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.
"...live lives worthy of the God who has called you to share the splendour of his own kingdom."
1 Thessalonians 2:12
The Coronation of Alexander III and Maria Fedorovna, Georges Becker (1888)
If the painting above was only an infinitesimal sliver of the "splendour" of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom you are promised one day to "share" with your Savior, your Brother, the Lord Jesus...
if "in all which will one day belong to him we have been promised a share (since we were long ago destined for this by the one who achieves his purposes by his sovereign will)" (Eph. 1:11)...
if you really "are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Pet. 2:9)...
if all that He "claims as his will belong to all of us as well..." (Rom. 8:17)...
...then a question is immediately begged:
Today - and this week - and for the remainder of this month - and this year - and for remainder of the life allotted to you - as a true son or daughter of God, a splendid prince or princess of this Kingdom, an inheritor of His glory, a sharer in His purposes, a chosen one, a royal envoy, a person made holy by His very blood: His own special personal possession...
...what sort of life will you live?
If you've ever read much from Augustine, especially his autobiography of faith, The Confessions, then perhaps you already know of his breakthrough moment of beginning to believe. In concert with a group of friends, he encounters authentic experience of Jesus in the heart of a fellow North African, Ponticianus, while visiting a villa on the outskirts of Milan.
Read how Ponticianus described the difference between serving the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdoms of the earth:
‘What do we hope to gain by all the efforts we make? What are we looking for? What is our purpose in serving the State? Can we hope for anything better at Court than to be the Emperor’s friends? Even so, surely our position would be precarious and exposed to much danger? We shall meet it at every turn, only to reach another danger which is greater still. And how long is it to be before we reach it? But if I wish, I can become the friend of God at this very moment...’
No matter what sort of day you're expecting, or what sort of week you're in, I want us all to appreciate the grandeur of that thought: 'if I wish, I can become the friend of God at this very moment.'
My friend, you are already a friend of God.
Or a daughter.
So, 'What are we looking for' today?
Only, ever, more of Him.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” …Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-4,6 ESV).
Whenever I think of the return of Jesus—of that Beginning of the Beginning and the End of Ends—my mind often goes to a man whose story lies at the very opening of this whole glorious drama. His name is Enoch, and this is what we’re told of him:
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:21-24 NIV).
Naturally, it’s that last sentence that grabs one’s attention. The idea of “walking faithfully with God” we can readily understand; but we tend to sit up in our chairs when we hear of a heavenly disappearing act that is borne from that faithfulness—an evasion of death because of God whisking someone away in His wondrous train. I’ve often imagined that, while walking faithfully with God one afternoon enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, Enoch just suddenly found himself in Heaven! And looking around, getting his bearings, seeing the God who he’d so faithfully walked with so long, he could only laugh and say, with a shake of his head, “You!”
So, why am I talking about Enoch with this final post of 2020?
Because the only way to live with untroubled hearts, believing in God, believing in Jesus; the only way to wait upon our eventual placement in the place He has for us in Heaven; the only way to be watchful for His coming again—His great taking of us to Himself, to His Father, to Heaven—is to walk faithfully with Him today. To rise out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, get ready, get fed, get out the door to work, get home, get in your routine, get back in bed--all with Him. To let every hour of your day be one in fellowship with Him. To let Him become the rhythm of your days. To finally, firmly understand that there’s absolutely nothing higher for your human life than to walk in intimacy with Jesus of Nazareth. And to so do, just like Enoch did.
When Jesus earlier described the times of His return, He put it this way:
“There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth there will be dismay among the nations and bewilderment at the roar of the surging sea. Men’s courage will fail completely as they realise what is threatening the world, for the very powers of heaven will be shaken. Then men will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and splendour! But when these things begin to happen, look up, hold your heads high, for you will soon be free” (Luke 21:25-28 Phillips).
