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.

CONTENDING WITH THE ENEMY (3) Luke 5

CONFRONTING THE ‘ELEPHANT’ IN THE ROOM

Luke 5:17-26

17One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 21The 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?” 22Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralysed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

STAND ALONE PIECES OF INFORMATION

17One day Jesus was teaching,

and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there.

They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem.

And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.

18Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat

and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.

19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd,

they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd,

right in front of Jesus.

20When Jesus saw their faith,

he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

21The 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?”

22Jesus knew what they were thinking

and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?

23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?

24But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

So he said to the paralysed man,

“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

25Immediately he stood up in front of them,

took what he had been lying on

and went home praising God.

26Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.

They were filled with awe

and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

SUMMARY IN MY OWN WORDS
  1. Jesus was teaching people in a house
  2. There were many Pharisees and teachers of the law listening to him in the house.
  3. They had come for the purpose from every village in Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. It was a significant crowd of religious leaders.
  4. The power of God was present in Jesus to heal sick people. He was able to heal people from their sicknesses no matter what kind or type.
  5. Some men came bringing a paralysed friend whom they carried on a mat.
  6. They tried to get inside the house to place him in front of Jesus.
  7. The house was so crowded, and the people who had gathered there were not willing to let them inside.
  8. They took the man up on top of the roof.
  9. They removed the roof tiles and lowered him into the middle of the crowd on his mat.
  10. He was positioned right in front of Jesus.
  11. Jesus saw and affirmed their faith.
  12. He turned to the man and told him his sins were forgiven.
  13. The Pharisees and teachers of the law took offence because he had offered the man forgiveness.
  14. They regarded it as blasphemy because forgiveness could only be given by God (and in their view, Jesus was not God).
  15. Jesus knew what they were thinking.
  16. He asked them why they were thinking about such things in their hearts.
  17. He asked them another question: which would be the easier thing to say: be forgiven or get up and walk.
  18. He told them he wanted them to know that he, the Son of Man had authority on earth to forgive sins – in other words, he was God in a human (Son of man).
  19. He told the paralysed man to get up, pick up his mat and go home.
  20. Immediately the paralysed man stood up in front of them.
  21. He picked up the mat he had been lying on.
  22. He went home, praising God.
  23. Everyone in the house was amazed.
  24. They all praised God for what had happened.
  25. They were filled with a sense of awe.
  26. they said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

 

 

WHAT WAS THE WORK OF THE ENEMY AND HOW DID IT BECOME KNOWN?

Much like the previous story, this one gives another example of a situation where there was a more obvious and a less obvious manifestation of the enemy.   The more obvious one came in the form of the paralysed man. The counter-attack on this man’s condition began when his four[1] The friends decided they were going to get him in front of Jesus no matter what. Their persistence is publicly honoured by Jesus and should stir all of us. The picture of four people deciding to go to war against the disability of their mate needs to fill our own hearts with a similar determination – to make sure the people around us and in front of us get “brought to Jesus.”  Just think about it. He was teaching, and the crowd was largely made up of religious leaders, dignitaries from all over Galilee and Judea. In the middle of the teaching, four men start ripping off the roof tiles and then lower him on a mat. Jesus says nothing by way of frustration, or offence. Don’t tell me they performed the whole operation without bits and pieces of roofing dropping on the heads of the people closest to Jesus. Maybe Jesus also had to dodge a few missiles. When the paralysed man finally made it to the ground, the four friends were looking down through the hole to see what was going to happen. The fact that Jesus called their intrusion “faith” must have been a bit of a shock to a few of those present. The gospels have a special place for the actions of pesky people.  They must have wondered from the beginning of the scratching above why Jesus simply allowed it to keep on happening. I think they would have expected the “teacher” to have considered the action to be intrusive or shameful – perhaps worthy of a rebuke. I can think of a few important teachers who might have got a bit upset. Instead, Jesus tolerates it. When the intrusion had completely disrupted the teaching session, Jesus applauds them and calls what they did “faith.”

The text makes a significant reference to the fact that “God’s power was present to heal the sick.” It’s a bit of a mysterious kind of statement. You have to ask why that particular fact was mentioned. If we read the rest of the gospel, there were many other occasions where Jesus healed everyone who came with any kind of sickness, but on those occasions, there is no specific mention of a special anointing for healing. So was there ever a time or place where the power of God was NOT present with Jesus to heal the sick? It seems to me that the statement was there for a reason other than to tell us that Jesus could heal people. What makes this even more likely, is the fact that when the man was brought for healing, even though the power was there for healing, Jesus doesn’t just heal the man. Instead, he offers to forgive his sins. Where did that come from?

The answer to this question will be clear if we identify the more subtle presence of the enemy in the room. I refer to the highly concentrated presence of so many Pharisees and teachers of the law. Just think about it. The gathering involved Pharisees and teachers from a lot of different places: all around Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem. That was some roll-up. They were not there to be part of Jesus’ cheer squad. They were there to validate their view that he was a heretic, a troublemaker or demon-possessed or someone who was out to destroy the traditions upon which their world was based. They were the protectors of that system. You only have to look at what Saul of Tarsus was doing as a Pharisee. He was going from town to town jailing and even killing people who were followers of Jesus. That’s how serious it is.

There is a point in this story that I would call the “kingdom of God tipping point.”[2]. I think such a point exists in almost all of the stories in the Gospels and Acts. All the stories are about normal human circumstances. In that situation, the presence and work of the enemy becomes apparent. Jesus says or does something that turns an ordinary story into a kingdom of God story.

I think that point in this story occurs when Jesus chooses to say to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” [3]instead of saying “Get up, pick up your bed an go home.”[4] And the reason he said these words is made very clear: “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”[5] This is a kingdom of God tipping point because it is the point at which the primary agenda of Jesus becomes obvious. It is also the point where he attacks the other work of Satan in the room, i.e. the sad conclusions the religious leaders have made about the Messiah they have all been waiting for. Consider the poignancy of this moment. All of them have longed for the coming of the Messiah, but their compromises and manipulations have produced a set of preconceived notions of the “messiah” of their own making, rather than the one spoken about in the Scriptures. Here they are, the custodians of the covenants. Standing before them is Jesus, their Messiah – but they are not only unable to see what is in front of them, but are in the early stages of preparation that will oppose him to the death. It is not a stretch to think that some of those present may well have been among the group which accused him before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.

It has always been tragic to see sincere and committed people who believe in God become engaged in the work of opposing his people and purpose. It has happened so many times. I doubt that there has been a work of God anywhere that has not witnessed opposition from the very people who should be the ones to cheer it on. We have often quipped that the most likely people to oppose something God was doing were the group of people who were the pioneers of the most recent previous move of God. The Catholics opposed Reformers. Reformers opposed evangelicals. Evangelicals opposed Pentecostals. Pentecostals opposed charismatics. Most of it has to do with protecting what is regarded as hallowed distinctives. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of variations on this theme built around just about every Christian difference. Most of it comes from the kingdom of darkness. It is mostly destructive, not redemptive. As such it is the presence of the enemy, not of God. We need to look carefully at the way Jesus wrestles not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and rulers of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness.[6] Let me tabulate these according to the weapons identified by Paul.

TRUTH

My research of the stories from the Gospels and Acts has uncovered the fact that Jesus uses truth as a weapon in a very distinctive way. The truth he makes known is not just sprouting a proposition. What he does is to make known something that is a present accessible reality of the kingdom of God that is not visible or obvious in other ways. Translating from another language always involves choices. There are two English words for the Greek, “alētheia”[7]. One is “truth” and the other, “reality.”

A deeper look at the ministry of Jesus and of the apostles would make the second of those two alternatives as the more correct.  Jesus doesn’t sprout propositions at the enemy.  In a given situation he makes known reality that can’t be seen and that Satan wants hidden or at least obfuscated.  He commonly helps them focus on the part of the whole reality that will keep them from encountering the presence and purpose of God. In this story, Jesus deliberately sets aside the idea of using the power of God to heal in order to show the religious leaders something about himself: namely that he is God, and Messiah (Son of Man). He does it by announcing that the paralysed man is forgiven. This is in a crowd full of people who know that only God can forgive sins. He says something that he knows is going to stir them up.

When they are stirred up with the notion that Jesus has just done something only God is supposed to do. His offer to heal the man is not just so to free him from his disability but as a sign to all present that he is God/Messiah. Jesus’ Messianic identity is not seen. It can only come by way of revelation. But Jesus is challenging the stronghold that had blinded them from seeing what was in front of their eyes. Their long-awaited Messiah had come. Their King had come. They just needed to see that Jesus was the king foretold in all of the Old Testament references, not just a few selected on the basis of human preference. This new kingdom was not one that would raise an army and kick the Romans out. It was one that wanted to heal and rescue Gentiles and Jews, and to offer them a place in the kingdom alongside any other person who decided to follow Jesus. The unseen reality Jesus was made known was the reality of him being the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The devil has no power when that proclamation is happening.

RIGHTEOUSNESS

We must not limit the word righteousness to the metaphor of the legal system. Justice is indeed one facet of righteousness. But the broader, everyday understanding of righteousness is doing what is right. In the life and ministry of Jesus, we see righteousness more commonly as a tangible presence of the love of God. I would define it as indiscriminate redemptive love. Jesus loved people. He genuinely loved them. He motive was love, and his actions and intentions were loving. He valued people and wanted them to be whole and complete. He wanted them to fulfil their God-ordained vocation as serving sons and daughters of God.

To get a perspective on the indiscriminate redemptive love shown by Jesus in this case you have to have a good look at what is going on in the room. It is full of people who don’t like him. They are out to get him. They are listening to his teaching not to gain understanding but to find fault. They are taking notes that could be used in a religious court against him. How would you feel with that kind of audience? A normal person would either be looking for the nearest exit, play it safe, be entirely intimidated – and so on. You might want to take the opportunity to tell them off. But Jesus loved them. In the first place, he went ahead with his teaching. He most likely taught them about the kingdom of God. He didn’t change a single point. He was free from their imposing presence. Then an interruption happened. The roof started to get opened up. Even though there was power for healing and even though he could have simply performed healing, his love for these sincerely mistaken leaders was such that he played out the whole agenda just for their benefit. Instead of making the four friends the heroes and making the paralysed man well he wanted to bring freedom, joy and hope to the hardest group of people from Dan to Beersheba.[8] He wanted them to realise that the Messiah had come. Even though these people were his enemies, he actually loved them. His love became apparent, and that love was greater than the power of enemy deception coupled with human weakness. The presence of that love challenge and neutralised the power of the deception. The end of the story tells us how. The devil has no answer to the righteousness that was modelled and pioneered for us by Jesus. When we choose to set aside our hurts, our pain, the injustices and all the rest – and when we choose to love people because they need it rather than whether they have earned it, the devil loses, and everyone else wins. I like that outcome to battles. It takes courage and love, but it wins.

THE GOSPEL OF PEACE

What was the gospel Jesus proclaimed that day? The message of this story was to the crowded house full of religious leaders (and others no doubt). The message was that the Jesus who had been teaching them, who had honoured the faith of the four friends, who had offered forgiveness to the man who wanted to be healed and who challenged the religious leaders to repent and believe the good news and then demonstrated the power of God to heal the sick person – WAS THE MESSIAH. What they saw and heard that day was enough to give them a basis for choosing to embrace this message. My working definition of the gospel goes like this:

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.

In the case of the friends, they began with some faith and their faith was affirmed, so they would have had the opportunity to believe and follow.

In the case of the man who was healed, he received forgiveness and then was healed. He knew what Jesus was like and was able to follow him.

In the case of the religious leaders, they saw Jesus demonstrate his authority to forgive sins (i.e. by the demonstration of divine power to heal the paralysed man), the sign that he was God/Messiah. They had enough evidence to make a verdict.

FAITH

Jesus was able to trust that God’s power would not only heal the man but give the religious leaders an opportunity to step out of their religious unbelief. He knew God’s power was present to heal. He knew the healing would happen. He was able to use that assurance (faith) to reach out to stubborn hearts. He offered that plan before there was any evidence of it happening. If faith is the substance of things hoped for, Jesus had the substance. If faith is the evidence of things that you can’t see with a physical eye, then Jesus had that evidence to the point where he let some friends mess up the roof and interrupt his teaching session so that they would get the chance to see and hear the power of God.

SALVATION

As with other weapons in this list, a pattern has formed through my research concerning the idea of salvation as a weapon. Salvation is the work of God that comes about as a result of responding to the message of the gospel. That gospel message is about being rescued from estrangement to God – reconciled to him. We are restored as adult sons and daughters to the household of God.[9] The experience of salvation fully restores us to God and the family/household. When we embrace this gift, we discover that it is what we were always created for. Our search for identity and significance in all of the substitutes provided by the “lost-from-God” world order will never be a fit. As such they will always break and disfigure something about us that is sacred and worthy. We are created to be sons and daughters of God; end of story. Sadly so many of us who decide to follow Jesus don’t allow him to do this work. We stick to the counterfeits of human success, money, ability, popularity, fear, emotional prison and the rest. When we come to a place where our foundational significance and identity is in our relationship to the Father and the Son, we will be free – free to relate to others without trying to gain our significance and identity from them. Free to engage in a career and use our skills without having to get our sense of significance from it. Free from the pressure to conform to the opinions and fantasies of the moment. When we embrace the gift and import of salvation in Jesus, we find our home base: security, identity, significance, self-worth. The lot.

Of course, Jesus didn’t receive this as a gift. He always had it. He is eternally the Son of God. But his thirty-plus years on this earth were lived totally from the home base of his relationship to his Father.[10] As such he is the model for us to copy. As He IS, so our experience of salvation should be.

When you think about the environment in that house – full of people who were committed adversaries on a campaign to demonise Jesus you will get some idea of how his relationship with his Father enabled him to offer redemptive love freely. He gave them their best chance of realising the truth – that he was their Messiah. It takes a massive measure of relationship security to live in the midst of your enemies as a full and free son of God. That’s what was made possible through Jesus’ relationship with his Father. To him, they were not just enemies to be treated with disdain, contempt, aloofness, guardedness etc. They were enemies that needed to be loved. And Jesus deliberately switched the agenda that day so that they would see and hear the very best of heaven’s redemptive heart. When Jesus said the words, “…that you may know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” and then healed the paralysed man it flowed out of freedom based on sonship. It was made possible only through the security and assurance of that Father-Son relationship. It will be the same for us. The enemy as no defence capable of standing against this freedom.

WORD OF GOD

I think there are two ways we can see Jesus acting out of the knowledge of what God has said. I have said in previous segments that Jesus only did what he saw his Father doing. In John’s gospel that fact is referred to four or five times. In John 5 Jesus says, “The Father loves the Son and shows him all he is doing.”[11] We also know that Jesus lived by revelation from the Father. He explained that to the devil in the desert. [12] His lifestyle, attitudes, motives, words and actions were all an expression of what God had said. That’s why he could give the two disciples on the road to Emmaus a Bible study on how the whole of the Old Testament pointed to him – especially what happened on the cross. So Jesus knew about loving the people who didn’t like him and were opposed to him. He didn’t do it as a legalistic obligation. He did it because the Father’s love for them was inside him.

I am going to suggest that there was a point in the story where Jesus heard his Father’s instruction directly FOR this situation. When the paralysed man needing healing was in front of him, and when the power of God was there to make him well, Jesus turned a healing agenda into a “revelation of the Messiah” agenda. He switched the focus from the paralysed man to the religious leaders. I think that was an unexpected change that came about because he was following the leading of the Spirit, not just responding to the faith of four friends and their paralysed mate on the floor. It is common in the Biblical stories for a natural expectation to be set aside in favour of the supernatural agenda. I could quote examples here, but I’m sure you can think of any number from your own knowledge of the stories. Jesus lived by both the written word – we would say, the Bible, as well as what God was saying in a given situation. We need to follow the exact same pattern.

written word – love your enemies and do good to them.

spoken word – I want you to use this man’s healing to show the religious leaders that you are the Messiah. Instead of merely healing him, I want you to forgive him. That will get their attention. When you have their attention, demonstrate to them how you have authority not just to heal but to forgive, showing that you are God/Messiah.

PRAYER

It is somewhat ironic that the one weapon that most people would associate with spiritual warfare is prayer and when Jesus was engaged with a room full of his chief opponents, he didn’t pray at any time in the process. If I said to a group of Christian people, “Let’s go and do spiritual warfare” the assumption would be that we would be going to a prayer meeting.

Prayer is undoubtedly a weapon in this arsenal. We need to use it as Jesus did. He spent a lot of time in prayer. He sneaked out in the early mornings. He went and found remote places. His way of praying was so different from anything the disciples had seen that they asked him to teach them to pray the way he prayed.

On one occasion Jesus spoke to Peter and said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” [13]. So Jesus was contending in prayer all the way along. But that prayer was happening as a foundational part of the regular lifestyle, not generally in situ. There was an occasion where Jesus has a prayer time in the midst of a situation. At the tomb of Lazarus, he talks to his Father just before he issues the command for Lazarus to come to life and walk out of the tomb.[14]

I think we should do things the way Jesus did. His lifestyle involved constant times of prayer. They happened outside of the ministry situations, but it was these times that gave him direction, shaped the motives of his heart, provided encouragement and most of all, beat up the enemy.

THE OUTCOME

We need to ask the question, was the battle Jesus fought in that house successful or not?

First of all, we know the man who had suffered from the work of the devil was both forgiven and healed. His exceptional mates didn’t have to carry him home. Instead, they all walked home together.

What about the religious leaders? Did they realise that day that the teacher standing in front of them WAS the Messiah? We don’t know. What we do know is that they were all amazed and realised that they had seen some wonderful happening. Regardless of whether they became followers or not, they went away from that meeting with something lodged in their experience that they could never deny nor forget. And when they remembered it, they didn’t just remember that a paralysed man got healed. They remember that Jesus had said, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So much for the Holy Spirit to continue to work on. When we read in the early chapters of Acts that “a great number of priests became obedient to the faith” [15] I am prepared to believe that some of them might have been in the room that day. I am willing to believe that the enemy’s power to deceive through decayed and compromised religious tradition was held in check even if for a short time.  That time gave opportunity for some people to see something that real but otherwise invisible.

[1]         The number of men is not mentioned in this account, but the account in the gospel of Mark tells us that there were four friends.

[2]         Tipping Point is a term used to identify the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place. Websters Dictionary

[3]         See v. 20

[4]         See v. 24

[5]         See v. 24

[6]         Cp. Ephesians 6:10ff

[7]         ἀληθείᾳ

[8]         Dan is one of the northernmost towns of the province of Galilee and Beersheba is the southernmost town of Judea – actually just over the border in Idumaea.

[9]         This is what Paul speaks about in Galatians 3:23-4:7

“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

[10]       The Gospel of John is the record that reveals the relationship between the Jesus and his Father more than the others. If you get hold of a good concordance, you will find that there are more than a hundred references. If you want to discover the fullness of your salvation and learn how to use a potent weapon against the enemy, go look at them and embrace everything you see there as part of your inheritance.

[11]       See John 4:19-

19 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 doin20g, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all, he does.

[12]       See Matthew 4

3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

[13]       See Luke 22:31,32

[14]       See John 11:41-43

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

[15]       See Acts 6:7

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

CONTENDING WITH THE ENEMY (2) Luke 5

DETECTING THE ENEMY:  OBVIOUS AND NOT-SO-OBVIOUS

Luke 5:12-16

12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 15 Yet the news about him spread all the more so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

GETTING ALL THE INFORMATION

When we read a particular incident like this one in the Gospel of Luke, it is important to notice all of the information given to us. If the story IS the way God’s message is presented, we need to allow all of its information to contribute its part. The story IS the MESSAGE, and the MESSAGE IS the story. The way I get that information is to put each new piece of information on a new line. This way I get to notice everything I am being told and avoid the temptation to focus on some parts at the expense of others. Here is how this story looks as a list of each piece of stand-alone information.

12 While Jesus was in one of the towns,

a man came along

who was covered with leprosy.

When he saw Jesus,

he fell with his face to the ground

and begged him,

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

13 Jesus reached out his hand

and touched the man.

“I am willing,” he said.

“Be clean!”

And immediately the leprosy left him.

14 Then Jesus ordered him,

“Don’t tell anyone,

but go, show yourself to the priest

and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing,

as a testimony to them.”

15 Yet the news about him spread all the more

so that crowds of people came to hear him

and to be healed of their sicknesses.

16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION

My most common way of understanding the information is to write it down using my own words. If I don’t understand the meaning of a phrase or a piece of information, I might go and look up a Bible Dictionary, or a Bible Atlas, or the meaning of a word using Young’s or Strong’s Concordance. You will find meanings of specific words there. This information needs to be seen in the light of the particular incident or passage. The context will always give the best basis for choosing which meaning a word might have – or a phrase. Don’t start interpreting or applying yet. We need to get the full download of information first. If you have to read over a number of times in order to notice how each piece of information fits, that’s okay. The idea is to allow the Bible to speak to you, not make it say whatever is most suitable to your own preferences or experience. Think of all the occasions in Christian history where wonderful, sincere people missed what was being said because of their preconceived assumptions and cultural blinkers. The Bible will be revealing the kingdom of God to us, not the best human reasonings. So I’m going to put the information in my own words and not try and figure out what it all means just yet.

  1. This incident happened in one of the towns of Galilee.
  2. A man came to where Jesus was whose whole body had become leprous
  3. The man recognised Jesus.
  4. He fell on the ground with his face to the earth.
  5. He started begging Jesus.
  6. He told Jesus that he was aware that Jesus had the power to heal him
  7. Jesus told the man he wanted to make him well.
  8. Jesus commanded that the leprous man be healed.
  9. Immediately, the leprosy completely left his body.
  10. Jesus gave a particular instruction to the man.
  11. He told him not to tell anyone how the healing had happened.
  12. He instructed him to go and show himself to a priest to confirm his healing.[1]
  13. Along with presenting himself for inspection by the priest, he was to take the sacrifices prescribed by the law of Moses[2]
  14. this act would confirm the validity of his healing. (i.e. a testimony)
  15. Even though Jesus had told him not to tell anyone, the news spread widely – about the fact that it was Jesus who had healed him.
  16. As a result of the spreading of this story, crowds of people came to hear Jesus speak
  17. They came so that Jesus would heal their sicknesses
  18. The crowds became so constant that Jesus had to withdraw from them to remote places to spend time in prayer.

HOW DID THE PRESENCE AND WORK OF THE ENEMY BECOME KNOWN IN THIS SITUATION?

Serving the kingdom of God will, by definition, require us to dispossess incumbent enemy presence. We also need to be able to see a “new creation” happening in place of the old. A quick look at “day in the life of this world” will put beyond any doubt that there is a destructive “will” at work. We come seeking for the “will of God” to be established. Another “kingdom” has taken over. So, our task of seeing “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,”[3] will be seriously contested. It happens in two ways. First of all, there are things which are good in an of themselves but are incomplete. The devil wants to stop the completing process. When a baby is born, he or she is amazing and beautiful, but not complete. Every parent knows that the work of getting from good to complete is a monumental task, yet every decent parent wants the journey to go from good to complete. We are like that as followers of Jesus. We are on a pathway to fullness. The church is the same. It is on a journey to become the fullness of Christ. Apart from that, things happen that destroy the goodness that IS there and bring corruption and destruction. Personalities are scarred, emotions are damaged, physical bodies are ravaged, relationships become destructive – multiply that with the suffering caused by war, famine, poverty and you can get a good picture of the nature of the enemy, based on the fruits of his work. This enemy is at work everywhere, every day. When we start serving Jesus, we are challenging the power that created the mess and wants to make an even bigger mess. Being aware of enemy presence and work is sometimes apparent and at other times, very subtle. We will get an idea of each of these types in this story.

In each of these cases, it is usually not the extreme things we are likely to overlook or fail to notice. It is more likely to be the subtle and culturally respectable destructive forces (e.g. arrogance, covetousness, independence, division, self-indulgence, materialism are a few of many). Many of these come by way of our various cultures and become a form of “collective captivity.” Like the frog in the kettle, we often don’t notice what is going on until the destruction has reached a tipping point.

We see examples of this happening here. The most obvious presence of the enemy’s work in this story is a man who, through no fault of his own, contracted leprosy. This disease has not only affected his body, destroying flesh and numbing nerve endings but has caused massive social isolation – hatred, humiliation and estrangement. You could hardly get a more fitting example of the nature of wickedness. The last part of the story illustrates a very different form of evil presence. It is much more subtle and harder to identify. In fact, I think a lot of people will doubt that it is important at all. We are made aware of this by noticing what happens after the healing. Let’s deal with the first of the two.

HARD-CORE ENEMY PRESENCE                The presence of evil as leprosy.

Leprosy wasn’t the “cancer” of the first century, but there are significant parallels. I worked for a short time in a Bible College set up for people with leprosy in north-eastern Thailand in a town called Khon Ken. It is the only time in my life I have lived amongst lovely people (most of them young) who were infected. Most of them had stumps for fingers and toes. I remember seeing the signs placed over the sink and the stove in the kitchen telling them that it was hot because they could put their hands on a hot stove and it would burn their skin without them knowing. I remember seeing them take notes with a pencil poked under a strap tied around what was left of their hand. Even though they were not shunned quite as forcefully as their counterparts in Galilee in the first century, they were still together at a segregated Bible School. Sickness and disease can only be the work of the devil. The only place where there is none is in the new heaven and the new earth.[4] When God’s will is fully happening, there is no sickness.

We need to point out something significant about this exchange. When this man sees Jesus in the road (or wherever in the town he happened to be), he is ready to declare his faith. He is sure he has a disease. He knows Jesus has the power to heal him. On that basis he falls down in front of Jesus and makes these statements:

  1. I know this sickness is wicked and unfair (a la ‘sinful’ or ‘from the devil) – that’s why I am seeking healing
  2. I know you have power from heaven to destroy the disease and make me well.
  3. What I don’t know is whether you want me to be well.
  4. I am begging you to decide in my favour.

This kind of profession would find ready counterparts no matter what generation or location. The view that sickness should be eradicated is largely universal and not confined to people who believe and follow Jesus. The second statement would be true for most of those who do follow Jesus. The third is still a matter of some conjecture. Those Christians who commonly pray for sick people to be healed (e.g. Pentecostal/Charismatic) have to live with the reality that everyone who gets prayed for doesn’t get healed. The gospel stories have no record of sick people coming to Jesus and/or the early church and NOT being healed. We do have a reference from Paul that Timothy suffered from a recurring illness.[5] Some theories of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ suggest either physical disability or sickness.[6]. The overwhelming posture of the New Testament presupposes sicknesses being healed. There is a strong case for the idea that the healing of sicknesses should be considered as part of the outworking of the covenant of salvation.[7] There is another stream in the Christian church that prays for healing but presumes that God now doesn’t want to make sick people well. There is a third group who assume that it is quite wrong to pray for healing. All three groups have their problems. My own preference is to stick as closely to the expectation created by the New Testament. We then need to live with the fact that there will be occasions where we will do everything we know by way of seeking God’s power to heal, but without satisfaction. We are then left with the opportunity to pray and seek God for the answers rather than allowing our pagan culture to make us satisfied with the power of human medicine (which I also believe in, by the way).

When the man asked Jesus to make a decision, there was no hesitation. Jesus not only answered the healing question but answered the social question as well. He could have just spoken to him from a distance. All of that would have seemed perfectly reasonable to everyone present, especially his disciples. Jesus made sure the man knew the attitude and motive of his heart. He is the incarnate Son. His heart is to fully identify with sick and broken people at the very point of their brokenness. It is a prophetic sign of an event that would mark world history – his death on the cross. There, we see the ultimate expression of incarnate love. Jesus, the one without sin fully embracing total human sinfulness, so that we would have the opportunity to reconnect with God and discover the divine vocation for which we were created. [8]

The point of this part of the story is that Jesus treated the sickness as an enemy. There was to be no appeasement plan, no ‘detente’ and no need for further deliberation. Leprosy was a work of the enemy. Consistent with the nature of wickedness, it had indiscriminately attacked this man and stolen his physical and social well-being. The response of the kingdom of this world was to both exclude and reject him. When someone is shunned or excluded, still say they are being “treated like a leper.” The life source that flowed through Jesus was from the kingdom of God. Not only did he declare his willingness to heal, but he reached out and touched the man. This was as important a part of the healing process as the other. He was able to feel divine esteem and embrace. We have so much homework to do on this matter. The kingdom of this world is quite capable of offering medical solutions entirely devoid of human love and care. It becomes a business, or even worse, an ego trip for doctors. And notice the sequence here: first the touch, then the command. First, love and then power. Love is the only environment for the power of God to work safely. We so easily get side-tracked on the power kick. It is a testimony to the way our humanity gets twisted. Jesus demonstrates that the first and foremost item on the agenda is that this man is to get a full dose of heavenly love; then he deals with the work of the enemy.

The weapons of warfare in operation

We are using this incident as a case study of how weapons of war as deployed by Jesus.  The battle is against the presence and work of a spiritual enemy[9], In Ephesians 6, those weapons are identified as: truth/reality, righteousness, the gospel (of peace), faith, salvation, God’s word and prayer. I don’t want to suggest that this list is exhaustive or that all seven weapons need to be deployed at the same moment to have validity. I have noticed that there are overlaps – i.e. one action might represent more than one weapon.

  1. TRUTH/REALITY Jesus makes known two things that can’t be seen, even though they are both real and present at that time, in that situation: (a)the leprosy is a manifestation of the kingdom of darkness. Its power to remain or resist should be broken and the man’s body restored to full health. (b) God loves this man irrespective of this disease. He is not under judgment but sovereign grace. He is not to be treated as worthless or dangerous. He is to be esteemed and embraced. Both of these are beautiful revelations of truth/reality. Jesus is the only one present who knew these unseen realities. Sadly, almost everything that the people already believed covered or opposed these truths.  When Jesus courageously proclaimed them they created a weapon that the enemy has no power to resist.  All he could do was to restate what people had believed and accepted in the past. The advance of the kingdom of God will always confront a destructive past defending itself against a redemptive future.
  2. RIGHTEOUSNESS: As I have said, these actions overlap. The righteousness here happens when Jesus touches the man and tells him that he wants him to be healed. Those who can only think of righteousness in some quasi-legal sense can miss its most common form, modelled by Jesus every day. He loved people, indiscriminately and redemptively. It didn’t matter who or where or when. They got loved. It didn’t matter what, this love gave them an opportunity to be rescued and restored. It is the intention and motivation that spell out the righteousness of the actions. It is easy to see how this becomes a powerful weapon.  And we know that it is a weapon Satan has no power to resist.
  3. GOSPEL OF PEACE: When you think of the way disease ravaged this man’s life. Think beyond his own plight to his family and the others who loved him. Think of the pain of being socially outcast and judged. This approach by Jesus and the invitation offers peace with God, but also peace on all those other  fronts: peace from suffering, peace with people etc. The enemy of God has no power to stop someone from accepting the gospel invitation, but it has to be proclaimed to be accepted.
  4. FAITH: Jesus exercised faith for the man to be healed. I can recognise a small measure of this kind of faith, but a lot of this is way beyond me. As a weapon here, Jesus challenged the sovereignty of the disease by exercising his own authority as the Son of God.  As we can see, the enemy had no power to resist.
  5. SALVATION: There is no doubt that faith and salvation are linked closely together. As the leper approached, Jesus was moved and motivated out of his unity with the Father. When Jesus responded to the man’s request, his response was entirely drawn from the heart and will of heaven. There was no fear, the man’s condition didn’t intimidate him. The prevailing cultural views and values didn’t influence him one bit. It wasn’t that he consciously did the opposite for the sake of doing the opposite. He did no more or less than tangibly represent the presence of his Father, God. He made the heart and the will of God evident to all. This is how the weapon of salvation deals with the presence of darkness and destruction. It takes away all fear and sets us free to be fully involved in the Family business.
  6. WORD OF GOD: I may be guilty of repetition here, but we know because of many references in the Gospel of John, that Jesus ONLY did what he saw the Father doing. He took no initiative on his own. The Father told him what to say and how to say it.[10] This means that whenever Jesus said anything, it was based on what he heard from his Father. Whenever he did anything it as because he was following the initiative, he saw from his Father. The teaching and actions that followed were the results of revelation, not reason or debate or popular opinion. Satan has answers for all of these. He has no answer to something God says from heaven.
  7. PRAYER: Again, we don’t see Jesus praying at this very moment. We do know that prayer was part of his lifestyle. The importance of times and places for prayer in the life and ministry of Jesus will become even more apparent in the next part of this very story.

