"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
"Now if a man works his wages are not counted as a gift but as a fair reward. But if a man, irrespective of his work, has faith in him who justifies the sinful, then that man’s faith is counted as righteousness, and that is the gift of God." Romans 4:4,5
This is so important - let's extrapolate it out a bit:
There is a God: the I AM.
His very living essence is goodness, love: righteousness.
When a man or woman - fallen, fleshly, broken and sinful by their very definition - begins to believe in God, they do something. They align their life with the goodness, love, the righteousness, of God, and they begin a different journey through their human existence.
When they believe in God, when they trust in God's ways and means, they begin choosing against all forms of self-righteousness. It is not their works - the sweat of their spiritual brow - that will justify them: it is the gift of God who, by belief, lines up His Way (His goodness, love: His righteousness) with this new, redeemed human being.
The whole thing is perfectly natural and perfectly supernatural.
It is "the gift of God" to the individual who, simply, believes.
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.”
There once was a mighty mountain—the tallest in the world. Its heights were so high that no eye had ever seen them. Its craggy, granite summit was wreathed around with clouds. Nothing in all the world could compare to this most permanent peak.
On the other side of the world lived a grain of sand. This speck was one of hundreds of billions of other, similar specks. Every day the grain would rise and fall with the tides. It would flow and tumble and toss with the other sand around it.
—the sand-grain heard the voice of the mountain:
“You are no grain of sand, my little one. You are part of me—a fleck of granite—permanent. Let me bring you home…”
And with that, a divine wind—a mighty blast of air from the mountain’s summit—picked up the speck and carried it all the way to the foot of the mountain. It rested now, granite to granite, like to like. It was invited to enjoy its new, permanent home forever. Around it were all the others who’d found their true identity. All was joy and peace and enjoyment now.
But, then, doubts began to rise.
I don’t look the same as all these other kinds of granite.
Is the mountain really the tallest, best, truest in the world?
I miss the tumble and toss—and togetherness—of the seashore.
Perhaps I might just go back…
The voice of the mountain spoke to the speck again:
“I will never move, change or—ever—forget you. I am the life, the truth, the place to live. You have entertained your doubts now, little speck. I am unchangeable towards you. How—where—will you choose to live?”
"A life… devoted unto God, looking wholly unto Him in all our actions, and doing all things suitably to His glory, is so far from being dull and uncomfortable, that it creates new comforts in everything that we do."
A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life
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.
"You ought to know by this time that Christ is in you, unless you are not real Christians at all. And when you have applied your test, I am confident that you will soon find that I myself am a genuine Christian. I pray God that you may find the right answer to your test, not because I have any need of your approval, but because I earnestly want you to find the right answer, even if that should make me no real Christian." 2 Corinthians 13:6,7
And, having read that, I want you to internalize this eternal, internal truth from this section: according to Paul of Tarsus, the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them. (Let me type that again: the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them.)
Not just having all the rote Christian knowledges.
Nor a perfect record of faithful Sunday attendances.
Or, even, a reputation for doing nice "Christian" things.
The "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them.
"Verifiable" by who? You and the Holy Spirit.
"Inward" meaning what? This all works from the inside out.
The "life of Jesus living"--how? To the fullest, full extent of His own heavenly-earthly power and glory--to the degree that you'll abide in Him and let Him.
It's interesting: where Phillips translates verse 6 as "unless you are not real Christians at all," the simple Greek says, "if you are not unapproved"--ἀδόκιμοι. The meanings of that word are: "discredited, not approved, unsatisfactory, unconvincing, and (to me, the most interesting) not legal tender."
So let's flip this on its head, shall we? As we choose to engage more and more with the inward reality of the indwelling of Jesus within us, what will we become--and be? Creditable with His words and witness; approved by Him for the purposes of His Kingdom; utterly, meaningfully satisfactory to His very own heart; mightily convincing--to Him and others--in the devotion of our lives; and (and, again, my favorite) legal tender of the heavenly economy, ready to spend and be spent, unable to be counterfeited because our weights and measures are GLORY.
