PEOPLE WITH ATTITUDE #3 Attitude to Sin

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Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

Righteousness is one of the most significant ideas in the Bible. As such it has been complicated through over-thinking and under-pursuing. I am talking about theological speculation. I could fill these lines with summaries and analyses of what everyone has written on the subject, but that wouldn’t help me to recognise righteousness more clearly let alone stir me to pursue it. One of the imbalances has come about from the very worthy discussion about our relationship with God, commonly referred to as salvation (justification, regeneration). I will always be thankful for the fact that a German Augustinian priest named Martin Luther was scared witless during a severe electrical storm in July 1509.[1] It was the beginning of a long journey to discover how a person could be assured of his salvation. That journey changed the shape of the church forever when he read Paul’s quote from a prophecy of Habbakuk in the Letter to the Romans: “the righteous shall live by their faith.”[2]  Those of us whose Christian journey has been shaped in part by the evangelical movement will be pressured to think that all references to righteousness must be connected to the work of Jesus that brings the opportunity for our salvation.

I want to urge us to see righteousness in its broadest sense – inclusive of salvation but not restricted to it. I think a basic understanding comes directly from the English word itself. Righteousness exists when things are right, and unrighteousness, when things are wrong. For followers of Jesus, right and wrong are defined by God – his nature, his purposes, his deeds and his desires. In the Bible, I think righteousness and holiness are almost interchangeable. My reading of the New Testament makes it hard for me to distinguish between the two – especially in the practical sense. I can’t see how someone can be righteous and unholy or holy but unrighteous. My longstanding thesis that “Jesus is our hermeneutic” reminds me that he was called “the righteous one.”[3] Jesus is referred to constantly as the “Righteous one” through the preaching of the apostles recorded in Acts.[4] John makes it quite clear: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.[5]

So I need to ask a simple question. Which day and which particular set of actions demonstrate Jesus as being righteous. The answer can only be – all his actions every day. Not just his actions but his desires, his thoughts, his feelings, his attitudes and his relationships. He was the One who lived entirely as a righteous Son of God. And this is my point. If I asked what it was that defined Jesus as being righteous, what might the answer be? I think the righteousness modelled by Jesus is “indiscriminate redemptive love.” It is the only definition that covers all the different things that Jesus said, did and taught. Whenever I hold attitudes or carry out actions other than those that display indiscriminate redemptive love I am being unrighteous. When I tolerate or show indifference to those things, I will not qualify for the blessing Jesus talked about here in Matthew 5.

Jesus had a definite attitude to the unrighteousness he witnessed, especially religious unrighteousness, and it was not just anger and frustration. It was a hunger and a thirst for God’s people to see the difference between sin and righteousness. It’s not only Satan who dresses up as an angel of light. The sin he promotes in a thousand different “respectable looking” forms will often be mistaken for righteousness. Every day of the three years of Jesus’ ministry he WAS the revelation of genuine righteousness, yet he was accused of being the devil and/or being in league with the devil. He was criticised, challenged and finally crucified by those who defined righteousness differently. Jesus’ life and ministry exposed the true nature of their wickedness. If you read through any chapter of the gospels, you will see Jesus hungering and thirsting after righteousness. You will see him teaching about righteousness, imparting righteousness and responding with redemptive love. This love was driven by his desire to see sin defeated and righteousness imparted. It wasn’t just about external behaviour, but the attitudes and desires of the heart. His hunger for righteousness was the back story to what Hebrews says of him, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” [6]

The compelling aspect of Jesus’ righteousness is the impact it had on others. It was because Jesus was righteous that he loved unrighteous people. Similarly, it was the same righteousness in Jesus that attracted unrighteous people to him. The Jesus kind of righteousness repelled those who thought themselves to be the standard of what is righteous. Jesus loved sinners and sinners loved Jesus and Jesus was totally righteous. How sad that so much of our righteousness drives sinners away from us and keeps us away from them. Whatever argument we might put up to support either of those two things, we will find ourselves challenged by the righteousness modelled by Jesus.

And the final thing to say about righteousness is the fact that it defines the way we were designed to live by our Creator. It is the life calling we are given by our Redeemer. This isn’t some dreary duty roster that we have to commit to. Righteousness is beautiful and desirable. It produces the deepest form of wholeness. It is the very definition of genuine humanity. We hear a lot about humanity these days. There is always a deep sense of what it means to value and honour humanity. Well, God is the one who designed us, and he created us to live righteous lives and to work for righteousness wherever we are and whatever sphere we belong to.

This attitude includes all of the different aspects of life we experience. Abortion is unrighteous because it generally focuses on the well-being of one person at the expense of another. Sexual immorality is unrighteous because it steals from our own and other people’s future for no other reason than self-indulgence. And so it continues.

Jesus tells us that the people of the kingdom will never be able to dwell comfortably where unrighteousness is wreaking its havoc. The corrupt world we live in needs people whose deep driving desire will not be sated until things are put right and until people begin to live according to what is right. As followers of Jesus, we are to lay down our lives so that others will get to see righteousness and we will work alongside them until righteousness exalts every nation on the earth.[7]

The whole atmosphere of Jesus’ words here is practical. The metaphor is pragmatic. What could be more concrete than the idea of hunger and thirst? These are entirely universal and basic to human existence. We are created in such a way that our bodies make sure we know when we lack food or water. The feelings of hunger and thirst begin and don’t go away until we eat food and drink water.

Other health problems do not make their presence known as easily. I have had an issue with blood pressure for many years. It is a hereditary trait in my family. So, I have to take one small white tablet each day, and my blood pressure stays completely normal. The problem is that if I forget to take the pill, I don’t feel any different. If I don’t take them for a week, I still don’t feel any different. The only way I can tell if my blood pressure is high is by using a machine. I can feel perfectly fine, but the machine will tell me that my blood pressure is dangerously high and at risk of a heart attack. So my self-awareness about this issue is totally unreliable.

Hunger and thirst are not like that. I will always remember the first time I tried to have a day of fasting and prayer. I was still working on our family farm, so we started early and then came in for breakfast. I didn’t come home but stayed working. When lunchtime came, I was beginning to feel very hungry. This body had not been without food for that length of time apart from a few bouts of sickness. Bravely I pushed on into the afternoon. We were fencing at the time, and it was reasonably hard work. By four o’clock I was almost dying with hunger. When I had to drive back to the house to pick up some more supplies, I couldn’t help myself. I screeched to a halt at the back gate, ran into the kitchen, opened the fridge and saw a roasted chicken sitting there before me. I ripped one leg off and then the other and wolfed them down. Then I made a sandwich with a bit more and then returned to the work site. I can tell you that I felt a dismal failure as a spiritual man, but I was no longer hungry. I was satisfied and worked away without a single pang of hunger (except a few feelings of guilt about failing God). Hunger is like that. The only thing that will stop the urgent pangs is food.

So Jesus is talking about the attitude kingdom people have to unrighteousness. A more common word for that is “sin.” Just think about the attitudes of a lot of Christian people to sin. Some don’t seem to care. Others choose a selection of sins and make sure everyone who commits one of the sins on that list is judged and condemned. Neither of those attitudes belonged to the ministry of Jesus. His attitude to sin was to do whatever was possible to enable the sinner to be aware of their sin and choose to become righteous. For that reason, he was criticised. His accusers said things like this: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ ”[8]  The truth is, if you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you have to be where sinners are. Jesus was as committed among the non-religious sinners as we was to the religious ones. He ate with Matthews friends[9] as well as at the home of a prominent Pharisee [10] for precisely the same reason. He wanted his hunger and thirst for righteousness to be assuaged. 


[1]         On July 2, 1509, Martin Luther was returning to University and was caught in a violent electrical storm. He feared so much that he cried out to St. Anne. He promised her that if he was delivered from the storm, he would become a monk. It was the beginning of his journey, first as a priest. In October of 1517, he posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg marking the beginning of the Reformation.

[2]         See Romans 1:16 and Habakkuk 2:4

[3]         God is referred to as the “righteous one” in Isaiah 24:16, From the ends of the earth we hear singing: “Glory to the Righteous One.”

[4]         Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14

[5]         See First John 2:1

[6]         See Hebrews 12:1-3

[7]         See Proverbs 14:34 “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

[8]         See Matthew 11:19

[9]         See Mark 2:15

[10]       See Luke 7:36-50

PEOPLE WITH ATTITUDE #2 Attitude to Suffering

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Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Here is the second distinctive kingdom attitude. It is supposed to make its presence felt when a situation arises that warrants sadness and grief. That happens a lot in our world as it did in the world of Jesus. It was pronounced enough to get a special prophetic mention. Isaiah talked about the coming Messiah, more than seven hundred years before it happened. His repeated statements caused considerable problems for the religious leaders of Israel at the time and later because they referred to the fact that the Messiah would experience great suffering.[1] Here is a sample: “….. a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)  All of us know something about personal loss. I am aware that our culture preconditions us to think about most things from an individual point of view, but I don’t think we should be ready to limit our understanding to that assumption.

When I read what others have written on this matter, I am surprised to find that they mainly talk about the sufferings associated with Jesus trial and crucifixion. There is no surprise about this. I have no idea at all as to the measure of that suffering. At the same time, as I have hinted above, I am not sure that Jesus was referring to that in his call to us to become people moved only by personal sadness. My appeal is, again, to the record of Jesus life and ministry. I ask the question of the stories in the gospels as to whether the experience of the cross was the main thing Jesus was grieved about. And I am sure you would come to the same conclusion as I. The answer is that Jesus was grieved on many different circumstances. So, to understand how this “attitude” works inside of us, we need to look at the record of Jesus’ grieving.

1. Jesus grieved over human lostness.  Jesus walked throughout the region with the joyful message of God’s kingdom realm. He taught in their meeting houses, and wherever he went, he demonstrated God’s power by healing every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. ” (Matthew 9:35-38)  We have to pause a moment to read this story lest we miss the information that is telling us about something that kept on happening all the time. I’ve been a pastor for nearly fifty years and have been in the presence of people with all kinds of needs. Many times, those circumstances evoked a very natural sense of sadness and grief for what had happened. There have also been times when my job required me to get up and go out in all kinds of circumstances when I would have preferred not to, so I went and did my “duty.” Other times I have given my heart and soul to some situation only to find that people were using me for their own destructive self-gratification. This story tells me that Jesus went to a lot of places around the province of Galilee and every time he saw a crowd of people, his compassion was stirred by their sense of lostness and helplessness. They were like sheep without a shepherd, weary and helpless. And he gave them the very best of heaven’s compassion. It had nothing to do with how tired or depleted he might have felt. The voice of lostness called out to his heart, and his heart responded with deep and unending compassion.

We need to have an honest think about this. It seems to me that most Christians I know in my nation of Australia don’t have much of a feeling for lostness at all. They can quite successfully pursue their careers, raise their families, go on vacation and the like without feeling what is around them every day the way Jesus felt. We have often gone one better and hurled judgements at lost people. Every time Jesus witnessed human lostness it filled his heart with sadness, and from that sadness he responded to them.

2. Human heaviness and depression. 28 “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. 29 Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways, and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. 30 For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” (Matthew 11:25-30) Jesus made the experience of his Father’s love accessible to all. The religious system and its protectors shut people away from God through a ruthless system of demands. They portrayed God as distant, aloof and/or repulsed by sin. The only tangible connection with God was likely to be his disapproval and disgust. There have been times when the church has been obsessed with the same ideas. If you read the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” you will undoubtedly be persuaded to think that way. It was especially so for the multitudes of very poor people whose poverty, though often contributed to by the authorities and their taxes, was construed as the judgement of God on their sin. The reference above stands in its own judgment on such an attitude. Instead of shame, blame, guilt and punishment, Jesus was calling on those who were weary with the complex burdens of life to come to him and experience rest. Notice he didn’t give them a ten point plan of how to deal with stress. His solution was for them to draw close to him so that they could experience rest.

In our own day, we are still plagued with the weights and burdens of the day, and it seems so common for people to be crushed by them. How sad, that a society like ours that seems to offer so many ways to be happy is exposed by a seemingly endless line of depressed people. Often, they are led to that horrible place where the only source of release seems to be to take their own lives. Jesus didn’t offer advice on how to avoid depression. He didn’t point out all of the things they might have done to avoid getting in such a state. He offered himself and his presence, his love and compassion as the answer. And he invited them to journey with him, be yoked to him so that they could learn from walking that journey WITH him. His willingness to open the door to people loaded up with cares meant that he would be carrying their load until there was no more load to carry. And he was going to do it without making them feel obligated and guilty for doing it.

Paul shares a similar sentiment while writing to the church in Thessalonica: “With a mother’s love and affectionate attachment to you, we were very happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our lives—because you had become so dear to us.”[2] All of this is the outworking of what Isaiah was shown about the ministry of the promised Messiah-King: For sure He took on Himself our troubles and carried our sorrows. Yet we thought of Him as being punished and hurt by God, and made to suffer. 5 But He was hurt for our wrong-doing. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so we would have peace. He was beaten so we would be healed (Isaiah 53:4,5)  The beautiful attitude modelled by Jesus with regard to human load-bearing is to invite them to unload and find rest. He is moved by the weight and touched by the tiredness. If we are willing to come to him, we will not only NOT be pushed away, as we so often find in our own community, but we see someone willing to relieve the burden and carry the load. 