My friend, the reality of the mystery of the Return of Jesus is that, being totally unknown in its timing, it could be today! We might be going about the business of our mundane little routine this afternoon and—looking up--it’s happening! Jesus Himself, descending in the same glory in which He once ascended, coming again to take us away, as He promised!
How would He find you?
How would He find me?
With “heads held high” and “free”?
His best friend, the apostle John, writing many years after the Ascension, captured the spirit I would like to see in myself that day. This is how I’d want to be if Jesus happened to decide to return during this particular afternoon:
…Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is! (1 John 3:2 Phillips)
What a thought! That, today, being a son of God, not entirely knowing where my life is going, I can rest assured that, “if reality were to break through” this very afternoon, He would recognize me and I would finally, fully see Him!
The highest prayer I can pray for your life—and the reason I’ve chosen to end the year with these words—is that you’d begin to see your individual life as the place of Jesus’ greatest joy, and that Jesus Himself would overtake everything for you. That perhaps, someday, the following might be written of you:
When they had lived a certain number of years, they became, fully and consciously, a child of God. And after they became this son or daughter of God, they walked faithfully with God every day of their life and helped others to become children of God. Altogether, they walked with God every remaining year of their life, all 365 days of each one. They walked faithfully with God; then they were no more--or Jesus returned--and God took them away.
One day, while “walking faithfully with God,” enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, either Jesus will return, or you will suddenly find yourself in Heaven! And looking around, getting your bearings, seeing the God who you’ve so enjoyed walking with for so long, you’ll laugh and start to say, “You!”
But, even better, Jesus will beat you to the punch.
With that love in His glorious eyes, brimming over with tears of joy that you’re finally, eternally together forever, He’ll whisper, “You!”
Jesus, we await You today (and in this New Year) in the joy of Your presence. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
An amplification of Romans 5:5-8, with the verses in bold and my words in regular text:
Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. The Holy Spirit of God, the atmosphere of Heaven itself, the communion-point of the Father and Son, the animating force of all the greatest deeds of the Old Testament, has been given, without reserve, without end, without any restraint to every believer in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is within you--now. He is the exact point on earth--within you—where the “love of God”—the life of Heaven—is choosing to express itself. Your inward experience of, your union with, this Holy Spirit is the way in which you meet and experience the incarnate life and love of Jesus. And what is that love like?
And we can see that it was while we were powerless to help ourselves that Christ died for sinful men. The love of Jesus is powerful…for the powerless. It is the perfect help of Heaven, sent to earth, for all the people of earth--everyone!—who are unable to help themselves. In fact, that is the best definition of the love of Jesus: that it is heavenly; that it cost His life; that it’s for the powerless, ie. all of us. The love of Jesus is the greatest universal, all-encompassing force that has ever swept across the face of this earth. Listen:
In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. And, by the way, it was while we were sinners that He also lived His life for us—just ask Matthew the tax-collector. Or the woman caught in adultery and hauled into the Temple. Or, for that matter, any of His disciples. And, maybe most notably, while He was in the midst of giving His life for the sake of sinners, the criminal who met Him in death—and then met Him again in Paradise. “God’s amazing love” is amazing because of how relentless it is—even beyond the bounds of life and death—in pursuing the sinner. All human history before Jesus was a record of the seeming wrath of God; everything after is a catalogue of the immensity of His love.
"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
In working through the latter half of Romans 3, I was drawn to a compare-contrast of the Old and New Covenants—especially the blessings/curses that accompanied the Old, as described in Leviticus 26. For Anchor this week, after having looked at that chapter over and over again, I decided to re-transcribe it in the context of the New—especially highlighting our overwhelming blessings upon blessings. How does this read to you?
“Walk with Me for yourselves, and let my Holy Spirit dwell within you. I am the Lord your God. Live in my rest and enjoy the joy of being my Temple. I am your Lord. As you follow my commandments and walk the path of my Way, my Spirit will become a spring within you, watering your life and yielding great crops of His fruit. Together, we will harvest the fruit of your life—I, the Vine; you, the branch—and you will be fruitful and I will be your fruitfulness.