One last time: the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them. My friends, let us never stop moving in the direction of greater and greater encounter with Him, right here within!
At the end of 2 Corinthians 12, Paul, writing from a position of remove, writes the following of his potential upcoming visit to Corinth:
Are you thinking that I am trying to justify myself in your eyes? Actually I am speaking in Christ before God himself, and my only reason for so doing is to help you in your spiritual life. For I must confess that I am afraid that when I come I shall not perhaps find you as I should like to find you, and that you will not find me coming quite as you would like me to come. I am afraid of finding arguments, jealousy, ill-feeling, divided loyalties, slander, whispering, pride and disharmony. When I come, will God make me feel ashamed of you as I stand among you? Shall I have to grieve over many who have sinned already and are not yet sorry for the impurity, the immorality and the lustfulness of which they are guilty? (2 Corinthians 12:19-21)
Reading this, in its clearly negative tone, made me think of where we've been, in the (relatively) much more positive, as we've transited through these last few strange months. In all this time, rather than being together—at places like Anchor, church, out to coffee, out to lunch, etc.—we have all been living in varying degrees of isolation and remove.
And I remember saying to Jenny, about the middle of the first full week of the shutdown: "Well, now begins the battle of the inner life."
Is that how you've found it to be, too? As a battle to win the battlefield of your heart and mind? As a time to fight the feelings of desperation and, instead, to present your inner life as a ready place for communion with Jesus?
Indeed, reading through this Chapter 12 conclusion this week, I've been hearing Paul's words in a different way:
All this time, we have had ample opportunity to dig down deep into the realities of our forever-finished justification. Christ Himself, God Himself, has been leaning forward to speak to us personally; His only reason for so doing is to establish His spiritual life in us. For He professes that He’s always delighted to come to us and to make us into the people He should like to find us being, and I guarantee that, when His presence is fully manifest, we will find Him even better than we'd hoped He could be. He will come to end all argument, all human need for comparison, hatred, division, lying speech, rumor-milling, pride and disharmony--within us. And when He comes, He will be so proud of our inviting Him to come! He will wipe the every tear from our eyes, remind us of our perfect freedom from sin—eradicating all guilt and shame—and He will teach us of the glory of His Way and of the righteousness He’s already imputed to us.
Friends, isn’t Jesus wonderful?
"We do not exceed our duty when we embrace your interests, for it was our preaching of the Gospel which brought us into contact with you. Our pride is not in matters beyond our proper sphere nor in the labours of other men. No, our hope is that your growing faith will mean the expansion of our sphere of action, so that before long we shall be preaching the Gospel in districts beyond you, instead of being proud of work that has already been done in someone else’s province. But, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’. It is not self-commendation that matters, it is winning the approval of God." 2 Corinthians 10:15-18
The word for “sphere” (or “measure” or “rule” in other translations), in the Greek, is kanona. It means “a straight rod, a weaver’s rod (to which the threads of a tapestry’s warp were attached), a mason’s line, a rule, a standard, a limit, a boundary.” And, interestingly, etymologically, it’s also the exact word from which our English word, “canon,” as in “the canon of scripture,” comes.
My friends, knowing Jesus, following Jesus, the call He has for you today is the call He has for you. The “straight, narrow way” is the straight rod for your measure. He is the weaver’s rod for your life, forming a tapestry of relationships and circumstances that are only fully known to Him. He is the rule, standard, limit, and boundary for your day today; He is the One forming the canon of your earthly life.
So… will you follow Him today? Will you let Him love the world, to the ends of yourself?
This is what He has for your life!
This is the best version of you that’s imaginable!