One of my character flaws relates to my ability to put down my keys and then forget where they are. When all my children were growing up, it was a legendary proneness. So when I shouted out in a house full of wonderful fellow humans asking if anyone had seen my keys (and I was always rushing to get somewhere), I would be met with grunts and comments lacking in any form of compassion. And it was even harder to raise a search party. Everyone was too busy asking me where I had left them. Everyone knew exactly who to blame. And they were right. This story of human load bearing is not complete without referring to a particular occasion. When I had looked everywhere without success, I didn’t know what to do – so as a last resort I cried out with a loud voice to Jesus. I acknowledged that he knew exactly where the keys were and would he tell me so I could get on with my ‘important’ job of serving him. Immediately, into my mind came the words, “They are in the garbage tin.” I searched the household bin with no joy. I went to the bin outside but nothing. Then I went over to my office and in the little paper bin by my desk were the said keys. Voila! As I said, Jesus’ offer is for us to come to him so that he can give us rest – and this rest is available not only to the spiritual giants who never lose their keys, but to those of us babes who seem to make it a habit. And the postscript to the story is a habit I have now developed of always putting my keys in the same place at home, and at the office. Not a problem.

3. Sicknesses: 13 On hearing this, Jesus slipped away privately by boat to be alone. But when the crowds discovered he had sailed away, they emerged from all the nearby towns and followed him on foot. 14 So when Jesus landed, he had a huge crowd waiting for him. Seeing so many people, his heart was deeply moved with compassion toward them, so he healed all the sick who were in the crowd. (Matthew 14:13,14)  Have you ever spent an extended period in a hospital, perhaps in the emergency department? Human sickness creates a huge burden. From a personal point of view, it can dominate the life of an individual along with the members of their family. A large city hospital represents a concentration of sadness and suffering that cannot be measured. On the occasion recorded here Jesus had decided it was time to get away from the crowds and their needs. He sailed across the lake with his disciples. When they saw what was happening, the crowds simply followed around the edge of the lake. Perhaps the wind wasn’t very strong that day so while Jesus had a slow boat ride the crowd was gathering at the place he was about to land. They were waiting for him. That very statement doesn’t fill me with much excitement. I can imagine the disciples being moved, not by compassion but by anything from frustration to anger. Today we would go into some room, close the door and turn off our mobile. It wasn’t so easy in those days.

Regardless of how inconsiderate it might have been and even though Jesus was worn out from the previous ministry demands, something characteristically beautiful surfaced: an attitude of deep compassion. He was moved more by what he saw in them than he was by his own needs and emotions. Now there’s a challenge for people like us who measure out our availability based on convenience and personal preference. A challenge for those whose doors close at 5:00 and whose phones go to message bank; for those whose sense of responsibility is governed by some set of workplace agreements; for those who never answer their phones and don’t often respond to messages. Jesus felt deep compassion, and that compassion didn’t run dry until the last sick person was healed. What they felt from Jesus was not just the opportunity to be well, but the opportunity to be in the zone where they felt the compassion of heaven rather than the often indifference of this world. While grubby human selfishness makes it hard to connect with them, divine compassion is always accessible and welcoming.

The attitude Jesus was referring to regarding human sickness was not the sorrow of the sick persons themselves, but the compassion for those who are sick within the ones who are well. The blessing is not that Jesus heals sickness, but that the kingdom of God should be made up of people who are not able to live around sick people without moving to relieve their burden because of spontaneous and consistent compassion. Comfort happens because they find the presence of Jesus there.

4. The death of a family member or close friend: When Mary finally found Jesus outside the village, she fell at his feet in tears and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus looked at Mary and saw her weeping at his feet, and all her friends who were with her grieving, he shuddered with emotion and was deeply moved with tenderness and compassion. He said to them, “Where did you bury him?” “Lord, come with us, and we’ll show you,” they replied. Then tears streamed down Jesus’ face. (John 11:32-35)  There is a lot about this story that is unusual. Jesus was told that Lazarus was sick, but didn’t leave immediately. When he was told that Lazarus had died, he said he was sleeping. When he came near to Bethany, he waited outside the town rather than going to the home of Mary and Martha even though they were grieving. He was deeply moved with compassion, having seen Mary’s sadness. When they took him to where Lazarus was buried, and he saw the people filled with grief he began to weep also, even though he knew that Lazarus was about the be raised from the dead. Instead of getting obsessed about finding the answers to those questions I would instead allow the information to tell me something about Jesus and the personal life of someone who is proclaiming and advancing the kingdom of God. 

It is typical of western culture to see that Jesus was overcome by emotion, even though he had already told the disciples that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. The fact is that Jesus’ display of emotion and the outcome of the incident are two very different issues. More to the point, it shows the way “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” works in practice. Regardless of the large story going on, people are grieving for their lost brother and friend. That’s what Jesus connected with. It shows empathy, not analysis. The empathy for Jesus was immediate. Being surrounded by people experiencing the pain and loss brought about by death was something that belonged to the very core of his personhood and mission. He had come to destroy the power of death. Like Paul would say a bit later, “Death, where is your sting, grave where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55,56) So Jesus looked at the sorrow and was immediately and deeply moved to tears.

We often lock away our feelings, especially those of us on the male side of the gender line. God isn’t locked up. We know that by what we witness here. Jesus wasn’t feeling sadness for himself; He was feeling the grief of those around him. This identification is another example of “blessed are those who mourn.” Kingdom people will have an attitude about the sufferings of others. They will readily and fully identify with those feeling. On that basis, they will not only share in the circumstances of others, but bring the very presence of the King of the kingdom of God. Jesus knew the big story and the big picture. It never prevented him from registering and sharing in the feelings of the smallest story – in this case, a small group of Lazarus’ friends gathered around his tomb in mourning. What Jesus does, God is doing. As Jesus wept with the mourners, he was making the unseen heart of the Creator and Father God known. That is amazing. We are the people of God when the sadness and grief of others genuinely moves us. I am not talking about sending a sympathy card or writing some nice words in it. I am talking about something that comes from inside your heart and meets or resonates with their hearts.

Kingdom people have attitude about the sadness and suffering of others. We are deeply touched by it.

5. The stubborn resistance of the people of God  34 O city of Jerusalem, you are the city that murders your prophets! You are the city that pelts to death with stones the very messengers who were sent to deliver you! So many times I have longed to gather your wayward children together around me, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings—but you were too stubborn to let me. 35 And now it is too late since your house will be left in ruins. You will not see me again until you can say, ‘We welcome the one who comes to us in the name of the Lord.'” (Luke 13:31-35)

41 When Jesus caught sight of the city, he burst into tears with uncontrollable weeping over Jerusalem, 42 saying, “If only you could recognise that this day peace is within your reach! But you cannot see it. 43 For the day is soon coming when your enemies will surround you, pressing you in on every side, and laying siege to you. 44 They will crush you to pieces, and your children too! And when they leave, your city will be totally destroyed. Since you would not recognise God’s day of visitation, your day of devastation is coming!” (Luke 19;41-44)

There are a variety of reasons for experiencing grief. We have no trouble relating to the previous example outside the tomb of Lazarus. Here is a very different set of circumstances. Luke records these two occasions. There were at least two occasions where God mourns the stubbornness of the people he has called to proclaim his nature and purpose to the families of the earth. If you were to read the whole of the Old Testament in a couple of sittings, it would take you a bit more than 52 hours. But if you did that you would notice how prone these people were to forsake their special relationship with God and how they were so easily compromised by turning to worship idols and adopt the values of the nations around them. Then read the gospels. Jesus, the awaited Messiah, comes. Tellingly, John writes these words to describe what happened, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13). Jesus came to people who should have been the ones most likely to recognise him but was rejected by them. I don’t know whether anyone has ever rejected you? Worse still, to be rejected by a whole group of people, or worse, rejected by your own people – but Jesus was. In human experience, it is the stuff that breeds resentment, bitterness, separation and retribution. With Jesus, it was tears of sadness. Please read the two passages at the beginning of this section and soak up the environment created by Jesus attitude. No slighted anger. No abuse. No threats. Just sadness at what they were doing and the consequences they would experience.

There is a particular poignancy about the second of the two statements. In the narrative, it comes as he finished entering Jerusalem on a donkey. He saw the sad prophetic act of triumph as they waved palm branches and then burst into tears at what was about to ensue. Even the atmosphere of victory could not cover the deep feeling of remorse. In a week these people would be part of a different crowd with very different intentions. In his book, “Postcards from Babylon,” Brian Zahn has made the profound observation that it is likely that two different kings were entering Jerusalem at about the same time. From the west came Pontius Pilate, representing the Lord Caesar. His credentials of office were displayed by his armed soldiers marching before and after his chariot and showing off the might of Roman oppression. On the other side of the city, a rabbi from Galilee entered on the colt of a donkey. His feet were likely dragging on the ground. A very different King representing a very different kingdom. As he entered, I think Pilate might have looked at the gathering crowds of pilgrims and strengthened his resolve to keep the Jews under control until the Passover was finished. Jesus looked at the same city and burst into tears. They were from different worlds and saw different things as they entered.

My point is to note the attitude. Jesus was filled with grief, not for himself but for the people who thought they represented God but were as lost from him as the older brother in the story of the prodigal son.[3] When we become sons and daughters of the kingdom what is going to be released in us is the same attitudes to rank stubbornness and arrogance. Not the passions associated with personal hurt but the flow of sadness for the people who remain in peril. Within forty years the city would be sacked, the temple destroyed and the people massacred. I want to feel the same way toward the people who resist and reject my message and ministry. I want to make tangible to them the way God feels. It’s funny how we, as followers of Jesus can be compassionate toward people with no commitment to Christ but show hatred to those people who follow Jesus but disagree with us. Here is a ‘heads up’ on how God feels toward them.

6. The unbelief of Jesus’ disciples Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41)

This statement may well mark the deepest expression of sadness and frustration from Jesus apart from the events leading up to and including the cross. Jesus had just come back from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John. They found the remaining disciples surrounded by a crowd of people and a demonised boy. The disciples had unsuccessfully tried to cast out a demon and were engaged in a verbal altercation with some religious leaders. When the boy’s father told Jesus, he responded with an expression of deep grief. There is an obvious question needing to be asked here. Was Jesus upset at the disciples or the generation of people who had collectively contributed to the chronic level of unbelief? A literal translation of the text would be as follows, “O generation (of) unbelieving and perverted (people). Until when will I be with you and bear with you.” My own conclusion is that he was referring to both. It was the disciples who couldn’t cast out the demon, so we can only assume that they were the ones directly implicated. It is very easy to understand that their level of faith was connected to the collective views of their ‘generation.’ The shallow demonised religious system that weighed people down with obligation and locked them away from knowing God had played its part. Compromises with both Hellenistic and Roman pressure and influence had also played a role. The outcome was displayed in the fact that the disciples he said and done everything they knew how to do, but the demon remained. The gospel record will show that they had had previous experience at casting out demons before. This demon was able to resist their efforts. More correctly, they were not able to operate at a level of authority needed to give the maleficent presence its marching orders. When they ask Jesus about it later, he explains that the only way for them to gain that level of authority is through prayer (and perhaps prayer with fasting). In other words, a change is needed in the relationship between God and the disciples for them to exercise the full measure of his power.

I guess some people will assume that Jesus is merely expressing disappointment and/or anger at the remiss of the disciples. They should have been able to cast out the demon. No teacher or parent will scold a pupil or child if they have been asked to do something that is impossible. Would I ask my ten-year-old son to jump over a two-metre wall and then berate him as he is lying on the ground after a failed attempt? I would be cross with the same son if I asked him to pick up his clothes from the floor of his bedroom and found that he was still playing on his Xbox. In the latter case, the problem was nothing to do with ability but will. The same must be true for the disciples. Their lack of faith must have related to their lack of commitment rather than ability.

This is not the place to become embroiled in the broader issues of living a life of faith in Jesus. On one occasion some people came and asked Jesus what they should do to do the works of God. Jesus said their most significant and most important task was to believe on the one God had sent (i.e. Jesus himself).[4] I am convinced that faith is not just some kind of temporary mental posture or less still, an affirming emotion. At the same time, it is a measurable state. Jesus talks about little faith and great faith in precisely that way. As here, he also talks about unbelief as a measurable human condition. The famous words from Hebrews 11 tell us that faith is the “substance” of things hoped for and the “evidence” of things that are not seen. So, faith is a level of conviction about something we can’t see. We see it as reality, even though it has not yet happened. This phenomenon is everywhere in the Bible from the beginning to the end. We are also told that “without faith, it is impossible to please God.”[5] On this occasion, recorded by Luke, the disciples were able to exercise faith but had allowed the “unbelief” of their generation to override the trust they should have had in what Jesus had modelled for them and taught them. I think that makes sense, both for them as well as for us. We also live amid a generation that has worked hard to convince itself of its own independence and self-reliance. 

It would be wrong for us to assume that “unbelief” should be thought of as an empty space or a vacuum created by the lack of faith. The word for unbelief is “apistos” (and the word for faith is “pistos”). The prefix works like our English prefix “anti-.” It is an active state, not a passive one. A contemporary idea would be a phrase used to describe people who oppose the idea of climate change. They are called, “climate-deniers.” That term more correctly carries the idea of “unbelief.” A person manifesting “unbelief” is a “belief-denier.” They are actively opposed to the idea of faith in (or faithfulness to) God. They have chosen an alternative belief system, one which they are actively pursuing.