“I will grant you my peace, and you will rest in Me and no one and nothing will be able to make you afraid. I have already vanquished the words and works of the evil one; swords and strife will not be the experience of your days. The enemy may pursue you, yes; but he is powerless in my presence—I have forever chased Him away by my finished work.
“Now I look on you with favor and I will make you fruitful and increase your fruit, and I will keep the Covenant I have made with my Father. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I have put my dwelling place within you, and I will love you to the moment when you come home. I will walk with you and be your God, and you will be my chosen child forever. For I am the Lord your God, Jesus the Christ, who brought you out of bondage so that you would no longer be slaves to the Law, sin and death. I broke the chains of your slavery and set you under the bars of my yoke and enabled you to walk, alongside Me, with our heads held high.”
When we typically think of "evangelism"—of the commission we hold to tell everyone, everywhere, all the time, of the Gospel of Jesus—it's been my observation that we tend to then get strategic, carried away by logistics, and sometimes end up hamstringing our potential best efforts. It reminds me of a particular moment from history.
After the French Revolution had (mostly) solidified and was starting to find its legs, the other European nations began to want to fight France to ensure its revolution didn't spread further. And, for the most part, the revolutionary French army did fairly well. But then, as stronger, more strident French voices started calling for further outward battles of conquest, a gentleman named Vergniaud—a Girondist—said this:
"Citizens, let us profit from the lessons of experience. We can overturn empires by victories but we can only make revolutions for other peoples by the spectacle of our own happiness."
My friends, that is what we're after! To so enjoy the glory, honor and peace that Jesus so readily provides that we spark off revolutions "by the spectacle of our own happiness." That the look of the joy of our experience of abiding in Him is intoxicating, overwhelming, and eminently inviting. That everyone would want what we have.
Because we actually have what we actually have.
Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
This is a take on Jesus' life and ministry that is never offered before and never offered again in the whole of the New Testament: that, having always been God, having always been the Ruler on the throne of Heaven, He was incalculably "rich" with riches that are inestimable according to our earthly weights and measures. Think about it. When John later tries to describe the glories of the New Heaven, New Earth, New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation, the best he can generally do to describe all its grandeur and richness is to say, "It's like this" and "like that," where he substitutes in all the finest things human minds can understand.
We cannot understand how glorious Jesus was before!
And He left all that--
He stepped down from the throne of glory, was born into the midst of vicious Roman rule, became a refugee to escape from murderous King Herod, and then lived three decades in a town of, perhaps, a couple hundred peasants.
All - don't forget! - that He might, then, minister for three years, die to set us free, and ascend to bring us - spiritual peasants that we are - into that very throne room in which this whole plan was hatched.
Today, will we remember the generosity of Jesus, the Lord of us all? He was literally rich beyond our literal telling or understanding, yet he actually became poor for our actual sakes so that his literal poverty might make us actually, spiritually rich!
Will you remember?
"So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these 'clothes' but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal. Now the power that has planned this experience for us is God, and he has given us his Spirit as a guarantee of its truth." 2 Corinthians 5:4,5
"HIS Spirit as a GUARANTEE." I don't know which of those two words to talk about first - they're both so preposterously wonderful!
God...has given you...His Spirit. His own personal inner life. He has just given Him to you. You may abide within, and rely upon, the same inner resources that commanded and upheld the earthly life of Jesus.
And He has been given to you "as a guarantee" - as, in the Greek, an ἀρραβῶνα: "a present; a pledge; as earnest-money." What He has put in you - His very own Spirit - is a downpayment on the day when you'll be swallowed up in His glory.
Your experience of, and your delight in the Holy Spirit today is the degree to which you're already in Heaven.
Shall we go live there?
