expectations are the proof of great love.”
- Honore de Balzac, The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau