The Easy Yoke

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30)

Some time ago I wrote about this, relating it to the cares and burdens of life. Jesus’ words certainly apply to that. But I’ve been looking at this further because of a question on my heart. Just what is the easy yoke that Jesus says is His? Let’s see if we can find out.

First, let’s find out what the unbearable yoke actually was. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden…” Bible expositor G. Campbell Morgan draws our attention, as always, to the context of Jesus’ words. He was addressing the cities where He had taught and preached. Matthew names three in particular “where most of His mighty works were done”—Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. He is pronouncing woes upon those cities. “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida!… And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell” (Mt 11:21-23). Why? Because He had taught in the synagogues in these cities—as was His practice wherever He went (Mk 1:21, see also Lk 4:31, Jn 6:59)—and for the most part His teaching and preaching was not received. He had come to proclaim a king and a kingdom, and was rejected. What was left for them but woe upon woe?

Yet it’s quite something, quite the revelation of His heart, that He had no sooner pronounced these woes than He broke out in prayer, overcome with thankfulness that His Father, Lord of heaven and earth, is the kind of God who “hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Mt 11:25-27). What joy surges into the heart—that God is that kind of God, a God who hides Himself from the wise and the prudent, the high and the lofty, and reveals Himself to the lowly, to “babes.” Babes—not babies but infants (as the Greek makes clear) little ones whose lowliness has opened their eyes. Of such is the kingdom of God.

It’s right then that Jesus gives out His invitation. “Come unto Me, all ye…” Yes, not only those who were little in their own eyes, but those also who were so “wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight” that they had rejected Him. Whether they had received Him or rejected Him, they were those to whom He had been sent—“the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). He had taught in their synagogues and done mighty works in their streets. His great heart of love was burdened for them. “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden…” They were a people under the law of Moses. It has been calculated that the law of Moses contains something like 613 commandments. The very thought is wearying; some years later we find Peter himself calling the Sinai law “a yoke… that neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). He wasn’t being critical of the law God had given; he was simply acknowledging what they all knew by experience—the Sinai law was beyond their ability to bear.

Yet the Pharisees of Jesus’ day strictly policed the people to make sure they observed each and every one of these (going easy on themselves in the process) adding to them countless others of their own making, one of them being that people were forbidden to come to the synagogue for healing on the sabbath day (Lk 13:14). Jesus loved nothing better than to loose people from their burdens on the sabbath, and He had blistering words for the Pharisees because “they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Mt 23:4). The apostle Paul, himself once a strict Pharisee, later called the Sinai law “a yoke of bondage,” urging the Galatian churches not to be entangled in it again, but rather to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had set them free (Gal 5:1).

What then is the easy yoke?

If Paul called the old covenant a yoke of bondage, and if Peter called it a yoke that Israel was not able to bear, then the easy yoke Jesus is speaking of must be the new covenant. But I wonder how many of us, though we are Christians supposedly under the new covenant, find there’s not much difference; we are still labouring and heavy laden, trying as best we can to keep the laws of the new covenant, yet always falling short, or feeling that maintaining our relationship with the mediator Himself is a labourious chore. If that is the case it means we haven’t yet come to know the liberating law of the new covenant.

So we must make a discovery. Here’s a passage of Scripture that I think will help us do that. It’s in Romans Chapter 7. I want to quote from Young’s Literal translation, which gives the tenses more clearly:

Are ye ignorant, brethren–for to those knowing law I speak–that the law hath lordship over the man as long as he liveth?
for the married woman to the living husband hath been bound by law, and if the husband may die, she hath been free from the law of the husband;
so, then, the husband being alive, an adulteress she shall be called if she may become another man’s; and if the husband may die, she is free from the law, so as not to be an adulteress, having become another man’s.

So here is someone in a relationship from which there is absolutely no release—apart from the death of the husband.

Now I must reluctantly state something here—please don’t use this passage to enforce your doctrine that a woman can be released from her marriage only by the death of her husband (or vice versa) and that therefore there are no grounds for divorce under any circumstances. You make yourself a modern-day Pharisee with this teaching, and it is entirely unscriptural in the first place, and has done damage in I don’t know how many lives. I won’t pursue this further here, and in any case, if that is all you get out of this passage, you have entirely missed the point. That is not Paul’s focus here; he is leading up to a wondrous revelation:

So that, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of the Christ, for your becoming another’s, who out of the dead was raised up, that we might bear fruit to God;
for when we were in the flesh, the passions of the sins, that are through the law, were working in our members, to bear fruit to the death;
and now we have ceased from the law, that being dead in which we were held, so that we may serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter. (Rom 7:1- 6)

What a wonder—dead not only to sin, which Paul has shown in the previous chapter,  but dead to law as well.

Which law?

Is this still a bit complex? It could be because there are three laws in operation here. Let’s see if we can distinguish them, bearing in mind that here in Romans 7 Paul is still enlarging on what he introduced in Romans 5:11—the contrast between the two men, Adam the old man, and Christ the new man.

2. The law of sin. (Yes, I know, I’ve put the second one first, don’t give up on me.) In verses 1 and 2, “the law of the husband” is the grievous law by which all those in Adam are as it were “married” to the “husband”—the old man. Paul refers to this law as he comes to the conclusion of Romans 7; it is “the law of sin which is in my members” (7:23). He cries out in the deepest anguish of heart for release from it. But (sorry for the grim news) it is a law from which there is no release but by death (Rom 7:1,2). Remember, of course—this is very important—that Paul is speaking in Romans 7:23 not of his present experience, but of the state he was in before being in Christ. He is using a well-known literary device called the “historical present tense,” in which one speaks of the past as though present.

1. Now the first one. The principle of law. Romans 7 opens with, “Know ye not, brethren, for I speak to them that know (the) law…” I’ve placed the article in parentheses because it’s not there in the Greek. Paul is speaking to “brethren,” born again believers like himself who have the same Father, some of whom were Jews but the majority of whom were Roman Gentiles. They too “know law,” are familiar with law, just as he a Jew knew law, for the Jews had the law of Moses; the Romans to this day are renowned for their system of law. So Paul knows that the believers in Rome will all understand that the law “has dominion over a man as long as he lives.” He proceeds with his illustration of a married woman being bound to her husband as long as he lives—but only as long as he lives. There is no escape from it as long as the husband lives. In fact, instead of delivering “the woman” from the law binding her to the man, the law actually strengthens that captivity and makes it even more severe. What law is this? It is the law of God, but only the letter of law. In his own personal conflict with the law of sin Paul said he had delighted in “the law of God after the inward man” (7:22) but found that all it did was bring him into captivity to the law of sin in his members. That’s what the letter of law does, whether the law of Moses or Roman law or that to which the consciences of all men and women in varying degree bear witness (Rom. 2:15). It has the effect, not of making them righteous, but of awakening the law of sin in them and thus making sin “exceeding sinful” (Rom. 7:13). That’s what the principle of law does; it gives sin “muscle,” as Paul wrote to the church of Corinth. “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15.56). This is the yoke under which the Jews laboured and were heavy laden, the law that Peter referred to as a yoke Israel could not bear and Paul called a yoke of bondage. This yoke is broken only by death; all human beings are “under law” as long as they live.

3. That is, all except those who are in the easy yoke of Christ—that is, are “under grace.” “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under (the) law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). This is the law of the Spirit which in the new husband enables those married to Him to “bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4). This is the great delivering and liberating law of Romans Chapter 8, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” The critically important thing is that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus does not and cannot rule in those who are still in Adam, the old man. A death must take place first.

Release by death, but whose death?  

This is vitally critically immensely indispensably indisputably important. I’ve piled on the adverbs so you won’t miss how absolutely utterly important this is. The only way of release from the law of sin, as well as from the outward principle of law—which actually aggravates sin without imparting righteousness—is by a death. But whose death? Your death, my death, cannot effect this. Whose death then? The death of Christ, Paul says. “…Ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ…” Paul has in mind the death of Christ that becomes the death of those who are in the body of Christ.

It was after I’d read the Romans 7 passage many times over the course of many days that one word suddenly stood up off the page of my Bible. Christ. Do you know, dear brothers and sisters, that this is the key word in this whole passage? Christ. It would do us all well to have this word re-quickened to us, for it is almost considered nothing much more than Jesus’ last name. No, Jesus is the Christ—the Anointed One, the Spirit-empowered and Spirit-empowering One! Only He, the Anointed One, could accomplish the death that releases from the former “husband”—the old man. And only He the Anointed One could consequently liberate those bound by law to the old man so that they could become joined, as it were, married, “to Him who was raised from the dead.” Only with the former “husband” deceased are they delivered from bondage to him; only thus may they be joined to Another who is raised from the dead, and find themselves under another rule, another law, another yoke—another covenant.

And so Paul shows that it is only in the body of Christ the Anointed One that this release from the old man and joining to the new man takes place. Only in the body of Christ is the old man put to death and the first yoke broken; only in Him is the new yoke bound in place; only in the body of Christ are we joined to “Him that was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit unto God.”

So how does one get into the body of Christ?

How then does one get into the body of Christ where this wondrous transition takes place? Simply by baptism. Paul shows in another epistle that it was “in the cloud and in the sea” that the old covenant people were baptized unto (or, into) Moses (1 Cor. 10:2). In accordance with this pattern the new covenant people of God are “baptized into Christ.” There are several references to this in the New Testament (Gal. 3:27, Rom. 6:3, Col. 2:12, 1 Cor. 12:13). None of these, in my view, speaks of water baptism; water has no power to effect this union. (This is why John the Baptist said that One coming after Him was mightier than he, for He would baptize in Holy Spirit.) Let me show how I come to my view:

For by [or, in] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… (1 Cor. 12:13).