Consider some promises, extrapolated, and some realities - already ours! - from the words of Isaiah 51:
“I, even I, am he who comforts you.” Our only comfort is to be found in Him. In God. In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On any given day, you may stop whatever you’re doing, sit perfectly still wherever you are, and actually ask to be internally comforted. He will comfort you, right there and then.
“The cowering prisoners will soon be set free…” Or, better yet: The cowering prisoners have been set free! You are already free--today! The blood of Jesus has already warranted for your perfect, holy blamelessness; you cannot be more free than you already are. He has promised that—and then done the entire work to make it so.
“they will not die in their dungeon…” Your circumstances today are not the whole story. No matter what you’re presently experiencing, no matter the hardships you’re currently enduring, you are not outside of how He would seek to lead and care for you. Can you, today, trust Him? He will not allow you to languish unnecessarily. He is actually working out something in your life, right this minute.
“nor will they lack bread.” He is the only Provider you’ve ever had. Your paycheck isn’t the boss of you. Your boss isn’t the boss of you. The One who easily feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the fields isn’t without resources that specifically have your name on them. Will you trust Him—and ask?
“I have put my words in your mouth…” Jesus promised His disciples that whenever they were dragged before governors and kings for His sake, He would literally speak His words right from their mouths. Again, here, it’s promised: He will arm you with proper words. He wants His sons and daughters to always have the Holy Spirit-infused vocabulary for every situation: He has promised it.
“And covered you with the shadow of my hand…” Your life lives in the shadow—not of death, or discouragement, nor of sin, or of hopelessness, or despair—but in the cool, fresh shade of His mighty hand. Nothing can get to you that doesn’t have His allowance for your good. No arrow or word or trial can ever outflank Him. You are presently nested right within His will, under the awe-inspiringly, massive power of His hand; you are right where you belong. Your position is assured. You are beloved. You are His.
Isn't our Lord Jesus wonderful?
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27 (NASB)
Personally, I can’t recall another question spoken in the Scriptures that holds the same meaning and weight as the question with which this implied promise concludes: “is anything too difficult for Me?” Because if there’s any doubt in our minds as to His ability to encounter, overcome and, even, demolish any difficulty, then--what are we doing? Who do we think we’re going to follow, next, if this One, this God, can’t surmount any challenge, hardship, barrier or impasse?
My friends, I want us to truly know this God, this One: “the Lord, the God of all flesh” who is unstoppable in face of difficulty.. I want you so unshakably resolved upon His power and sheer dynamism that there’s never any more question for you in your day to day.
So, for that reason, I want to take you on a journey of His ability, over the aeons, to overcome every difficulty, every trial, every divide, every impossibility that might’ve seemed insurmountable. And, to do that, I want us to consider, in each era or day, His and our “state of existence”—Who He was and who we were—during that precise period of time (or, even, pre-time).
Before Creation – God was. We weren’t. He existed and we didn’t exist at all. And yet He manifested existence and time and space and being, and made the triune choice to make us “in His image.”
In the Garden of Eden – He was. We were now also. And He overcame any potential boundary lying between the Divine and those Made-in-the-Image-of-the-Divine, and He walked with us “in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8, ESV).
From the Fall until the Incarnation – He was God: perfect and holy. We were fallen: imperfect and broken. And yet, for the remainder of human history until His coming, He continued to manifest His grace and to reveal His voice across the divide. It was only by His grace that “history” didn’t end with the Fall: He might’ve scrapped the whole thing because humanity was no longer perfect.
The Incarnation – He was Himself and yet with us. We were still imperfect and yet with Him. He actually allowed humanity to see the very face of God.
The Cross – He was Himself and yet totally in our place, on our behalf. We were our broken selves, and yet our sin-existence hung suspended-in-time upon that Man on the Cross. And He personally overcame sin, that separating force that had destroyed mankind ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.
The Resurrection – He was alive again—God and Man—entirely by His own power. We were still imperfect, and yet now offered a new sinless, deathless, human existence. And He had permanently, once for all time, overcome death, “the last enemy” of mankind (1 Cor. 15:26, NIV).
