Now there were in the Church at Antioch both prophets and teachers — Barnabas, for example, Simeon surnamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen the foster-brother of the governor Herod, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, saying, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task to which I have called them.” At this, after further fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them and set them free for this work. (Acts 13:1-3)
For your own Bible-reading interest, this would be the fourth example of the laying-on of hands in the book of Acts, and what is it for, this particular time? To “set them free for this work.”
And compared to every other Biblical translation, this translator, J.B. Phillips, does a pretty good job of giving a properly robust rendering of what Luke actually wrote there. Most every other translation just reads, “And they sent them off.” Blah!
When the Holy Spirit specifically calls a man or woman – which, remember, He’s done for each of us who’ve given their life to Jesus – I want you to read, by the definitions of the word Luke uses, just how totally He calls you out – and then back in:
You are “loosed from,” “set free, released, relieved from,” “acquitted of,” “freed by payment of ransom from,” “discharged from,” “divorced from,” “dismissed from” your former life...
and, on the other side, the Calling side:
you are conversely now bound to, yoked with, harnessed to, drawn deeper into, charged with, purchased by payment of ransom for, called further in, permanently married to, and forever appointed to the Heavenly plans planned exactly for you.
I think we wander around far too often, wondering, “Does God even notice me?” when the better question is: “Do we even notice Him?” That list of definitions and counter-definitions you just read is precisely how freely He’s personally set you free and how fully He’s personally set you apart for His work. Now won’t we just give in and BE HIS today?!
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:1-5)
A prophecy which, in case you're wondering, is from Zechariah 9, which also has some other words that I want you to read about this Jesus. Take a look:
“As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double… Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds... On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.”
Yes, yes, YES! For, friends, hasn’t the “blood of the covenant” set us free, no longer to be prisoners, but now to be carriers of His hope? Hasn’t His personal, personalized presence struck among us like lightning? Haven’t we heard the great trumpet-blast: that sound that throughout all human history has called His “ekklesia” – His called-out ones – together? Are we not this Man’s flock: the jewels in His kingly crown? And oh! is it not the bread of life Himself – the grain we may eat and “never die” – who makes us “flourish” eternally; is it not His “new wine” – His personally poured-out Spirit – that we may drink and live forever?
May today be triumphant in the spirit of His great Triumph! This is our King!
Then Peter approached Jesus with the question, “Master, how many times can my brother wrong me and I must forgive him? Would seven times be enough?”
“No,” replied Jesus, “not seven times, but seventy times seven! For the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When he had started calling in his accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. (Quick Eugene note: The actual amount he owed, in today's gold-values, was approximately $15,933,600,000 - that's right, just a shade under $16B!) And when it was plain that he had no means of repaying the debt, his master gave orders for him to be sold as a slave, and his wife and children and all his possessions as well, and the money to be paid over. At this the servant fell on his knees before his master, ‘Oh, be patient with me!’ he cried, ‘and I will pay you back every penny!’ Then his master was moved with pity for him, set him free and cancelled his debt..." (Matthew 18:21-27)
Okay, let's stop there. Let's let our imaginations go, if that moment was the end of this famous parable, to what this man might feel and to what our owner personal takeaways would be. What would the expression be on the face of this forgiven man? What would he look like as he walks out the gate of the palace? How would we hope he lives, now that he's free?
An important note: THIS MAN, IN THIS MOMENT, IS YOU!
This absolute, truly-free freedom of Jesus is meaningful (its meaning is His life), costly (it cost Him, and it will cost us, everything), utterly unlike any form of life ever offered before (as proven by its foundation being a resurrection!), and it isattached only to His person (because He is alive, and accessible, and is Himself the Way of this freedom.)
If you and I walk into this day today like that forgiven servant should've walked out of the palace, our day will know no end of deep meaning, limitless value, extraordinary uniqueness and direct Christ-connected intimacy. In other words, our lives will look like they're supposed to look! Might make for a different sort of Monday, am I right?
"…Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder. For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live, so does the Son give life to any man he chooses…" John 5:20b,21
These two sentences are so unbelievable that I need to take a moment to type out – to get out – all my potential language of hyperbole: magnificent! marvelous! overwhelming! grandiose! transcendent! awesome! utterly stupefying! (Thank you.) But, in all seriousness, as you read through Jesus' words, did you catch the echo of a wording of another of His greatest promises? Go back and reread them and see if you can catch it…
So gloriously preposterous is the conclusion to which I’m about to drive that its foundational truth – foundational! – is the statement: “For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live…” You know about that, right? How the Heavenly Father, in the presence of death, may simply snap His fingers and – BOOM! – you’re back to life?