This verse is usually considered only with a view to the functioning of the members of the body of Christ with diverse spiritual gifts manifested by the Spirit. But we must never lose sight of the truth that these Spirit-given functionings in the body of Christ are taking place in a body that has been raised from the dead. And before a body can be raised from the dead a death must take place. Baptism always involves a death. “Know ye not,” says Paul, “that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?” (Rom. 6:3). It’s my conviction based on 1 Corinthians 12:13 that Paul has the Spirit baptism in mind here in Romans 6:3 and the other places where he speaks of baptism into Christ. Baptism into Christ and baptism into the body of Christ are not two separate things.

This is why Paul says in the Romans 7 passage that “ye also were made dead to the law through the body of the Christ…” It is the death of Christ he has in mind; therefore those in the body of Christ (by Spirit baptism into that body) benefit from that death and are themselves made dead to the law, and in that same body also become “another’s, who out of the dead was raised up, that we might bear fruit to God.” It is both Christ’s death and His resurrection that is the lot of those baptized into His body. They are “dead to the law by the body of Christ,” and in that same body of Christ become one with “Him who was raised from the dead,” and therefore are now able to bring forth fruit, no longer unto death (Rom. 6:21, 7:5) but unto God. For they are now serving—the word means to serve as a slave—not in oldness of letter, but in newness of Spirit. What a wonder of the grace of God.

The new covenant yoke

Those words—newness of Spirit. Is not this a marvel? I’m transfixed with those words. We can understand readily enough Paul calling it slavish to try to serve in oldness of letter—that is what labouring and being heavy laden under the old yoke is all about, and it brings forth “fruit unto death.” But to serve as a slave in newness of Spirit? What is this, what yoke is this? This, beloved, is the new covenant! The easy yoke. The yoke of liberty! What joy! What rest unto the soul! This is what Paul means in Romans 6 by being no longer under law but “under grace.” This is a yoke in which there is an empowering—empowering grace, the empowering of the Spirit of Christ the Anointed One. “I can do all things,” says Paul, “through the Anointed One who empowers me” (Phil. 4:13). And apart from Him, apart from the Anointed One, nothing can be accomplished. Nothing.

Christ. It’s all about Him—and those yoked with Him, those who by baptism in Holy Spirit are one with Him who is raised from the dead, those who are serving God together with Him in newness of Spirit—that is to say, in new covenant relationship with Him—thus finding rest unto their souls while bringing forth fruit unto God. For, the new covenant is not just a higher order of moral precepts. The new covenant is a relationship with a Person, the Anointed One Himself, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

Abba Father

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Come with me back to the time when Mary and Joseph after three days of frantic searching finally found Jesus in the temple. I read that story again a few days ago because, well… because, don’t you too sometimes wish you could have been there yourself? We find the story in the Gospel according to Luke. Mary must have told him about it, along with other things we find in Luke’s gospel alone, details that could only have been known by Mary herself—among them Jesus’ first visit to the temple when Mary and Joseph brought Him there “to present Him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22).

The occasion I have in mind was when she and Joseph and their young family went up to Jerusalem to keep the feast of the Passover, something they did in the spring every year. Jesus was 12 years old, the eldest of several brothers and sisters by this time. The family was part of a larger company of friends and relatives keeping the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a journey of several days from Nazareth. We join them on the first evening of their return home after that joyous week. They have stopped somewhere for the night, and Mary and Joseph start rounding up the children. But where is Jesus? They haven’t given a second thought to His whereabouts all day, “supposing him to have been in the company.” Now in a heart-stopping moment they suddenly realize He is not with them, and hastily return to Jerusalem that very night. But it is three very long days and sleepless nights before they finally find him, of all places, in the temple. He is “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and questioning them, and all those hearing him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”

It is then that his astonished mother says, “Child, why have you done so to us? Behold, your father and I have looked for you, greatly distressed” (Modern KJV). The King James Version has “son” here, but the Greek is teknon, child, one still very much under the authority of his parents.

Here is the simple response that spoke volumes:

And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not [knew ye not] that I must be about my Father’s business? (Lk. 2:48,49 KJV)

Other translations bring out the sense more clearly—“in My Father’s house,” or “in the things of My Father.” Here is Young’s Literal Translation:

And he said unto them, `Why is it that ye were seeking me? did ye not know that in the things of my Father it behoveth me to be?’

In other words, they ought to have known where He would be—in His Father’s house, intent upon the things of His Father. Note that He said, “must be…” It is necessary, it behooves me, to be about the things of My Father… in the House of My Father.

Father. Eighteen years later when the anointing came upon Him in the form of a dove at Jordan the Voice from Heaven proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son in whom is all My delight.” The Son for His part delighted in His Father, and did “always those things that please Him.” He loved His Father as His Father loved Him. He rejoiced in His Father, as His Father rejoiced in Him. All through the Gospels we find Him addressing God as Father. In the Gospel of John alone He calls God Father something like 120 times.

The Gospel of John tells us of another Passover when Jesus while ministering in Galilee went up to Jerusalem to keep the feast, and again went into the temple. This time He:

…found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.
And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up (Jn. 2:15-17).

That passage when read carefully reveals that He didn’t lay the scourge on any of the people. “He said unto those that sold doves…” He knew the scourge was reserved for His own back.

But that’s quite something—that His love and zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him. That’s what He was all about. His Father. His Father’s interests. His Father’s house.

 This purging of the temple happened at two different Passovers—this one in the first year of Jesus’ public ministry as recorded by John, who also tells us of Jesus coming up to Jerusalem for another Passover (Jn. 6:4), which must have been the following year, the second year of His ministry. The other purging in the third and final year of His ministry is recorded in the three synoptic Gospels. It took place just before the Passover during which He Himself became the Passover Lamb. At this time He also cast out those who bought and sold in the temple, telling them vehemently, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Mt. 21:13).

We know that it’s never been a temple of wood and stone that God desired for His dwelling place, but He was identified with this one: His Name was there (1 Kings 8:29). And so it was only with the greatest reluctance and sorrow for their hardness of heart that Jesus finally declared as He mourned over Jerusalem, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate…” (Mt. 23:38). As Ron Bailey points outs in The Better Covenant, it is no longer “My Father’s house.” It is no longer “My house.” Now it is your house. And it is desolate. God is done forever with this house.

Not many days after this Jesus is in Gethsemane.

Abba Father

 These words are found only three times in the New Testament. Here is the first:

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (Mk. 14:36)

This is the cry of His heart springing from the depths of His love for His Father. Abba Father. That is αββα ὁ πατήρ. Abba is Aramaic for father, and pater is Greek for father. Actually pater is preceded by the article— ὁ, pronounced hothe Father. And so we have, Abba. The Father. Abba does not mean Daddy. Yes, it springs from the tenderest love and devotion, but it carries in it the highest respect and reverence. Jesus is acknowledging that His father is the Lord to whom His utmost obedience is due, and He gives this to Him from His heart.

Abba. Father. The question has been much debated, did Jesus speak both of these words, or is Mark translating the Aramaic Abba into Greek for the sake of his readers? “Abba, that is to say, Father.” I’m inclined to think Jesus spoke both of them, for it appears that the first Christians also used Abba Father when addressing Him. They must have picked this up from reading the passage in Mark’s gospel, the only one that records it, and likely the earliest one to make the rounds of the churches (probably as early as 45 AD).

But how did this come to be—the words Abba Father in the mouths of Christians? What was it that brought about this new relationship, that they themselves could call God their father?

After His resurrection when Jesus revealed Himself to a broken-hearted Mary Magdalene, He gave her a message for… for whom? He bids her, “Go to My brethren…” But it is not James and Jude He has in mind.

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (Jn. 20:17)

It’s His disciples He has in mind; they are about to come into a relationship with God that they had not known under the old covenant, nor yet as they had walked with Jesus as His disciples. What had He done that would enable this new relationship once He ascended? It was the result of the redemption He had wrought on Calvary, redeeming those who had been under the law, liberating them into the same kind of relationship with the Father that was His own. Here are the passages that speak of this—and now we have come to the two other times Abba Father is found:

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal. 4:4-7)

“The adoption.” It means, “the son-placing,” and this is not about gender, it’s about filial relationship whether male or female; it is for all those who are born of God. Here it is again in Romans:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (Rom. 8:14,15)

Abba Father. This was the heartcry of The Son of God all His days on earth. We, then,  who have received the Spirit of God’s son, how can it be otherwise than our having that same cry? Abba Father. This is our own cry now—we who have received the Spirit of the ascended Son into our hearts—it is our testimony that He continues to this day to cry out, Abba, Father. And we who have received His Spirit cry out with Him.

There is so much more that could be said. Perhaps John says it all when He writes, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God.” Children… of God?

…So I leave us with this. May this be an ever-fresh revelation and inspiration to you and me: that to be a child of God, a son of God, to have received “the adoption”—the Spirit of the Son of God into our hearts—this can mean no less than being the Son of God meant to Jesus. For Him it meant being about the things of His Father—His Father’s interests, His Father’s glory, impassioned zeal for His Father’s house, His Father’s will… though it meant the cross for Him daily, and ultimately. You and I who have received the Spirit of God’s Son, are we seeking to gratify the passion of that Spirit? Are we too crying daily, Abba, Father?