The Ascension – He was Himself—Man and God—on the throne again. We were able, by His blood, to have direct access. And nothing can now separate our confident earth-to-Heaven approach: He has said “It is finished” to all human-to-God separation.
Pentecost until Today – He is with the Father--and with us: within our hearts. We are here on earth, as new Kingdom creations--and yet “raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6, NIV). His and our shared, bi-locational reality means there’s no difficulty unable to be overcome, no provision meant to be unmet, no spiritual deficit He won’t personally invade, overwhelm and conquer. He is there and here; we are here and there.
In every portion of history and pre-history, we have dealt with a God who is unable to be stopped, unable to encounter any natural or supernatural difficulty that has any ounce of power against Him. Let us say to our hearts today: Behold, I am following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing is too difficult for Him!
Lack of seeming substance? He created existence!
Lack of connection? He personally comes to encounter us!
Lack of holiness? He will never stop pursuing His people!
Lack of understanding of God? He has showed us His face!
Fear of the consequences of sin? He ended it!
Fear in the face of death? He has conquered it forever!
Desire to know God? He invites you into the throneroom of Heaven!
Desire for a new life? He invites Himself right into your heart!
Let me type it once again with confidence, from me to you: Behold, you and I are following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing in the heavens or the earth is too difficult for Him
“This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9, NLT
Here’s a picture:
Imagine standing on the wide, sweeping plains on the west side of the Jordan River, listening to the sound of the wind whistling through the river rushes. Behind you, a few hundred yards away, sleep the hundreds of thousands of people you have just become the leader for; you have only just become their leader in place of the only leader they’ve ever known. You’re standing in the darkness, by yourself, listening to the whistling of the wind, wondering how you’ll ever accomplish the next day. Before you stretches the land that, all throughout your life, you’ve heard is yours; forty years before, you’d even spied it out. You have personally tasted the sweetness of its fruit, seen the beauty of its mountains and valleys, observed the mighty fortresses you’ll have to take to take it.
All in all, you are scared. And excited.
But, really and truly, scared.
Looking back, you begin studying the swirling- and flaring- and expanding- and contracting-movements of the pillar of fire that hangs just this side of the camp. It’s funny: There are times – like right now – when it’s become easy to forget the power of the presence of God; when that great theophany fades into the commonplace. You walk a little closer, opening out the fullness of your spirit, wishing you could just hear a voice to help you know how to--
“Moses my servant is dead…” the Fire suddenly speaks directly to you.
You are already on your face on the ground.
Within a few moments, the words of today’s promise become the centerpiece of the command of God that is spoken to you on behalf of all the people: “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When you rise to your feet, when you look back toward the promise of the Promised Land standing before you, this command – and its promise – now leads the way.
“God is with you” now leads the way.
Now, here’s another picture:
Imagine standing within the open, unknown sweeps of the dawning of a new day, listening to the sound of your schedule, plans, expectations and worries for it. Around you, in every home, on every street, all over the whole world, live the billions of people you have been called to serve; you have been called to serve them by the One who came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). You’re standing in the daylight or the darkness, by yourself, listening to the beatings of your heart, wondering how you’ll ever accomplish this day. Before you stretches the realities of Heaven that, all throughout your life, you’ve heard to be yours; here and there, in reality, you’ve actually even spied some out. You have personally tasted the sweetness of its fruit, seen the beauty of its peaks and hidden places, observed the mighty fortresses by which it protects your everyday.
All in all, you are still a little uncertain. Excited, yes.
But, really and truly, uncertain.
Taking a moment, you begin remembering the swirling- and flaring- and firing- and calming-movements of the Holy Spirit who lives within you. It’s funny: There are times – like right now – when it’s easy to forget the power of the presence of God; when His great theophany fades into the commonplace. So, you focus a little bit closer, opening out the fullness of your spirit, wishing you could just hear a voice to help you know how to--
“Jesus, my Servant, has died for you…” the Spirit reminds you.