To Jesus, this spoken half-sentence seems almost a casual reference; for His First Century Jewish listeners, they’ve only ever heard of three such cases in all recorded human history: Elijah and the widow’s son; Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman; and that guy whose body got thrown into Elisha’s tomb, touched his bones and came back to life. Yes - Jesus says - “For just as the Father raises the dead… so does the Son give life to any man He chooses.”
For me, in preparing to teach through this chapter, I’ve often just stared into space at the wonder of that thought! Do you grasp the equivalency that Jesus is purposely setting up here: “For just as…so…”? How would you react if you were at a funeral and the dead person suddenly sat up in their coffin and came back to life? You would jump out of your skin. Yet, according to Jesus, your natural reaction to that should mirror the way people are consistently reacting to the New Life expressing itself in and through you...
Which brings me to my point: “Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.” The very next time that that phrasing “even greater things” is used – μείζονα in the Greek – here is what Jesus is saying: “I assure you that the man who believes in me will do the same things that I have done, yes, and he will do even greater things than these, for I am going away to the Father.” (John 14:12)
Do you understand? According to John 5:20, the Father is planning to show the Son “even greater things” that will fill the world the whole world with wonder; and where, according to John 14:12, will those “even greater things” occur? In our lives!
May it be so today!
Now as the feast of unleavened bread, called the Passover, was approaching, fear of the people made the chief priests and scribes try desperately to find a way of getting rid of Jesus. Then a diabolical plan came into the mind of Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve. He went and discussed with the chief priests and officers a method of getting Jesus into their hands. They were delighted and arranged to pay him for it. He agreed, and began to look for a suitable opportunity for betrayal when there was no crowd present. (Luke 22:1-6)
Where does this whole tragic plot really spring from? From “fear of the people,” we are told: fear of the people getting carried away with this Jesus and possibly doing something rash or foolhardy that will upset all the norms. But, as Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man will prove to be a snare…” It certainly was for Judas and these religious leaders...
The reality for us: It’s the level to which we do get carried away with Jesus that sets us free from the fear of man. For, "He has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.' We, therefore, can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’" (Hebrews 13:5b,6)
"Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who have obeyed the call, who are loved by God the Father and kept in the faith by Jesus Christ—may you ever experience more and more of mercy, peace and love!" Jude v. 1,2
Two things here. First, as Jude tells us immediately, he is - like us - a servant of Jesus Christ and, he tells us, a brother of "James" - probably James the leader of the Jerusalem fellowship, James the writer of the Book of James, and, most importantly, James the brother of Jesus - meaning, Jude too is one of Jesus' brothers. Wow. One more time to get to read from the perspective of a family-member of Jesus who, despite their intimacy, eventually because of that intimacy, realizes that He is, in fact, the Christ. Imagine that! Imagine praying to, and worshipping, your very own Brother!
Second thing: There are a pair of Greek words in verse 1 that, if we stop to pay attention, could fundamentally change our theology of what all's going on between us and Jesus. The words τετηρημένοις κλητοῖς - "having been kept called (in Christ Jesus)" - are in the Perfect Participle tense and mood, meaning that - in the past - Jesus called you, once and for all time, and - in the past - He already did everything that was necessary to keep you called, now and for all time.
It's little phrases like this one that tend to make me realize I've only just begun to scratch the surface of what "It is Finished" actually means for me. Thank you, Jesus, for one more insight!
"Jesus left there, walked along the shore of the lake of Galilee, then climbed the hill and sat down. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them people who were lame, crippled, blind, mute and many others. They simply put them down at his feet and he healed them. The result was that the people were astonished at seeing mute men speak, crippled men healed, lame men walking about and blind men having recovered their sight. And they praised the God of Israel." Matthew 15:29-31
What would you think I mean if I said that "Christianity" should be nothing less, and nothing more, than these three verses?
Might I mean that it's only Jesus, alive, ever on the move, and that proximity to Him is everything?
Or that it's properly peopled by broken people, needy people, sinful people who actually expect to be forever set free?