Seek The Things Above (Part Two)

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Last time we began to answer the question on many hearts these days: “Why isn’t God doing something about this?” That is, this pandemic now in its second year. Just as a few countries began to proclaim a tentative victory, it caused the medical system of India to collapse. A firsthand report from a friend there reveals that things in India are far worse than we’re hearing in the news, the number of deaths is far higher. And the worst is yet to come—this wave of the pandemic there still hasn’t reached its peak. Other countries, poor countries, some of which have received no vaccine whatsoever, are also finding it extremely difficult to cope with the increasing numbers infected. Here in Alberta, Canada, daily infections are higher than anywhere else in North America. The blame game is well underway, but it’s so short-sighted to blame earthly governments for all this; the problem goes far deeper than that.

But consider this. The pandemic has so dominated the news that scarcely any attention has been given to the fact that other evils—droughts, plagues of locusts, famines, brewings of wars… are taking place at the same time.

If you recall, we quoted Solomon of old who in Ecclesiastes gives his account of things “under the sun,” a phrase he used 29 times elaborating on the futility of it all. “Vanity of vanity, saith the Preacher, all is vanity.” That is, pointless, meaningless, futile. That is life “under the sun.” Solomon has no reputation as an optimist but he certainly was a realist. Here is what we quoted:

For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, even so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them. (Ecc 9:11,12 KJV)

It has always pained my heart to hear of a suicide, a pain I’m feeling more often these days when I hear of people who have taken their own lives because life under the sun seemed so pointless to them, in fact had become unbearable—the mental and emotional oppression brought on by the lockdowns, the family breakdowns, the economic hardships… it all became too much to bear any longer, life was not worth living. That they have done so is unbearable to me, because, oh, life is not pointless, there is purpose, eternal purpose in Christ Jesus the Lord that will take ages and ages to unfold. God has not left mankind prey to evil nets and snares “under the sun.” He has made provision in Christ for life. Life above it all, as we showed last time, quoting from Colossians:

If, then, ye were raised with the Christ, the things above seek ye, where the Christ is, on the right hand of God seated,
the things above mind ye, not the things upon the earth,
for ye did die, and your life hath been hid with the Christ in God;
when the Christ–our life–may be manifested, then also we with him shall be manifested in glory.
(Col 3:1-4 Young’s Literal Translation)

What are the things above? Last time we showed that the pronoun ye is those who are in Christ, and mentioned from Ephesians that “all our spiritual blessings are above, our heritage is above, our warfare is above—in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” That’s because we ourselves are above—that is, we who have been baptized into Christ—because “God, who is rich in mercy for His great love toward us even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).

It is this last one—that we ourselves have been raised with Christ and are therefore seated with Him in the heavenlies—that we are emphasizing in the Colossians passage. Our very life is there. In Christ. In the heavenlies. If we then are above, says Paul, we ought to be seeking the things above, “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

So then, to ask what God is doing in this hour is answered by discovering what Christ is doing. For Jesus Christ the Son of God is seated at the right hand of God; the Father has committed all things unto Him (Jn. 3:35, 13;3). He has sealed Him, has given Him His signet ring, has given Him “all authority in Heaven and in earth” (Mt. 28:16). What then is the Christ doing at the right hand of God?

He is administering the Good News of a kingdom that when fully completed will mean all the works of man brought to naught and all enemies under His feet.

He is overseeing a building project. Jesus Christ at the right hand of God is building a church. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). Many of us are fond of reminding others that the church is not the building. I know I’m being a bit cheeky here but the church is the building. The church that Jesus is building is a house, “…the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). And so of course, by “house” I do not mean a house of wood and stone.

A priest upon His throne

Now there is an ancient prophecy we must read. Leading up to the passage, we are told of a crown that was to be set on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest at that time. Then follows the prophecy:

Then speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:
Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. (Zech 6:12,13)

The Branch—this is the Christ. The Anointed One. He sits and rules upon His throne. But there is something here we too often overlook. It is a priest who sits as king upon the throne. The counsel from this throne—the wonderful counsel of the Gospel of peace—proceeds from one who is both a king and a priest. Look one moment, and it is a crown on His head. Blink your eyes and it is a mitre on His head. In Christ at the right hand of God the scepter of the king and the censer of the priest are one.

And seated at the right hand of God this king/priest is building a Temple, a habitation, a dwelling place, a house for the living God. He is not using wood and stone. He is using “living stones,” as Peter the rock says, for He is building “a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5). The living stones built into the house are also its “holy priesthood,” who offer up “spiritual sacrifices [that is, themselves], well pleasing to God by Jesus Christ.” Peter also calls this priesthood “a royal priesthood” (1 Pt 2:5-9). This priesthood is not a separate clergy, and it is not confined to the ministries God has set in the church who are not a separate clergy; each and every living stone is involved in this priesthood, not just theoretically, but vitally, functionally. And so seekers of the things above, seekers whose minds and affections are set on things above, find themselves involved in what the great king/priest of this house is doing. He is building living stones into the house of God, and He is involving the living stones in the building of the house—always reminding them that “except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps. 127:1). My old King James Version margin reads, “are builders of it in it.” Quite something, that the house is building, edifying, itself. Yet it is, and must always be, the king/priest Himself who is doing the building. “Except the Lord build the house…” All we do must be His doing, or we labour in vain.

Now I want to get to the heart of what has been in my heart concerning seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede

There are in essence two ministries in the universe—one of intercession, the other of accusation. Dearly beloved, have nothing to do with the latter, leave it to the one who in his hatred of God and man loves to do that. It is intercession that is the heartbeat of Christ’s high priestly ministry at the right hand of God, intercession that is the pleading of His own blood, as Charles Wesley wrote in his immortal hymn:

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all-redeeming love, His precious blood to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Our great king/priest reigning at the right hand of God maintains continual intercession on behalf of the living stones of this house. Such were the saints in the church at Rome, whom Paul reminded that whatever the condemner might bring against them, “it is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom 8:34). This is His occupation and His preoccupation—to make intercession for His own, and He will not fail in it, His intercession has the very power of the throne in it; it is effectual. “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Oh, the Lamb, the bleeding Lamb, the Lamb of Calvary,
The Lamb that was slain now liveth again to intercede for me.

Thus you and I offer up this perpetual prayer of gratitude:
Thank you, Jesus, thank you, thank you, that you intercede for… me.

“I pray not for the world…”

But what is this? Jesus not praying for the world? This is what Jesus said in what has been called His high priestly prayer of intercession. John Chapter 17. He is praying for those whom His Father has given Him “out of the world.”

I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. (Jn. 17:9,10)

That used to trouble me a lot because I knew that God sent His Son into the world to reveal His love for the world—the multitudes under the sun. And here He is not praying for them? It’s not because He was a Calvinist; I finally learned to read Scripture in context. When we continue reading we come to this: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (Jn. 17:15 KJV) Or, “from the evil one” (NKJV). For the evil one is bent on resisting God’s plan for the world. And then this: “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” And then this:

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Do we see this? In seeing it are we broken? “…That the world may believe… That the world may know…” And so the very question of God not caring for those under the sun is unthinkable. It is because of His great love for the world that His ministry of intercession is first of all on behalf of His own—that they may be kept from the devices of the Evil One, who, because he is bitterly set against all mankind, and hates and deceives them and robs and destroys them and divides them against one another, he makes Christ’s own the special objects of his hatred. It’s because he knows they are his downfall. And so Christ prays to His Father to “keep them from the evil.” The pits and snares and devices of “the evil one.” And He prays that they may be “perfected into one,” may be so one with Him and with one another that the world may see Him in His house, that through those in His house the world may come to know His great love for the world.

What Jesus prayed was entirely scriptural, actually. (No surprise, the Word of God knew His Bible.) “Out of Zion the perfection of beauty God hath shined” (Ps. 50:2). “Beautiful for situation [or elevation], the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the great king” (Ps. 48:2). “Thou shalt arise and have mercy on Zion… So shall the heathen [the nations] fear the name of the Lord, and all kings thy glory. When the Lord shall build up Zion he shall appear in His glory…” Ps. 102:13-16). And so God’s burden is for His house because His burden is for the world. For when the love of God in Christ is resident in Zion, when Zion is beautified with the beauty of the Lord, others are drawn into His house; they come to know His salvation, His rescue operation from “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:3-5). This—salvation from sin, the one problem of this evil world—is God’s answer for the world. This is vehemently resisted by our arch-enemy the Devil. He is out to make war with the saints; he is out to defeat them. So in standing against him as part of our spiritual armour we are to be “praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:18).

This is our great high priest’s primary concern. His own. The saints. It is the concern of a commander for his army. How can they win without his continual intercession on their behalf? But once armed and empowered by His might, He enjoins upon them that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men…” because He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1,4 NKJV). Are not you and I glad for this? How quickly some of us, now in the house of God, now God’s own, forget that “we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).

And so what Christ said—“I pray not for the world”—He said as a faithful “high priest over the house of God” (Heb. 10:21). It doesn’t mean that we in the house of God are not to pray for the world. Now provisioned as priests in His house, armed with His Spirit, His anointing, we are to pray and make intercession for our secular authorities, our neighbours near and far, our loved ones still lost, as the saints throughout the ages have done and still do, sometimes with burdens of intercession that press them into the very ground. It goes without saying that God cares for all mankind. He couldn’t care more, for in His love for the world He has given no less than His Son.