You should already be on your face on the ground.
And within a few moments, the words of today’s promise become the centerpiece of the command of God that is spoken to you on behalf of the whole world: “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When you rise to your feet, when you look back toward the day, toward the promise of Heaven standing before you, this command – and its promise – must now lead the way.
God Within You must now lead the way.
Are you ready, now, to go?
"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"
"The administration of the Law which was engraved in stone (and which led in fact to spiritual death) was so magnificent that the Israelites were unable to look unflinchingly at Moses’ face, for it was alight with heavenly splendor. Now if the old administration held such heavenly, even though transitory, splendor, can we not see what a much more glorious thing is the new administration of the Spirit of life? If to administer a system which is to end in condemning men was a splendid task, how infinitely more splendid is it to administer a system which ends in making men good! And while it is true that the former temporary glory has been completely eclipsed by the latter, we do well to remember that is eclipsed simply because the present permanent plan is such a very much more glorious thing than the old." 2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Do you see how Paul is comparing-contrasting this clear dichotomous pair - the Law vs. the Spirit - to bring our NEW REALITY into focus? Well, let me make the contrast even more clear!
In verses 7-11, Paul gets absolutely carried away in using different forms of the same Greek word: δόξα - "glory." In just these four sentences, he uses the word TEN TIMES:
has been glorified
having been made glorious
One senses that Paul is trying to make a point...
Well, here it is: The overriding, overpowering, overmastering reality of Jesus is GLORY. If you've ever had the sense that this is anything less than TEN GLORIES WORTH OF GLORY, you've been getting the wrong impression. We are dealing in a GLORIOUS way of life.
Which begs the question of our hearts today: Is what we're doing with all of this absolutely GLORIOUS? Do you find yourself, more often than not, feeling a little carried away by the glorious wonder of Jesus?
Or... does it feel scheduled, routine, manageable, based upon a specialized knowledge that some have and others don't; does it feel (let's be honest) a little boring? Systematic? Something that can be picked up or set back down dependent upon the way a week's going?
My friends - again - the Way of Jesus is GLORY. Anything less - anything like the old Law - is not what we're after.
Jesus Himself is what we're after. Together. Today.
"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..."
"At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror..." (1 Corinthians 13:12a)
Which may be one of the starkest, clearest descriptions of human life you'll ever read anywhere. Our lives are subjective, individualistic, only-personally-experienced, so the mirror-as-lens is an apt analogy. And oh! how true is the puzzlement we almost always feel!
But: "...The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!" (1 Corinthians 13:12b)
Which takes us to the book-end of this mirror analogy - to its completion, its fulfillment - also written by Paul to the Corinthian fellowship. 2 Corinthians 3:18 - "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory..."
You see, the time is coming - the time has come - when we may see reality whole and face to face... in His face! At present all we know is a little fraction of the truth - of this Jesus - but the time is coming - the time has come - for knowing God as He knows us.
So, if living - if life - if seeking the way of love - is like looking into a mirror, then the question becomes: Whose reflection are we looking for? Will we always assume that the Self and its puzzlement are our only lots in life, or will we look deeper? Will we strive to experience, delight to experience, our new unveiled, curtain-torn reality where the face reflected in the glass becomes more His? Will we be looking for Jesus' likeness today?
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!
"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son. We must write and tell you about it, because the more that fellowship extends the greater the joy it brings to us who are already in it." 1 John 1:1-4
I've probably taught through this section 15 or 20 times, and I don't think it has ever ceased to thrill me as much as it did the very first time I read it in this, the Phillips translation. It's this wonderful combination of "high" and "low" Christologies: knowing Him as He is as the glorious King of Heaven while fully remembering Him as He was, as a Man, as that bearded Teacher-Carpenter out of Nazareth in Galilee: He is "something which has always existed"; He is "the very Word of life himself"; He is "life"; He is "the very life of all ages"... and yet "we ourselves actually saw and heard" Him; we "observed [Him] closely"; we touched Him; He "became visible in person to us mortal men."