Might I mean that "Christianity" without expectancy, without verifiable human results, is actually foolishness? Might I?
And that the goal of all this is wholehearted praise and robust direct interconnectedness with the Godhead?
What do you think? Do you think that's what I mean?
"Note the implication here — to say that Christ 'ascended' means that he must previously have 'descended,' that is from the height of Heaven to the depth of this world. The one who made this descent is identically the same person as he who has now ascended high above the very Heavens — that the whole universe from lowest to highest might know his presence." Ephesians 4:9,10
What an amazing picture of the Incarnation and Ascension! Jesus, the One who so humbled Himself that He’d leave His throne and be born into squalor, is the very same One who has now ascended and retaken that throne. You and I are the privileged ones now tasked with making His “presence” known to others; in fact, to “the whole universe.”
Andrew Murray paints this beautifully in The Holiest of All: The Resurrection occurs; forty days pass; Jesus ascends; then, ten days later, come the events of Pentecost. Murray’s assertion is that the Holy Spirit had witnessed the activity and glory of Jesus’ return-to-Heaven and then came to bear witness from within us to that glory.
That is what your day is "for" today. Now let's go live it to the full.
"For when a man has something, more is given to him till he has plenty. But if he has nothing even his nothing will be taken away from him. This is why I speak to them in these parables; because they go through life with their eyes open, but see nothing, and with their ears open, but understand nothing of what they hear. They are the living fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.' But how fortunate you are to have eyes that see and ears that hear! Believe me, a great many prophets and good men have longed to see what you are seeing and they never saw it. Yes, and they longed to hear what you are hearing and they never heard it." Matthew 13:12-17
Because Jesus is meaning, is life, is the Way, is God, is Heaven come to set all things right, then we are perfectly within our rights to revisit everything He's just said from the vantage-point of what His chosen proximity to us has accomplished. We should not just understand, but experience this:
“For when a man, a woman, has JESUS, more and more is given to him until he has plenty: his cup truly overflows. And if he has JESUS even his little will be added to until he has absolutely everything. This is why He speaks to us in our hearts by His Spirit; so that we may go through life with our eyes open, seeing EVERYTHING, and with our ears open, understanding EVERYTHING HE HAS FOR US. We will be a living fulfillment – in reverse – of Isaiah’s prophecy, which would say: ‘Hearing we will hear and shall forever understand, and seeing we will see and be blessed to perceive; for the heart of His people has grown vibrant and alive: full of life. Our ears are keen to hear His voice, and our eyes He has opened, so that we may see Him with our eyes and hear Him with our ears, and that we may understand with our hearts and turn, and there He is: our Healer. And oh! how fortunate we are to have eyes that see and ears that hear HIM! It is true: a great many prophets and good men once longed to see JESUS and yet they never saw HIM. Yes, and they longed to hear what we are hearing - and they never heard HIM.”
Friends, are we not overwhelmed with joy to be in the Heavenly position we are?! Our lives are the inheritance the whole Old Testament full of saints positively yearned for! Thank you, Jesus!
Then one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and let no one silence you, FOR I MYSELF AM WITH YOU and no man shall lift a finger to harm you. There are many in this city who belong to me.” (Acts 18:9,10)
Isn’t Jesus wonderful? Not just for Paul on this night, but for us everyday, we need not fear; we always have something to say that is not silenceable; He is always with us; He is our refuge; and belonging with Him means belonging toHim. We are His and no one else’s – forevermore.
Over the last while, I’ve been delighting in one of my little "experiments" around the Psalms, taking some of my favorite sections and verses, and, wherever it reads “God” or “Lord,” substituting in – and being blown away by the glory of! – the name “Jesus.” My friends, with reference to Jesus’ words to Paul here, consider just five such Psalmic sections:
Psalm 27:1 “JESUS is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? JESUS is the stronghold of my life –of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 30:11,12 “O JESUS, you turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you, JESUS, and not be silent. JESUS, my Lord and my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
Psalm 62:1,2 “My soul finds rest in JESUS alone; my salvation comes from Him. JESUS alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
Psalm 18:31-36 – “For who is God besides JESUS? And who is the Rock except Him? It is JESUS who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. JESUS makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to stand on the heights. JESUS trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. JESUS has given me His shield of victory, and His right hand sustains me; He stooped down to make me great. JESUS broadens the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”
Psalm 149:2-4 – “Let the Body rejoice in its Maker; let the people of the Kingdom be glad in their King, the Lord JESUS. Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and harp. For JESUS takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.”