To get back to the point of all this, we learn from this incident in the Gospel of Luke that when Jesus own disciples choose an alternative belief system than the one that Jesus was showing and teaching them, the response from Jesus is deep grief -, not anger or resentment.

When Jesus teaches about the second of nine attitudes that will be trademarks of the citizens of the new kingdom, one such expression of grief will be toward unbelief – our own or other people’s. The grief is understandable when you think that the Creator, Father, Redeemer, Provider, Purposer has made known to us the way we are to live as sons and daughters of God – and we take the capacity we have to respond to that love by rejecting it and trusting in a humanly contrived system, such a rejection is met with an outpouring of grief. That such a thing should happen? The reward for those who share this sadness is going to be blessed. Notice that we are not told we will see everyone we care about putting their trust in God. What we will experience will be the comfort of that very God who feels precisely the same as we do only more so. This grief doesn’t cause Jesus to give up or turn aside. He doesn’t pick up his ball and go home. He challenges that unbelief by continuing to fulfil his Father’s purpose. He continues to model and teach how to exercise faith. Such comfort is precisely the blessing we need. God intended deliverance for this demonised boy. As soon as the demon in the boy realised Jesus was present the boy was thrown into a convulsion. When Jesus drove out the demon the process demonstrated the effects of the struggle. When he told the demon to go, the boy fell on the ground as if he was dead.[6] Then, the boy revived and was totally set free. When the disciples settled for something less than what God intended, Jesus called it “unbelief.” That is hugely sobering for all of us who trust what is written for us in Scripture. Then they started arguing with the religious leaders. Now, there is a definite example of unbelief. They should have grieved as Jesus did. So should we. When they were told what do to get from a place of unbelief to a place of faith – i.e. prayer (or prayer with fasting), we should heed the same advice.

So all of these are examples from the life of Jesus where he was giving expression to this attitude. We need to check out our own hearts. We need to measure how we are doing soberly. Otherwise, we will do what most people do who don’t know God or his attitudes. We will grieve for ourselves and a small group of family or friends and conveniently close our hearts toward the needs of people we meet every day in every place. Let us pursue God until this compassion is fully released from deep inside us so that we make God known in this compelling way.


[1]         These are called the “Servant Songs.” They are also referred to as the songs of a “Suffering Servant.” They are found in Isaiah 42, 49, 50 and 52,53.

[2]         1 Thessalonians 2:8

[3]         See Luke 15

[4]         See John 6:29  “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

[5]         See Hebrews 11:6 “, And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

[6]         See Mark 9:26,27

PEOPLE WITH ATTITUDE #1 Spiritual poverty

” Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 5:2)

“Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)[1]

 

What was Jesus talking about when he used the phrase, “poor in spirit?”   Poverty usually refers to a lack of material wealth. I come from the richest city in one of the richest countries in the world. Our images of poverty usually come through our television screens.  It breaks your heart to see families, especially children, in abject poverty. Around the world, one child dies from starvation every five seconds. That means if I count to ten all of our four children have died, and in another twenty seconds, our eight grandchildren have also died. That reality is mind-numbing as well as heart-wrenching.  The majority would be watched or held as they died. Many families spend all of their waking hours and all their effort to keep their families alive. For those families, no matter how hard they work, there is nothing they can do to break the cycle of poverty. But all of this is largely academic for people like us.  By contrast, I have not lived a single day of my life without access to food. I don’t know what it is live in poverty and have no internal reference for it.  I am assuming most of the people who will read these words will be the same.

The Bible has a lot to say about people who are poor.  Jesus clearly stated that he had come to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah[2]. His stated goal was to proclaim good news to poor people.  There he describes three types of poverty:  people who were in some form of imprisonment, people who suffered from sickness and those who were being oppressed.  The gospels are the record of him accomplishing that goal. I want to be a follower of Jesus.  From my own study of the Scriptures, I have formed a definition of what it means to be “poor.” A person is poor when they lack any of the basic things that are needed to embrace God’s purpose for their lives – not just money or food, but all of the other things – freedom, justice, self-worth, love, community, vocation, meaning.  People whose circumstances and decisions have locked them away from these things should be included among the poor as well. I think someone should be considered to be poor when, regardless of what effort they make or how clever they are, they are not able to bring about change. By that definition, there are very many “poor” people in countries like Australia. And a lot of them live in big houses and drive expensive cars. The sad reality is that very often, our culture will regard them as wealthy and not poor.  All the time the spiritual and social fabric of our society will not see the poverty of their personal world.

The only reason I say this is to make the point that when Jesus talks to us about being “poor” in something, we will have difficulty relating to that idea just because we only have our imagination to draw on to figure out what “poor” might be like. Jesus’ reference to poverty is being used in a semi-metaphoric sense. He is asking us to see something about ourselves and understand that we ARE literally poor, but he is also asking us to look at how poor people think and react. What happens when those who are food poor see a truck filled with food entering the camp. They don’t think about being proud or ashamed. They know there is food there and they need to get enough for their family and themselves. They would wait in line and not complain just because there is food they can access. They won’t be sleeping in their beds or listening to music through their earphones. They will be doing whatever it takes to get food. When people are food poor, it is the first and last thing they think about every day of their lives.

In this teaching, Jesus is telling us that there is a kind of poverty shared by every human person that we are not going to recognise easily. Jesus calls it “spirit poverty,” or spiritual poverty. This is a strange idea simply because every other form of poverty is almost impossible to avoid when it exists. Those people who have worked with aid agencies come back from Africa or other countries and often needing counselling to deal with the impact of death and suffering they have experienced. And they themselves were guaranteed food and clothing and everything else they needed. But spiritual poverty is different. It can exist everywhere but not be felt or recognised. Wow!! That is weird for sure.

Think about it. We are created by God. We are the only species on earth created in the image of God. We are designed to live as sons and daughters in the family of God. Even so, it is possible for us to live our whole lives without a relationship to God or reference to God. We can live on God’s earth, breath God’s air, sustained by God’s grace and yet have no awareness of any kind of need to be connected to God let alone worship and serve him. The story of the Old Testament people of God is a story of God making himself known in gracious amazing ways. This God establishes a connection with these people called a covenant. He commits to dwell among them with the intention that all the peoples of all nations will be able to see their “spirit poverty” and be guided to a restoration of this relationship and a life of spirit wealth. Instead, they choose to worship the idols and adopt the culture of the people groups around them and lose the distinctiveness of that very spirit wealth. Instead of attracting people to God they become religiously arrogant and cause God’s name to be dishonoured.[3]

The life and ministry of Jesus Christ gave all of us an opportunity to see how the relationship between God and his people was meant to work. We know from the famous piece of poetry recorded in Paul’s letter to the Philippians[4] Jesus set aside his divine status but not his relationship with the Father. So, when we look at the way Jesus lived, we can see what it means to live “spirit poor.” The key information on this comes in a number of references from the Gospel of John.[5] At least six times, Jesus specifically reveals something to his observers that they cannot see but is nonetheless real. What they can’t see is that He takes no initiative of his own. Everything he says and does is sourced from his relationship with his Father. He even goes as far as saying, “He tells me what to say and how to say it.”[6] These words are a bit of a mystery to those of us whose personhood has been so profoundly wired to the ideas of independence and self-reliance handed down through our culture. We default to them without missing a heartbeat. It is made harder because of the way our relationship with God has been culturally domesticated over the years. You only have to compare what happens in revival times and then compare it to non-revival times. We seem to be able to revert to something controlled and built on external behaviour rather than heart relationship. Jesus reminded the disciples about this just before he left them: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [7] If ‘with’ means what ‘with’ usually means and if ‘always’ means what always usually means, then we are talking about a reality that doesn’t stop when the worship team get off the stage, or the prayer meeting finishes up. Jesus lived this way privately for thirty years and then demonstrated how it worked throughout his three-year public ministry.

One of the features of the renewal movement centred on the Toronto Airport Vineyard has been a re-discovery of the “presence” of God. Despite some criticisms of certain unusual behaviours[8], people began to talk about God “showing up” in a meeting. It was explained by comparing two theological words: omnipresence is the belief that God is present everywhere all the time, but that presence may not be identifiable in any tangible way. The Toronto contribution has pointed to the “manifest presence” of God. This means that the God who is always omnipresent made his presence known in some tangible way – able to be experienced by at least some people and able to be observed by others. This is indeed a pattern that is consistent with the Old Testament experience. God spoke at certain times to certain people. He also intercepted normative human experience and did supernatural things (burning bush, plagues, sea pushed back, walls falling down and the like, rescuing from fire, stopping lions from eating people etc. The Toronto renewal re-awakened people to the fact that God desired to make his presence known. It was a soft but strong rebuke to a church that had become all-too-preoccupied with words spoken about God rather than the experience of a relationship with God.

And the question from me is whether that phenomenon is still too much a replication of the Old Covenant rather than the New Covenant. That question will only be answered if we ask whether it was consistent with the relationship modelled and described by Jesus. Here is the problem. Did Jesus have a constant awareness of the presence of God or was the presence of God only manifest through the signs and wonders he performed – or in the times he spent in prayer? If we are going to take seriously what we know from the six references in John’s gospel, there could be little doubt unless the words are going to be considered as metaphorical and not literal. Here they are again. You be the judge:

“Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)

I can do nothing by Myself; I judge only as I hear. And My judgment is just because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 5:30)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me. (John 6:38)

So, Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing on My own, but speak exactly what the Father has taught Me. (John 8:28)

I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it. (John 12:49)

And I know that His command leads to eternal life. So, I speak exactly what the Father has told Me to say.” (John 12:50)

If we are to take these statements on face value, we must assume that Jesus had an awareness of his Father’s presence, if not all the time, then often. I would say the more likely option would be the former given the information provided in these verses. This experience was not at all vague. When Jesus spoke about how that relationship worked, we have to conclude that when Jesus found himself in a given situation, he was able to “see” what his Father was doing. From that relationship, he was able to “hear” his Father’s assessment. He was told what to say and how to say it. That represents a relationship of significant bandwidth. Of course, we are going to ask the question as to HOW Jesus gained this awareness and experienced this level of intimacy with a Person who could not be seen OR whose presence could directly be verified. What was confirmed was the fact that Jesus knew what people were thinking (word of knowledge, [9])? He was able to perform healings, deliverances and miraculous provision. He was able to make storms cease and walk on top of the water. Later the apostles would testify that these were, in fact, the signs that God was WITH HIM.[10]

What does all this have to do with “spirit poor” you might ask? To me, the very nature of Jesus modus operandi on earth is a living testimony of this very phenomenon. Jesus lived his life on the earth as a model son of God. He lived the way every other son and daughter were designed to live. He is the second Adam, and the relationship with God has been restored. As from the very beginning we were designed to live in fellowship with the Father (and the Son[11]). Adam and Eve forsook that relationship. Jesus not only restored that relationship but took it to a whole new level. Jesus describes this by using a very extreme metaphor. He says we must become so dependent on God that it should be like the way a vine branch is connected with the trunk of the vine.[12] Our goal must be like his – to do nothing separately from him. To take no initiative just because we have a good idea or a well-reasoned opinion. He speaks further about this relationship by using the phrase, “Just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us”[13].

This little phrase: “poor in spirit” encapsulates just that. In terms of spiritual things, we must regard ourselves to be as spirit poor as South Sudanese people in the camps are food poor. As they are aware that they have nothing and need to find food for themselves and their families. Every time the UN food trucks show up, they rush to get what they need. In the same way, we must look to foster this relationship with God so that our only spiritual resource comes from Him. We must reject the lie of our culture that will want to tell us that we are clever enough and capable enough to live each day by our own efforts and skills. Remember Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing.”[14] The moment we think we can go it alone we should feel the pangs of our hunger for God. Even the Psalms can express what this feels like: “How lovely are your dwelling places, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.[15] The imagery is according to the understanding of the day. God’s presence on earth was located only in the temple in Jerusalem. We know from the New Testament that Jesus invented a new temple. I am that temple, and we are that temple. God dwells in us and is with us. When we are poor in spirit, it is because we are convinced that this relationship is urgent and essential for all of us all the time. We should regard living without being totally dependent on God as impoverishment. We should look to our dependence on God as singularly essential. We need to learn to live our lives in this way and learn from Jesus how to do precisely that.

Jesus tells us that when we offer no self-created alternative to depending fully on our relationship with God, we experience the kingdom of God. Little wonder. When we take no initiative of our own, when we offer no substitute of our own and when we depend on God for all of it his rule comes to all of our lives all of the time. This is a life challenge that we must not avoid. When the world wants to tell us how clever and how capable we are, we need to set aside those lies. We need to adopt the attitude of a spiritual pauper deliberately and that we will never BE anything or be able to DO anything worthy of our calling as sons and daughters unless it comes directly from Him.

This first distinctive attitude of kingdom people is the attitude of total dependence on God.  To be disconnected from God’s presence, his wisdom, his intentions and his ways is to be considered akin to abject poverty – a poverty of the soul. Since our culture has taught us to be self-centred, self-preserving and self-determined, we need to adopt this attitude and learn to live as Jesus did, not wanting anything that does not begin with God and end in his fulfilled purpose.