A kingdom of priests

 If this then is what God is doing, if this is what is happening “above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God,” what are you and I doing in this hour? Are we seeking the things above? We must, lest we remain earthly minded, blinded really, and cheated of what is ours in Christ at the right hand of God. Ours? But just what is it that is ours at the right hand of God? A crown? A throne? Yes, but is this something we have in mind for our own benefit alone—sitting with Christ as a king in His throne? Or… is the heart of a priest beating within us and it is the need of others we have in mind, the wayward, the lost? Are we compelled by the love of Christ, seeking that we might join our great High Priest upon the throne in His ministry of effectual intercession?

None will reign with Christ in His throne who are not priests in His kingdom of priests.

John the Revelator sees in the throne room of Heaven a throne, and One seated upon the throne, and “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads” (Rev. 4:4). In Scripture the white robe is the garment of the priest. So here are priests wearing crowns of gold and sitting on thrones. This then is the royal priesthood, 24 being a symbolic number (as are all the numbers in The Revelation). And—something to think about here—is John in this vision of the heavenly throne room seeing just the heaven-side? Or is this also inclusive of those in the earth who have apprehended their heavenly calling? This is my view. They may be in the earth scattered in churches here and there, but spiritually speaking, they are “round about the throne” in the heavenly throne room of God. They are one with Him who sits on the throne. And with one another.

This royal priesthood is our calling “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” It is a calling from above—the “on-high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” It’s something that originated not in our own heart but in “Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood…” so that we can go to Heaven after we die? That, beloved, is less than His love has washed us for. “…And has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 1:5,6). No less than this is what “the things above, where Christ is” means, and unto this honour we are called; this is our great privilege—to draw near to the throne of grace, draw near boldly as priests who have a great high priest over the house of God, draw near and join Him in His priestly intercession for others from the throne of God.

The whole creation “under the sun,” groaning and travailing in pain together until now, awaits the outcome of this.

Seek The Things Above (Part One)

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That wise man Solomon made some observations about what he called “life under the sun.” Here is one of them:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, even so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them. (Ecc 9:11,12 KJV)

That’s a very dismal assessment of things, isn’t it. But Solomon was right; it’s something that has been proven true, grievously true, countless times throughout history. People are just living life under the sun, and suddenly they are caught in an evil time, as in this pandemic, a great net cast over the Sea of Humanity. But that is just one of the hazards of life “under the sun,” and the only way out of it, as everyone knows, is by dying, itself a very unwelcome prospect for most people.

But this begets the question I have been asked not once or twice with regard to the pandemic. “Why isn’t God doing something about this?” To many He seems to be completely silent, in fact completely absent, even indifferent to it all.

What follows here is my answer to that question (yet not mine, but God’s). It shows that God is doing something, and shows just what He is doing, and further, that He has participants in what He is doing. The answer is found in the first four verses of Colossians Chapter 3. I’ll cite them, greatly loved as they are:

 If, then, ye were raised with the Christ, the things above seek ye, where the Christ is, on the right hand of God seated,
the things above mind ye, not the things upon the earth,
for ye did die, and your life hath been hid with the Christ in God;
when the Christ–our life–may be manifested, then also we with him shall be manifested in glory.
(Col 3:1-4 Young’s Literal Translation)

There we have it, God’s own wonderful answer. There is a life not “under the sun” but above it all. There are “things above.” That is, for those who have been raised with Christ. These are to “seek the things above.” What are the things above? As we discover in Ephesians, all our spiritual blessings are above, our heritage is above, our warfare is above—in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. But we want to focus on the Colossians passage. What  we discover in Colossians is that our very life is above, because—and it’s this that we hope to open here—Christ is above, seated at the right hand of God. Christ Himself, as always, is Paul’s emphasis—“If ye then be raised with Christ, seek the things above where Christ is…” To be raised with Christ obviously implies that these first died, which is what Paul goes on to say. “Ye did die…” Who are these ye? You mean that if I am one of them I don’t live under the sun anymore? Wonderful news—I’m outa here, I died. But just when did I die? And more wonderfully, when was I raised with the Christ, and therefore am seated with Him at the right hand of God, living the life that is hid with Christ in God? We must backtrack into Chapter Two for our answer. We need to dive into the middle of one of Paul’s very long sentences:

…Because in him [in Christ] doth tabernacle all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,
and ye are in him made full, who is the head of all principality and authority,
in whom also ye were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh in the circumcision of the Christ,
being buried with him in the baptism, in which also ye rose with him through the faith of the working of God, who did raise him out of the dead. (Col 2:9-12 YLT)

There is a vital revelation in these verses, and we only have space here to get to the essence of it. Note the words, “in him…” “in whom…” That is, in Christ. The ye of Chapter 3 are those who are “in Him,” that is, in Christ. And how did they get into Him? They were baptized into Him. They were “buried with Him in the baptism…” That’s what going under the water of baptism signifies—being dead and buried. But note that Young’s Literal Translation includes the article here. “The baptism.” This is not baptism in water but baptism in Holy Spirit, which baptism in water only signifies. It is baptism in Holy Spirit that is baptism into Christ—into His death. My death by any means, by my own hand or otherwise, cannot accomplish what His death accomplished. Death to sin. Death to this world. It is this death of which A.W. Tozer spoke when he said, “The Christian’s grave is behind him.” For, the baptism is also baptism into Christ’s eternal resurrection life. (See also Romans 6:1-4.)

Do I hear you thinking, “I don’t feel like I’ve been raised with Christ”? But baptism in Holy Spirit—that moment when you received the Spirit of Christ within—is something you no doubt did feel, you experienced this. And so being raised with Christ is true of you and me whether we feel it or not, for baptism in Holy Spirit is baptism into Christ, and in Christ are  hidden realities. And when by revelation our eyes are opened by the Spirit to see these hidden realities, we may embrace them by faith. “…Being buried with him in the baptism, in which also ye rose with him through the faith of the working of God, who did raise him out of the dead.”

Let me add this, brothers and sisters. Many of us anticipate a mighty move of the Spirit of God. But let us not be looking to a coming move of the Spirit to make real to us what even today may be embraced by faith, and walked in.

We’re still backtracking in Chapter Two; Paul has this baptism in mind when toward the end of the chapter he says:

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle…” (Col 2:20,21 NKJV)

And he continues to have it in mind at beginning of what we call Chapter 3:

If, then, ye were raised with the Christ, the things above seek ye, where the Christ is, on the right hand of God seated, the things above mind ye, not the things upon the earth…

Let’s read that carefully. “If then ye were raised with Christ, seek the things above…” What a wonderful word to find here. Above. Above it all. “Seek the things above, where Christ is…” Let’s not miss the emphasis. “Where Christ is.” Not the things themselves, but Christ Himself. “Seek the things above, where Christ is…” And where is Christ? Christ is “seated at the right hand of God.” Seated, that is, enthroned. And we who have been baptized into Christ are there with Him. We are seated, enthroned, with Christ at the right hand of God, the place of all power, the very power of God. What an astonishing revelation for faith to lay hold of.

More next time.

The Everlasting Light

I don’t expect to be saying much myself in this message, just quoting from others, and from quite a bit of Scripture. I wanted to start out by inviting you to sing along with me a little children’s song we used to sing, but I couldn’t find it anywhere on the Internet. Here are the lyrics, maybe you know the song:

The Lord shall be unto me an everlasting light,
The Lord shall be unto me an everlasting light,
If I follow Jesus, If I follow Jesus,
The Lord shall be unto me an everlasting light.

Don’t mind my becoming a bit teary-eyed as I sing, it’s a beautiful song of a powerful truth.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). He didn’t say there would be no darkness, but that the one following Him would not walk in that darkness, but rather in the light of life. The light of life is an everlasting light. It doesn’t shine for a while and then go out; this light never goes out, and the darkness, try as it may, cannot put it out; it is everlasting, it shines continually and forever. We are invited to walk in this light. There is empowering grace in the invitation when received by faith.

The song comes from Isaiah, who is addressing the city of God—Zion and her children:

The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.
Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. (Isaiah 60:19,20)

With this passage in mind let’s read something Andrew Murray once wrote:

I was once preaching and a lady came to talk with me. She was a very pious woman, and I asked her, “How are you getting on?”
Her answer was, “Oh, just the way it is, sometimes light and sometimes dark.”
“My dear sister, where is that in the Bible?”
She said, “We have day and night in nature, and just so it is in our souls.”
No, no! In the Bible we read, “Your sun shall no more go down.”
Let me believe that I am God’s child, and that the Father in Christ, through the Holy Ghost, has set His love upon me, and that I may abide in His presence, not frequently, but unceasingly. [i]

Not frequently, but unceasingly? Asa Mahan, whose testimony is in Forty Witnesses[ii], wrote the following:

Soon after I became conscious of a personal union with Christ, “I in him and He in me,” I inquired of the Lord whether such blissful union could be an abiding one. In specific answer to such inquiry this promise was, all-impressively, presented to my faith, and has ever since abode in my heart as the light of my life; namely, “The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” (Isa. 60:19,20).

Why mournest thou, then, for the darkness, follower of Jesus the everlasting light? Let’s keep our eyes fixed on the everlasting light of life.

William Penn in his preface to the Journal of George Fox wrote of the light of the gospel-day that early Friends walked in. Fox’s journal is liberally sprinkled with references to this, “the everlasting day,” as he called it.