In 2 Samuel 7, after God makes eternal-dynasty promises to King David, David is overwhelmed with the many goodnesses of the Lord to him. In awe, "he went in and sat before the Lord," and began to pray one of the most beautiful prayers of gratitude, joy and commitment you'll ever read anywhere.
As we look to a brand new year which will be full of promises and blessings, I want you to read David's prayer... but with the wordings slightly shifted to reflect our New Covenant realities in Jesus. These words are who you are, and what you've received:
"Who am I, O Lord Jesus, and what is my life, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Lord Jesus, you have also spoken about the eternal life of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?
"What more can I say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord Jesus. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
"How great you are, O Lord Jesus! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have come to know within our own hearts. And who is like your Body, the Church - the one people on earth that you went out to redeem as people for yourself, and to make a name for yourself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out sin and Satan from before your people, whom you redeemed from death? You have established your people, your Body, as your very own forever, and you, O Lord, have become their God.
"And now, Lord Jesus, I know you will keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his heart. You will do as you promised, and I will proclaim your name to be great forever. Then the world will say, 'The Lord Almighty is God over that man!" And the Way of Jesus will be established before them and before you.
"O Lord Almighty, God of my life, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, 'You will be my temple.' So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer. O Lord Jesus, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the life of your servant, that I may continue forever in your Way; for you, O Lord Jesus, have spoken, and with your blessing the life of your servant will be blessed for all eternity."
"To you whom I love I say, let us go on loving one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God’s son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love cannot know him at all, for God is love. To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins. If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!" 1 John 4:7-11
When you look up the word "love" in the dictionary, here are the first four definitions given:
(1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
(2) : attraction based on sexual desire
(3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b : an assurance of affection
Okay. Very nice. Thank you, Merriam-Webster.
But what the apostle John wants you and I to realize, and to walk into this day living, is that, in reality, these are the only true definitions of real love:
(1) : Jesus Himself
(2) : His life that, living among us, gives life
(3) : Literal self-sacrificial, blood-soaked, complete personal atonement that is not only unconditional in scope but, maybe more impressively, without pre-condition: “not in the fact that we loved God, but that He loved us…”
Or, to put it another way:
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus does not dishonor others, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.”
What a wonder to be loved first by this Man!
"What Mary has conceived is conceived through the Holy Spirit, and she will give birth to a son, whom you will call Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet—‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’. (“Immanuel” means “God with us.”) Matthew 1:20b-23
And what so wonderfully strikes me as we celebrate this particular Christmas, and as we look here at Isaiah's words from Isaiah 7, is how the whole reality of this Jesus, of His Kingdom, of our God, is built on the most wonderful contradictions. Look here:
A virgin... with child.
God... with us.
No other spiritual understanding in all the history of the world, no other pattern of belief, has ever had its Center truly among its people. The way of Jesus contradicts every known normalcy:
His are regular disciples
In His presence, the blind see
The lame walk
The deaf hear
The mute speak
He is a humble King
Executed for His innocence
Whose death brought victory
Life was found in His death
And He retook life after death
He made sinful people holy
His Holy Spirit came to live in common people
His throne is meant to be shared by those commoners
The formerly lost now become their fellow-men's guides
Those who were once in darkness are now illumined by His light
Yes, God is with us
And, even more importantly, God is now within us
Perhaps this Christmas, instead of settling down into the grooves of tradition, of feel-goodness, let's give some meditation to the fact that Jesus came to overthrow everything mankind had ever known... and continues to know. An entirely new way of living is unleashed in the birth of this baby. Nothing should have ever been the same, since.
Has that been our experience?
"But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith, keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses. I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!" 1 Timothy 6:11-16
The language used here, plus the direction of that language, actually teaches this paragraph better than anything I could ever muster. Imagine the first part as if Paul is looking Timothy in the eye: “But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith…”
And then it’s as if Paul’s eyes start to lift as he keeps writing: “...keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses…”
And now he’s looking skyward, up to the heavenly places, as he continues on: “I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things…”
Then Paul begins to grin uncontrollably: “...the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!”