On the eve of the Battle of Cannae (ca. 216 BC) after the Roman general, Varro, had set out his lines:
"Hannibal ordered his forces to arm for battle, while he himself, with a few companions, rode to the top of a gently sloping ridge, from which he watched his enemies as they formed in battle array. When one of his companions, named Gisco, a man of his own rank, remarked that the number of the enemy amazed him, Hannibal put on a serious look and said: 'Gisco, another thing has escaped your notice which is more amazing still.' And when Gisco asked what it was, 'It is the fact,' said he, 'that in all this multitude there is no one who is called Gisco.' The jest took them all by surprise and set them laughing, and as they made their way down from the ridge, they reported the pleasantry to all who met them, so that great numbers were laughing heartily, and Hannibal's escort could not even recover themselves. The sight of this infused courage into the Carthaginians. They reasoned that their general must have a mighty contempt for the enemy if he laughed and jested so in the presence of danger."
Plutarch, The Lives
At the start of this workweek, do you realize that Jesus, looking out across the world and its waywardness, all its fear and uncertainty, is absolutely delighted that you are part of what He's up to? That you have a part in what He's planning to do? That you, along with Him, can laugh in the face of sin, death and the enemy?
You, my friend, are His favorite Gisco for the sake of the Gospel!
Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
This is a take on Jesus' life and ministry that is never offered before and never offered again in the whole of the New Testament: that, having always been God, having always been the Ruler on the throne of Heaven, He was incalculably "rich" with riches that are inestimable according to our earthly weights and measures. Think about it. When John later tries to describe the glories of the New Heaven, New Earth, New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation, the best he can generally do to describe all its grandeur and richness is to say, "It's like this" and "like that," where he substitutes in all the finest things human minds can understand.
We cannot understand how glorious Jesus was before!
And He left all that--
He stepped down from the throne of glory, was born into the midst of vicious Roman rule, became a refugee to escape from murderous King Herod, and then lived three decades in a town of, perhaps, a couple hundred peasants.
All - don't forget! - that He might, then, minister for three years, die to set us free, and ascend to bring us - spiritual peasants that we are - into that very throne room in which this whole plan was hatched.
Today, will we remember the generosity of Jesus, the Lord of us all? He was literally rich beyond our literal telling or understanding, yet he actually became poor for our actual sakes so that his literal poverty might make us actually, spiritually rich!
Will you remember?
"The moment the truth dawns upon us that the purpose of God’s visit to this planet was not to establish another religion but to reveal the reality behind the appearance of things, we see what I believe to be another unique feature of the Christian Faith—its utter inescapability. Its principles and laws do not merely apply to religion and the religious way of life, they apply to life itself, wherever and whenever it is lived."
J.B. Phillips, God Our Contemporary
* * *
"You must not judge by the appearance of things but by the reality!"
Jesus, in John 7:24
All this we want to meet with sincerity, with insight and patience; by sheer kindness and the Holy Spirit; with genuine love, speaking the plain truth, and living by the power of God. Our sole defense, our only weapon, is a life of integrity, whether we meet honor or dishonor, praise or blame. Called "impostors" we must be true, called "nobodies" we must be in the public eye. Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always "going through it" yet never "going under." We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have "nothing to bless ourselves with" yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet in reality we have everything worth having. (2 Corinthians 6:6-10)
Isn't that lovely? The life of Jesus in Paul - in us - in you - is so radiantly glorious with heavenly potential that, no matter what life throws at you, His life in you offers the ultimate counterpoint.
If life, or the world, or a person or group of people, say to you: You’re an impostor, a nobody; your life is lifeless; what’s the point in your Jesus thing?; it’s sad and small; it has no earthly benefit; and certainly no upside.
Then you, with sincerity and insight and patience you’ve learned from Him; with the sheer kindness that comes from living by His Spirit; with genuine love for life – and the world – and this person or group of people – may answer with the plain truth and the experienced, first-hand power of God: But, you see, I have found Him to be true right here in my inner life, and it is He who has put me right here in front of you; I am alive with the life He offers me every single morning, which is why, you see, I’m never cowed or afraid. His joy in me is inextinguishable; He has blessed me with true riches that I’d love to share with you; and, in reality, I am standing before you today already possessing everything that is actually worth having in the human life.
How's that for a posture for your day?
