Love Not The World

Here is a passage of Scripture I put on Facebook on Super Bowl Sunday, making no further comment because I intended to do so later in a blog entry.

To whom it may concern:
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust thereof, but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Here now is that blog entry.

First, how is “the world” to be defined?

John spells it out plainly enough; can we make it even more simple? It is what “the world” loves—the world of those who know not God—that is “the world.”

Now let me cut to the chase. If the Super Bowl is not “the world” I have no idea what “the world” is. Something like 170 million TV viewers and live streamers watched the Super Bowl (but compare that with the 3.5 billion who watched the Word Cup last year). My point is that the Super Bowl was a great table spread for the lust of the flesh and of the eyes and the pride of this life, and multitudes sat down for the feed. Does it not, then, number among those things that the apostle John has in mind when he calls disciples of Christ to not love the world?

I have no idea how much money was involved in this; I make no mention of the kind of money the players make; I need not labour that to any sensitive conscience that knows Christ’s teaching on the service of God and Mammon. I did see that advertisers paid $5.6 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad. Bookies and gamblers made and lost fortunes on the game. Apart from the game itself, one Christian social media commenter called the half-time presentation “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show” and shut his TV off. (Then why even take in the game, I ask?) Another, a woman with growing daughters, commented, “No wonder the Moslems hate us.”

Those “of the world,” of course, will do what they will do, and God will judge them for it. What concerns me is that the Church of God which He has sanctified out of the world must have nothing to do with the things that those in the world pursue—and we ought to be judging ourselves concerning these things lest we be condemned with the world. Yet in many churches this does not seem to be taking place. I am aware that both in Canada and the United States many genuine brothers and sisters in Christ sat down to their own feastings and watch parties. Can we not see how discordant it is for disciples of the cross of Jesus Christ to be involved in something like that? I ask the question sorrowing, very aware that many apparently do not see it. Why the blindness?

Beloved, we are going to have to go further than this if we are going to see the testimony of Jesus Christ shining forth in our churches. We are to be characterized by the love of the Father, not the love of the world.

I think often of the Great Awakening in Wales in 1904-06. Wales too was a country preoccupied with football, but in the days of that awakening they could not scrape up enough men to form a football team; no one was interested in sports. Drama troupes were advised that to tour Wales would mean financial ruin; no one was interested in entertainment. They were all consumed with an incomparable love. We still sing about it, don’t we. The love song of the revival. But is that all it is to us—a moving song that evokes in us a wistful yearning?

Or… are we doing the will of God?

That’s what John brings this down to. The world with its desires is passing away, and with it those who pursue those desires. It is the one who does the will of God who abides forever—even though that will lead him or her in the way of fellowship with One whose love for the Father’s will was revealed “on the mount of crucifixion.”

That One “shall never be forgotten throughout Heaven’s eternal days.”

Am I coming across the way I hope? It is with regard to our love that we need so deep, so deep, a heart searching. What will it be, beloved? The love of the world? Or the will of God. The love of the world? Or the Father’s love—and the cross that comes our way in a world at perpetual enmity with Him. That is what doing His will inevitably brings upon us.

Tempted To Care?

Facebook Friends of Biblebase host Ron Bailey posted this a few days ago:

“Enter not into the path of the wicked,
And walk not in the way of evil men. Avoid it,
pass not by it;
Turn from it,
and pass on.”(Prov. 4:14–15 ASV)

“Yield not to temptation
For yielding is sin…”

Verses from Proverbs, lines from an old hymn, these complementing each other. Do you make the connection? There is a difference between temptation and entering into temptation. To come across the pathway of the wicked and feel an attraction is not sin; to turn into that pathway is a different matter. It is not sin to be tempted. It is sin to enter into temptation.

Later that same day I came across something in F.B. Meyer’s devotional Our Daily Homily. He was talking about Jesus’ parable of the types of ground that receive seed, enlarging particularly on the thorny ground. This is what he said:

“And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful” (Mk. 4:19).

There is enough nutriment in the land for the thorns alone or for the wheat alone, but not for both; and so there is a brief struggle for mastery, in which the sturdy weed prevails against the slender wheat, and chokes it. Nourishment which should go to its support is drained away from it; and though it does not actually expire, it leads a struggling existence, and becomes unfruitful. What are these weeds? For the poor man—Cares: The Greek word for care is Division. Cares divide our heart, and distract it in many different directions…. What shall the poor man do to prevent the Word from becoming unfruitful? He must take his cares to his Father, and by one act deposit them in His safe-keeping.

And thereafter, as a care tries to break in on the peace of his heart, he must treat it as a positive temptation, handing it over to God.