Paul had begun by trying to give Timothy some good quality injunctions for his life and then got lost along the way and ended up with… Jesus! And this should be us too. We should be the people whose heads are so up in the clouds of His glory and goodness that, almost unthinkingly, we just follow His ways. Look at how Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 5: “We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.” That’s the whole deal, my friends! To wed the living of our little human lives with the eternal purposes of the all-knowing, all-powerful God; to cease to be ourselves in the presence of the One who indwells our hearts and is capable of eternally overtaking our lives!
Yes, YES, YES!
"Later, when Jesus was sitting at dinner in Levi’s house, a large number of tax-collectors and disreputable folk came in and joined him and his disciples. For there were many such people among his followers." Mark 2:15
Jesus' goodness and kindness are simply so good and so kind, aren't they? Here He is: sitting down to dinner in Levi's palatial house on the hill, built with stolen tax-monies, surrounded by all the "tax-collectors and disreputable folk" Galilee has to offer. And why do all these people flock to Him? Because, apparently, there had already been "many such people among His followers," even before Levi was ever called!
This dinner, in fact, provides a clear answer to one of the age-old, all-important questions ranged against human life: From where may righteousness, or goodness, or holiness, be derived?
These broken people, confronted by the personification of Righteousness, Goodness and Holiness Himself, have answered with the correct response: They desire, by proximity, to be made better, to be made righteous and good and holy by this power outside themselves. That is the nature and the basic idea of sanctification...
Except, it's even better for us now, isn't it? Because, now, that Righteous One, Good One, Holy One, Wonderful One, Perfect One, lives within us!
Thank you, Jesus, for your overwhelming kindness to disreputable folk like us!
So Jesus re-embarked on the boat, crossed the lake, and came to his own town. Immediately some people arrived bringing him a paralytic lying flat on his bed. When Jesus saw the faith of those who brought him he said to the paralytic, “Cheer up, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:1,2
We could talk about the fact that Jesus goes after sin here before going after this man's paralysis; we could go into a little discussion of the actual nature of what "sin" is; but what I want to talk about is the fact that it's his friends' faith - not his own - his friends' faith in Jesus that gets this man set free of his nature of sin. This is just so wonderful to me.
Think about how it must've played out. His friends arrive to his little shack in the rough part of town; help him get dressed; then get him onto a pallet that they can carry through the streets of Capernaum to where they've heard Jesus will be. Along the way they're giddy with hope, not for themselves, but for their friend: "Oh, Jesus," they say to him, "He's a wonder-worker. He looks after people like us, like you. He sees us. What a delight He is! When you get near Him, you'll see. He'll do it. We just know it."
My friends, if these friends' call is also our call - to bring everyone to Jesus of Nazareth - is that the way we're walking them to Him? Do we know Him? Can we tell them what He's like? Can we point to His miraculous power, His heart for the lost, His eyes for the hopeless, His delightful personal presence? And, probably most importantly, do we know what to expect when we arrive with them to Him: is our expectancy formed by our own experience of Him?
Because that's what people truly need to see in us. Expectancy built from personal experience.
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!
Large crowds followed Jesus when he came down from the hillside [after delivering the Sermon on the Mount]. There was a leper who came and knelt in front of him. “Sir,” he said, “if you want to, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:1,2)
We can really just stop right there with the impossible loveliness of that statement: the fact that the least person in that whole countryside, a lonely leper, so understands Jesus' reputation and heart that he immediately addresses Him in such a tender way: "Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean."
"If you want to..." He places this whole exchange at the level of Jesus' desire, Jesus' heart, Jesus' plan, Jesus' will. I think we often pray the words "If it's your will" like we're shooting prayer-arrows into some unknown darkness; this man spoke the word "will" while looking directly into Jesus' eyes. He would know the heart and mind and will and want of Jesus right now: "If you want to..."
"...you can make me clean." It's right there inside You, Jesus. All the wondrous power of the Godhead, every ounce of the creative energy that formed the heavens and the earth, is native to Your human frame. If You want to, this is easy for You. I don't have to strain to improve Your will or Your power. Here I am and here You are: "Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean."
Friends, I think this leprous man's life is the perfect model for how our own prayer-life should go. What a combination of boldness, belief, familiarity and expectancy!
Then Jesus got up and went straight from the synagogue to the house of Simon and Andrew, accompanied by James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a high fever, and they lost no time in telling Jesus about her. He went up to her, took her hand and helped her to her feet. The fever left her, and she began to see to their needs.