When the people were settled I stood up on a seat, and the Lord opened my mouth to declare His everlasting Truth and His everlasting day. (The Journal of George Fox)

Therefore all Friends, mind the oneness, and that which keeps you in the oneness and unity, it is that which keeps you out of the world; and this one light leads you out of darkness into the everlasting day, where ye see the church of God. (Epistles of George Fox, Number 46)

Labor to exercise a good conscience towards God, in obedience to him in what he requires, and in doing to all men the thing that is just and honest; in your conversations and words giving no offence to Jew or Gentile, nor to the church of God. So you may be as a city set on God’s Zion hill, which cannot be hid; and may be lights to the dark world, that they may see your good fruits, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. For he is glorified in your bringing forth good fruits, as you abide in Christ, the vine, in this his day of life, power, and light, that shines over all. Therefore all that believe in the light, walk in the light, as children of the light and of Christ’s everlasting day; that in the light you may have fellowship with the Father and the Son, and one with another; keeping in the unity of his holy spirit, in the bond of his holy peace, in his church, that he is head of. My desire is, that God’s wisdom everywhere may be justified of her children, and that it may be showed forth in meekness, and in the fear of the Lord in this his day, Amen. (Journal, 1687)

Whilst I was under this spiritual travail and suffering, the state of the city New Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven, was opened to me; which some carnal-minded people had looked upon to be like an outward city, that had dropped out of the elements.  But I saw the beauty and glory of it, the length the breadth, and the height thereof, all in complete proportion.  I saw that all, who are within the light of Christ, in His faith, which He is the author of, in the truth, and power of God, which are the walls of the city, such are within the city, are members of this city, and have right to eat of the tree of life, which yields her fruit every month, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations….  This holy city is within the light; and all that are within the light are within the city; the gates whereof stand open all the day (for there is no night there), that all may come in…. The Christians in primitive times were called by Christ ‘a city set upon a hill’; they were also called ‘the light of the world…’ (Journal)

The fruit of the light

This everlasting light brings forth children, and brings forth fruit.

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness “ (1 Thes. 5:5)

For ye were once darkness, now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth) proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness… (Eph. 5:8-11 ASV)

The King James Version has here, “the fruit of the Spirit,” but the American Standard Version and many others have “the fruit of the light.” I like that. It reminds me of the promise Moses gave Joseph:

And of Joseph he said: “Blessed of the LORD is his land, With the precious things of heaven, with the dew, And the deep lying beneath,
With the precious fruits of the sun, With the precious produce of the months [the moons]… (Dt. 33:13,14 NKJV)

And that reminds me of this:

 And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not whither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail: it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for healing. (Ezek. 47:12)

Fruit every month? And note that the reason these trees bring forth unfailing fruit is because their roots are in a perpetually flowing river.

And here again:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit (Jer. 17:7,8)

All these remind me of this next one, which is very easy to relegate to the future. Let’s not do that.

And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 22:1,2 ASV)

That is the fruit of the light bearing fruit every month of the year. That is the city from which flows a river of everlasting life “proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” within her, a city the light of which is the everlasting light dwelling within her. “There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 2:5).

“God is light,” writes John in his first epistle, “and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). So there is no night in this city, no darkness at all. The citizens of this city, because they abide in this city, dwell in this city, and walk in this light, have fellowship with Him who is the light, and with one another, “and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanseth us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7).

Here is what Francis Ridley Havergal discovered so wonderfully one day:

First, I was shown that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin,” and then it was made plain to me that He who had thus cleansed me had power to keep me clean; so I just utterly yielded myself to Him and utterly trusted Him to keep me….
It was that one word “cleanseth” which opened the door of a very glory of hope and joy to me. I had never seen the force of the tense before, a continual present, always a present tense, not a present which the next moment becomes a past. It goes on cleansing, and I have no words to tell how my heart rejoices in it. Not a coming to be cleansed in the fountain only, but a remaining in the fountain, so that it may and can go on cleansing. (Frances Ridley Havergal, Forty Witnesses)

Are you and I saying that this is not so with us? Yet this is why He has given us His own abiding anointing—the Holy Spirit—to teach us to abide in the Anointed One (1 Jn. 2:20-27). That anointing abides in us, and is the empowering to abide in Him, and in fact teaches us to abide, as we are ready and obedient learners of the anointing.

And so, dearly beloved of the Lord, let us not be of little faith; let us not put off into the future, or into faraway Heaven, the everlasting light of the everlasting day, nor the everlasting life that springs from the fountain of life, nor the eternal unfading inheritance, nor the fadeless glory, nor the unfading leaves of the tree of life, nor the fruit of the light that fails not, nor the ever-present and continually cleansing blood, nor the incorruptible manna, nor the abiding Presence and anointing… all of which are the manifold blessings of the New Covenant. There was a day when our Lord was just dying to inaugurate this New Covenant so He could bequeath to us all these and more. He is living today that He might cause us to know them in vital relationship with Himself, to the praise of His glory.

[i] Andrew Murray, Apostle of Abiding Love, by Leona Choy

[ii] Here is a pdf of Forty Witnesses:

Forty Witnesses – Salvation from Sin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Obey Or Not To Obey

That is the question. As I write this, a pastor in Edmonton, Alberta is being held in jail on charges that he and his church are not complying with regulations that authorities have set in place in the attempt to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The pastor was given the option of bail while awaiting his trial but refused to receive it because one of the conditions of bail was stopping church services. Initially the church had not been required to stop gathering, but to adhere to the limitations authorities in Alberta have set in place, like social distancing among limited numbers when they gather, and wearing masks. It was for not adhering to these that the fines were issued, and then when in spite of the fines the church continued to ignore the regulations, authorities took the further step of stopping the services.

Most churches in Canada are cooperating with health authorities but some are not. In addition to the Edmonton church, I’ve heard of a handful of other churches in Canada that are disobeying the regulations. They give two reasons for this. (My readers in other nations will see readily enough that what I have to say in response to these reasons is applicable beyond the borders of Canada.)

1. They state that the regulations contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Well and good, even the apostle Paul used his Roman citizenship to advantage when he was about to be flogged (Acts 22:25). But what about the rights of other Canadian citizens? Do they not have the right to be protected from the virus? There is no provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prevents authorities from putting in place regulations for the public good. On this basis, one lawyer opined, the argument that the regulations contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would not stand up in court.

2. They state that these regulations contravene what God requires of them, and so their conscience dictates that they must do the will of God regardless of government regulations.

It’s this matter that I want to speak to more closely, and it will mean “flying my colours” openly, at the risk that some will see me as having joined forces with the enemy and flying the Jolly Roger.

Certainly it is true that the Christian’s first priority is to do the will of God. And how does a Christian determine the will of God in this matter? Yes, our conscience must be our guide. But the word of God is to guide our conscience. So what does the word of God have to say about this? Here’s what Peter has to say:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. (1 Pt 2:13,14 NKJV)

That is clear, isn’t it? Ordinances set forth by man are to be submitted to—for the Lord’s sake. To refuse to submit is to find yourself disobeying the Lord Himself.

I hear the protests. “But there’s no evidence masks even work.” “Most people hardly even get sick.” “This is really hard on many people, too hard for some.” I am no expert on such matters and they could be true enough, but arguments such as these are not grounds for not complying with the ordinances. Even though the regulations make life hard for many people, and their effectiveness is hotly debated, according to the word of God to not comply is still disobedience.

I am aware that the Bible exhorts Christians not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). And that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). But this latter verse is the apostles’ response to having been commanded not to teach in Jesus’ name at all. This was the second time they had given the authorities this response. The first time, the authorities had also “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18,20).

That was absolutely the right decision, and, the grace of God helping me, I will be among the first to disobey any government regulation that forbids Christians to have anything to do with the name of Jesus. But no such thing is being laid on Christians in Canada at this time; we are only being asked, as citizens of the country we love, and in which all have freedom of worship, to do our part in a very hard time that is affecting the whole of society. We are not being told we cannot gather in Jesus’ name. Surely we grasp that. It is a matter of being in a pandemic. Unlike many nations of this world, like China, where churches are again being boarded up or torn down, Christians here are still granted religious liberty, as are those of other religions.

There are other instances in the Bible when believers rightly defied the authorities. To cite just two. Nebuchadnezzar decreed that all were to bow down before the statue he had made. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to obey. They did the right thing at the risk of their lives. Daniel disobeyed Darius’ statute that no one was to ask a request of any god or man, but only of the king himself. Daniel forthwith entered his house, opened his windows toward Jerusalem as was his daily practice, and prayed openly to God, for which act of disobedience he was cast into the lions’ den. The pandemic regulations are obviously not like these two instances. Christians are not being required to worship an idol or stop praying in Jesus’ name.

Respect God’s ministers

Now to add a word regarding the health authorities in our society along with our elected officials here in Canada. Have our authorities made the right decisions in all respects? Perhaps not. But I think they are doing their best to deal with a serious pandemic. (Are some of them hypocrites because they themselves don’t comply with the regulations? No doubt, but the hypocrisy of a few is no argument for us to follow suit.) I do not charge, as some do, that these regulations are actually aimed at suppressing religious freedom. This accusation is simply not the motive behind what our elected officials are doing, and it deeply grieves the heart—and the Holy Spirit—when Christians themselves echo the words of those who revile our elected officials, on social media calling them Nazis and Gestapo, or  commies in what is now Chinada. That is shameful. If that’s the way you think maybe you need to spend some time in a nation governed by a truly oppressive regime where Christians are actually persecuted. Please, dear brothers and sisters, mind your comments on social media. The Lord is listening in. We are not to “reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.” Even Michael the archangel “in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 8,9 NKJV).