 

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

  1. We need to do an audit. How much of what we do reflects something that has come from God? Where are the areas that lack the signs of the kingdom rule of God?
  2. We need to begin to coach ourselves to “see what the Father” is doing in a given situation and then discover how we can serve that purpose.
  3. We need to ask God what to say and how to say things so that we reflect his nature and will in a given situation.
  4. We need to start in the place of prayer but extend out from there to all of the familiar places where we live our lives.
  5. We need to deliberately and directly relate to God during our daily living – asking him things and seeing if there are things, we can know from him that will enable us to link up with his purpose.
  6. We need to guard our lives in the areas of our human capability and ask if we are living by our own cleverness and ability OR living by the grace and power that comes from heaven.

[1]   See also John 5:30  I can do nothing by Myself; I judge only as I hear. And My judgment is just because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.   John 6:38   For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me.    John 8:28    So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing on My own, but speak exactly what the Father has taught Me.   John 12:49   I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it.   John 12:50   And I know that His command leads to eternal life. So I speak exactly what the Father has told me to say.”

[2] Isaiah 61

[3]         See Romans 2: “As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ ” Paul is referring to Isaiah 52:5 or perhaps, Ezekiel 36:20,22

[4]         See Philippians 2:6-11   Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death —even death on a cross!   Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[5]         See the quote at the top of this article and the references in the footnotes

[6]         See John 12:49

[7]         See Matthew 28:20

[8]         things like uncontrolled laughter, rolling around on the floor, falling to the ground under the power of the Spirit of God, barking like a dog etc. have been reported by participants and witnesses of the meetings.

[9]         See First Corinthians 12

[10]       See Acts 10:38

[11]       See First John 1:1-5

[12]       See John 15

[13]       See John 17:21

[14]       See John 15

[15]       Psalm 84:1,2

NO ROOM FOR THE TROUBLEMAKER LUKE #4

WEAPONS MASTER CLASS    Luke #4

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Judea

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice, she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”

46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

 

BATTLE LINES

As we survey the gospel stories to find out how battles are to be fought, it is crucial to notice incidents like this one. If I was going to categorise this story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, it presents us with an opportunity to see such a fulness of grace from heaven happening that the enemy has minimal or no chance to intervene. I am sure there are many of these occasions. I remember Suzette Hattingh talking about the impact of a Reinhard Bonnke crusade in Africa. She said that the focus of prayer and the faith of a united church coupled with the presentation of the gospel saw amazing miracles happening and tangible transformation. One of the challenges they observed was to see the impact wane after a period of time. She said it was as if the resident demons all left town for a while, but then found ways of returning. Jesus taught about this in a straightforward way when he talked about demons being cast out and then returning with a bunch of mates to make the latter situation worse than the former.[1]

That would not be the case concerning Mary visiting Elizabeth. She went because the angel had told her that Elizabeth was pregnant. When two people who have experienced such a wonderful measure of grace from heaven get together, divine sparks are bound to fly. The little six month formed baby leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. On could hardly imagine a more powerful prophetic act. John the Baptist’s whole purpose was pointing people to Jesus. His life’s work was to bear witness to him – even before he was born. Such was the abundance of Holy Spirit presence.

Then what was inside of Elizabeth overflowed as she made a prophetic declaration, testifying that the baby Mary would bear was the Messiah, whom she called her Lord. Humbled by what was happening in her presence, she honoured Mary for her trust in what the angel had said. This led to further flow of revelation.

The overflow of prophetic utterance is both exciting and instructive. I think it represents important universal principles about the working of the Spirit in our lives. If you read it slowly and think about what Elizabeth is saying we realise that the Holy Spirit is taking what she is experiencing (her story) and putting it in the context of the big story. God has poured out divine favour on her, even though in the status stakes she doesn’t finish anywhere near the top of the bill. She now realises that God is not just giving her and Zechariah a wonderful baby boy and removing their shame (the disgrace for her was much greater since guilt was more readily placed on the woman than the man). Her boy will herald the coming of the Messiah. Then she realises that what is going on will be told and retold for that reason.

In the second part, she declares the difference between the ways of God and the ways of earthly kingdoms. God has typically bypassed all of the people who may represent likely candidates by the values of the kingdom of this world, especially all of those who may presume to be shortlisted for a divinely appointed task. He has taken two unknown women from way down the pecking order and has drawn them into his divine purpose. The choosing of unlikely candidates is a consistent theme in Scripture. The danger for us is to get one part of that picture and miss the other. Yes, it is true that God chooses nobodies to do important kingdom tasks. But it is not just any nobodies. These “nobodies” are chosen because they are people whose willingness to trust God knows no limits. Both Elizabeth (and Zechariah) and Mary (and Joseph) have been called to walk a journey of faithfulness to God that had and would cost them plenty. It has and will always be the same regardless of the generation or culture.

The third section of Elizabeth’s prophesy ties what is happening in the big story. It is about God’s purpose for Israel, not just about two baby boys being born. It also bears the testimony of the Scripture record. This is consistent with the old testament promises of God recorded over centuries by prophets and others who have listened to God. In other words, what is being spoken ties the current events into God’s big story: the redemption of the world. True prophetic revelation will always do just this.

So, as far as battle lines are concerned, there are none. We see no evidence anywhere of the enemy having access to what is going on. What we see instead are two people following through a brace of invitations from heaven to play a profoundly significant part in the plan of God. They qualified because they chose to be faithful and open to God before an angel showed up. They further qualified when they fully embraced the calling described by the angel, and now they were discovering that this plan involved other people whose testimony and faith would enable them to see and embrace that bigger picture. There is something sad about people who choose to put up fences and barriers everywhere to limit the purposes of God in their lives. Our broken culture keeps assuring us that we are masters of our own space and rulers of our own destiny. We program both the work of the Spirit and the application of the Scriptures so that it conforms to our own preferences and predetermined priorities. This allows us to develop church congregations that are corporate expressions of those limitations. As the process is allowed to continue, we find ourselves building religious structures around those barriers and borders. Both the kingdom and the purpose of God lie beyond the borders we set up. We can worship, pray and engage in all kinds of activities that are carefully (but less and less consciously) designed to accommodate us. We wonder why our prayers are so impotent, why enemy attacks are so brazen and our gatherings so devoid of Holy Spirit power.

By contrast, these two women embraced a single message from heaven and offered themselves to journey to its fulfilment. As such, they were opened to Holy Spirit revelation and a world that was beyond anything they had ever thought about. When Jesus talked about the meek inheriting the earth, his message applied fully and directly to these women. As they met and stayed together in the hill country of Judea their friendship, lifestyle and faith commitment rendered the enemy powerless. To be sure, the day would come when there would be another attack, but while these two babies were being formed in the wombs of their hero mothers, there was no opportunity. Instead, profound downloads of revelation by the Spirit – as is evidenced here and wait, there’s more.

 

 

WEAPONS

A few years ago I was making a slow journey through the Psalms. I would take a single Psalm to my place of prayer and read it enough times to get the story. Then I would pray my way through using the inspiration before me. It was a wonderful journey, and I was very powerfully impacted. Not only were there amazing moments and encounters but the experience transformed me. One of my summary insights was to see the link between “The Harp and the Sword.” That was my way of describing David’s intercessory experience. At the time I was influenced a lot by a prayer movement that had taken a phrase from the Book of Revelation: “Harp and Bowl.”[2] Their wonderful approach to intercession involved a focus on worship (harp) and prayer (bowl). My observation from the experience of David, and later, Jesus and Paul was the way intercession was seamlessly connected to the ministry of the gospel and I was worried that the prayer movement was capable of producing people who prayed and worshipped but didn’t seem to be so keen to get out and do the work of the gospel. It seemed to create a false dichotomy so that pray-ers didn’t seem to be very committed to ministry and those doing the work of ministry didn’t seem to be much involved in intercession. We saw two tribes emerge and even the idea that there was a special calling to be an “intercessor.” This has no warrant in either old or new testaments.

So I figured that David (then, Jesus and Paul) had a “Harp and Sword” approach. When David came in from fighting battles with his sword, he put his sword away and picked up his harp – as we see in the Psalms. When he worshipped and prayed, we can see that he brought all of the issues of the battle-field into the place of prayer. Sometimes he struggles deeply with what has or hasn’t happened. The story of each Psalm tells about a journey from pouring out all of the frustrations, fears and foibles associated with fighting battles. Then he gets connected to heaven, and the tenor usually changes. He starts the journey in pain and defeat and ends up in praise and faith. Then he puts down his harp and picks up the sword and goes off to battle once again, filled with confidence and the anticipation of victory. And the cycle repeats again and again. The place of prayer ought to be filled with the issues that arise from the battles we are engaged with, and the battles should be filled with the faith and insight we gain from the place of prayer. The same people who pray should be those who fight and the same people who fight should pray: the Harp and the Sword.

The weapons here are used offensively. Elizabeth speaks unseen reality as she declares what is happening in and around her. That’s a weapon for which the enemy has no countermeasure. She manifests peace and love with Mary – that’s righteousness. It gives the enemy a headache. She declares the salvation that is to come to Israel – that’s the gospel. She has and continues to exercise faith in what God has told her – that’s faith. She honours the favour of God upon her – that’s salvation. She clearly hears what God is saying and embraces it – that’s the word of God. And she prays. So all seven of the Ephesians 6 weapons are here, and the enemy is nowhere to be found.

As I have said previously, there is no reason to assume that if we use these weapons offensively all the time that the enemy will not come near to us. He will. He finds opportunity, vulnerability, circumstances and people to exploit the situation so that he can oppress, influence, confuse and destroy. There will be those times, though, when we find ourselves in circumstances where the presence of God is active and free flowing the enemy will have no opportunity. We should be diligent to embrace the purposes and promises of God, to be open to the leading of the Spirit, be obedient to everything God has said. As we do, we will find many of these occasions.

 

 

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

  1. Like Elizabeth, we need to fashion our hearts and minds around what can’t be seen rather than being limited to what can be seen. The promises of God always come as unseen reality. We have a choice to make. Do we go with what we see OR do we place what we do see within the reality framework of what God has revealed but can’t yet be seen – i.e. the kingdom of God reality?
  2. Like Elizabeth we need to understand that the purposes of God may well bring us great personal joy, i.e. bearing a child after being childless but this child needs to be prepared to serve the kingdom of God. That’s a bigger world and a world that requires us to live beyond our own personal desires and preferences. When Mary shows up, the world comes to Elizabeth’s door. I wonder what our response will be when God’s world shows up, and we have to embrace a bigger plan, bigger story and a bigger world than the one we might prefer? That willingness is called faith, and it is an enemy-dart-quenching weapon we need to employ if we are going to see battles being won.
  3. Giving ourselves into the expanded world of God’s purpose brings a flow of revelation and a breathtaking awareness of God’s nature as well as his purpose. He uses nobodies – not just any nobody but nobodies who are faithfully serving where they are when no one else is watching. No one would have thought much about either of these two women by human reckoning. But when no one was watching, they were righteous, and their hearts were open to God. That was their ticket into this amazing “game.”
  4. Faithfulness to one revelation is the entry point for more revelation. As we see in Elizabeth’s house, God made his will and presence known AS they were celebrating what he was doing. We get more when we fully invest in what we have already been given. Jesus said exactly that.[3] Sadly, Christian history is replete with examples of individuals and groups who were privileged to be given fresh insights into Biblical truth. They embraced it, followed it out and then found themselves defining everything only by what they were told. When someone comes with a further instalment, it seems that the people with the previous revelation provide the most ardent opposition to what happens next. Elizabeth and Mary are examples of two people who walked fully in the revelation they had but were also willing to receive more. More came to them when they got together (and there is a little principle all on its own – I reckon more comes when we get together ). It’s not a series of fashion changes. It is the unfolding of a divine story. The Word of God will always move us further toward the end goal. And it is a sword in the hand at every stage.

[1]         See Matthew 12:43-45

[2]         See Revelation 5:8 “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”

[3]         See Luke 19:11-27 The parable of the ten minas

ANGELIC VISIT TO MARY Luke #3

WEAPONS MASTER CLASS             Luke #3

 

ANGELIC VISIT TO MARY CONCERNING THE BIRTH OF JESUS

 

 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.   ( read Luke 1:26-38)

 

BATTLE LINES

As with all of these occurrences, the battle lines are formed at different levels. Let’s start at the biggest arena and work to the smallest. When God sent Gabriel to Nazareth it was a declaration of war against the kingdom of Satan. There are many references to this throughout the New Testament. Here are a few samples:

Now judgment is upon this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. (John 12:31)   The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (First John 3:8)

Jesus came to overcome the rule of Satan in the world. I should say, he came to make it possible for the rule of Satan to be broken. He modelled it during his ministry and completed it on the cross. A fuller discussion of this matter will have to wait for another occasion. What is more important is to see the visitation of Gabriel to Mary as an act of war. If you want to get a better picture of the way God engages with the enemy, let this picture stay in your mind and wrap around your heart. The way God declares war on the Satan is to send an angel with a message to an unknown girl from an unknown village in a nothing province. Think about it slowly. If you or some earthly organisation were planning to take over the world and enthrone a new king would you/they be likely to do it that way? No way on any day. But this is the kingdom of God happening, not the kingdom of this world. We have to tell ourselves again and again that this kingdom from heaven is totally counter to the culture of the kingdom of this world.