SOFT-CORE ENEMY PRESENCE

Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (v.14)

This is a great example of how we need to look at all of the information in order to understand the message. Just think of it, a leper has been miraculously healed. His whole life and his future have been restored. If this man had been healed in a meeting where I was the preacher on the day, I’d want to tell the story everywhere. I would do a documentary and interview everyone who knew him, before and after. I would be careful to give the glory to God of course, but at the next meeting of my leadership team, I would want to know how we could get this man’s story on local television. Soon all kinds of new people would be coming to “my church.” If I were the leader of an itinerant healing ministry, it would headline the next five newsletters. I would put video clips on YouTube with links from and to our website. It would be the reason I would ask people to put their names on our mailing list and support the ministry financially. A healed leper would validate and commend everything I stood for – to the glory of God, …………of course.  How easily we confuse what brings glory to God with what validates and promotes us.

But, Jesus ordered the man to tell no one how he was made well, or who had healed him. Why?

We could all have a guess. Opinions on this matter have produced a whole string of theological debates. The topic was called the “Messianic Secret.” A Lutheran theologian called William Wrede.[11]  He started the ball rolling about a century ago. He thought that Jesus deliberately avoided drawing attention to his identity as Messiah because of the prevailing default view. Traditional ideas about the Messiah had him pegged as royalty, coming from King David’s line. They were expecting a military leader of royal blood to gather an army, kick out the Romans and establish Israel as the world power. No one expected him to break cultural traditions, hang out with sinners, upset all the authorities and go to the cross.[12]

My own way of answering the question is to look at all of the information given in the story. It comes from an assumption that these stories were told and passed on as individual units of revelation about Jesus and, as such, were self-contained. That is, the information given as part of the story provided its context and therefore made sense on its own. It is true that the collection of these stories makes up a bigger story, but that doesn’t mean the small story has to wait for the big story in order to have meaning. It carries its message and meaning. This message should be allowed to retain its importance. For example, in western culture, we like to analyse and systematise everything. When we do, the process will often rob stories and exclude pieces of information just because they don’t fit our systemic preferences. Let each story speak for itself, I say.

What we are told in this story is that Jesus gave the man who had been healed from leprosy three clear instructions. First, he was not to tell anyone how he had been healed or who healed him. Second, he was told to follow the instructions in the law of Moses for people with contagious diseases. The priests were the ones to assess whether or not a person was healed and therefore fit to return to mainstream society. Finally, he was to bring the offering that would signify his thanks to God for the fact that he was healed. To get a sharper look at this, we should ask the question as to what would have happened differently if the man had done what Jesus said. He would have arranged to see the priest for an inspection. The priest would have declared him healed and he would have been allowed to return to his home and family. He would also have brought the stipulated offering. The name of Jesus wouldn’t have been mentioned. Life in that village and the surrounding villages would have continued with the joyful exception of one man, who with his family would have enjoyed the rest of his life free from the curse of leprosy. Jesus would have continued to minister to people within the parameters of normal village life – enhanced by the quiet but advancing presence of the kingdom of God.

I know it sounds crazy to people from our culture, but the kingdom of God doesn’t need a celebrity profile to be successful. It needs disciples multiplying disciples and creating quiet waves of kingdom advance: healing, reconciliation, kindness, forgiveness, love etc. I point to the most significant revival since the beginning of Christianity. China has experienced revival for sixty years without depending on a single headline, without legal status and without political favour. The same is true for the other parts of the world where the gospel is exploding: Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and Algeria. These are the fastest growing churches. In our society, we get excited when some Christian event receives a fifteen-second mention on the TV news and think that the kingdom will come when two or three more Christians are elected to the Parliament. Within the Christian bubble, we rave about comparatively successful churches, and we tell and re-tell their stories. We love celebrating certain personalities and exalting them to a status that is rarely warranted. As modelled by Jesus, such strategies and values do not represent the kingdom of God – which starts silently like a seed in the ground or yeast in flour but ends up impacting everything in its sphere. We have to wean ourselves off our non-kingdom-of-God substitutes and learn this until they become as irrelevant as they are impotent. Jesus didn’t need to become a superstar. Not in the human sense. He just had to finish the work he came to do. A popularity contest was never part of that agenda, nor was a slick publicity campaign.

The second impact of enemy presence comes in the form of sincere human frailty. Jesus gives three commands. We don’t know whether he kept the second and third – there is no reason to think that he didn’t. We know for sure that he didn’t follow the first; don’t tell anyone. I am aware that this particular version of the story makes the general statement about news spreading. In the parallel account in Mark’s gospel we are told that the man actively disobeyed[13] – I’m sure there was nothing sinister about this. Imagine how excited he was. The social media of the day was very effective even though there was no Twitter or SnapChat. The outcome of this disobedience changed the way Jesus operated. He could no longer travel on the normal roads or simply wander into one town or another. Mark’s version describes it this way, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. The people still came to him from everywhere.”

At the risk of being accused of exaggeration, I think this was as much a strategy of the enemy the more obvious ones. We are told in this passage that crowds of people went to extraordinary lengths to find out where Jesus was and followed him. On one occasion he set off in a boat to spend some time in the company of his disciples for a rest, but the crowds followed him, walking around the edge of the lake. On that day he ended up teaching, healing and feeding more than five-thousand people. Crowds and crowd management became a strategic problem rather than an advantage. You don’t have to think too long to understand how this strategy represents opposing darkness. When someone a celebrity there is always a cost. The fans or supporters have their own agenda – nothing to do with the agenda of the person they have ‘crowned.’ We see this very thing happening in the Gospel of John.[14] Ironically, at the beginning of John 6, they want to make him a king by force. By the end of this story, everyone except the disciples have left him.[15] That’s how crowd mentality works. I think the enemy planned to use “crowd mentality” to drag Jesus into the vortex of popular opinion and popular expectation. It is always self-serving by the way. That’s why it is demonic and dangerous. This is not to say that popularity itself is wrong. Popularity is neutral. What happens as a result of popularity will tell whether or not it becomes an enemy weapon. If we think that popularity is, of itself, a sign of the blessing of God, just have another careful think.

In this particular instance, Jesus wasn’t looking for free publicity, courtesy of the healed leper. He was interested in going to all of the towns and villages in Galilee and Judea to proclaim the kingdom of God. One of the ways unrestrained popularity hindered Jesus was to make it harder for him to connect with God. We don’t need to think too long to see the adversarial intention here. There’s only one person who wants to stop Jesus (and us) from the critical link between ourselves and our heavenly Father – and he seems to be able to do it very effectively, especially in societies like the one we have in Australia. When was the last time all of the private places in a given region were full up with people connecting to God? Jesus’ responsive strategy on this occasion was to spend more time in remote locations where it was difficult for crowds to find him. His relationship to his Father was THAT important.  When instant popularity happened, Jesus reworked his strategy.  He avoided crowds wherever possible and took deliberate steps to find remote and difficult places so that he could spend time in his Father’s exclusive presence.  That made his life more difficult, but it was his weapon against the way the enemy used the disobedience of the healed man.

It may not be crowds that make it difficult for us. There are more subtle and effective alternatives: we get busy with all kinds of things: at the respectable end of the spectrum are things like family commitments and career demands or sport and other recreational pursuits. At the other ends are things like blobbing in front of a TV screen or downloading a never-ending supply of movies on Netflix. As with all relationship matters, we are not talking about clocking up a set number of hours. If you ask the question, “How much time do you need to spend with your spouse or your kids?” there is no perfect number. It’s not about a number. The answer is, “Enough.” Sometimes more and sometimes not as much depending on what is going on. How much time does it take each week to maintain a close communion with God? The answer is the same: “Enough.” Enough to get answers to your questions. Enough to get wisdom on what to say and do in certain situations. Enough to make sure your life is being transformed by that relationship more than any other. Enough to make sure that the branches are getting their life supply from the vine and nothing else.

Jesus was called by God to go to every town and village to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. To put it another way, he had a series of appointments to keep: he speaks about it in the Gospel of Luke: ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ [16] He had a contract with ordinary people, to proclaim good news, cast out demons and heal sicknesses. After that, he had an appointment with infamy on an old rugged cross in Jerusalem. All the fame, popularity and the so-called “influence” it might presume would only ever hinder and oppose these goals. We have a similar appointment with the stepping stones to the fulfilment of our calling. The most important thing you need to do today will be something that comes from God. The most important resource you need is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The most important task will be making sure someone you otherwise have no obligation to gets something from heaven through you. The schemes of the devil will be at work to try and stop all of these from happening.