Late that evening, after sunset, they kept bringing to him all who were sick or troubled by evil spirits. The whole population of the town gathered round the doorway. (Mark 1:29-33)
From their relatively brief glimpse of Jesus down at the synagogue, from only one experience of His teaching and healing, this entire town believes that this one solitary man, sitting in the half-darkness on a humble doorstep, has the power to deal with the individual needs of everyone. Can't you imagine them coming up the footpath: limping, on makeshift crutches, blind and being led, others who scream out under the bondage of demon-possession? And at the end of their journey sits Jesus, smiling, waving them to come nearer, hearing their needs, asking questions, delighted that they'd be so bold as to come...
Let me ask you a question: Which is more difficult for you to believe - that Jesus has time for absolutely everyone, or that Jesus has time for you personally? Think about it before you answer too quickly. Because in all my many meetings with believers at various points of their journeys, I find that more people are more comfortable with generic ideas of Jesus' love for everyone, for His broad desire for intimacy with all people, than they are with the idea of, by themselves, walking up to Him alone. There's something reassuring to us about standing in a room, or standing in a church, or walking up the path toward Him, surrounded by people all thinking something similar... even if that something's a bit vague.
But He wants you - only you. He wants to watch you leave your house, light your lantern, and wind your way out toward Him, knowing that it'll only be you and Him at the end. That's what He wants with you everyday. Yes, others may happen to come to Him too; but, even if they don't, all He really wanted was to see you.
Do you come?
Will you come?
At the wedding in Cana -
Then Jesus said to the servants, “Now draw some water out and take it to the master of ceremonies,” which they did. When this man tasted the water, which had now become wine, without knowing where it came from (though naturally the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called out to the bridegroom and said to him, “Everybody I know puts his good wine on first and then when men have had plenty to drink, he brings out the poor stuff. But you have kept back your good wine till now!” Jesus gave this, the first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee. He demonstrated his power and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:8-11)
Does this actually accord with the Jesus you actually know? (Oh yes, I know: you’ve heard this account countless times and know it backwards and forwards: “Ah yes, His first miracle – water into wine – ahem.”) What I mean is: Do you personally know the Jesus who’s invited to a fairly raucous party, goes, mixes in with those who’ve had a little too much to drink, and, seeing the wine gone, the party ruined, the bride and groom potentially shamed, ramps it up to levels never seen before or since? Is that the kind of unexpectedly-acting, edgy-doing, mischievous-twinkle-in-His-eye sort of Savior you’re daily walking with?
I think most Christians, and certainly the world around us, most of the time view Jesus like water: fine for quenching your thirst when He’s needed, but flavorless, flat, nothing to write home about. Some might see Him as – to use the master of ceremonies’ words – the “poor stuff”: there’s a hint of something there, but He’s more of a last resort than anything else…
Jesus Himself is the party; Jesus is the “good wine”; He is the joy, the flavor, the savor, the atmosphere of life that is really Life. And how wonderful that in the midst of a party whose level is never forced to drop, His disciples saw this miracle, looked at each other and “believed in him.” What a way for belief to begin!
Remember, my friends: This Man's inner life is a vast sea of the New Wine: the "Oil of Joy." Let's not forget that fact today, or this whole week!
About eight days after these sayings, Jesus took Peter, James and John and went off to the hill-side to pray. And then, while he was praying, the whole appearance of his face changed and his clothes became white and dazzling. And two men were talking with Jesus. They were Moses and Elijah—revealed in heavenly splendor, and their talk was about the way he must take and the end he must fulfill in Jerusalem.
But Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep and it was as they struggled into wakefulness that they saw the glory of Jesus and the two men standing with him. Just as they were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still talking, a cloud overshadowed them and awe swept over them as it enveloped them. A voice came out of the cloud, saying “This is my Son, my chosen! Listen to him!”
And while the voice was speaking, they found there was no one there at all but Jesus. The disciples were reduced to silence, and in those days never breathed a word to anyone of what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)
Now let’s go back and reexamine this whole scene, putting ourselves there - here are the main elements:
You see, the truth of the matter is that we’re actually in a better vantage than Peter, James and John: we have the ability to know Jesus' attributes through their writings of Him plus He’s now glorified all the time with the Father plus He now chooses to dwell right here within us. On this side of the Risen Jesus, there’s no such thing as “valleys,” only new “Mounts of Transfiguration” alongside Him.