Like the announcement to Zechariah about his soon-to-be-conceived son, John. It happened privately and quietly. The greatest event in the history of the world is about to happen and only one living person knows about it. Sure, there are going to be additional signs when the birth happens, but for now, it depends on one person receiving the divine message and being prepared to live with its implications. We need to remember this principle. When God comes to establish his Son as King of Kings, does so by speaking to a young otherwise undesignated girl. We, like Mary, need to be ready to say, “I am the Lord’s servant.” The angel leaves Mary sitting or standing in the same place, but because she responds, her whole world is about to erupt.

The second arena for battle is between Mary and Joseph (and the members of her family and village). We know that Joseph is going to get his own visit from the angel, but not before he finds out that Mary is pregnant. Scripture is not written like a Jackie Collins novel. We are not privy to any conversation between Mary and Joseph. It did happen, but we can only speculate. First, the word is confirmed, and Mary realises she is pregnant. Rather than giving a reason for celebration, it creates an understandable cloud of controversy. Whatever she said to Joseph didn’t satisfy him. The religious traditions were very specific about what should happen to an unwed girl who became pregnant – public shame and if the letter of the law was fulfilled, stoning to death. You can readily imagine how lame it sounded for Mary to tell the truth: an angel came and told her that she was going to supernaturally conceive and give birth to the Messiah?” Can pigs fly???? We might ask the question as to why God didn’t help Mary out by having the angel show up when she told her story to Joseph, or immediately afterwards. We are told in a different part of the Bible that it was Joseph’s righteousness that motivated him to simply send her away to some other place (Matt. 1:19). There is no information to help us answer that question in this case but there is a consistent pattern throughout the Scriptures. When God speaks to someone, they are always called upon to BECOME the embodiment of that word. It is called, “incarnation.” The Word from heaven becoming flesh” (see John 1:14). There could hardly be a more literal example of this than Mary. She began to carry the fulfilment of the message in her womb. She eventually gave birth to the Messiah. Every part of her life was affected. We need to reject the pressure from our western culture to compartmentalise things, usually for the sake of personal convenience and comfort, and allow the word from heaven to have its full effect. This is at the heart of Mary’s response to the angel, “May your word be fulfilled.” She then carried both the fulfilment of that word and its implications. She had to trust that God would honour her faith. We don’t get to choose the outcome of our obedience. We just get to choose to trust as we obey. That trust has to come from the inside. When Mary became pregnant and Joseph started to make plans for her exile, she had to trust that God would find a way to resolve the struggle – i.e. win the battle. She had no idea he was going to send an angel to Joseph. It is important to note, by the way, that while Joseph’s assumptions were cleared up by the angel, they still had to face the wider family and townspeople. The rumour that Jesus was illegitimate carried all the way to the religious leaders and their insinuation to that effect (see John 8:41).

There would be another battle that Mary (and Joseph) would have to face. They were the ones who had been told he was the Messiah. They would have assumed the default view that Jesus would raise up and army to throw out the Romans and enable Israel to rule the world from Jerusalem. When Jesus failed to fit that picture, instead going about preaching, healing and casting out demons, Mary was among the members of Jesus’ family who concluded that he was mentally ill and went to Capernaum to bring him back to Nazareth (Mark 3:21). And we know that Mary was among those who watched him get arrested, tried and crucified. In the next chapter of Luke, the text tells us that on at least two occasions, Mary saw things and heard things and “treasured and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19,51) These were the battles she had to fight from beginning and even more at the end. It is the battle that comes when you build your life around what God has said. It brings you into conflict with opposing ideas in your own mind, with the opinions and attitudes of others and with circumstances that are carefully orchestrated by the devil to stop the fulfilment of God’s plan. God’s plan was for his Messiah Son to make him known on earth and to reveal the nature and working of his kingdom. Jesus was nothing like any earthly king and his kingdom was nothing like any earthly kingdom. Mary was called to embrace that journey in a unique way. The principle still stands. The message from heaven needed to be embraced for the rest of her life in all kinds of different circumstances and against all kinds of different challenges. It is our inability to do this that has landed us in a place where we lose the transformational power of the gospel of the kingdom and become a pallid religious reflection of our wider community.

 

WEAPONS

The seven weapons referred to in Ephesians 6 are as follows:

Truth – making known the unseen pertinent God-reality.

Righteousness  – making God’s character tangible.

Gospel – declaring God’s saving power and purpose.

Faith – trusting God to intervene to bring about the kingdom of God.

Salvation – taking primary significance and identity from being a child of God.

Word of God – knowing and fully embracing what God has said.

Prayer – engaging in every form of relevant prayer activity related to the situation.

I am sure you will be able to see these weapons deployed through this incident in the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The truth she made known was to tell Joseph exactly what happened. He couldn’t see it, but her pregnancy by the Holy Spirit was the unseen God reality. Regardless of how he reacted, making truth known is not just for the benefit of the humans involved. It is to strike and the attack potential of the enemy. Her righteousness in all of this was the quietness with which she carried herself at this time and as the story progressed. The gospel message in this situation was that God would fulfil his promise and save her from harm and from the punitive power of religious tradition. She trusted God before she was pregnant and afterwards – that trust was to see God’s full intention fulfilled. She obviously faltered a bit when she and her family thought they should intervene and restrain Jesus because he didn’t seem to be acting like the Messiah they had envisaged, but it was certainly restored by the time of the wedding at Cana when the wine had run out and they needed a miracle (John 2). We don’t have information about the last two weapons, although there is evidence to suggest that Mary had a strong sense of living in God’s favour and was no stranger to prayer.

 

HOW DOES THIS APPLY?

  1. The visit of an angel with a message from heaven is an act of war. There are no guns, no tanks and no bombs.  The world at large is totally unaware.  But alarm bells are sounding in the kingdom of darkness.  Mary listens to the message and then offers herself to serve its fulfilment.  The world knows nothing of this, but again, a bomb lands on the gates of hell.  When she becomes pregnant and tells Joseph spiritual minions are commissioned to move Joseph to get rid of her.  But they fail.  Mary and Joseph join in their commitment to journey along the path of faith and obedience.  This is how wars are fought in the realm of the kingdom of God.  They don’t need government permission. They don’t need a majority vote.  They just need an incarnation to happen.  The messenger is gone, and a betrothed young couple become the living embodiment of that message and its custodians.  This is also how warfare is carried out in God’s kingdom.
  2. Look at God’s way of choosing.  There is a theological term to describe this.  It is called “divine election.”  It means that God chooses someone to do a job.  We have so badly messed this up over the centuries.  We think of “chosen” from a human point of view.  That is, the chosen person is better than those who are not chosen.  This is never the case.  God certainly chooses people whose hearts are righteous, but that doesn’ t mean they are more worthy than others.  Choosing relates to responsibility.  How sad that the people of God from so many generations have taken the view that they are better than the other people. Worse still, that God likes them and hates the other people.  The other side of this is the fact that God has never chosen anyone for political, tribal or personally preferenced reasons.  He generally tends to choose the unheralded and unlikely just because they don’t come with a bag filled with pride and arrogance.  God chose Mary.  He can just as likely choose you – and most likely has.
  3. The idea of Mary being impregnated by a work of the Holy Spirit is part of a detailed description of a one-off historical event, but it is also a powerful metaphor of what happens every time God speaks. Just as Mary was challenged to fully embrace what the angel, so it is with us with every word that God has spoken. This applies to the written word as well as when God speaks directly by his Spirit. That word means nothing until it is welcomed and embraced in our heart and becomes part of who we are. The image of a period of pregnancy is a wonderful way to think of things that we carry inside of us that are not yet fulfilled in open experience. I have never been pregnant like Mary was but I have carried a word from heaven inside me that was growing and waiting for the time when it would be seen and known by everyone. As I said, the idea of pregnancy is powerful. I can only observe the strange phenomenon for a woman who has a little one inside of her. These days you can have images from very early on, but this little one is a mystery. Those of us who lived before ultra-sounds had to wait the full term to find out the gender. There were all kinds of theories and signs that were supposed to give a clue, but as the baby in the womb grew the mystery remained. Even the wonder of birth retains a whole world of mystery. Suddenly a husband and wife are invaded by this amazingly small but vibrant bundle of free will. Their lives are totally revolutionised. So it is with the word from heaven. We need to nurture that word, so it grows and when the waiting is over, we need to be fully involved in giving birth and nurturing that word toward its fulfilment.
  4. Have you ever wondered why you can have some amazing encounter with the Spirit of God? You receive a revelation and embrace it with all of your heart. Then all hell seems to break loose. You can even find yourself wishing you never received the word in first place. Sometimes some people are so intimidated by the push back that they stop following and pursuing its fulfilment. Jesus warns us about this in a story he told about seeds in four different kinds of soils. The word can be directly stolen by the devil. It can be intimidated by hardship and extinguished by worldly distractions. Many followers of Jesus read the Bible. A lesser number embrace what they read. A lesser number allow that word to become part of their lives. A lesser number carry that word to its fulfilment and completion. It takes a lot of deliberate effort to bear a child and make the lifestyle choices that ensure its healthy development. There are untold challenges in giving birth. And that’s just the beginning. So it is with the word. It will be resisted and contended by the enemy just because it carries the purposes and redemptive love of God. We have to be prepared for this battle and keep utilising the weapons made available to us to ensure complete fulfilment.

WEAPONS MASTER CLASS Luke #2

Zechariah is visited by an angel 

Luke 1:5-25

 5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

 

 

QUESTIONS

This biblical research aims to ask the following questions about the assumptions and modelling given by Jesus in the gospels. The working hypothesis here is that Jesus engaged in battle with every work of the enemy, not just on the cross, but throughout his ministry. In addition, I am also suggesting that Jesus never lost a battle. His ministry not only defines the spiritual battle we face each day, but he also models victory.  If that is so, then we will discover that we need to modify some of our ideas about what victory represents when we allow it to be defined by the life and ministry of the Son of God.

 How were the battle lines drawn up in this incident?  How was the presence and dominion of the enemy evident?   What does God do to engage in this battle?   What do people do to engage in the battle?   What happens?   What is the nature of the victory?   How does this apply to our own circumstances?

 

BATTLE LINES

The day Zechariah entered the Temple in Jerusalem could not have been more critical as far as the kingdom of God on earth was concerned. The Romans had exceeded their predecessor imperialist rulers, gaining ignominious proficiency in every kind of human injustice. In addition to this, corruption and compromise was the order of the day for Judaism. As always, a quiet righteous remnant remained. Godly men and women lived their lives by avoiding trouble and praying for the kingdom to come. It seems that the closer anyone got to the religious centres of power the more difficult it was to avoid the toxic traditions and their abuses.

Like others mentioned in the New Testament (Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna), Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were able to maintain godliness with humility. If you want to think about battles, then this is a day to day battle that is hard to fight. Anyone who has lived under corrupt authority will know this all too well. I heard someone say a few years ago that if a righteous person was elected to public office in Australia they would soon be crucified. We are in a time when people love darkness rather than light, so the systems need to be corrupt to stay in place. It is the same with Biblical truth in the church. There are far too many ungodly leaders and leadership systems.  They operate pretty much like their secular counterparts and making it harder rather than easier for ordinary believers to be passionate about following Jesus.

It was because Zechariah and Elizabeth chose to live lives of true godliness that they qualified for an angelic visit and were aware of the prophetic presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this was made the more difficult when they were not able to bear children. It was not just the frustration of unfulfilled maternal and paternal desires that needed to be managed. It was the unwritten but publicly assumed idea that if someone remained childless it was because they were being judged by God for some hidden sin. It’s hard to remain righteous when people think you are hiding some sin that has incurred divine judgment.

But on the one day of the year when a priest entered the Holy Place, an angel showed up. After four hundred years of silence that is an astounding event. And it happened in one of the few places where there would be no one to witness it other than Zechariah himself. It seems to be the way of God to bring a word to a man or a woman and for that person to become the embodiment of the word, not just the witness of it. The battle engages and a number of different levels. In the first place, the presence of the angel and his message was the first in the biggest battle, the one that will be won on the cross. The Messiah’s advance party is being secretly announced to one man. John will be born as a priest but will be known for a prophetic ministry that will happen a long way from the Temple precinct. At another level, a godly man who has been praying for a son is being asked to believe God for the fact that, even though the child will be born by natural processes of conception and gestation, it is also a miracle because both of them are well beyond the normal age for childbearing. The small battle is as important as the big battle. This is always the case. Whatever the particulars of our God-given vocation, each battle needs to be won the same way: faith and obedience. When Zechariah starts to think of the angel’s announcement as a rational human being, the angel gives him a little supernatural reminder. He is not going to be able to speak for a little more than nine months. This will be a daily reminder that the kingdom issue is not about normal human experience but about divine power working through ordinary human activity.

The next battle is trying to convince Elizabeth that they need to “try for a baby once again.” He had to do it without being able to talk. There’s a little battle all on its own. I reckon a good portion of prayer, fasting together with a largish slate with an even larger supply of crayons. I don’t want to dwell on the matter, but there are genuine challenges associated with older people trying to conceive. Just ask Abraham and Sarah when you meet them in heaven. They would have a story to tell on the subject. I only point this out because it needs an example of the battles needing to be fought.