"So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these 'clothes' but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal. Now the power that has planned this experience for us is God, and he has given us his Spirit as a guarantee of its truth." 2 Corinthians 5:4,5
"HIS Spirit as a GUARANTEE." I don't know which of those two words to talk about first - they're both so preposterously wonderful!
God...has given you...His Spirit. His own personal inner life. He has just given Him to you. You may abide within, and rely upon, the same inner resources that commanded and upheld the earthly life of Jesus.
And He has been given to you "as a guarantee" - as, in the Greek, an ἀρραβῶνα: "a present; a pledge; as earnest-money." What He has put in you - His very own Spirit - is a downpayment on the day when you'll be swallowed up in His glory.
Your experience of, and your delight in the Holy Spirit today is the degree to which you're already in Heaven.
Shall we go live there?
Consider some promises, extrapolated, and some realities - already ours! - from the words of Isaiah 51:
“I, even I, am he who comforts you.” Our only comfort is to be found in Him. In God. In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On any given day, you may stop whatever you’re doing, sit perfectly still wherever you are, and actually ask to be internally comforted. He will comfort you, right there and then.
“The cowering prisoners will soon be set free…” Or, better yet: The cowering prisoners have been set free! You are already free--today! The blood of Jesus has already warranted for your perfect, holy blamelessness; you cannot be more free than you already are. He has promised that—and then done the entire work to make it so.
“they will not die in their dungeon…” Your circumstances today are not the whole story. No matter what you’re presently experiencing, no matter the hardships you’re currently enduring, you are not outside of how He would seek to lead and care for you. Can you, today, trust Him? He will not allow you to languish unnecessarily. He is actually working out something in your life, right this minute.
“nor will they lack bread.” He is the only Provider you’ve ever had. Your paycheck isn’t the boss of you. Your boss isn’t the boss of you. The One who easily feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the fields isn’t without resources that specifically have your name on them. Will you trust Him—and ask?
“I have put my words in your mouth…” Jesus promised His disciples that whenever they were dragged before governors and kings for His sake, He would literally speak His words right from their mouths. Again, here, it’s promised: He will arm you with proper words. He wants His sons and daughters to always have the Holy Spirit-infused vocabulary for every situation: He has promised it.
“And covered you with the shadow of my hand…” Your life lives in the shadow—not of death, or discouragement, nor of sin, or of hopelessness, or despair—but in the cool, fresh shade of His mighty hand. Nothing can get to you that doesn’t have His allowance for your good. No arrow or word or trial can ever outflank Him. You are presently nested right within His will, under the awe-inspiringly, massive power of His hand; you are right where you belong. Your position is assured. You are beloved. You are His.
Isn't our Lord Jesus wonderful?
Below might be the best description of the experience, and feeling, and fruit of "Union with Jesus" that I've ever read anywhere. Montaigne was writing of his closest earthly friend; but try reading it as describing your pursuit of intimacy with Jesus:
In the friendship I speak of, our souls mingle and blend with each other so completely that they efface the seam that joined them, and cannot find it again. If you press me to tell why I loved him, I feel that this cannot be expressed, except by answering: Because it was he, because it was I.
Beyond all my understanding, beyond what I can say about this in particular, there was I know not what inexplicable and fateful force that was the mediator of this union. We sought each other before we met because of the reports we heard of each other, which had more effect on our affection than such reports would reasonably have; I think it was by some ordinance from heaven… Our friendship has no other model than itself, and can be compared only with itself… Our souls pulled together in such unison, they regarded each other with such ardent affection, and with a like affection revealed themselves to each other to the very depths of our hearts, that not only did I know his soul as well as mine, but I should certainly have trusted myself to him more readily than to myself.
Michel de Montaigne, Of Friendship
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27 (NASB)
Personally, I can’t recall another question spoken in the Scriptures that holds the same meaning and weight as the question with which this implied promise concludes: “is anything too difficult for Me?” Because if there’s any doubt in our minds as to His ability to encounter, overcome and, even, demolish any difficulty, then--what are we doing? Who do we think we’re going to follow, next, if this One, this God, can’t surmount any challenge, hardship, barrier or impasse?