Friends, there is nothing more glorious in all John's writings than the idea that his Best Friend - a Man whose scent he can still remember, a Man whose extra cloak he's perhaps kept with him all these years - is Himself the Meaning, the Definition and the Purpose of all life under the sun.
This is GLORY. This is the glory that's YOURS. This is the glory that's yours TODAY.
"You should look upon us as ministers of Christ, as trustees (or stewards) of the secrets of God. And it is a prime requisite in a trustee that he should prove worthy of his trust." 1 Corinthians 4:1,2
It seems to me that Paul is very clearly using particular words here to make a very clear point for his friends. He is - they were - we are - "ministers of Christ," "stewards of the secrets of God," and it is of the highest importance that we "prove worthy of our trust." I think we think of "ministers of Christ" as being ministers toward others; "stewardship of His secrets" as being personal and, ultimately hidden; and the measure of the "trustworthiness" of our stewardship of His secrets as being synonymous with just "keeping the faith."
No, no, and no.
A "minister of Christ" is a minister to Christ: he is an armor-bearer, a helper to Him in His work. A "steward of the secrets" of the Kingdom of Heaven is an explorer, an adventurer, a spelunker: his whole life is lived lost in these treasures for a purpose. And the measure of our "trustworthiness" in all this is the measure to which we make it plain, make it speak, to the world around us.
So, we minister to Jesus by disappearing into His mysteries, so that we might constantly return to the world to hand off more and more of His treasure!
How's that sound to you?
"Look up and see the great God upon His throne. He is love – an unceasing and inexpressible desire to communicate His own goodness and blessedness to all His creatures. He longs and delights to bless. He has inconceivably glorious purposes concerning every one of His children, by the power of His Holy Spirit, to reveal in them His love and power. He waits with all the longings of a father’s heart. He waits that He may be gracious unto you. And, each time you come to wait upon Him, or seek to maintain in daily life the holy habit of waiting, you may look up and see Him ready to meet you. He will be waiting so that He may be gracious unto you. Yes, connect every exercise, every breath of the life of waiting, with faith’s vision of your God waiting for you."
Andrew Murray, Waiting on God
"For look at your own calling as Christians, my brothers. You don’t see among you many of the wise (according to this world’s judgment) nor many of the ruling class, nor many from the noblest families. But God has chosen what the world calls foolish to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world calls weak to shame the strong. He has chosen things of little strength and small repute, yes and even things which have no real existence to explode the pretensions of the things that are—that no man may boast in the presence of God. Yet from this same God you have received your standing in Jesus Christ, and he has become for us the true wisdom, a matter, in practice, of being made righteous and holy, in fact, of being redeemed. And this makes us see the truth of scripture: ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
What I find wonderful about this closing section of 1 Corinthians 1 is how it shows two patterns of approach to life - literally, in this paragraph, top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top - and then contraposes those positions and their ensuing fruit:
So, if you're after the world's wisdom, the world's power and the world's forms of nobility, you will most likely end with shame and pretense. That's Paul's unvarnished top-to-bottom readout. And take a read through the book of Ecclesiastes and tell me King Solomon doesn't come to, essentially, the same conclusion...
BUT, if we "glory in the Lord," if we find ourselves "redeemed," meaning we've been "made righteous and holy," then our "true wisdom" comes naturally from our "standing in Jesus Christ" and our seeming foolish weakness becomes, in Him, strong wisdom. It is as if we become some sort of new, supernatural life-form. Which we, in fact, are!
For you and I are a "new creation" now, totally new already: We are being made to be just like Jesus Himself. That's the bottom-to-top of Paul's concluding thought, here. And, to me, it sounds like life itself.
“...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