We need to be very clear about how the battle is engaged. God sends a prophetic message by angelic visitation to a man who has been praying that he and his wife could have a child. Way after all human hope is gone. The man can’t believe his prayer is now to be answered. His hesitation invokes a temporary supernatural block on his ability to speak. With this increased level of difficulty, he goes home to his wife.  They miraculously produce a son by the natural process. This is how God fights battles and this is how his servants wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, spiritual darkness and wickedness. It is when the supernatural works in and through the natural.

The nature of this victory is the birth of a special Spirit-filled prophet and forerunner to the Messiah. This event will be linked to another angelic visitation about which Zechariah and Elizabeth knew nothing. Their initial faith was to live godly lives in a time when Israel’s public faith was compromised. When they received the word from God they obeyed and God worked a miracle to give an old couple a baby boy. Then they began to receive further prophetic revelation and a visit of a young unmarried relative from Nazareth who would give birth to the Messiah about three months after John was born.

 

 

HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO US?

  1. Be faithful to God even if the systems and other people are compromising Biblical faith. This is important not only as a qualification for more specific roles, but for its own sake. It is hard to be a radical counter-cultural revolutionary, but every person who seeks the kingdom of God first and lives a lifestyle mandated by the Bible will find themselves at odds with both the religious and the secular culture, just like Zechariah and Elizabeth.
  2. Regardless of how revelation comes – angelic visit or reading the Bible or a prophetic Holy Spirit word, we need to embrace that word until it becomes our lifestyle. Just think how Zechariah and Elizabeth began and continued to live on the basis of this word. First, they tried to have a baby in their old age. Then, they raised this child according to the further prophetic revelation they received.
  3. As they pursued this new purpose they were sovereignly linked to God’s big story.  They became part of the birth and life of the Messiah.  Then they saw their son take up a ministry that became so confronting that he was imprisoned and then executed. Their obedience immersed them in the bigger story. They were faithful in small ways and became partners with the biggest story in the history of God’s purposes for the world he loves. We have exactly the same opportunity.  It is only when we allow the word and purpose of God to shape our lives that God brings us together with people who make up the bigger picture.  The kingdom of God is a big but amazingly connected group of people doing an amazingly connected work. Whenever we plug in, through faith and obedience at any point,  it is like connecting to the internet.  We are directly connected to a world of kingdom people and kingdom work.  We will find that God puts us together with all kinds of people we would never have known and with work that we would otherwise not have been aware – and we immediately belong to it.

 

Brian Medway

February 12.  2019

ALL OR NOTHING

The Scope of Gospel Responsibility

Introduction

Everyone who has read the New Testament will know about the Great Commission. It was the last instruction Jesus gave his followers before he ascended to heaven. It is referred to six times. Mark, Luke and John’s gospels each have one. Matthew has two, and there is one in Acts Chapter One. Together they set the goal and parameters for every church and follower of Jesus in every generation. The statements are clear, consistent and straightforward. In saying this, we become immediately aware of a problem. Most churches are not doing it, nor are their members.

Even if some churches allocate some of their resources to this work, it is usually spasmodic and non-strategic. It is more of an optional extra for interested persons. We have even developed spiritual gift surveys that enable followers of Jesus to disregard this command by suggesting that if you don’t have the “gift” for evangelism, then you don’t have the responsibility. Surveys have shown that in most churches less than two per cent of the congregation will be involved in proclaiming the gospel at all. This is amazing,

And we have another problem. When churches do proclaim the gospel, the primary tool is a church program of some sort: a visiting evangelist and some special meetings; the pastor hounding people to bring their family and friends to church and so on. This is usually seen as a way of growing the individual church. When people become disciples, they are often drawn into all kinds of church activities so that their connection with the “outside world’ becomes minimal and their relationship with people far from God non-existent. Then we have a situation where there will be a range of different church congregations meeting in one suburb or town. It is rare for them to think about how they might cooperate to see the gospel proclaimed to every person in their region. They just concentrate on their programs. As a result, there is no plan to do what Jesus told us to do in the words of the Great Commission.

I want to have a look at the scope assumed in the Great Commission statements. I want to allow Jesus’ words to inform us again about the extent of his plan for myself and every other follower in my region (and elsewhere of course). I want to consider what it would take to have a plan that was worthy of what Jesus started. We will see that nearly all of the statements have words or phrases that describe the EXTENT. Having heard this again, we might be more inclined to do what it takes to see that this desire of Jesus is fulfilled – for starters in our region and in this generation.

 

MATTHEW 24:14

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The whole ὅλ This means every single part. The two English words most commonly used to translate this Greek word are “all” and “whole.” No matter where you are engaged with the gospel the command of Jesus is that we take responsibility for making the gospel known to every part. If it is a family, then it is every member of the family. If it is a suburb, then it is every household in the suburb. If it is a city or a region, then it is every person in every household or workplace in the region.

world οἰκουμέν This is a compound word. The first is the word for house or dwelling; the second part comes from the idea of remaining or staying. It quite logically describes “a place where people stay,” i.e. a home. It occurs fifteen times in the New Testament and is a collective that refers to the inhabited world. The Greeks originally used it to speak about the Hellenistic empire and then it was used similarly about the Roman empire. The thinking was that the supposedly uncivilised people outside of that territory were considered to be sub-human, i.e. not like ‘us.’ Given all people are created equally in the image of God, in this case, it refers to every place where there are people. We aren’t called to preach to the uninhabited places or animals. We are, however, called to preach the gospel everywhere where people are living.

 

MATTHEW 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Therefore, go πορευθέντες In the Greek language this is an aorist passive participle. Without getting into technicalities, the main verb in this sentence is the command to “make into disciples” (μαθητεύσατε). The sense of the Greek phrase wants us to make people into disciples as we are going into all of the nations. The actions should be simultaneous. We should be going with that intention and doing the work of disciple-making as we are in the process of going.

All the nations  πάντα τθνη  Again the word “all” is deliberate and specific. If you apply this word to any place at any time you are going to have to identify all of those groups and not leave any out. It doesn’t tell us to go to the ones we like or the ones that seem nice. It just says ‘all.’ There are many ways we can think about the word ‘ethnos’ or ‘nations.’ Today we use this to refer to geopolitical entities. This was nothing like the original Greek meaning. Christian missiologists have described the Biblical meaning much more in terms of small “people groups.” In our society, it probably describes different groups that operate within a community where people gather around ideology or common interest beyond family groups: political parties, sporting clubs etc. The application of Jesus’ words to people like us in settings like ours would work this way. You need to have strategies that will enable disciple-making to happen in every different kind of community group in the Canberra region: sporting clubs, government sections and departments, community groups, ethnic groups etc. – all of them need disciple making enterprises. You need to discover the way to make disciples in a way that is appropriate to each particular people group and be aware that what works in one people group will not necessarily work in other people groups.

 

MARK 16:15

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Go into all the world  Πορευθέντες ες τν κόσμον παντα  Once again this introductory phrase is an aorist participle, denoting that the action happens at the same time as the verb κηρύξατε  which is the word “preach” or “proclaim.” As with the former example, the idea here is that the act of proclaiming the gospel should be concurrent with the going. In contemporary circumstances like the ones we find ourselves in this seems impossible. What we have done is to separate being somewhere and the idea of proclaiming the gospel. We go to a lot of places on most days and don’t even think about proclaiming the gospel, let alone to every person. I would suggest that both our sense of inadequacy and the power of our culture to intimidate has successfully caused us to shut up shop. In addition to this, most of the small number of people who remain committed to “preach the gospel” do it in such a way that we feel embarrassed and ashamed. They are either corny or operate like social misfits, immune to the reactions and attitudes of the people around them. We often feel they do the gospel an injustice by their insensitivity. It might be hard to admit, but it is nonetheless true that in most cases we don’t have any concept of what it might look like for this command to be happening any week in our world. And we are mostly unwilling to find out.

to every created person πάσ τ κτίσει The scope of our task is further identified with these words. A check of various translations will demonstrate that slightly more references to “all creation” and slightly less use the phrase “to every person.” Each of these is valid. What makes the second of the two the more likely is the context. If the command of Jesus refers to the natural world of earth, sea and sky, then we should all be getting ourselves to the top of a high hill somewhere and calling on the trees, waters, air and animal world to put their trust in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t compute at all. If it is personalised, then our objective is to bring the message of the gospel to every person created by God. That IS consistent with what Jesus modelled and also the apostles. This is a compelling reference to the idea of incarnation. We are being told to go INTO EVERYONE’S WORLD. This is exactly what Jesus did. He became so powerfully incarnate that when he began to be revealed as the Son of God, the people in his got so angry that they wanted to kill him – such was the absurdity. They had watched him grow up for nearly thirty years and not once did he give any indication he was anything more than the son of a Nazareth family. Perhaps the insight of this form of Jesus’ commission wants to urge us to remain planted in the “world” with people who are lost from God. So often people come to know Jesus and from then on their social lives are totally lived in some kind of “church-world.” They socialise exclusively with other Christians, they send their kids to Christian schools, and even though they might work and play where lost people are, they don’t intentionally invade their world with loving presence so that lost people get to see, hear or feel anything that would enable them to be connected to Jesus.

And we need to note once again that the command uses the word “all.” For our plan to be true to what Jesus has said, we need to embrace a plan that can see the gospel proclaimed to everyone. As I have said before: if it is family, then everyone in the family. If it is a suburb, then every home in the suburb. If a town or city, then everyone in the city. If a nation, then everyone in the nation. When everyone in every nation has heard and experienced the gospel in a generation our work will be completed. Until that point, we have work to do. In our case, it is not just the work itself, but it is a matter of getting ourselves extracted from all of the things that consume our time and attention that will never contribute to this cause.

 

 

LUKE 24:47

And repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

to all nations  ες πάντα τθνη Literally, ‘into all of the people-groups.’ Much of what has already been said above will apply in this version of the commission of Jesus to the disciples. The fact that the author uses the word, “his” which means “into” gives a strong sense of incarnation. The command is for us to go and become an integral part of some people group with the express goal of proclaiming the message of repentance and forgiveness. Once again the scope is ALL. Every single people group will need missionaries who go there with specific intention. In a culture and society like the one I live in, so much emphasis is placed upon what is self-serving, safely within self-proclaimed comfort zones and strictly self-determined. We do what we want when we want with whom we choose. We construct our comfort-driven worlds around a whole bunch of preferences that have nothing to do with God’s loving intention. To accomplish this, we need to craft churches where it is acceptable to attend where it suits, be involved when it is convenient and to be affirmed in selecting or deselecting our involvement based upon our own preferences. In doing this, our churches operate pretty much on the same basis as every other voluntary organisation – its just that ours revolves around tokens of worship, prayer, Bible study and activity that reference Jesus. He is not revered and passionately followed Lord, but has been domesticated by our cultural preferences to become our panacea.

What would begin to change all of this would be for us to ask the question, “What could we begin to do that if we kept on doing it, would see the message of repentance and forgiveness proclaimed to every people-group in our region, and then to all of the regions beyond?” This would involve us in the task of identifying the people-groups where we already have connection and involvement and then identify further people groups so that we could pray for God to raise up missionaries prepared to “go into” those groups with the express purpose of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness. We would judge our progress on how many times this message was proclaimed, what percentage had yet to see and hear and how we could reach those to whom we had not yet connected. We would unite with others to achieve this goal, and we would pray simply because without Holy Spirit power and miracles it would never happen.

Repentance and forgiveness μετάνοιαν ες φεσιν μαρτιν These two factors are consistent with the core message Jesus proclaimed. He called on people to repent[1] and he offered forgiveness[2] I think these two experiences have been keelhauled by streams within the Christian church that take the view expressed so graphically by Jonathan Edwards in his famous revival sermon: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”[3] In this sermon, Edwards described God by saying that he was angrily dangling sinners like spiders at the end of a web over the fires of hell warning them to repent. The problem with this idea is in the fact that it is wholly unsupported by anything found in the life and ministry of Jesus – who was, after all, the full expression of the nature of God and the exact representation of his being.[4] I hold the view that the concepts and meanings of words in the New Testament will best be understood by seeing how they work in and through Jesus and then through apostolic testimony (Acts, Letters and Revelation). If you have a look at the way Jesus called people to repent, there is no instance where Jesus was angry to the point of dropping someone into hell unless they grovelled like a grub. He challenged people to change the way they thought, the way they lived and the word they trusted. Likewise, forgiveness was not measured by the number of tears or the look of anguish. Zacchaeus experienced forgiveness when he realised that Jesus offered redemptive love. The woman caught in adultery was sent away with a simple command. The man let down through the roof similarly received a blessing from Jesus. The forgiveness was the power to walk away from the past and to walk boldly into the vocation God had planned. There was no assuaging of divine anger and no placating of wrath on Jesus’ part. That doesn’t mean there could not be tears and flowing emotion. We learn from Hebrews that Esau’s problem was that he had the tears, but no determination to change his loyalty or his trust.[5]

This form of the great commission makes it clear that the gospel message will always come with a challenge to the strong-willed independence found in all kinds of people – but very obvious in us Aussies. The gospel is a call to change direction, to turn away from the past ways and to be set free from past failures and foibles. It is the decision to place trust in Jesus. Then it is the determination to live according to his commands.