Positive—he means no doubt about it, this is a temptation disguised as a responsibility.

That arrested me, particularly because of the earlier reading on Friends of Biblebase.

The deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things are more easily recognized as temptations to be resisted. What about the cares of this world? “What shall the poor man do to prevent the Word from becoming unfruitful?”

“He must take his cares to his Father, and by one act deposit them in His safe-keeping.”

That is a reference to a passage in 1 Peter:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (1Pe 5:6,7 KJV)

Various commentators and other translations show that the more accurate translation of verse 7 is, “Having cast [once for all the whole of your care] upon Him, for He careth for you (1 Pt. 5:6,7).

Peter is saying that this is to be something done once, and once-for-all. The idea is of unburdening ourselves and loading on Him the whole of our cares—once-for-all. Any attempt of any care to re-impose itself upon us must be recognized for what it is—a temptation. A temptation which is not to be entered into, but resisted, put in its place.

It’s very interesting and comforting that the word “careth” in “He careth for you” is a verb from the same root as the noun “care” used earlier in the sentence—having cast all your care on Him—where it means, anxious care, care that divides and distracts the heart. If, then, we take that same meaning forward into the phrase “He careth for you,” construing it positively now, we understand our dear Lord is, well, not really “distracted” with our care, but totally concerned and preoccupied with it, giving it His undivided attention, considering it His own, and therefore His own responsibility. There is no way He is going to neglect it or let it fall to the ground.

So let us lay it to heart. Let us recognize care for what it is—a thorny weed determined to choke out the growing Word of God in our lives. Let us not yield to the temptation to give it room. Let us not solace it once again, nor feed on it, worrying it as a dog a bone. Let us not converse with it in our minds, let us not give it the time of day. Let us not enter into temptation. Let us resist it. It is in safe caring hands. Let us, then, be encouraged to continue care-less!

His Song I Sing

I love to sing, but I sing less often these days because my voice is kind of crackly now. Nevertheless I am always inwardly singing, and now, apparently, quite often am humming, or so I’m told. (It looks like that spring in my heart must surface one way or another.) So I’m told I’m often overheard humming a tune, something recognizable only by the birds of my feather, for I know I’m never humming the familiar music of this world. I don’t hum or sing that music. Not that it’s a rule I keep religiously; I just don’t want to; it isn’t in my heart anymore, hasn’t been for a long time.

It’s because of the old saying:

Whose bread you eat, his song you sing.

That’s what’s in my heart—the song of the Bread of God who came down from heaven to give life to the world.

For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (Jn. 6:33 NKJV).

The world’s bread left me empty; how can I sing its song? Its song left me empty too. Now I eat the Bread of God, it satisfies my deepest hunger. How, then, can I help but sing His song? Recently I had one stuck in my heart after hearing in a dream someone singing, oh such a beautiful melody, but, oh, how vexing: I could not identify the singer, nor the lyrics! So I approached one standing by, a stranger to me, and asked him if he knew the song. But somehow he hadn’t heard it being sung, so, anxiously hoping he would know it, I began humming it for him. To no avail. He couldn’t help me. I was so disappointed. After I awoke, the song kept replaying within me. It was only later in the day that I suddenly recognized it, and instantly knew it had to have been my friend Steven singing in my dream his favourite psalm from the Psalter, Psalm 84.

O Lord of Hosts, how lovely Thy tabernacles are;
For them my heart is yearning In banishment afar.
My soul is longing, fainting, Thy sacred courts to see;
My heart and flesh are crying, O living God, for Thee.

So… that’s what is ever with me—the Lord’s song. In the daytime. In the nighttime. It may be a psalm, or a hymn, or one of the many songs in my years-long memory bank that I loved to sing when gathering together with others unto the Lord.

He came down from heaven to give life to the world. Very fittingly He was born in Bethlehem, “House of bread.” Insignificant Bethlehem, though “little among the thousands of Judah,” had upon it the eye of a God who loves the lowly. He had destined that “out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2 ASV). “Unto Me,” God assured. This ruler born in Bethlehem would be God’s own divinely ordained and anointed king who would never abdicate or be deposed, one to whom all peoples, beginning with the people of Israel, were to bow the knee. His birth would fulfill great hope in those who longed to see this Ruler and give Him from the heart His rightful allegiance; it would also fulfill great fear in those who above all else did not want to see this One come forth and reign. One of them, inspired by His Enemy, sought to do away with Him in His infancy but failed; others in the service of that same Enemy ultimately conspired to have Him crucified. They succeeded in that but failed in their purpose; to their everlasting confusion all they did was establish His throne. He reigns even yet. I for one came to a time in my life when I humbled myself and bowed my knees to Him. I still remember the moment. What happened then is best related in the words of my old friend, George Herbert (another of whose poems inspired the title of this weblog):

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

That is just what I did. I humbled myself, and accepted His loving invitation. I sat down at His table, and did eat—He Himself serving me.