My friends, I want us to truly know this God, this One: “the Lord, the God of all flesh” who is unstoppable in face of difficulty.. I want you so unshakably resolved upon His power and sheer dynamism that there’s never any more question for you in your day to day.
So, for that reason, I want to take you on a journey of His ability, over the aeons, to overcome every difficulty, every trial, every divide, every impossibility that might’ve seemed insurmountable. And, to do that, I want us to consider, in each era or day, His and our “state of existence”—Who He was and who we were—during that precise period of time (or, even, pre-time).
Before Creation – God was. We weren’t. He existed and we didn’t exist at all. And yet He manifested existence and time and space and being, and made the triune choice to make us “in His image.”
In the Garden of Eden – He was. We were now also. And He overcame any potential boundary lying between the Divine and those Made-in-the-Image-of-the-Divine, and He walked with us “in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8, ESV).
From the Fall until the Incarnation – He was God: perfect and holy. We were fallen: imperfect and broken. And yet, for the remainder of human history until His coming, He continued to manifest His grace and to reveal His voice across the divide. It was only by His grace that “history” didn’t end with the Fall: He might’ve scrapped the whole thing because humanity was no longer perfect.
The Incarnation – He was Himself and yet with us. We were still imperfect and yet with Him. He actually allowed humanity to see the very face of God.
The Cross – He was Himself and yet totally in our place, on our behalf. We were our broken selves, and yet our sin-existence hung suspended-in-time upon that Man on the Cross. And He personally overcame sin, that separating force that had destroyed mankind ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.
The Resurrection – He was alive again—God and Man—entirely by His own power. We were still imperfect, and yet now offered a new sinless, deathless, human existence. And He had permanently, once for all time, overcome death, “the last enemy” of mankind (1 Cor. 15:26, NIV).
The Ascension – He was Himself—Man and God—on the throne again. We were able, by His blood, to have direct access. And nothing can now separate our confident earth-to-Heaven approach: He has said “It is finished” to all human-to-God separation.
Pentecost until Today – He is with the Father--and with us: within our hearts. We are here on earth, as new Kingdom creations--and yet “raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6, NIV). His and our shared, bi-locational reality means there’s no difficulty unable to be overcome, no provision meant to be unmet, no spiritual deficit He won’t personally invade, overwhelm and conquer. He is there and here; we are here and there.
In every portion of history and pre-history, we have dealt with a God who is unable to be stopped, unable to encounter any natural or supernatural difficulty that has any ounce of power against Him. Let us say to our hearts today: Behold, I am following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing is too difficult for Him!
Lack of seeming substance? He created existence!
Lack of connection? He personally comes to encounter us!
Lack of holiness? He will never stop pursuing His people!
Lack of understanding of God? He has showed us His face!
Fear of the consequences of sin? He ended it!
Fear in the face of death? He has conquered it forever!
Desire to know God? He invites you into the throneroom of Heaven!
Desire for a new life? He invites Himself right into your heart!
Let me type it once again with confidence, from me to you: Behold, you and I are following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing in the heavens or the earth is too difficult for Him
“His desire is toward me. My soul, believe and ponder this wonderful thought, until you feel drawn with overmastering force to give yourself over to Jesus, for the satisfaction of His desire toward you: then shall you too be satisfied.”
Andrew Murray, The Lord’s Table
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20, NASB)
What’s most fascinating about the words of this well-known, well-worn promise almost aren’t the words themselves, but instead the hearers who first heard them read aloud: the “lukewarm” church at Laodicea, one of the seven First Century churches spoken about in the Book of Revelation. Can you imagine sitting in the fellowship at Laodicea, receiving that miraculous, written-down revelation-of-Heaven from John, and then hearing that you were, more likely than anything, to be “spit out of [Jesus’] mouth”? That, even though you’d been week-by-weekly going through the motions of meeting, doing your nice little services, you’d been deluding yourselves about the reality of your obedience?
What a moment that must’ve been!