 

JOHN 21:21,22

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This version of the commission is quite unique in both contexts as well as content. In terms of this research, there is little direct information about the scope of this command. There are similarities of course. My way of seeking understanding has been to notice ALL the pieces of information given and to interpret them as if they were the only pieces of information I had at my disposal. That provides stage one of my process. Then I add this cache of stand-alone information to the other passages and allow it to either confirm what others have made known or add to it.

As the Father has sent me        καθς πέσταλκέν με  One small word can point to a substantial matter. I speak in this instance of the word “as.” Remember that these words were spoken at the time of the last supper. What followed was the events leading to the cross, the resurrection and then forty days of special appearances. When Jesus said “as……..” he referred to everything they had heard, seen and witnessed each day of the three years since they were called to become followers, disciples and the apostles. Their task was to replicate the values, principles, strategies and objectives Jesus modelled. It is the same for us. I think those among us who seem prone to focus on one of many peripheral and often speculative issues need to keep referring to words like these from Jesus. Our work needs to replicate his no matter which generation or which culture we happen to be a part of. Jesus is the template. The experiences of Acts and the insights of the other New Testament letters can only give a sharper picture of what Jesus started. They do so in their own culture and century. Jesus must be our primary hermeneutic principle. Only he is the image of the invisible God and the exact replication of God’s nature and purpose. Some ministries seem to build their foundation on Old Testament “shadows”[6] at the expense of the “reality” that is only found in Jesus. Other streams of theology seem to make sections such as the Letter to the Romans the window through which they look at both Jesus and the Old Testament. I am convinced that it must begin and end with Jesus – as the author and finisher of our salvation.

In the first place, we need to sense the same commissioning that Jesus modelled day after day: “my food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.”[7] Instead of being riddled with fear and hesitation we should boldly represent everything we know from God. Jesus never defended truth, he just proclaimed it and allowed it to carry its own authority. We often seem to think that we have to dress up the truth revealed in Jesus to make it palatable to errant self-indulgent western philosophies and culture. Every time we do, we depend less on a work of the Holy Spirit. So often we substitute genuine anointing for human ability. Even if we win an argument, we can lose the real battle. Our battle is for the honour of sonship and daughterhood of God. Often we appeal to people’s minds when we should be appealing to their hearts. Our struggle is for the honour belonging to Jesus as the King. Often we reduce him from being a loving king to be served to a servant who will give us whatever we want.

Jesus showed that serving the kingdom involved seeking to embrace the Father’s initiative, not asking him to bless ours. It meant depending on the full measure of Holy Spirit power and presence, not on human skill and crafted human strategies. Jesus set out to visit every town and village in Galilee and Judea. We should make it our business to offer the kingdom to every part of our own regions and to support others in reaching theirs. Jesus seamlessly kept three contracts: (a) with anyone who came and those he visited, to give them the very best of the kingdom of God. (b) With twelve disciples whom he trained to become apostles and (c) his appointment with the cross. We should read Philippians 2 until it becomes our conviction and then to allow the conviction to become our testimony. Jesus’ story needs to become our story.

All of this and more will need to shape the way we do things. More and more our story needs to evidence the elements that were the core of Jesus’ story. We need to be sent, not choose where we go. We need to learn to do what Jesus did and embrace what we may not prefer. We need to know how to offer the kingdom message and kingdom ministry to anyone and everyone. We need to raise up and multiply disciples. We need to keep an appointment with a place, a time and an event where we can say like both Jesus and Paul, “It is finished.”

 

 

ACTS 1:6-8

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It must have been an amazing forty days following the resurrection. Jesus was appearing to individuals and groups – Paul tells us, that on one occasion he appeared to a crowd of five hundred people at one time. Forty days is nearly six weeks. And we know what the curriculum was. It was precisely the same subject as he taught for the three years leading up to the cross – namely the kingdom of God. The passage quoted here gives the briefest of summaries as to what was going on, we could say, the “headlines.” What we do have is a record of the last thing the disciples said to Jesus before he ascended. They didn’t know he was ascending of course, but their question, “Are you going to restore the kingdom TO ISRAEL?” is the last question they asked. In the original Greek, the form of the question presumes the nature of the answer. This question assumes a positive answer. Translated in a way that makes this clear in English, they would be saying, “You ARE going to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time, aren’t you?” If you think about it, the very question showed that they had basically missed what Jesus had been saying and doing for three years. They were thinking Israel-centric and Jesus was thinking God-centric. This is what happens with almost every renewal or reform movement. It starts as a force for new and ends up defending what has since become established.

Jesus’ reply is the answer to the question they were not asking. I wonder why the text doesn’t record Jesus tearing his hair out at this point and giving them a stiff rebuke. They were still looking for the kind of Messiah longed for by traditional Judaism – kick out the Romans and let Israel become God’s headquarters on the earth. Another way of putting this would be to say – when are you going to show everyone that we were right and they were wrong? When are you going to give us the status we deserve since we are the people you like best?

Instead, he characteristically points them to what was the more important matter. As implied by the first part of Jesus’ response, he doesn’t deny that there will be a time when God’s people will rule on the earth. [8] In my mind, this must refer to the new heaven and the new earth spoken about in Revelation 21. Until then, carrying the testimony of Jesus to the ends of the earth in the power of the Spirit needs to be our primary purpose.

To paraphrase what Jesus said: they are to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes they are to begin a strategy that will see the gospel (making Jesus known OR ‘my witnesses’) made known in three successive phases: first among the people who are like us and are here where we are (Jerusalem) and then to the people like us who are a little further away (Judea), then to the people who are different from us living next to us (Samaria) and finally to all the people-groups we have never known and who may live a long way from us (ends of the earth). I have paraphrased Jesus’ words in this way to provide a simple universal application. I don’t live in Jerusalem. I live in Canberra. A lot of different people involved in missions have made their own comments about the way this version of the Great Commission provides a simple strategy. I have opted for the idea that the words carry both geographic as well as sociological value. It was even more so in the time when the words were first spoken. Where you lived was not just about geography. It was about culture and belonging. Not that it makes much difference to the task in the end.

Our purpose in this paper is to allow the Great Commission statements to inform our decision to fulfil the desire and command of Jesus. We don’t get to choose the scope of this plan. We can’t just wait for people to come and ask us. We can’t just go to the people we like the most. The only boundary line that can be drawn for such a plan will be the one that includes ALL. All the world, all nations, every created person, the ends of the earth. As soon as we hear what Jesus has said, we become aware that we need to be in unity with a lot of other people and work together with them. We also become aware that we need the power of the Holy Spirit. We also become aware that there are powerful barriers and strongholds that, though often unseen, will need to be overcome.

 

 

RESPONDING TO THE COMMAND OF CHRIST

If what Jesus has said is true/we need to embrace what Jesus has said in the words of the great commission statements I need to have – or be part of – a plan to proclaim the gospel to

–     everyone in my household

  • – everyone in my extended family
  • – everyone in my neighbourhood
  • – everyone in my town or city
  • – everyone in my nation

–     everyone in all of the nations.

  1. If we are to take responsibility for ALL in those categories beyond

Brian Medway

October 2018

[1]         Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew. 11:20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed because they did not repent.

Luke 13:1-5 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Luke 15:7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

[2]         Luke 5:20-24 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

John 8:7-11 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

[3]         This sermon was preached by Rev. Jonathan Edwards in July 1741 in Enfield Connecticut USA as one of the catalytic events sparking a revival in the New England area o the United States and became known as the Great Awakening.

[4]         See Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1

[5]         Hebrews 13

[6]         See Hebrews 1:1-3

[7]         See John 4:34,35

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

[8]         I am aware that there are a variety of views about this. Some people still hold the view that God will rule on the earth from geographical Jerusalem and political Israel. Given my commitment to the view that the kingdom of God defines the people of God, I think the ruling on earth is best described in Revelation 21, 22

CONTENDING WITH THE ENEMY (4) LUKE 5

TURNING UNLIKELY STARTERS INTO SUCCESSFUL FINISHERS

 

Luke 5:27-32

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

INFORMATION:                                                                                                                      ALL THE PIECES OF STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

After this,

Jesus went out

and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi

sitting at his tax booth.

“Follow me,”

Jesus said to him,

28 and Levi got up,

left everything

and followed him.

29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house,

and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.

30 But the Pharisees

and the teachers of the law

who belonged to their sect

complained to his disciples,

“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus answered them,

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor,

but the sick.

32 I have not come to call the righteous,

but sinners to repentance.”

 

MEANING:  

THE INFORMATION IN MY OWN WORDS

  1. The incident happened after Jesus left the house meeting with religious leaders
  2. He went out to the road saw a toll collector named Matthew/Levi
  3. He was sitting in his toll booth
  4. Jesus invited him to become his follower.
  5. Matthew/Levi got up from his seat.
  6. He left everything he had with him where it was.
  7. He followed Jesus.
  8. Afterwards, Matthew/Levi held a grand banquet at his house
  9. Jesus was the honoured guest.
  10. A large number of fellow tax collectors and others were eating at the banquet.
  11. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law who were part of their group complained to Jesus’ disciples.
  12. They ask why Jesus and they, themselves broke the Jewish tradition of not eating with tax collectors and sinners.
  13. Jesus heard them ask the disciples this question and answered their question.
  14. The sick people need the presence and help of a doctor.
  15. Healthy people don’t need a doctor.
  16. I have not come to tend to the people who consider themselves to be righteous.
  17. I have come to call those who know they are sinners so that they are able to repent.

MESSAGE:                                                                                                             IDENTIFYING ENEMY PRESENCE AND WORK

It was quite a few years ago now when we began to ask a very simple question about the community spheres where we lived and worked. We wanted to know how we could best identify the way the message of the gospel could impact each particular sphere. If you think of the gospel stories, they could easily describe difference “community spheres” where the presence of Jesus had influence. It isn’t difficult to tabulate a list of differences. All you have to do is to identify what it was like before the Jesus said or did something and then see what was different afterwards. We tried to figure out a way to quantify that difference. This was the question:

“If the kingdom of God fully came to this sphere, what would be different?”

In most cases, we could write down a list of things without any difficulty. This question needs to be followed up by another question,

“Why are these kingdom of God things not happening?”

The answers to those questions will expose the work of the enemy of God. It is the enemy identified by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6: “principalities, powers, rulers of this world’s darkness and spiritual wickedness in heavenly realms.”[1] We are told very explicitly that the primary cause is not human. It is the work of a spiritual adversary. We are told that we should not fight against humans, but against the spiritual forces that have captured them and used them. The shape of this battle is for the spiritual forces to be destroyed and the humans redeemed. When we have identified how the rule of God’s kingdom would look and what is happening to prevent that rule being established, we then need to know which weapons to use to pull down strongholds and set captives free. Those weapons are identified for us by Paul as sevenfold: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God and prayer.

The story of Jesus meeting up with Levi (who I will refer to as Matthew for the sake of simplicity) is one of the most powerful life transformation stories in the whole of the Bible. When we read the story five different entities: individuals or groups of people are highlighted:

Jesus the Messiah/King of the kingdom of God: his presence is the nearness of the kingdom. The work of that kingdom will only be accessible through him.

  1. The disciples are raw recruits learning to serve the work of the kingdom of God. We don’t know how many were with Jesus at this time. We do know that Peter, Andrew, James and John were definitely there, but perhaps others as well.
  2. Matthew who is a tax collector: tax collectors were Jews who had colluded with the Roman authorities to collect taxes and other fees. They were despised not only for their link to the Romans but because they were dishonest, robbing from their own people by extorting more than they were due. As far as the religious leaders were concerned, not only were the tax collectors and sinners defiled and unclean but anyone associating with them was considered as equally defiled and to be shunned.
  3. Matthew’s friends: they are described as tax collectors and sinners. They were all people who were rejected by the orthodox religious leaders who thought they were honouring God by despising and rejecting them.
  4. The religious leaders: Pharisees and teachers of the law who belonged to their sect. These were the conservative custodians of traditional Jewish religion. They believed the law was given in two forms, as written down by Moses and as oral law given to godly leaders down through the centuries. For them, pleasing God was based on strict adherence to traditional rules and practices. They saw Jesus as a lawbreaker and a heretic. They believed that his power to heal and cast out demons was derived from the devil.