With that Scripture in mind, let me share this now. A while back I watched a YouTube cell-phone video clip in which three ministers came to the door of a house in Calgary in order to deliver a court summons to a Christian leader who had been fined for disregarding the regulations on gathering. It was the man himself who had videoed the incident, no doubt with the intention of making it public, and I was dismayed at the way he, a supposedly Christian leader, treated these ministers, calling them Nazis and Gestapo and ordering them summarily to get off his property. Hardly the way to treat ministers, is it. Terrible disrespect. Ministers? In fact they were bylaw officers of the city police force, people the apostle Paul calls God’s ministers. Here is the passage:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  (Rom. 13:1-4 NKJV)

That’s quite something, isn’t it. (Remember it the next time God pulls you over for speeding.) To resist the authorities is to resist the ordinance and the “ministers” of God Himself. Paul wrote this to Titus: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:1,2).

So, my fellow Bible believers, this matter is something the inspired writers of Scripture were big on.

A testimony to guard and a neighbour to love

Yet I read of another church, this one in Calgary, that continued to gather in their church building even after being fined for contravening the “ordinances” that authorities have put in place. Along with the fines, this church received a letter from the local community association politely and respectfully asking them to please comply with the orders for the benefit of the whole community. The pastor and elders apparently refused this request, upon which the community association, which had been conducting their regular meetings in the church building, told them they would now find somewhere else to hold their meetings. So, this church has damaged their testimony in that community.

And what does Peter have to say about that? The passage I quoted above begins with a “therefore.” Let’s read it again. “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” What is the therefore there for? This:

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake… (1 Pt. 2:11,12).

There it is. Submitting to man’s ordinances is “for the Lord’s sake,” it is part of conducting ourselves honourably among those in the world around us because it is His name we bear. In the matter of the pandemic ordinances, then, we have the name of Jesus to protect, we have a testimony to guard…

…And a neighbour to love. In keeping the ordinances just like anyone else, we are saying to our neighbours, we love you, and want to do our part in keeping us all safe.

I hear you saying, “I do love my neighbour and all these regulations are hurting my neighbour.” Amen, our motive must reach beyond the boundaries of our own church community. But be careful that the way you are going about this does not injure your testimony in the eyes of your neighbour, who is upset because you are not doing your part to make this whole pandemic thing history. Your concern does not make it right to disobey the authorities. Go about this God’s way. Get hold of Him in this. And make your concerns known to the authorities, and in this way hopefully have regulations changed. Go about this like Pastor Sam Chua of Westlynn Baptist Church in North Vancouver. What a refreshing attitude, even though in neighbouring British Columbia Covid-19 restrictions have been even more strict than those in Alberta. Note what he says at the end about those who are “taking matters into their own hands.”

The Edmonton pastor is in jail because he has taken matters into his own hands. Is he then among those who are blessed when they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake?  Or, is he making himself a martyr while in fact being dealt with justly, as any citizen who had broken the law would be? Brothers and sisters, the day could well be not far off when here in Canada Christians are persecuted for their faith. Let us guard our testimony in this day so that we are ready for that day.

Finally, I want to say that this was difficult for me to write. Even though I have taken my stand on the foundation of Scripture, I know that many very genuine and very sincere Christians are deeply impassioned by all this, and may not find what I’ve written easy to receive. It hurts me to think that what I’ve written will cost me their friendship. If so, it will be only on their part. I will continue to hold them dear to me.

 

 

 

Beulah-land

Christians in the 19th century Holiness movement called the experience they sought the “second blessing,” or “entire sanctification.” They also described it (I discovered this in Forty Witnesses[i] an out-of-print book of their testimonies) as the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Amen, this is just what it is), perfect love, salvation now, perfect peace, the rest of faith, entering into the rest, entering Canaan…. From these we see that the second blessing, as one of them testified, was something that meant more than an experience. It meant entrance into a life. Another way they described it was entering Beulah-land. What, I wondered, was this about?

Andrew Murray met with some of these people during his visit to the United States in 1877. While Murray was helping D.L. Moody in one of his after-meetings, an elderly man approached them and asked, “Brothers, may I ask you whether you enjoy the full rest?”[ii] Murray later wrote in a letter to his sister Ellen that he gave the man what he called “an honest answer,” adding that in further conversation the man opened his understanding to see that this rest was to be found, not in looking for a further experience, but in Christ Himself, and that “I should say at once that I am dead to every thought of discontent and dissatisfaction. The Holy Spirit who has been given to me in His fullness is equal to every need and emergency.” Therein is the secret of the full rest the old Holiness man passed on to Moody and Murray.

It was 18th century Methodist leader John Wesley’s teaching on sanctification that accounted for this experience being called the “second blessing” or “second work of grace” because it was something further to justification by faith. The Holiness people often referred to the second blessing as “a free, full, and present salvation,” words that hark back to Wesley’s proclamation of a “free, full and present salvation from all the guilt, all the power and all the in-being of sin.” (That was me you just heard saying, “Amen” again.) Because of this testimony Wesley’s followers (called Methodists) were reviled, were persecuted, were treated as the off-scouring of all things, even as (where have we heard this before?) their light and salvation went forth into all the world and their numbers multiplied. Even into the 19th century, though it meant being identified with the despised Methodists, believers from other denominations, hungry for more of God, began seeking this “holiness” experience. In one testimony I read somewhere (can’t recall where), a certain woman was in a quandary because she was aching for more of God, but what could she do, it was perfect scandal to associate with Methodists; she said she “had sooner gone to Hell than to a Methodist meeting.” But finally her hunger compelled her to go.

It’s a story for another day to consider what happened to all that, and why in our day the Methodists are no longer reviled and scorned and hated. Nor are the Holiness people wherever they are. Nor are the Pentecostals who early in the 20th century were also despised (even by the Holiness people before them). It’s the same sad refrain that has been sung throughout the history of the churches…

…And of Israel of old, who, tiring of being different from the nations around them, instead began to court their favour and their gods, and in doing so ended up exiled among those nations, her own land left desolate without inhabitant.

Beulah-land

 It was this sad situation that Isaiah had in mind when he prophesied of… what’s this? A coming wedding? Really? What kind of God is this? He is a God who will not rest till He has the desire of His heart. Here is the prophecy. Note the inclusion of the Gentiles in this, revealing that it is prophetic of the New Covenant. I will put in parentheses English transliterations of the Hebrew names:

For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.
And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.
Thou [Isaiah is speaking of Zion] shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.
Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken [Azubhah], neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate [Shemamah]: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah [my delight is in her], and thy land Beulah [married]: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.
For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee… (Isa. 62:1-5a)

Here then is where the Holiness people got their reference to Beulah-land. They saw entire sanctification as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy in which the desolate land of Israel, mourning because she had no one to drink of her milk and taste of her honey and enjoy all her riches and blessings, for her children were in captivity in Babylon far away… the day would come when she would no longer be called Shemamah, desolate, but Beulah, married. For her children, her sons, exiled among the nations, would return, would be “married” to her. Even so the Holiness people themselves saw that by the second blessing, the sanctification of the Spirit, they had entered into and, indeed, had become married to all the riches, all the provision for every need, all the abundance… of the blessed “land” of salvation in Christ. His salvation—and that a full salvation—was no longer a “land” afar off, but nigh, so nigh that they were now married to it. They had entered Beulah-land.

Indeed, this is cause for great joy, is it not? Yes, it is. But Isaiah’s prophecy enlarges:

…and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.

Or as Darby’s Translation has it:

…and with the joy of the bridegroom over the bride, shall thy God rejoice over thee. (Isaiah 62:5 Darby)

Conviction came upon me as I read this. Am I, are we, marrying Him just for “his money”? If so we are missing out on His own joy, the joy of the bridegroom in His bride. It is this, His joy, that was to become her joy. In all this wonderful blessing and provision and salvation, God Himself is rejoicing in His marriage to Zion. His delight is in her. It is a picture of Christ becoming “married” to those once alienated from God. He has now joined them to Himself, and they to Him, they are now so one with Him—married to Him—that all that is His, all that He has, His riches in glory, the abundance of His “land,” His full and free and present salvation, His victory, His peace, His rest, His joy, His very love for others… all that is His, becomes their own. In fact only thus, married to Him, does it become their own. As one of the old Holiness witnesses testified:

I am proving, as never before, that salvation is a Divine Personality—more, far more than a blessing. It is the internal revelation of THE BLESSER in the infinitude of His attributes, constituting within my soul a never-failing and ever-springing well ‘springing up unto everlasting life.’

Here then is a Selah for us. Rebekah the betrothed bride who came from Mesopotamia in the camel train with Abraham’s servant saw in the distance one walking in the field in the eventide. She asked the servant, “What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?” “It is my master,” he told her. In his writing The Journey of the Bride our old friend George Warnock observed, “It appears she had noticed him before the servant did.” It’s because she was on the lookout for one whom having not seen, she loved. Is our love like that, beloved? The Bridegroom yearning for His Bride goes forth into the field “to meet us.” Are we for our part looking for, anticipating, watching for Him? Or are we leaving it up to some faithful servant of the Lord to do our watching for us and alert us of His appearing, all the while preoccupying ourselves with the raiment and jewelry of gold and silver we’ve already received? Is it His gifts and riches we are in love with? Or Himself?

The Day of the gladness of His heart

In his book Abide In Christ, Andrew Murray has one chapter called, That Your Joy May Be Full. Here is a brief excerpt from it:

These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might abide in you, and that your joy might be full. (Jn. 15:11)

Let us hear what the Saviour has to say of the joy of abiding in Him. He promises us His own joy; “My joy.” As the whole parable refers to the life His disciples should have in Him when He ascended to heaven, the joy is that of His resurrection life. This is clear from those other words of His (Jn 16:22): “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” It was only with the resurrection and its glory that the power of the never-changing life began, and only in it that the never-ceasing joy could have its rise. With it was fulfilled the word: “Therefore thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Ps 45:7). The day of His crowning was the day of the gladness of Heart.