But even more remarkable is the fact that, after all the difficult words Jesus speaks to this wayward fellowship, He then turns right around and offers up today’s promise to them. He changes the subject by saying, “All those whom I love I correct and discipline. Therefore, shake off your complacency and repent” (Rev. 3:19, PNT) and then speaks that “Behold…”
How wonderful is Jesus! That no matter how we’ve lost our way, wandered from His Way, got into patterns of self-delusion, fruitless living, lukewarm folly--He calls us back! He knocks at the door of our heart and—if we’ll only crack the door, say, “Who’s there?”—He’ll walk right in and set the table for dinner together! This is the glorious God we belong to! This is the Savior with that salvation-smirk on His face!
And then comes even another amazing word spoken to the hearers of this promise, that same lukewarm Laodicean fellowship:
As for the victorious, I will give him the honor of sitting beside me on my throne, just as I myself have won the victory and have taken my seat beside my Father on his throne (Rev. 3:21, PNT).
My friends, the Jesus who is knocking at your door today, wanting to take His meals at your table, is also the Jesus who will one day invite you up onto His throne. The One who’s made you holy and blameless—fit for Heaven—victorious with His victory—is the One who can’t wait to say to His Father, “Could you slide over a little? One of my best friends has finally arrived. This one who heard My knock, opened the door, let Me in, and dined with Me—well, now he’s here with us, Father. Slide on over. Let’s let him sit between us—forever.”
Thank you, Jesus.
"[Jesus] taught, and his teaching is as difficult to follow now as it was then, that what is apparently happening may bear little or no relation to what is really happening. The reality, according to him, is the establishment and growth of a Kingdom of inner loyalty which transcends all human barriers. Therefore, the realization of the existence of this Kingdom, working for its expansion, living according to its principles, and, if necessary, dying for it, is the real significance of man’s temporary existence upon the earth. Jesus taught, and demonstrated in person, that the very things which the world values most highly are irrelevant and ineffectual in the dimension of permanent reality. He neither denied the existing world nor despaired of its inhabitants, but by setting up an entirely different standard he showed the way of constructive human living. He showed men how they need not be overinvolved with this world, how they need be neither deluded by its glamours, nor confined by its limitations."
J.B. Phillips, God Our Contemporary
"Certain people declared in my hearing, ‘Unless I can find a thing in our ancient records, I refuse to believe it in the Gospel’; and when I assured them that it is indeed in the ancient scriptures, they retorted, ‘That has got to be proved.’ But for my part, my records are Jesus Christ; for me, the sacrosanct records are His cross and death and resurrection, and the faith that comes through Him. And it is by these, and by the help of your prayers, that I am hoping to be justified.
"The priests of old, I admit, were estimable men; but our own High Priest is greater, for He has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies, and to Him alone are the secret things of God committed. He is the doorway to the Father, and it is by Him that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets go in, no less than the Apostles and the whole Church; for all these have their part in God’s unity. Nevertheless, the Gospel has a distinction all its own, in the advent of our Savior Jesus Christ, and His Passion and Resurrection. We are fond of the prophets, and they did indeed point forward to Him in their preaching; yet it is the Gospel that sets the coping-stone on man’s immortality."
Ignatius of Antioch
from his letter to the Philadelphian fellowship
ca. Early 2nd Century
“This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9, NLT
Here’s a picture:
Imagine standing on the wide, sweeping plains on the west side of the Jordan River, listening to the sound of the wind whistling through the river rushes. Behind you, a few hundred yards away, sleep the hundreds of thousands of people you have just become the leader for; you have only just become their leader in place of the only leader they’ve ever known. You’re standing in the darkness, by yourself, listening to the whistling of the wind, wondering how you’ll ever accomplish the next day. Before you stretches the land that, all throughout your life, you’ve heard is yours; forty years before, you’d even spied it out. You have personally tasted the sweetness of its fruit, seen the beauty of its mountains and valleys, observed the mighty fortresses you’ll have to take to take it.
All in all, you are scared. And excited.
But, really and truly, scared.