The question is: Will we stay awake in His glorious presence and experience consistent ongoing revelation of His Glory? They are available. Today.
On the very night that Herod was planning to bring him out, Peter was asleep between two soldiers, chained with double chains, while guards maintained a strict watch in the doorway of the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side. His chains fell away from his hands and the angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.”
And he did so. Then the angel continued, “Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.” So Peter followed him out, not knowing whether what the angel was doing were real—indeed he felt he must be taking part in a vision. So they passed right through the first and second guard-points and came to the iron gate that led out into the city. This opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and had passed along the street when the angel suddenly vanished from Peter’s sight. Then Peter came to himself and said aloud, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel to rescue me from the power of Herod and from all that the Jewish people are expecting.” Acts 12:7-11
This little narrative – from the man sleeping in his cell to now standing outside unchained – is so fun, despite its seriousness, that to me it’s almost silly. This is the wild, whimsical, all-powerful, uncontrollable way of the God we're serving! This, in fact, is actually our story – let me prove it to you:
Under the darkness of this world, it was as if we were asleep between sin and death, chained with double chains, while the Accuser maintained a strict watch in the doorway of our prison. Suddenly the Lord Jesus appeared, and His light shone throughout the world. He took our stripes and woke us from our deathly sleep, saying, “Get up quickly, for I have risen.” Our chains fell away from our hands and then Jesus said to us, “Fasten on the Belt of Truth and put on your sandals fitted with the Gospel of peace.” (Eph. 6)
And we did so. Then Jesus continued, “Wrap the robe of my righteousness (Isa. 61:10) round you and follow me.” So we followed Him out of the old life, not knowing whether all of this was real, it seemed so good — indeed we felt we must be taking part in some heavenly dream. So we passed right through the condemnation of sin and death and came to the curtain that led into the presence of God. This tore of its own accord from top to bottom, and we went through and passed into the Holy of Holies, into the Throneroom of the Father and, at His right hand, Jesus. And there we came to ourselves and said aloud, “Now I know for certain that the Father has sent Jesus to rescue me from the power of sin and from all that the evil one was expecting...”
For just a moment, try to imagine that night alongside Peter. Feel the cold wet stones of the prison floor; smell the filth, the sickness of that place; look out into the unlit darkness of the cell: that sort of darkness that hurts the eyes as they find nothing to focus upon…
And now, moments later, imagine standing in an empty city street, looking up at the twinkling of the stars overhead! Friends, this is how good Jesus is, how fully free He’s set us free; we must learn to relish in our absolute freedom! We are free!
Then the devil took Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of mankind in a sudden vision, and said to him, “I will give you all this power and magnificence, for it belongs to me and I can give it to anyone I please. It shall all be yours if you will fall down and worship me.” Luke 4:5,6
Satan will show you whatever it takes to sway your heart away from Jesus. Whether it be “the kingdoms of mankind,” wealth, possessions, power, sex or influence, it’s his favorite practice to see which axe will fell the tree of our belief. So what are we to do? How can we steel ourselves against his alluring voice?
Brothers and sisters, we must become so practiced in dwelling in the midst of our Kingdom-inheritance that we’re absolutely ruined for anything less. We must daily walk the hallways of Heaven and know the glories that are actually already ours through Christ, so that nothing else compares!
How's that as a barometer for your "quiet time"?
These are the inheritances which the children of Israel took in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the children of Israel, distributed to them, by the lot of their inheritance, as Yahweh commanded by Moses, for the nine tribes, and for the half-tribe. For Moses had given the inheritance of the two tribes and the half-tribe beyond the Jordan; but to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them. (Joshua 14:1-4)
As you'd be told if you kept reading till Chapter 18, this was because the Levites' duties as priests, their access to Yahweh Himself, were the inheritances they were meant to enjoy and delight themselves in. What an important reminder for us! Whether you read these words as one with great earthly wealth or as someone struggling to get by, your only real inheritance – the place from which you should derive all your identity and joy – is your access to Jesus and, by Him, His Father. Everything else is as nothing. His love - and the service of that love - is everything.
"But you are God’s 'chosen generation,' his 'royal priesthood,' his 'holy nation,' his 'peculiar people' — all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you..." 1 Peter 2
“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