This last sentence arrested me; I was pretty sure I knew where it came from, and went looking for it. Sure enough:

Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart (Song 3:11 KJV).

That is prophetic, as Andrew Murray said, of the joy with which the crowned and ascended Christ sent forth the Spirit to espouse a bride to Himself. He had loved righteousness and hated iniquity, though it meant for Him the cross. He had endured the cross because of “the joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). What was the joy that was set before Him? The hope of a wedding! What was the joy, the gladness, of the resurrected and ascended and crowned Christ? It was the day of the gladness of His heart, when He received the Crown for which He had endured the cross. Now crowned with the Oil of gladness, He sent forth His Spirit to join His bride to Himself, giving her Himself in giving her the Spirit, the arrabon, the surety bringing nigh and guaranteeing her that He is hers, and she His:

…in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth–the good news of your salvation–in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise, which is an earnest [arrabon] of our inheritance, to the redemption of the acquired possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph 1:13,14)

Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;
Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest [arrabon] of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Cor. 1:21,22)

This, then, is what baptism in Holy Spirit, entire sanctification, the sanctification of the Spirit, assures us. In modern Greek arrabon means engagement ring, but I don’t think that quite fits the New Testament usage of the word, for in those days a betrothal was a virtual marriage (as in the story of Joseph and Mary). Some translations of arrabon have “first installment” or “down payment.” But the “earnest of the Spirit,” or better, “the earnest, which is the Spirit,” is more than that. It is the faithful God’s guarantee, His surety, bringing nigh the hope of His heart and of ours—as we for our part continue chaste and faithful till the great day of presenting—the marriage supper of the Lamb when the bride of the Lamb and the Lamb are eternally one, and all that is His is hers. She with Him… they are heirs together of all things.

We know that in an ultimate sense this and much more is yet to come. The marriage of the Lamb is yet to come in its fullest sense. But let this not hinder us from real-izing even now the union with Him by the Spirit that brings nigh what is yet to come, and enables us to walk in it by faith. [iii]  Beulah-land is not for a distant day, nor for a distant Heaven after we die, as in the lyrics of the teary song. Beulah-land is Christ and Heaven brought nigh. Let’s be diligent lest we fall short of this and continue all our days in the wilderness. That is unbelief. We see ourselves as still in the wilderness, that “the promised land” of our inheritance is yet future. But Israel in the wilderness is not a pattern prophetic of New Covenant saints, but rather of what we are NOT to follow (1 Cor. 10:1-11). And Paul proclaims that by what God accomplished in the Cross of Christ, He has not only “qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” but by His Spirit has also “delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:12,13 NKJV, emphasis mine). That is Beulah-land, beloved. Let us walk therein, for Paul was not just setting forth a promise, but a reality to be realized by faith. Yes, the day of fullness certainly comes. For the Methodists and the Holiness people and the early Friends and others in the past who had a hearing ear, that day had dawned. How keen is our hearing in this our day? How sharp is our eyesight? How hot is our love—for our Lord and for all those He loves and died for?

For, Isaiah’s prophecy is still not complete. He opened the prophecy by saying that God will not rest till He has accomplished something. His intention in renaming His land Beulah-land, His intention in the marriage of the Bridegroom and the Bride, is that Zion’s righteousness (the Lord Himself) go forth as brightness, and her salvation (the Lord Himself) as a lamp that burneth. Do we grasp this? It happens because He is no longer hidden away in distant Heaven, He is nigh, He is one with His bride, His glory is revealed in her, He is shining forth in Zion! God says He will not rest till He has accomplished this. Such is His love for this sin-ravaged world. Yes, to some extent this has already happened. In measure. But look at our world now. It pains the heart to look. Do you and I ourselves not ache with God’s own ache for the Light and Salvation of Zion to go forth? How many of us have this perpetual cry of God on our own hearts, and are among the watchmen who themselves refuse to rest, day and night continually reminding God and giving Him no rest till He does what He has promised to do? That is how Isaiah ends his prophecy:

I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD [that is, are the Lord’s remembrancers], keep not silence,
And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. (Isa. 62:6,7)

____________________________________

[i] Here is a pdf of Forty Witnesses:

Forty Witnesses – Salvation from Sin

[ii] From Andrew Murray, Apostle of Abiding Love, by Leona Choy

[iii] Please see my writing Realized Eschatology:

https://amendingfeast.org/2020/09/21/realized-eschatology/

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures Of Eternal Life

 

In this increasingly unstable world of ours, and growing darkness, let us be mindful of Jesus’ words that are both a promise and a warning. He warned that “the thief cometh…” He is referring to what one has called the “cosmic thief,” the Devil. This thief is intent on one thing, which he loves to do under cover of darkness. “The thief cometh not but for to steal and to kill and to destroy…” The thing we must get hold of here is that it’s His own flock that Jesus is warning; it’s these that the thief has his malicious eye on. But in the same breath Jesus now adds, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). This is his precious promise, and it becomes the heritage of those who hear the voice of their Shepherd and follow Him as He goes out before them. This is their part; it is His part to lead them into His green pastures of abundant life, and protect them there. No lion or bear or thief can touch them when they do their part, and when He does His part. Let us do our part, then. Let us never for a moment stray from the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls! I’m not saying we should have no interest in what’s going on out there in the world. I’m saying let nothing tempt us to distance ourselves from the protection of our Shepherd’s loving presence. I say presence because it is in Himself that the abundant life is found. “I am come that they might have life…” Let nothing in this world, then, nothing great or small, seduce us to breach even for a moment the life-link with our loving Shepherd in the high pastures of Israel—our spiritual heritage in Christ Jesus. If we do we have set ourselves up not for provision and protection but for robbery and destruction.

With this in mind, I hope to open more fully to our understanding what the abundant life in Christ is like so that this becomes our one desire—and our determination that nothing shall move us from it. Let’s read a verse of Scripture:

And this is the promise that He has promised us—the land of Canaan. (I Jn. 2:25 NKJV)

“Wait a minute,” I hear you protesting, “that’s not what it says.”

I’m glad to see you know your Bible, we’re off to a good start. Actually it reads:

And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.

But do you see where I’m coming from? Canaan was the earthly land of promise that God promised Israel of old. He gave the promise initially to Abraham, and faithfully brought the descendants of Abraham into that abundant land after first enjoining upon them the Sinai Covenant. This was all a type of what was to come. It is eternal life that He promises the New Covenant people of God. That is to say, life in Christ. “…God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 Jn. 5:11). This is the New Covenant “land”—the Son of God Himself, a “land” characterized by eternal life.

Eternal life? We have shortchanged ourselves if we think of eternal life solely as life without end. Certainly it is life without end, but it’s far more than that, it’s far more than something we enter into once we have died and gone to Heaven. Eternal life is a heavenly heritage we begin to enter into while yet on earth. But obviously it’s far more than an earthly plot of ground. Yet eternal life is like the earthly land of Canaan inasmuch as reality is portrayed in a picture book. That’s how I like to describe the Old Testament part of our Bible. It’s a picture book given to children prior to the New Covenant reality that has now come. Of course those accounts in the Old Testament are not fairy tales, they are not fiction; they are true accounts of people on terra firma. But they were prophetic of a spiritual reality to come.

What does eternal life look like?

So, what does the Picture Book have to say about the promise of eternal life? What is eternal life like? Here from the Picture Book are some descriptions of eternal life:

And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,
And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not,
Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Dt. 6:10-12)

In other words, the provision of the land was not the result of their own work. It was wonderfully all there already in the land. Here’s another:

For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. (Dt. 8:7-9)

Again, we see that the land was a prepared land; in it the people of God would lack nothing, there was abundant provision for every need. Joshua confirmed the same at the end of his life:

And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat. (Josh 24:13 KJV)

And so the people entered into the land of their inheritance only to find it just as they had been told. The provision of every need was ready at hand. In fact God called this land “the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you” (Dt. 12:9 NKJV). None of this would involve their own works. Even the warfare they accomplished in this land was the result of the Lord—and Joshua (their Jesus)—going before them. “The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said” (Dt. 31:3).

Even so, eternal life is the prepared life, the very life of Christ, the ever-present salvation and provision for our every need. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). It is the kind of life and salvation in which our walk is a prepared walk, our works prepared before us. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before prepared that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We are new creations in Christ and we walk by the rule of new creation life—steps that are prepared before us. “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

It is all that He Himself might be glorified in our lives.

The Bishop of the land

That heading might throw you; I know what the word bishop brings to mind. But bear with me. Let’s read a longer passage. I love this one:

But your eyes have seen all the great acts of the LORD which he did.
Therefore shall ye keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess the land, whither ye go to possess it;
And that ye may prolong your days in the land, which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give unto them and to their seed, a land that floweth with milk and honey.
For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs:
But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven:
A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul,
That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.
And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. (Dt. 11:7-15 KJV)

That’s what their earthly inheritance was like. And this is what the heavenly heritage of eternal life is like. It is a land, a life, “which the Lord thy God careth for…” What do you mean, Lord? I mean this: “…The eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year…”

Careth is the Hebrew darash, which more literally would be seeketh after, or searcheth. I’d really like us to get the sense of this, so let’s look at some other versions:

 …A land which Jehovah thy God is searching; continually are the eyes of Jehovah thy God upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the latter end of the year. (DT 11:12 YLT)
…A land about which the LORD your God is continually concerned, because the eyes of the LORD rest continually on it throughout the entire year. (ISV)
…A land the LORD your God looks after. He is constantly attentive to it from the beginning to the end of the year. (NET)

Do we get the picture? Let’s string those together. His eyes are continually upon this land, He is continually concerned about it, He is constantly attentive to it in order to look after and take care of this land moment by moment.