Looking back, you begin studying the swirling- and flaring- and expanding- and contracting-movements of the pillar of fire that hangs just this side of the camp. It’s funny: There are times – like right now – when it’s become easy to forget the power of the presence of God; when that great theophany fades into the commonplace. You walk a little closer, opening out the fullness of your spirit, wishing you could just hear a voice to help you know how to--
“Moses my servant is dead…” the Fire suddenly speaks directly to you.
You are already on your face on the ground.
Within a few moments, the words of today’s promise become the centerpiece of the command of God that is spoken to you on behalf of all the people: “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When you rise to your feet, when you look back toward the promise of the Promised Land standing before you, this command – and its promise – now leads the way.
“God is with you” now leads the way.
Now, here’s another picture:
Imagine standing within the open, unknown sweeps of the dawning of a new day, listening to the sound of your schedule, plans, expectations and worries for it. Around you, in every home, on every street, all over the whole world, live the billions of people you have been called to serve; you have been called to serve them by the One who came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). You’re standing in the daylight or the darkness, by yourself, listening to the beatings of your heart, wondering how you’ll ever accomplish this day. Before you stretches the realities of Heaven that, all throughout your life, you’ve heard to be yours; here and there, in reality, you’ve actually even spied some out. You have personally tasted the sweetness of its fruit, seen the beauty of its peaks and hidden places, observed the mighty fortresses by which it protects your everyday.
All in all, you are still a little uncertain. Excited, yes.
But, really and truly, uncertain.
Taking a moment, you begin remembering the swirling- and flaring- and firing- and calming-movements of the Holy Spirit who lives within you. It’s funny: There are times – like right now – when it’s easy to forget the power of the presence of God; when His great theophany fades into the commonplace. So, you focus a little bit closer, opening out the fullness of your spirit, wishing you could just hear a voice to help you know how to--
“Jesus, my Servant, has died for you…” the Spirit reminds you.
You should already be on your face on the ground.
And within a few moments, the words of today’s promise become the centerpiece of the command of God that is spoken to you on behalf of the whole world: “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When you rise to your feet, when you look back toward the day, toward the promise of Heaven standing before you, this command – and its promise – must now lead the way.
God Within You must now lead the way.
Are you ready, now, to go?
"We always used to think it was one of the inalienable rights of man that he should be able to plan his life in advance, both private life and professional. That is a thing of the past. The pressure of events is forcing us to give up 'being anxious for the morrow.' But it makes all the difference in the world whether we accept this willingly and in faith (which is what the Sermon on the Mount means) or under compulsion. For most people, not to plan for the future means to live irresponsibly and frivolously, to live just for the moment, while some few continue to dream of better times to come. But we cannot take either of these courses. We are still left with only the narrow way, a way often hardly to be found, of living every day as if it were our last, yet in faith and responsibility living as though a splendid future still lay before us. 'Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land,' cries Jeremiah just as the Holy City is about to be destroyed, a striking contrast to his previous prophecies of woe. It is a divine sign and pledge of better things to come, just when all seems blackest. Thinking and acting for the sake of the coming generation, but taking each day as it comes without fear and anxiety — that is the spirit in which we are being forced to live in practice. It is not easy to be brave and hold out, but it is imperative."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this — though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You fathers — if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:5-13, NLT (Italics mine)
So, suppose instead you went to the house of your friend, Jesus, whether at midnight or whenever, wanting to borrow a dash of His Holy Spirit. You say to Him, “The whole world is in need of your presence, a fresh experience of your visitation, and I myself have nothing to give them.” And instead of, say, calling out from His bedroom, you can hear Him rushing to the door; it gets thrown open and almost pulls you in with its gust of wind blowing by. “I’m so glad you called on me first,” Jesus smiles. “My door is never locked, and I’m absolutely never in bed. I can help any time, any minute, any day.”
And, furthermore, Jesus tells us this Himself — that what He does He does for friendship’s sake – you are His friend – and if you continually knock, He will continually answer because of your joyous persistence. And it is He Himself who tells you, keep on asking, and you will literally receive what you actually ask for. He says: Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door of the Kingdom will be opened to you. For everyone who asks… “everyone” most certainly including you… receives. Everyone who seeks… “everyone” still most certainly including you… finds. And to everyone who knocks… and you are still a part of “everyone” here… the door will be opened.