HOW THE ENEMY SHOWED UP AT THE TAXATION OFFICE

  1. Matthew’s lifestyle. Here is a man who was willing to serve his own greed by betraying and stealing from his own people. It was more important than family, friendships, social interaction and the synagogue. It was backed by the cruelty of Roman governance. The Romans achieved the ignominy of being the greatest torturers and the cruellest rulers of history to that time. That authority guaranteed Matthew’s power to extort wealth from already impoverished people. Matthew was sitting at his toll booth on the road. Most probably it was the road built by the Romans along the western side of the Sea of Galilee. His job was to collect the toll (much like we used to have at the beginning of our freeways. He would also collect a form of import duty for goods being taken to further markets. His presence there represented a very tangible symbol of the greed and corruption we see everywhere in our world today.
  2. Matthew’s friends’ lifestyle. When Matthew threw a party to introduce all of his friends to Jesus, it was a collection of people whose flaws and lifestyles were rejected by the religious status quo. People who are rejected find some comfort in each other’s company. There wouldn’t have been any community elders or leaders present. No one who wanted to maintain religious purity would have gone near the place. So this was a gathering of all the rich rejects. It would have been very unlikely that there would have been any poor people present. This was a gathering of the “impoverished wealthy people.” When greed and corruption are the common denominators, there will always be a maze of unusual social connections. These connections will usually be there because they play some part in promoting the greed and corruption and keeping the wheels of the systems oiled and running.
  3. Religious Leaders   The sad irony of this group was the fact that they would have seen themselves as being pawns in the work of God’s enemy. They considered themselves to be experts in what God liked and didn’t like and were the ones who defended what God liked and opposed what God didn’t like. All the while these sad sincere people were getting in the road of the greatest work of God ever known in the history of the heavens and the earth. Jesus describes this in a discourse that exposes the failure of the religious system that had become a tool in the hands of the enemy rather than a light shining in the darkness. This is one of the things Jesus says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”[2]

It’s not hard to see the universal application here. Most of us know or know about people like Matthew and his mates. There will be a scale here, some more and others, less. The same goes for the social networks around Matthew. They are familiar to us as well. We are all too familiar with religious hatred and sectarian destruction. When people assume they have achieved religious status, power and privilege they often involve systemic elitism. This will form a foundation for condemnation for other groups and individuals who don’t agree with them. All of these exist in every community and generation. All of them are symbols of the potency of God’s adversaries. Remember, we are not talking about the people themselves, but the spiritual forces influencing and enslaving them. In this story, the purpose of Jesus is to overcome the power of the real enemy so that all “flesh and blood” involved get another opportunity to be rescued, reconciled and restored to their God-ordained vocation.

HOW DID JESUS USE THE SEVEN WEAPONS TO ENGAGE THE ENEMY?

TRUTH/UNSEEN REALITY

Matthew was sitting at the toll booth on the road heading south along the western shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was a typical day. He was collecting tolls from the people using the road and customs and excise taxes from people who with taxable goods. Even though the people from whom he collected the money were his own people, he used his power and influence to extract more than was due. Like his Jericho counterpart, Zacchaeus, his wealthy lifestyle was built on the foundation of corruption and intimidation. He paid a high social price for his greed. He was hated by his own people, cut off from the synagogue and always under suspicion from the unpredictable ruthlessness of Roman occupation.[3] He could have easily been voted as the most unlikely citizen in Capernaum to become a passionate servant of God.

Think about the message that was communicated to him when Jesus of Nazareth stood before him, not to pay his taxes, not as yet another potential source of legal and illegal income, but with a simple invitation. Well, was it really an invitation. It was a royal command. There was no discussion and no explanation. Here was the loving Son of God offering a greedy, immoral traitor the opportunity to serve him. The truth that was uncovered for all to see on that day was the fact that prior record has no bearing on merit in the presence of the redemptive love of God. While almost every sector of humanity can’t help assessing someone on a given scale of worthiness, the invitation from God is to step into another world; a world where the accumulation of sordid, culpable guilt can be washed away in a moment. Matthew saw and heard this love, and it changed his life forever. The man who would cheat and oppress innocent people for personal financial gain ended up writing an account that would make Jesus known to every generation to come and die in Ethiopia because he would not stop proclaiming that same message.

We must make the point here that it was the devil who convinced Matthew that it was okay to beat people up to get their money and it was okay to betray his own people by becoming an agent for the Roman occupation. On that day only one man made the desire and will of God known. The simplicity continues to mess without heads, but the power of unveiled reality is unmistakable. On that day the devil totally lost his grip.

As Matthew got up from his chair, left his moneybag under the table and walked off with Jesus, every last kingdom-of-this-world attitude and assumption was challenged. Some people would have been amazed, others indignant. It is unlikely that a single person in the sphere would have approved. But that’s because they had a clue of what the kingdom of God is like. Their shock should be a lesson to us. We should not only NOT be shocked but should be longing to be able to see the next person that comes into our presence as God sees them, not as our culture and background has taught us to see them.

RIGHTEOUSNESS

Surely we don’t have to say too much about this that hasn’t already been said. Jesus was God on that day as he was on every other day. What Jesus did was what God was doing. What he said was what God was saying. What he wanted was what God wanted. Our difficulty with this incident is that we almost have to put some kind of caveat around what happened. Just imagine what you might have said if you were Jesus’ senior advisor and, on coming to where Matthew was doing business, Jesus said, “I’m going to offer that man a place among my twelve chosen apostles, what do you think?” What are you going to say? You are going to tell him its a bad idea. You’re going to explain that such a move would be interpreted as endorsing the immoral and horrible things tax collectors are doing. You’d also point out that having an ex-tax collector in the team would only fuel the aggression of his opponents. There were enough questions already, with a bunch of low-life fishermen in tow. All of those things would have come directly from the kingdom of darkness. The love of heaven demands that all people receive indiscriminate doses without exception or diminution.

Wherever selectivity, preference or scale of values exist we are describing the kingdom of this world, not the environment of heaven. Jesus loved this man and called him to follow because he loved him. It’s the same for you and the same for me. Remember that Jesus’ invitation/command to Matthew was not, “Matthew, continue living as a greedy, dishonest traitor and I will endorse your destructive way of life.” It was “Matthew, follow me.” In the moment, it involved a choice between walking away from everything he had previously valued. The only thing that will ever make such a decision a safe one will be when it involves righteousness like that of Jesus – pure, holy love; completely trustworthy and fully able to deliver on every promise. And, by the way. The fact that the righteous Son of God was standing in front of him meant that all the power and influence that had locked him in a prison whose walls were built on greed, dishonesty and injustice rendered that enemy powerless. That’s why Matthew could get up from his table and walk away after Jesus.

GOSPEL OF PEACE

Well, the gospel of peace was undoubtedly proclaimed that day. My working definition is as follows: “When the nature and purpose of Jesus Christ are made known in a way that enables a person to decide to follow him, the gospel has been proclaimed.” On that day the Person standing in front of him was offering him a clear choice. We know of at least one other occasion where a man stood before Jesus, heard Jesus and then walked away. We have noted before that the weapons will often overlap and in this case they do. The revelation that the closest relationship with Jesus is offered regardless of background and on the basis of simple obedience (to the King) IS the gospel presentation. The fact that Matthew died serving Jesus in Ethiopia is testament to the power of the gospel to neutralise the lies that had created and then maintained the prison he had lived in. Matthew got born again that day.

FAITH

Reread the story and look for the things that Jesus was trusting God to do. Then, the exercise of Jesus faith that day will become clear. Another way to look at it would be to ask what the risks were in what Jesus was doing. Here is another question, “What change happened that day as a result of Jesus addressing a simple command to a Galilean low-life (in the opinion of the general population)?” Or yet another question, “How could the change in Matthew’s life have come about without any risk?” All of these point to the fact that Jesus was trusting God to do something on the basis of his faith initiative. Remember what Jesus said to his Father in the prayer recorded in John 17:

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. ……….. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”

Jesus was confident that his Father would “give” him a number of individuals in whom he would invest his own life so that they would multiply disciples throughout the nations. There was a contract between them. Jesus would tell them everything he knew from the Father, and they would respond with faith demonstrated by obedience. Jesus’ faith was evident on the day he stood before Matthew and challenged him to become a follower/disciple. I know we would feel more comfortable if this was framed with some form of sovereign guarantee, but on earth, no guarantee exists. All of us can say “No” if we choose to do so. Jesus exercised faith in his Father’s promise, and Matthew walked away from his table full of money. When that kind of faith stood in Matthew’s sphere the enemy’s power to serve up lies was broken, and Matthew walked free for the first time in his life.

SALVATION:

I have been trying to make the point that the idea of “salvation” as a weapon of war has everything to do with the state of our relationship with the Father and Son. Salvation is the word that describes the restoration of a relationship that was meant to be there from beginning to end. We were given life on this earth to live and children of our heavenly Father. We are created in HIS image to carry his PRESENCE and fulfil his PURPOSE. When we stray from that, we lose our identity and our eternal significance. The only home we will ever truly belong to is the one where God is our Father and where we are members of the family working in the family business. Being born again is a term that describes the start of that relationship. The environment of Matthew’s tax table was imbued with toxic and destructive assumptions. He was a dirty rotten sinner, hated by God and shunned by his own people. If lightning had fallen from the sky and struck him down, the people of Capernaum would have rejoiced that God’s justice had been served. It was Jesus sense of assurance and his whole identity as Son of God that allowed him to live completely free of that attitude. When he walked up to Matthew, he wasn’t thinking any of those things. He was living out of the culture and climate of heaven. That’s why he kept on doing things that shocked those whose only experience was the kingdom of this world – even if it was a religious kingdom that supposedly honoured God. When we live as citizens of the kingdom of God and see ourselves as living in a foreign land, we can bring the environment of heaven to wherever we happen to be on the earth. The challenge is to allow salvation to have its way with us. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds till we think and reason and desire like God and not like other people.

WORD OF GOD

Just imagine a conversation between the Father, God and his Son Jesus as he walked from the house and approached Matthew’s tax collection table. Remember, Jesus had lived in this world for thirty years before beginning his ministry. There wasn’t an aspect of the culture of his day, and there wasn’t a prevailing point of view that was foreign to him. As a fully qualified human person, Jesus had the same choices as we all have. When it came to Matthew and tax-collectors and sinners alike, Jesus would have been familiar with that prevailing viewpoint. Matthew was to be avoided, even shunned. God hated him, and the only thing he could look forward to was more money, more luxury until God vented his displeasure by judging him. From another point of view, Jesus could have thought that Matthew was potential bad publicity. It would be better for his reputation as the Son of God and for the success of his ministry to pass by on the other side and thereby avoid the risk. He already knew the religious leaders disapproved. And he had just been in a room full of them. The reason he didn’t listen to any of that comes down to the fact that he WAS the Word of God because he HAD the Word of God. Whether it was represented by a text from the Scriptures of the present voice of the Holy Spirit, Matthew was the next item on the kingdom of God agenda. He had to challenge the demonic stronghold that had locked Matthew in a world of disapproval and hatred. I suggest that this Word was so seamless in his life that there was no hint of hesitation. Same for him, same for us. When the Word of God becomes seamless in our lives, (whether written or by Holy Spirit presence), we will have the drop on the devil every time. This may be my imagination, but I doubt that the devil suspected that Jesus would attack the little stronghold he had built around Matthew’s life. This surprise attack was successful – as will ours be when we do the same thing.

PRAYER

I have written on this issue before. I can only point you to what has been said on the matter in previous of these postings. Jesus didn’t pray at the time. He did pray all the time. It was prayer that produced this kind of incident. Not a religious commitment but the outworking of a primary relationship. His daily life was shaped by his prayer life, and his daily life shaped his prayer life. We seem to so easily abstract prayer from ministry. We have produced a plethora of Christian tribes who pray but don’t do any ministry, and we also have a bunch of people who do ministry but don’t pray. When we pray we not only have fellowship with the Father and the Son, but we become directly involved in smashing enemy activity. It is not the air strikes that pave the way for the infantry. It is the infantry paving the way for the infantry. God doesn’t have an air force, just has soldiers on the ground who know how to engage the battle by engaging with their commander in chief.

 

THE OUTCOME

The success of this battle is pretty simple and clear. Matthew was a full-blown story of enemy victory. The enemy had encouraged and enabled Matthew to set aside a whole range of normal human warning systems to become the greedy, dishonest traitor he was. Demonised values defined his world, and his social world was made up of others similarly enslaved. There is something about this story that annoys me though. I don’t think I have ever witnessed a contemporary experience where this kind of thing happened just as it did that day in Capernaum. Before we use the old chestnut, “Well this was Jesus, the sinless Son of God and those things happen for him but not for me,” we need to note that there are no special conditions attached to this incident. And we know that Jesus did the same thing with Peter, Andrew, James and John. We could ask, “Did Jesus do the same thing with every tax collector?” The answer is, “He didn’t.” We are going to read about a banquet he attended in the next section. As far as we know no further disciples were enrolled at that event.

I want to return to the question, “What was it that made Matthew’s response a worthy one?” We all know that he was responding to Jesus, not just another ordinary citizen from the town. If you were approached by someone you didn’t know and they said to you what Jesus said to Matthew, no one is going to tell you it would be good and wise to get up, leave everything and go. What makes Matthew’s response a worthy one is the fact that it is Jesus, his loving King who is doing the asking. The Creator is standing before the created being. The author and finisher of faith is inviting him to embrace his God-ordained destiny and vocation. To respond to such a Person in this way is the ONLY worthy choice. When you have brain cancer, and a brain surgeon calls you to place yourself completely in his hands, it is a worthy response to say “Yes.” It is (usually) a foolish person who says, “No.” When your mechanic tells you the noise in your engine means there is a problem and asks you to leave it in his hands to be fixed, the worthy response is the same. As then and still the same today, the Son of God stands humbly but powerfully before us and calls us to follow him as King. Only a fool would say “No”, and only a bigger fool would say “Yes, but on my terms.” Jesus deserves our pure and sincere devotion. He is loving enough, powerful enough, good enough, trustworthy enough. We must not hedge our bets and have “two-bob each way.” When we do the enemy always wins. When we abandon ourselves to him the enemy always loses.

[1]         See Ephesians 6:12

[2]         Matthew 23:13-15

[3]         There is some conjecture as to whether tax collectors like Matthew worked for the Romans directly or for the puppet ruler, King Herod. Either way, they were the meat a very tenuous political sandwich.