Here’s another—this one from Brenton’s English translation of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament:

…A land which the Lord thy God surveys continually, the eyes of the Lord thy God are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

The Septuagint Greek for surveys is episkopeo, which the Apostolic Bible Polyglot (a translation that codifies the Greek Septuagint with Strong’s numbers) actually renders oversees. “A land which the Lord  thy God oversees continually.” What a thought! Eternal life is a land, a domain, that God continually oversees. Strong’s defines episkopeo as “to look diligently, take the oversight.” From this we have our English word bishop—overseer, one who sees over, one who watches over the flock with a view to its care and protection. “For ye were as sheep going astray,” says Peter, “but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pt. 2:25). Or as the New King James Version has it, “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” He cares deeply for the welfare and wellbeing of our souls, our lives, therefore continually watches over us day and night, mindful of the very best for us in the pastures of eternal life, just as He did the land for which He cared, His eyes searching it attentively with a view to giving it His loving care and attention.

“…For the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.”

This, beloved, is what eternal life, life in Christ, is like. It is like “…a land of milk and honey… a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.” That description from the Picture Book gives us through a glass darkly an insight into eternal life. It is life which is life indeed in the “land” of our inheritance. “Life, and that more abundantly.” Life in Christ. Eternal life. God is overseeing this land, the heavenly Canaan, to do it good that He may do us good. He keeps its care in His own hands. Gone are the days in Egypt when we watered our plots with an irrigation system entirely in our own control. Not so now. Not in this land. This land is the Rest of God; the days of toil to bring forth our bread by the sweat of our brow are over. This our new land is watered with the rain of Heaven, of which God alone is in control.

Did I hear you catch your breath just here? You mean leaving this entirely to Him? Yes, it means absolute and utter dependence upon Him alone. If that seems risky it’s only because we don’t know Him very well. Once we know and believe the love that God has for us, who would have it any other way? For we come to see that it is a God of lovingkindness and faithfulness who promises this kind of life and rest, life eternal, upon our entering into and abiding in His “land” in total dependence upon Him. Only in His “land” is this kind of life, eternal life, to be found. Upon putting our trust entirely in Him we bid goodbye forever to our unrest, to our doubts and fears. We cease from our own works and labours and strivings and the world with all its cares. Our lot is now to rest entirely in Him and simply obey His leadings, His commandments, thereby enjoying the life of abundant fruitfulness and total victory over every enemy.

This is just what 19th century Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith had to say upon what she called her “entrance into this life.”

I have found it to be more and more true, every day of my life, that Christ is a  complete and ever-present Savior, and that if I but commit all my interests to Him, I have, as a dear child once said, nothing to do now but “just to mind.” To say “Thy will be done” seems to me, more and more, the sweetest song of the soul. The deepest longings of my whole being are met and satisfied in God. He is enough! Believing, resting, abiding, obeying—these are my part. He does all the rest. What heights and depths of love, what infinite tenderness of care, what wise lovingkindness of discipline, what grandeur of keeping, what wonders of revealing, what strength in weakness, what comfort in sorrow, what light in darkness, what easing of burdens I have found, what a Savior, no words can tell!
Hannah Whitall Smith, 1887

That is beautiful, is it not? This is a description of eternal life, the prepared life in Christ, wherein our Saviour’s part is to do the saving; our part is simply to mind Him with ready obedience, and even for this He provides the needed grace. Who can but love Him with all the heart and soul and mind and strength?

 

 

 

Guessing and Fearing the Future?

In 1785 the poet Robert Burns penned his famous To A Mouse after plowing through the home a mouse had made under what was left in the field after the crop had been taken off. The mouse scurried away in a panic, leaving Burns to reflect on the plight of his “fellow mortal.” He sees in the upending of this poor little creature’s world what all too often comes upon his fellow men also, who build their lives under the security of what is but a clump of dry grass… and suddenly the plowshare upends it all and the wind blows it away. Burns’ line on that has become a familiar and oft-repeated aphorism: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley [go oft awry]…”

He continues his lament with, “…an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain for promis’d joy.”

It’s these lines and the last verse of To A Mouse that came to my heart as 2020 comes to a close. Burns draws his poem to a close envying the mouse because it has no comprehension of the past or the future, whereas he looked back “on prospects drear,” and forward, “tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!” Many of us look back on 2020 just like that; we look back and see the ruin that this plowshare of a pandemic has wrought in our world. Then many look forward, and though they canna’ see, they guess and fear.

We need not guess. We need not fear. There is another plan beyond the plans of mice and men—God’s eternal plan in the Lord Jesus Christ—and it cannot go awry. We may look forward with great hope and confidence and God’s promised joy that the world cannot give and nothing can take away.

Praying all the best for you all in 2021.

Here’s To a Mouse in the original Scots dialect followed by an English paraphrase https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Mouse :

(They are shown side by side on Wikipedia.)

The original Scots:

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

Thy wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

The English paraphrase:

Little, cunning, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With bickering prattle!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering paddle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, that you may steal;
What then? Poor beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse green foliage!
And bleak December’s winds ensuing,
Both bitter and piercing!

You saw the fields laid bare and empty,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! The cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.

That small heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

Majestic Lowliness

Long ago while watching over his flock at night, a young shepherd looked up at the starry sky, overawed by it all, as many of us have been as often as we have looked up. David the sweet psalmist of Israel took up his lyre and began to sing to the One who created it all:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet… (Ps 8:3-6)

“What is man that Thou art mindful of Him?” Many of us have wondered that too. Why, God? Why are you interested in man? In me? There’s a lot compressed in that beautiful psalm—being made for a little lower than the angels, then being crowned with glory and honour…  What is all that about? And this—Thou visitest him… What’s that about?

It means more than to just pay a visit to someone. The word has the thought of watching over, attending do, caring for with deep concern.

Here is how it is best described. There came a day when the One who created the moon and the stars that David with great wonder was looking up to… He came down:

And the word became flesh…

Who is this—the Word?  Let’s read this more fully.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (Jn. 1:1-3 NKJV)

And then down to verse 14:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father), full of grace and truth…

That astonishes me, overawes me. The Word by whom all things were created—all things in heaven and in earth, whether visible or invisible (which would include the myriads of angels) as the apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:16—this One became flesh, became human, and “dwelt” among us. The Man Christ Jesus born in Bethlehem was God dwelling—“tabernacling,” or tenting, you might say—among men.

How lowly of God, the God who created all things, that He should do this, become incarnate as a human being. The whole story of Jesus’ birth is… how can I describe it? It is majestic in lowliness: it turns to tinsel all other majesty. He did not swoop down from Heaven full grown, a king in royal robes. He was born a helpless baby, the firstborn of a virgin teenager espoused to a poor carpenter. They had come to Bethlehem  because Caesar Augustus had called for a world-wide census and Joseph was required to register there.

Bethlehem itself was not a great city, it was a little town:

 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting. (Micah 5:2)

You can be sure that in calling for this census, the great, the majestic, the august Caesar, the ruler of the whole known world at that time, whom all in his empire were to worship as god… you can be sure he knew nothing of this ancient prophecy. There’s something else he didn’t know. The very idea of being anybody’s servant would have been contemptible to him, yet here he is, unknowingly serving the purpose of the August God of Heaven and earth who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”

Enter Joseph of the lineage of David, and Mary, who called herself a handmaid of the Lord (Lk 1:38). It’s not likely they had this prophecy in mind when they set out from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But they knew they were in the will of God, and were simply complying with what Joseph was required to do.

There was no room for them in the local caravansary; many others had returned to Bethlehem for this same purpose. So Jesus was born in a stable, and laid in a manger. His first visitors were shepherds who had been watching their flock by night when an angel declared to them the Good News of His birth.

This is the Word by whom all things in Heaven and earth were created? Born like this?

Yes. It was all part of the God of immeasurable greatness revealing Himself in  great lowliness. How could one so incomparably great but do otherwise?

Yet this was only the beginning of His identifying Himself with man. Here is the incarnation in the words of the apostle Paul:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:5-11).

What depths of lowliness are these? He who created all things was born a human being, and going further, humbled Himself unto death—not an honourable death, but the death of a despised criminal, so that no human being fallen to the depths of sin and depravity should be beyond the reach of His arm and His heart.

I bow the knee, dear Lord, I bow my knee—and my heart. You are mindful of man. You demonstrated it by visiting him. I know this personally. You showed yourself mindful of me years ago, and visited me in a time when my world had caved in around me… and You are with me to this day. I am so thankful. I love you, and worship you, thankful that where broken hearts humble themselves to walk with You, “the dear Lord enters in.”

I love that old hymn by Phillips Brooks. Here’s a link if you’d like to sing it along with me. I’ve followed it with another: Maker of the Universe by Phil Keaggy. It’s not really a Christmas song, but it’s what His incarnation ultimately meant.

O Little Town of Bethlehem – Carols (A Christmas Project) Lyric Video – YouTube

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see Thee lie
Above Thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And, gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the Holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Maker of the Universe by Phil Keaggy – YouTube

The Maker of the universe,
As Man for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.

His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.

He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.

The sky that darkened o’er His head,
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him its face
By His decree was poised in space.

The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.

The throne on which He now appears
Was His for everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.

 

 

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