 

HOW DOES THIS ILLUSTRATE THE DEPLOYMENT OF THE SEVEN WEAPONS?
  1. TRUTH/REALITY If my observations of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles is correct, the “belt of truth” weapon mentioned in Ephesians 6 is not about sprouting the words of a creed[17], parroting a Bible text or doctrinal statement. Again and again, Jesus proclaims truth in a given situation by declaring things that can’t be seen, even though they are part of redemptive reality. In this story, when the leper is healed, Jesus does this by telling him not to say anything to anyone. As such he is proclaiming a kingdom of God value, namely, the kingdom of God will only be thwarted by the clamour of cheap popularity and the enemy will use it to try and prevent Jesus from carrying out his ministry, in particular, going to the cross. Crowds wanting to make him king by force[18] were only going to impose their own will, not seek the will of God.
  2. RIGHTEOUSNESS When the man who had been healed from leprosy disobeyed Jesus, the news spread like wildfire. Roads that were travelled by a few became filled with crowds craving a vantage point or an audience. Things were out of control. As stated previously, the plan remained unchanged. implementation of that plan just became more difficult. We are told in the text here and the parallel passages that Jesus didn’t become resentful, distracted, angry. He didn’t start complaining or playing the victim. He didn’t go and find the man and berate him. He changed the way he did things. He took harder routes in order to avoid the crowds. He had to go to more remote places to find places of prayer. The righteousness here is an attitude of peace and trust, knowing that regardless of what other people may or may not do, his Father would enable the work to be done regardless. No excuses, no blame shifting, no complaining. Just doing what needs to be done in another way. That is a rare but wonderful expression of righteousness.
  3. GOSPEL He continued to make the proclamation of the gospel his primary calling and task. He found other ways to do it. That’s why he could call on his disciples to understand that anytime was a time for harvest [19]. I so deeply feel this today, even without having all of the answers myself. I hear people talk about certain places as being resistant to the gospel – my own city among them. As such, churches and their members have turned inward or substituted the gospel with social welfare programs. Jesus made no excuses or apologies. With the change in his circumstances brought about by pressing crowds of onlookers and hopefuls, Jesus just did the same things in different ways. I want to find out how to do exactly that.
  4. FAITH When we start out to do something and find that “Plan A” is not going to work, we need to be like Jesus. God was always going to have a “Plan B” and “C” and “D” and “Z” and “ZA” etc. and etc. When the enemy rushes in like a flood, we need the faith to raise our “standard” higher. What we must not do is give up, turn aside, slow down, or go back. Jesus’ trust in his Father’s purpose never wavered. It just found the way for it to be fulfilled. He travelled along obscure tracks instead of the main road and walked five kilometres up winding tracks to find places to pray rather than going down the back yard. He still got to all the towns and villages to preach the gospel and he maintained his needed relationship with his Father. It was faith that made that possible. Disappointment will never be able to see the alternative route, nor will bitterness, nor will complaining – and all the rest. If one door is closed to us God will always have another door that, if we push on it, will open for us to continue serving him till the work is done.
  5. SALVATION Once again, changed and more adverse circumstances will always want to challenge our security and identity. We can feel isolated, feel like we have failed, feel disappointed or want to blame someone as am excuse for NOT continuing to do what God has called us to do.
  6. WORD OF GOD I reckon it is fully consistent with all of these gospel stories to presume the Jesus resolved every problem and challenge by seeking the counsel of his Father, God. I am encouraged by the fact that there is no occasion where God does not speak. Even when the people are totally determined in their disobedience, God still speaks. I have no doubt that Jesus sought his Father’s counsel about the problem with crowds of people wanting to block the plan – the resulting strategy wasn’t just a bright idea from Jesus, it was the revealed wisdom from his Father. We should have the same confidence.
  7. PRAYER And there you have it. All six of the seven weapons will only be identified in a given situation if we pray like Paul advises in Ephesians 6. I call it assault praying: in the Spirit, everywhere all the time, every different kind of prayer, and every request we can think of.

 

[1]         Following the instruction from the laws given to Moses

[2]         see Leviticus 14 for details.

[3]         Words from the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Matthew 6:10

[4]         See Revelation 21

[5]         See 1 Timothy 5:23 “23 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”

[6]         See 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

[7]         See Matthew 8:16,17 “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities

and bore our diseases.” Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 53:3 where the prophet is referring to the work of the cross.

[8]         See 2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

[9]         See Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

[10]       See, eg. John 5:19,20 “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. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all, he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these so that you will be amazed.”

See also John 12:49 “I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.”

[11]       This is a quote from the Wikipedia article under the heading “The Messianic Secret.”

Wrede proposed that the author of Mark invented the notion of secrecy to reduce the tension between early Christian beliefs about Jesus being the Messiah, and the non-Messianic nature of his ministry. However, Wrede’s idea of secrecy did not merely rely on the commands of Jesus but also involved the “Markan parable theory” of why Jesus spoke in parables.

[12]       This idea does seem to fit the reference in Matthew 16 where, when Peter answers Jesus’ question as to who he is by saying that he is convinced Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus instructs them no to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (V. 20)

[13]       See Mark 1:45 “Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.”

[14]       See John 6:15 “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

[15]       John 6:66-69 “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

[16]       Luke 13:32

“At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

[17]       There have been a number of creeds developed to summarise core Christian beliefs. The two most universal are the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.

You can find a list of Christian creeds at this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_creeds

[18]       See John 6

[19]       John 4:31-36 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “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. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”

CONTENDING WITH THE ENEMY (1) – Luke 5

 

The Gospel of Luke Chapter 5

ONE:     AN UNEXPECTED FISHING TRIP

Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

 

 

ALL THE PIECES OF STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,

the people were crowding around him

and listening to the word of God.

2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats,

left there by the fishermen,

who were washing their nets.

3 He got into one of the boats,

the one belonging to Simon,

and asked him to put out a little from shore.

Then he sat down

and taught the people from the boat.

4 When he had finished speaking,

he said to Simon,

“Put out into deep water,

and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered,

“Master, we’ve worked hard all night

and haven’t caught anything.

But because you say so,

I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.

7 So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them,

and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this,

he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,

10 and so were James and John,

the sons of Zebedee,

Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon,

“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

 

 

THIS INFORMATION EXPRESSED IN MY OWN WORDS

  1. This incident happened at Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
  2. Jesus was standing beside the edge of the Sea.
  3. People were gathering around him.
  4. He was teaching the word of God.
  5. He saw two boats at the edge of the Sea.
  6. They belonged to fishermen.
  7. The fishermen were washing their nets.
  8. Jesus climbed into one of the boats.
  9. It belonged to Simon.
  10. He asked them to put the boat out from the shore.
  11. He sat in the boat
  12. He taught the people who gathered along the shore from the better vantage point of the boat.
  13. He finished the teaching.
  14. He asked Simon to take the boat to where the water was deeper.
  15. He also asked him to put down the nets to catch some fish.
  16. Simon replied that it was a bad idea. They had tried to catch fish all night and had caught nothing.
  17. He added that out of respect for him (Jesus), he would humour him by letting down the nets.
  18. When they let down the nets, they were filled with fish to the point where the nets were going to break.
  19. They called their partners to come and help them pull in all the fish.
  20. The two boats were so full of fish that they were starting to sink.
  21. When Peter realised what had happened he fell down at Jesus’ knees.
  22. He told Jesus to separate from him because he (Peter) was sinful and Jesus was holy.
  23. He and all of his companions were overwhelmed by the supernatural work they had just witnessed.
  24. James and John were also amazed at what had happened.
  25. Jesus spoke again to Simon.
  26. He told him not to be afraid of the supernatural.
  27. He explained that in the future the same supernatural work would happen but with people, not fish.
  28. The fishermen pulled their boats back to the shore.
  29. They left everything to become followers of Jesus.

 

 


CONTENDING FOR THE KINGDOM RULE OF GOD AGAINST THE DEMONISED KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD

 

 

Jesus modelled the way we should engage in this battle and the gospel records present us with many different situations where the presence of the kingdom of darkness was made known and where Jesus advanced against that kingdom with weapons designed to neutralise the intention of the enemy and establish the rule of the kingdom of God. It is important to identify what WAS a work of the enemy and HOW Jesus engaged – not with flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”[1]

It will become apparent to any reader of the gospels that the presence and work of the enemy took on a great variety of forms. Some would have been considered respectable and honourable. Others were sincere and well-intentioned. My own reading of the description given in Ephesians 6 is that the work of the enemy can be known by any or all of four intentions: to control, to overpower, to obfuscate and to substitute what is good with what is destructive.[2] We know from other parts of the New Testament that, such is the subtlety, the enemy can present as an “angel of light.”[3]

The question is: How did the presence and work of the enemy show up at the lake near Capernaum on this particular day? Before you read my own observations, I would love you to read the passage again. The best way to do it would be to print out a copy of the text and use a highlighter to signify “enemy” presence or work.

Here are the places I would highlight:

  1. “Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.’” (5)
  2. “When Simon saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.’” (8)
  3. “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.’” (10)

 

 

  1. THE BATTLE AGAINST PRESUMED KNOWLEDGE BASED ON PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE

 “Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.’” (5)  

I am certain you have heard as many sermons on this passage as I have. I am equally certain that you have never heard anyone use this passage to teach about spiritual warfare (which I am calling “Combat Ready”). One of the other Biblical terms associated with spiritual warfare is the idea of “strongholds.” Paul refers to this in 2 Corinthians where he says, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” [4] Ed Silvoso has, perhaps, produced the best definition of a stronghold going around. He says it is “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable situations we know are contrary to the will of God.” [5] As Jesus taught the word of God to people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the presence of the enemy came neither from Roman soldiers nor from religious leaders. It turned up as a series of ideas in the mind of a fisherman who had believed everything he had been taught as a pious Jew. These ideas took a long time to form and were reinforced many times from early childhood. As a result, a kind of mental fortress was built. Inside the fortress were multiple ideas that became strong and never tested. Their power to dominate was completely unnoticed, but dominate they did.

The story rolls along in a peaceful and unhindered fashion at the beginning. Jesus walked beside the lake. People gather around to hear what he had to say. He started to teach them. More people gathered. It was getting harder for people to hear. Peter and Andrew’s boat was nearby and they were packing down for the day, cleaning their nets. For very practical reasons, Jesus asked Peter to allow him to use the boat so that the people could stand along the shore and hear what he was saying. Jesus finally concluded the teaching session.

The next bit creates the kingdom clash, and it is an extremely common human experience. Remember, Jesus is the presence of God’s nature and purpose anywhere. As such he represents the proximity of the kingdom of God. From the very first day of ministry, his message was, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news.”[6]  “Near” is a very important idea when it comes to the coming and presence of the kingdom. “Near” means accessible but not ineluctable. The words of Jesus make it clear: the kingdom of God can only be accessed through repentance and faith. Set aside the old idea that repentance is restricted to “being sorry for our sins.” We know from Esau that we are quite capable of being “sorry” but without any hint of repentance.[7] The best way to think about repentance comes from the two root words used to make the compound word in the original Greek: meta = change, noia = mind; that is, to change your mind or change the way you think about something). So Jesus is telling us that the kingdom of God is near, but it cannot be accessed unless we are willing to change the way we think about certain things. The message of the kingdom will always challenge us to change our ideas and commit to what the message is telling us. There is a choice to be made, and the result will be the outcome of that choice. I know this will not be shared by the people whose view of there sovereignty of God comes from John Calvin – or more so, his amplifying followers. The idea that human choice will always be at the direction of the divine makes a mockery of both divinity and humanity. We can see the exercise of such an option happening in this incident.