If you yourself are a father – or if you can imagine a good father – if his children ask for a fish, he would not give them a snake, would he? Or if they ask him for an egg, would he give them a scorpion?
“Of course not!” Jesus laughs, as He says.
“So if sinful people know how to give good gifts to their children” – and here Jesus grins with the readiness of a wonderful reminder coming – “or, if formerly sinful people who I’ve set free with my blood know how, then how much more – listen… HOW MUCH MORE will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26,27, NASB)
Imagine meeting a Man on the street-corner, or at a beach, or along a mountain path, and He immediately stops His day to talk with you, to hear your story, to know you. His initial opening question had caught your attention by its directness; you’d never met the Man before and now you’re pondering and answering equally directly. For some reason, as you answer Him about your day – and your life – you feel a strange relaxation of your usual guardedness. You are apt to trust this Man’s ability to understand you. It is a strange sensation, instantaneously trusting Him.
Why, you ask yourself, are you talking to this Man in this way?
Perhaps it’s because of the way, when He first saw you, that His eyes lit up: the look in His eyes was a look of immediate recognition: like He knew you. And then, too, there was the way He totally stopped His own momentum – His walk, His day – and became consumed with the answer you gave to His initial inquiry. And, especially, it was the way that – as you talked – He was so totally rapt with attention at every detail you felt so strangely comfortable sharing. Again, you had never met this Man till fifteen minutes ago; now, you are wanting to spend the rest of the day together.
What is it about this Man?
It feels to you like every ounce of His energy is brought into focus for the particular moment He’s inhabiting. That’s something. And the set of His eyes – the openness of His countenance – seems to reflect an inner peacefulness that’s nothing like anything in the whole world. He is fully alive, right now, to you. Unto you. Directly toward you. There is something within this Man that calls down into the inside of you and whispers of wonders and newness and new life offering itself to you. His presence – even without words – somehow speaks of a whole new thing He’s offering… if you’ll only just--
What is He asking? you wonder.
Whatever it is, you’re interested in giving it.
Ezekiel 36 probably made absolutely no sense to Ezekiel’s original hearers and readers because they’d never set eyes on Jesus of Nazareth. Ezekiel 36 should make perfect sense to us because we’ve already met, we already know, that Man I was just writing about.
I was describing, of course, Jesus Himself. As it’s very clear He was, when you read through the four Gospels. His face and carriage and countenance and the way He spoke to any and all were the most arresting experience anyone had ever had. They found themselves “telling Him the whole story.” They broke the necks of bottles of alabaster and anointed His feet. They sang in the streets when He came through. They clamored and clung to Him; they “jostled at His elbow.”
Because the “new heart” and the “new spirit” of Heaven had been revealed, once for all time, and the people’s “hearts of stone” and fleshly spirits yearned for exchange. Even if they couldn’t have explained that fact. When they crowded Him by the tens, and hundreds, and thousands, and tens of thousands, what they really wanted was Ezekiel 36. They wanted what was in Him, in them. And they had to be in that Presence, as long as they had it.
The glory of this promise is that – already and forever – the realities it speaks of are already and forever yours. Jesus has already and forever given you a new heart and a new spirit; He has plucked the old right out of you. Already and forever, He has lavishly poured His own Spirit upon you and – to the degree you’ve desired – within you. There is every opportunity – now and already and forever – for you to knowingly walk in His statutes.
Jesus is your sanctification. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life.
And while I love the heavenly reality that everything I’ve just said is already and forever accomplished for you, I also appreciate the last line of this promise: “And you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” There is demonstrable work for you to do, today. The only action that you properly bring to the equation of your sanctification is to get LOST in the words and life of Jesus. To listen to Him. And obey.
So, let’s go meet that Man in the circumstances of this day. It’s the only one we have. And He’s the only one we need.