Jesus, the rabbi tells the fishermen to go fishing in a place where, under any normal circumstances, there would be no fish, at a time of the day when no one would be fishing. Add to this the fact that they had spent a long and frustrating night fishing in all of the likely places and the right time – but caught nothing. This is a classic clash. You could simplify it to a dispute between human reason(and experience) and revelation, but it probably needs to be understood more broadly. This is a life experience, not an intellectual debate. What happens when God says something that sounds crazy to a mind that has been formed by the thinking of the kingdom of this world (i.e. Satan’s kingdom). Everything inside that mind screams out an aggressive, “Nooooo waaaaay! Since when does a preacher know how to catch fish – and the idea that we could just push out a few yards and fish would come rushing to jump into our net is totally ridiculous.” You might have noticed that the Bible is full of stories like this. Before you start to justify every crazy idea as having presumed godliness, notice that Jesus started this battle by something he said.  The King of the Kingdom was making his royal presence manifest. We should take care to notice the full import of this statement. As Jesus was speaking these words, a flurry of marine activity was stirring beneath the surface of the lake, not far from where the boat had been parked. Even though there was no evidence to the humans involved, the rule of the kingdom was happening below. At this part of the process, Jesus was the only one who had access to this information but not through any of the physical senses, by human reasoning or historical precedent.

The struggle that rises up inside Peter (and no doubt the others as well) is resolved in an interesting way. Hands up those people who think that Peter fully believed they were going to catch fish based on what Jesus had asked them to do? I see no hands. The text provides us with the answer. Peter and his friends were astonished because, even though they were willing to tolerate the suggestion, they were convinced that there would be no fish. It sheds a significant bit of light on the matter of exercising faith. It tells us that faith may not always be a level of conviction that gives us psychological certainty about the ultimate outcome. Faith may well be a simple willingness to obey what Jesus says without any idea of the outcome. In other words, it is a bunch of actions, not mental attitudes. I think it would be correct to say that it is possible to have a full-blown mental assurance about something and be disobedient as much as it is (and was, in this case) possible to be full of doubts about the outcome, but be willing to obey what Jesus has said. Jesus actually told a story about this very issue.[8] He said a father told his two sons to go and work in the field. One said he would go but didn’t. The other said he wouldn’t go, but ended up going. His point was that many of the people listening to him thought that they had the monopoly on God’s favour just because they were Jewish, even leaders within the religious system. But they were not responding to what God had told them to do. In many cases, the people they despised as “sinners” were listening to what God was saying and were embracing the kingdom of God. It is another example of faith being expressed through obedience rather than any particular emotional feeling of assurance.

Just think what might have happened if Peter and the others had said, “No, this is stupid. We’re not going to humour such foolishness and waste our time.” There would be no miracle, no amazement and Peter might have lived the rest of his life as a fisher of fish in Capernaum. It might be easy to dismiss this presence of the enemy as unimportant. For us to talk about this incident as an example of spiritual warfare might seem an overkill. The fact is that it was powerful enough to prevent Peter from becoming the follower of Jesus we all know. It was so at that time and remains as powerful today. No doubt there are a lot of people who stay separated from Jesus because the things they have learned and the ideas and attitudes they developed as they grew up in a secular (demonically ruled) kingdom are believed instead of what Jesus says. I think it is among the most common daily forms of spiritual warfare and one that we need to be aware of, armed for and skilled in fighting against.

  1. THE BATTLE AGAINST FALSE VIEW OF GOD

“When Simon saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.’” (8)

As seemed to be his manner, Peter was the first and only one of the crew to fully embrace his failure. The first sign of the presence of the kingdom of God happened in the words Jesus had spoken. The second, was when they humoured Jesus by going through the motions of casting out the nets and found they were filling with fish. Their immediate reaction was a very fishermen-like one. They hauled in the fish and got their friends to join them. Energised from their all-night-nothing experience, they kept hauling and hauling. They had not seen so many fish. But the next part of the story is also revealing. Peter realised that Jesus was a holy man. He was obviously connected to God and therefore must be regarded as holy – like God is holy.

His actions have a certain irony about them. He was overwhelmed by his own sinfulness. He had regarded the suggestion of Jesus with unconfessed disdain. He probably considered Jesus as a preacher-man who knew nothing about fishing. This became the first occasion where Peter (and the others) saw Jesus exercise kingly rule over a sphere of nature. He was patently ashamed of his sinfulness. It is a testimony to the presence and nature of Jesus as a person that Peter did what he did. He scrambled along the boat to where Jesus was sitting and fell upon Jesus’ knees. The fact that he ran in that direction is of huge importance. The traditional idea of sinfulness was to run and hide from holiness. People thought that God’s holy presence would kill them if they ever experienced it.[9] Somehow, Jesus didn’t radiate that kind of presence. Peter felt sinful but wanted to be close to Jesus at the same time. I would love to see more of us get this message. How easy it is to feel that sin separates us from God. It didn’t stop God from searching for Adam and Eve in the garden. It didn’t prevent God from sending prophets to speak of his love to his people, despite their long-term commitment to be disloyal to him. It never stopped Jesus from hanging out with official card-carrying sinners of many kinds. But when Jesus got to Jesus the traditional view of God kicked in.  If he was sinful, Jesus wouldn’t want anything to do with him !  His outburst is filled with irony, Peter tells him to get away from him.

It is true that sins and sinfulness separate us from God, but it is not in the way we have often been taught to think. Those who hold a view similar to the great Jonathan Edwards, expressed so graphically in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”[10], have the idea that a holy God must turn his face from sin. The assumption that it is a mark of his holy-otherness that requires it. The problem is that Jesus never, on any occasion did that – and he witnessed a great deal of sin happening in his thirty-three years of life on this earth. The assumption that God turned his face away from Jesus on the cross[11] is entirely without evidential support in the same way as the idea that God’s holiness shuns sin. It is the exact opposite. God’s holiness sees Jesus WANT to be with sinners (to see them rescued) and the presence of the Love makes sinners want to be with Jesus. We see this on every page of the gospels. It is the devil’s lie that God doesn’t like us when we are sinners. How can the good shepherd leave the presence of ninety-nine righteous ones to go and look for one lost sinner if he is abhorred by the presence of sin. No, he wants to forgive it, cleanse it, transform our hearts and fully restore us to our full vocation as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

Peter thought Jesus would have nothing to do with him because of the dark equation in his mind. It was a demonic stronghold that would have needlessly locked him away from being redeemed, empowered and fully employed in the family business. All of us have had some experience with this dark thought: God is holy; I am sinful; therefore he wants nothing to do with me – not until I stop sinning. Bad idea, because the truth is precisely the opposite. God loves me, even though I am a sinner. He comes seeking me because he loves me. He wants to offer me a way home; the opportunity to be reconciled and the chance to exchange a sin-based lifestyle for a righteous one. What saved Peter was the fact that he didn’t just jump out of the boat and never look at Jesus again. He didn’t go off and sit in the lonely squalor of self-recrimination and shame. He ran and fell on Jesus’ knees. We need to keep learning this lesson. We need to maintain a correct view of what God is like. Jesus makes that known every day, every recorded incident and supremely as he embraces the cross.

The outcome in Capernaum:

Round Two: Kingdom of God 2 v. Kingdom of Darkness 0

  1. THE BATTLE AGAINST FALSE ASSUMPTIONS RE: FOLLOWING JESUS

 “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.’” (10)

Isn’t it interesting that Peter’s first problem was with what he thought he knew? He knew about kingdom-of-this-world-fishing, but not kingdom of God fishing. Then his problem was with what he thought he knew about God’s attitude toward sin. He was overwhelmed with his sense of sin but had been entirely failed by the religious system to understand that it was his sin that Jesus wanted to deal with, not turn away from. Those two things settled, Peter now faces a third problem. Yet another assumption gets in the way. Now that his sin has been openly confessed, the assumption is that he would never be qualified to follow and serve Jesus. If he has proven to have doubts and fears, then it only follows that he is destined to put out the chairs, make the tea and do the washing up in the work of the kingdom. Being a sinner can make us afraid and fear can disqualify us from freely and fully serving God – it will deal with us unless we deal with it.

This is a tricky little assumption. It often hides deep down. The enemy who wants us to disregard the amazing grace and power of God will have us notice all kinds of things that might disqualify us. I am constantly amazed at the reasons people (including myself) offer for NOT embracing the call and commission of God. We are so prone to exalt our human personality type, our complacency and set of personally installed preferences. These days we are prone to limit the call of God to those things that we have natural passion for. Why don’t we think about what God has passion for and then ask him to make our passions like his;  instead of begging him to leave us within the limits of our own comfort zone?

There is no crossover of skills and talents between fishing for fish and fishing for people. The metaphor is good, but it is still just a metaphor. Peter’s old job neither qualified nor disqualified him from following Jesus. His failure to understand the realm of Jesus kingly rule (over fish in the sea) didn’t disqualify him either. The only thing that would disqualify him would be fear – more precisely, fear about following. The idea of a fisherman becoming the disciple of a rabbi was unheard of. In fact, it was odious. Fishermen were locked somewhere near the bottom rung of Jewish society, especially Galileans. The fact that Jesus invited four of them to join him that day is a massive statement about the way kingdom of God values differ from the kingdom of this world. Peter had no qualifications to start with. Responding to Jesus’ suggestion about going fishing with such (human professional) arrogance would presume to kill any future relationship. We know from the information in the text that the whole incident had caused him to be afraid. If this incident had been a job interview for a three year full-time discipleship course, I don’ think Peter would have rated his chances. He blew it on every count – except the one that mattered.

At the end of all that, Jesus just told him to set aside his fear and offered him a job fishing for people. If I can be permitted to steal a phrase from one of the other accounts of this incident, Jesus says: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”[12] As then, so now, it is not failure that disqualifies any more than it is our professional skills/experience (or natural ability) that qualify us for a job serving in the kingdom of God. It is our willingness to set aside fear and just follow Jesus. It is the determination to follow that qualifies us. If you look at the experiences recorded in the gospels, it is obvious. The disciples often didn’t get it. They usually made suggestions that were entirely off the mark. When told that he would suffer and be killed numerous times they simply refused to accept it. What they did was keep following. When the final shock happened and Jesus’ was taken meekly by the temple guards, then tortured, then nailed to a cross, even though they were totally overwhelmed, they stuck together. That was what qualified them. It was also what qualified them on the day of Pentecost.

It remains the sole essential qualification. They believed he was the Messiah and they kept following him. It seems to me that we have invented a whole range of qualifications that aren’t established by Jesus in the gospels. With these qualifications, we wrongly elevate some and falsely demote others. What we should be mindful of today is simply whether we are following Jesus, the Messiah. What we should be helping others to do today is to follow Jesus, the Messiah. No more, no less.

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

The spiritual battle demonstrated in this incident on the lake is one we need to recognise and engage with. It is a battle that goes on inside our hearts and minds. There are things we have accepted based on our human experience that, if allowed to rule, will lock us out of a journey with Jesus to see miracles happening. He taught a fisherman how to fish according to the principles of the kingdom of God – i.e. you can catch fish where there are no signs of any fish[13] as long as Jesus tells you when and where. Jesus needs to teach parents how to parent, judges how to judge, leaders how to lead and so on. We need to set aside normal expectations in favour of what Jesus says. It is a battle, but we need to use the weapons of warfare that are not carnal but are able to pull down these very common strongholds in our minds and hearts.

We have to identify ideas that exist that paint a wrong picture of God’s nature and purpose. Jesus is the full revelation of the nature and purpose of the Father. Any image of God that is not represented by Jesus needs to be set aside. We need to view God through the lens of Jesus, his only begotten Son. There are a lot of mistruths around, and we need to fight against them, first of all in our own hearts and then as we make Him known to others. There is an important set of reasons for this. Just look at what would have happened if Peter’s view of God and sin had prevailed. Peter would have slinked off into a lonely corner of Capernaum full of shame, failure and regret. He would have assumed that God no longer liked him because he was a sinner and would have tried hard to absolve his own guilt by doing things to try and earn God’s favour once again. All of those thoughts, feelings and ideas would have controlled, overpowered, obfuscated and destroyed his world – just as Paul talked about in Ephesians 6. Jesus spoke truth to Peter. His love overlooked the arrogance and ignorance of his behaviour. He preached the gospel by offering Peter the opportunity of following. The fish that filled the boats were tangible expressions of his faith. This faith arose from a secure relationship with his Father. This relationship was imbued with his Father’s words and his Father’s presence sustained by prayer. All of the weapons described by Paul are activated here – and the kingdom of God wins, the human people who were formerly influence by the devil win –  and the devil loses his grip and the battle.

Finally, we need to fight against impoverished human attitudes about qualification. The war is between the grace and power of God and with the way he accepts and qualifies people. Greek culture, like most of western civilisation, places so much emphasis on academic training, human ability and experience. The apostle, Paul had to contend with fine looking, fine sounding teachers who came to the church, not to help people become more devoted to Jesus but to gather followers for themselves. They did it by using sophisticated presentations and fine sounding words. For a contemporary illustration, go and watch one or two TED talks. I am not suggesting these are unworthy; I’m just pointing out that TED presentations are the epitome of western sophistication. They are designed to appeal to contemporary young mindsets. Short, visual, entertaining. In most cases, the content is superb as well. My point here is not to criticise the method, but to point out that the mode is set up to give paying customers a consistent feel-good experience. To compare presentations based on the TED criteria says very little about the substance of the content and even less about the spiritual dynamic. Qualification to work in the kingdom of God operates by a different dynamic. It depends on the quality of our relationship with Jesus. It depends on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It could  happen through a TED-style presentation, but it will also happen with none of the TED elements.

I think we are prone to fall foul of this idea. We are so clever that we can offer people presentations of such excellence that the excellence itself is assumed to be the conduit that carries the presence of God. Of course, it can – but it doesn’t automatically do so. Often our comparisons relate to human tools and human ability, not anointing and Holy Spirit presence. We know from the Corinthian letters that, Paul didn’t measure up to the standards of people who were claiming to be superior apostles. In reminding them that the issue was measured according to a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ”[14], he was saying the same thing as Jesus did to Peter and the other fishermen at the lake. We need to continue to fight this battle, for our own sake as well as for the sake of our fellow believers. There is so much arrogance, status-seeking and ego parading going on among Christian leaders. It comes from darkness, not light. It produces darkness and locks people away from Jesus.

On this day, in his own boat on his own lake Peter had his first lesson in kingdom of God qualifications: listen to Jesus, trust and obey Jesus and keep following Jesus – and Jesus will make us competent fishers of people. And no part of the “lake” will be devoid of fish to catch. To mix the metaphors, the fields will be white for harvest. Our lack of simple following has produced empty nets and barns. This is a battle that Jesus wants to help us to win.

[1]         See Ephesians 6:12

[2]         See reference above

[3]         See 2 Corinthians 11:12-15 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

[4]         2 Corinthians 10:4-6

[5]         “That None Should Perish” Ed Silvoso, Regal 1995

[6]         See Mark 1:16

[7]         See Hebrews 12:14-17 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

[8]         Matthew 21:28-32 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterwards change your minds and believe him.”

[9]         The Old Testament is full of examples of this idea. Moses certainly thought he would die, as did Jacob before him.

[10]       This sermon can be downloaded from links such as this one

https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=etas

[11]       See Matthew 27:46

[12]       Matthew 4:18-20 “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.”

[13] My own fishing experiences have never proved this. In fact, I can’t even catch fish when everyone else around me is catching plenty.

[14]       See 2 Corinthians 11

LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD Look Further, Get Over Yourself, Scorn the Crap and Finish the Job

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. 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.

Hebrews 12

 

 

ALL THE STAND-ALONE PIECES OF INFORMATION

  1. Therefore – this is what we need to do in order to live lives worthy of the faith commitment of the former generations of God’s people.
  2. Theirs is a testimony of people who looked beyond present circumstances to the fulfilment of God’s promised intention.
  3. We should get rid of everything that has the power to hinder the work of God.
  4. We should get rid of everything that can cause us to fall.
  5. We need to live as if we are running in a race – training, effort, focus, energy, objectives.
  6. We should live the life that God has called us to, not one we have selected.
  7. The race we should run should be the one that focuses on following, serving, worshipping, becoming like Jesus and the one that he began and left for us to complete.
  8. Jesus is the pioneer of our faith – he is the one who showed us what a life of faith looks like.
  9. Jesus is the only one who can provide us with the end game for faith – what it will look like when the purpose has been completed.
  10. Here is an example of this faith:
  11. Jesus “ran his race” by seeing what was beyond the current circumstances and by thinking of the joy that would come from what he accomplished.
  12. Jesus resolved to endure the suffering involved in fulfilling his task rather than becoming focused on it or resenting its injustice.
  13. When called to do things that met with the disapproval or shame of those around him he treated that shame with disdain because it arose from compromised traditional or religious value systems rather than an awareness of redemptive love.
  14. When his work on earth was completed, Jesus was restored to a place of honour beside his Father.
  15. In our own experience of serving God by exercising faith, we need to take encouragement from the modelling provided by Jesus.
  16. We should not be surprised that serving the purposes of God will be opposed – we are following the example and experience of Jesus.
  17. When we realise that these things are part of normal expectation for a servant of God, we will be less inclined to lose heart when we get worn out because of the battle.

 

THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,

 

Here is yet another example of the need to get the context in order to discover the meaning. In recent years I have become much more sensitised to the idea of keeping all the parts of a story together in order to make sense of individual parts. The information we are going to be reading in this chapter (remember, there wasn’t a chapter division when it was first written) depends entirely upon what we learn in Chapter 11. Many of the people who comment on this verse liken the sixteen-plus heroes of faith to spectators sitting in the grandstand watching a game and egging the team on to victory. The idea of them being “witnesses” suggests they are witnessing what is going on NOW. I don’t happen to agree. The life experiences of these heroes of faith are ones that testify to what it looks like when you commit to trusting what God wants you to do NOW, that makes sense of what will happen ultimately.  We are called to live the present in the light of a future that yet to be revealed.

The heroes of faith were prepared to act with certainty about what was going to happen even if it seemed impossible, unlikely or even foolish. Noah built an ark, Abraham and Sarah kept trying for a baby, Moses led people to the edge of the sea – and so on.  Regardless of their various challenges, they were plugging into a story that had started before their time and would be completed long after they were gone. That story was their story. Their lives bore testimony to the present being shaped by the future.

I love discovering history, especially Christian history. There are so many people whose faith was so courageous and strong.  They started when there was nothing but ended up seeing amazing change – and a legacy that continues to this day.  I would gladly spend my life for such a reward.  But the other story from the pages of history tells us that God’s people have been stubborn, compromised, protective of power, wealth and status.  They have “freeze framed” little epochs of experience and then built buildings, institutions and attitudes to protect and defend them.  We end up with tribalized religious relics, buildings and systems that are lifeless.

The author of Hebrews is not quoting the big names to develop a fan club for old heroes. He wants his readers to live out their own chapter of the story fully. The heroes were looking forward to the fulfilment. That fulfilment had begun with the coming of Jesus. They trusted God for it, rejoiced in it and suffered for it. They spent their lives serving it – and IT was happening as the author of Hebrews was writing. The beginning of this fulfilment phase was marked by signs, wonders and miracles. It had also involved disappointment, suffering and hardship. The only thing for us to do is to make sure their faithfulness was not in vain. Listen to the profound statement underlying the testimonies of the faith-heroes:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39,40)  The last phrase is the key: “only together with us.” If we now fully live according to the revelation that came in Jesus Christ, their faith and faithfulness will be justified and realised. We must ensure their sacrifice was not in vain. We won’t do that simply by religiously memorialising their exploits. Let me illustrate.

One of the sheds at my grandparent’s farm houses an old “A” model Ford (1927-1932). My pop had driven it in the 1930’s and then kept it in working order after he purchased a later model. It was a great old car, and he used to take us for a ride in it and mostly let us have a go at driving. It was rough, cold and very lumpy to drive but to young teenage boys, it may as well have been a “Porsche”.  We had so much fun.  Now, in 2018, I drive a different car.  It is comfortable, smooth and a million times more sophisticated. But the car I drive is a descendant of the Model A. You could think of the Model A Ford as an auto-version “hero of the faith.” As much as the Model A Ford was a stand-out and as much as we might like to go to a museum and have a look, it is now nothing more than a valued piece of history. No one wants to drive one to work today for a good reason. As it happens, my wife and I arrived home tonight from a 1700 km. trip. We wouldn’t be sitting in the warmth of our home in Canberra right now if we had chosen to drive the Model A. We would have had a week of bumping and grinding along at 60-70 kph., freezing or boiling, and suffering spinal damage from the rough suspension. We would have had breakdowns and flat tyres to fix.  I don’t suggest that my present vehicle is the fulfilment of Henry Ford’s marque. I am saying that Henry’s ingenuity and enterprise paved the way. What he accomplished foreshadowed what we have just experienced. I am grateful for what he did but even more thankful for what some Korean team of designers and engineers have produced. The point I am making is that the writer here is asking us to honour what the previous generations of faith-filled people accomplished. If they had a hundred reasons to do what they did, then we have a thousand. If they died looking forward to what we have in Christ, then we should be all the more eager to make sure that they didn’t do what they did in vain. They saw the shadow. We know the reality. We get to drive the ultimate model. There are no more models to come. Jesus and the kingdom represent the fullness.

All of the faith-heroes lived for a single underlying purpose – to bear testimony to what would happen when Jesus came. Their faith looks forward to him (see Luke 24). Their faithfulness is fulfilled through him. We who live on the other side of the empty cross and empty tomb need to embrace our faith journey with even greater assurance and confidence. We must face the challenges and hardship with even greater determination. We get the chance to see the end of a chapter in the great story of God’s purpose. We should pay tribute to its profound significance.  We should undergird every aspiration that comes from trusting Jesus and sharpen the focus of every promise God has made. There are no grandstands in the work of the kingdom of God – as much as we have tried to invent them and allow people to sit in them. There is only a playing field. And the generations of people have an opportunity to BE a part of God’s great story: his intention to create a new heaven and a new earth through the agency of transformed Jesus-followers. The contemporaries need to take careful note from their forebears – choosing to live in the light of the long view back as well as the long view forward.

 

 Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I was never a promising athlete in my teenage years, but my best performances were always in the longer races – mile, two-mile and cross-country. When my modest talents were recognised, the school athletic coach took me under his wing, and a training program began. He told me that I was a heart-runner. I just took off from the start and ran as hard as I could for as long as I needed. More often than not I was run down by other competitors in the last few hundred yards. My natural way was to only think about the moment. He began to teach me what I had to do to apply myself to the moment by viewing it from the finish line. There was a lot more thinking to do, more tactics to learn and a whole lot more discipline.

The culture of my society puts a lot of emphasis at the moment. It can persuade us to do things in a moment of time that will destroy everything good in the future. It will magnify the emotions and present circumstances to the point where they are the only things that are important. Our jails are full of the victims of this reality. Our homes and lifestyles are impoverished by foolish financial decisions made as if there is no future to be concerned about. We think we are smart enough to do things in the present and avoid their inevitable consequences. We convince ourselves that there is a “morning after” pill for every form of wanton self-indulgence.

Here is the alternative. Live the ‘moments’ of your life with the end game in mind. Look through the present and see if it lines up with the future. Allow the past to warn or encourage the present but allow only the future to shape it. We do this as people created in the image of God, designed to fulfil his loving purpose.  The more we become aware of this the more we see the things that are around us that hinder and cause trouble. They are easier to identify when viewed from this posture. Just imagine a runner picking up a large rock intending to carry it while he/she ran a race. Everyone will see that it is going to hinder them from getting to the line in the quickest time. They should notice that other runners are not picking up rocks. Everything about the race environment screams at them to drop the rock. Their clothing, their precise preparation for the start and the track ahead of them all say – get rid of everything that hinders. Their daily schedule for months or years, their diet and their thoughts are all shaped by one aim – getting to the finish line faster. The rock in their hands is a glaring inconsistency. Or, what if they were to wear long flowing robes that hang loosely on the ground. They will similarly shout out the probability that they will trip and fall. Regardless of personal preference, they choose clothing that will help them accomplish their purpose: light, close fitting and minimal.

It is essential to understand “weights” and “sin” in this light. My earliest Christian experience was in a church that loved Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” If you haven’t read it, you should Google it and see how much of it you can get through without giving up. The idea of sin presumed there was common in previous times: God hated sin and it seemed to most of us that he didn’t much like sinners. The people he loved were those who didn’t smoke, drink alcohol or swear. The motivation for getting rid of sin was to avoid God’s anger. We were told that even if we were mostly good, we were still bad in God’s eyes. This legalistic idea of holiness was severe and pervasive. It portrayed a God whose normal attitude was one of anger but would turn off that anger if we kept mentioning the name of Jesus.

The metaphor of athletics is almost the exact opposite. If we were “born to run” and God is the coach, then his advice to let go of the rock is not an expression of anger but loving wisdom. The Coach provides insights and motivation that enable us to fulfil our divine vocation to run the best race.

The call to follow Jesus is not a metaphor. Jesus is the quintessential child of God. His life and legacy provide us with the motivation, and the modelling of a life fully lived as a faithful son or daughter of a heavenly Father. His work and therefore ours models the challenges and responsibilities involved in the “family business.” There would be immense value in reading through one or more of the gospels to notice the way Jesus challenged the demonically compromised religious system of his day, as well as the equally demonic Roman system of governance. He demonstrated how it is possible to test their legitimacy without needing their permission or favour. The key to understanding this is to see how his commitment to making the kingdom of God known happened in any of the recorded incidents. He didn’t favour a particular theological or political view. He just lived and proclaimed the kingdom of God. He did that on the first day and was still doing it on the last. As such he is both the pioneer of a new order and what he started he will finish as we become the tangible implementers of that same kingdom. Sadly, so many who begin by following Jesus’ example soon find that the journey is too steep and difficult. They end up compromising the values and ways of the kingdom of God in favour of this world’s kingdom – as we are warned in the parable Jesus told about the sower and the soils (Matthew 13). As a long time pastor and Christian counsellor, I am always surprised at people’s willingness to see God’s wisdom as arbitrary and undesirable – while they are often willing to see this world’s wisdom as more reasonable and preferable? Why? The Creator has lovingly made known to us the principles by which we were designed to live. The fact is that our stubborn independence has so marred us that we are capable of regarding holiness as undesirable – and sin as preferable.  We keep picking up rocks to carry down the track.

Here is my simple suggestion: as you live your live week by week and find yourself needing answers to questions about attitude and behaviour, write your question on a card, place it in front of you and read at least one of the gospels looking for wisdom from the example offered there by Jesus. No matter how difficult it may seem, seek to implement the answer because it is the alternative that most aligns with the example set by Jesus.

 

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.

The author of Hebrews now gives one example of the following-Jesus principle. He takes it from the most challenging part of Jesus’ work: the cross. We know that even though Jesus was wholly committed to being in Jerusalem and facing the horror of carrying sin to the cross, it was also abhorrent to him. Paul tells us that Jesus, “became sin who knew no sin.” (2 Corinthians 5). No one will ever know how great a cost that involved for him. What we do get to know is the WAY he did it – and that should be sufficient.

  1. He saw the reality BEYOND the current circumstances. What he saw was the opportunity for billions of people created in the image of God being reconciled to a relationship with their Father in heaven. He saw them being transformed with a new heart and a new spirit. Then he saw them picking up the trail of their God-ordained vocation – what they were created to become and to do. This filled him with joy, no matter what the nature of current hardships and challenges. There was indeed no joy in the cross, but there was great joy in what it would accomplish.
  2. He resolved to ENDURE  hardships to bring the work to completion. Enduring means that you don’t stop until it is finished. Enduring assumes that, as there will be a beginning of the work and a series of phases to go through, there will be an end. The end is not created from preference or comfort. It is discovered by doing the things that will see the work completed. If you do that, a day will come when the work IS completed. Until then, the issue is not to enjoy, not to feel comfortable, but to endure.
  3. He resolved to DESPISE the shame. This is a big number. Completion of his work involved quite a few things that brought degrees of shame. There was no shame from his Father, as we well know. The scandal happened because he was challenging the compromised ideas and values of the religious and civil status quo – i.e. the rule of the kingdoms of this world. He broke with religious traditions and expectations. His own family thought he was mentally ill. The religious leaders thought he was demonic. His disciples didn’t understand, and his popularity threatened the Romans. All of this came together at the cross where he was treated as the worst of dangerous criminals. Beaten and mocked, he was made to drag the cross through the streets in sight of everyone and, with seeming impotence he submitted to its death. At every point where shame was ready to point its finger straight at him, he resisted its power by meeting it with scorn. Think of something you utterly despise. One of the things I hate is the sexual abuse of children. I detest it. It violates everything good in favour of what is totally evil.  So think about having that same attitude to falsely based shame. Jesus didn’t just reject it; he actively despised it. It had no power to persuade him, intimidate him or influence him. He totally despised it. Go and read the chapters of the gospel that tell the stories of the events leading up to and including the cross and think of all the reasons why he might have succumbed to the shame. And start to think of what that would look like if you were to experience shame because of something you do to serve Jesus.
  4. He rightfully accepted his place of honour. I don’t think the “right hand of God” is about comparative status. I know a lot of people will only see it that way.  It is better understood as the place of accomplishment. If I ever became so creative that I could paint the most beautiful painting, or write the most beautiful song or the most impressive piece of poetry, it would not be to achieve fame or status and certainly not wealth. Such effort would position me in a place of satisfaction – just to be able to bring joy and beauty to the lives of people who would listen, look or read and receive some huge blessing. It would be a vantage point where one could see the benefits to others and share the joy. That’s what the “right hand of God” is about. It’s not about everyone coming and bowing and scraping and telling me how right I am or even how wonderful I am. The satisfaction of doing something beautiful is never going to be found in accolades or popularity. It is the fact that you have made a contribution that is going to go on forever making people feel good, be encouraged, etc. I guarantee that is what Jesus treasures from the vantage point of the “right hand of God.”

So the long-range perspective, the commitment to endure to completion, the ability to despise the disapproval and the satisfaction of lives being touched were at the heart of Jesus every day of his life on the earth. This was the way he embraced hardship, and it was the reason why the enemy couldn’t sway him from the path. Same for him and the same for us. These are the attitudes and perspectives we need to be filled with and the ones in which we must become accomplished.  In order to be successful, great pianists must become skilled in performing things like Hanon exercises.[1]  Even though they seem dull and boring they make a huge difference.   In the same way, we must become accomplished in each of these four skill areas:  taking the long view, endurance to the end, despising false shame and aiming to complete tasks that leave a valuable legacy to the others.   They may seem hard, unjust and painful at the time, but they will enable us to accomplish purposes that will bring honour to God.  They will qualify us to take our own part in the great story of God’s unfailing plans and purposes.

[1] Charles-Louis Hanon wrote a series of exercises to help piano technique. They are dull and boring to play, but essential for developing speed and finger independence; first published in 1873