He Himself serving me? Where are the words…

Broken Bread for a broken man

I needed to be broken before I was willing to receive this Bread. The Bread Himself needed to be broken before I could take Him in. Before being broken, that Bread remained outside of me. But now this Bread has been broken, and has come to me in a Form I am able to take in: now by His Spirit this Bread is within me. I needed only to open my heart; now this Bread is in my heart sustaining me daily; it is “bread that strengthens man’s heart” for whatever a day may bring (Ps. 104:15).

What Wonder-bread is this! Where I live people can buy bread with the brand name Wonderbread. It’s good bread, and will keep your physical body going for a while. But that’s all it can do. Man, in order to live, needs other bread than that. “I am,” says Jesus, “the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). He says further:

I am the living bread, which came down from heaven. If anyone eat this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51 NKJV).

Live forever? It is the bread of eternal life, then. But, in fact, He said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have not life in you” (Jn. 6:53).

You have not life in you? It is the most serious statement of Scripture that no human being has Life in him or her apart from ingesting the living Bread, the Bread of life. Those who have eaten this Bread have life in them, eternal life, and therefore even while in mortal flesh have this promise:

Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:54).

Wondrous and sure hope!

And so, as one who has taken and eaten this Bread, and continues to do so daily, I exhort you, dear reader, oh, if you have not done so, please, lay this to heart.

You have no Life in you except you eat this Bread. Eat this Bread, and live.

Eat this Bread, and you will soon be singing His song.

Please join me now in singing one of my favourite hymns—or hum along if you like—and I pray that, just as this hymn has become so meaningful to me, it will also become so to you, because you, along with me, no longer hold allegiance with those who feared when “the hopes and fears of all the years” were met of old in Bethlehem.

Alden, will you please lead for us?

…Here also, for those who would like to listen in, is the song I heard in my dream:

A Colony Of Heaven

A rare thing for me—let’s talk politics. I live in Alberta, one of Canada’s western provinces. Policies of the federal Liberal government have left many in these resource-rich provinces with empty purses. They made their feelings known in our October 21 federal election, which saw “the enemy,” Justin Trudeau and his Liberals, re-elected, albeit this time not with a majority government but with a minority, because the western provinces voted Conservative en masse. Now in Alberta a movement to part ways with eastern Canada is gaining angry momentum. Wexit, they’re dubbing it—West Exit—after the fashion of Brexit, Britain’s movement to leave the European Union. That’s not the whole picture; in Quebec the separatist Bloc Quebecois, roundly defeated in 2011 and considered history, lo and behold is up and running again. My country is deeply divided, I should say tri-vided.

I love Canada; I love Alberta, and it grieves my heart to see things come to this. I’ve been listening in to what’s being said, and dwelling on it a lot. Too much. Which is why I want to talk politics.

Heaven’s politics. A verse from Philippians has been coming to mind: “For our conversation is in heaven…” That’s the old King James Version, which uses “conversation” for “conduct, behaviour.” The New King James Version has this:

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ… (Phil. 3:20 NKJV)

Why the word citizenship? As I thought on that, something I’d read many years ago kept resurfacing: “We are a colony of heaven.” I couldn’t recall where I’d read it. Google found it for me in the 2017 Passion Translation:

But we are a colony of heaven on earth as we cling tightly to our life-giver, the Lord Jesus Christ…

But that couldn’t be what I was looking for; I’d read it long before the publication of that translation (it’s to the far left of a paraphrase, actually). Eventually I found it in James Moffatt’s translation which was first published in 1922:

But we are a colony of heaven, and we wait for the Saviour who comes from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ… (James Moffatt, A New Translation,1922)

“Our citizenship is in heaven” is the more accurate translation but Paul was writing to the church in Philippi, and he knew his readers would “get” what he was saying. Philippi was a Roman colony, which meant its residents were actually citizens of Rome.

And from thence [we sailed] to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony… (Acts 16:12).

I remember when I was a boy my dad saying that Victoria, British Columbia, was “a little bit of England.” To be in Victoria (named after a great 19th century queen of the British Empire) was to be as it were in England. In that sense it was a “colony of England.” In fact the daily newspaper (of which my dad’s brother Seth Halton was for many years editor) was called the Victoria Daily Colonist. One could go to the Empress Hotel in Victoria and have “high tea,” as close as you could get without the actual presence of our present Queen Elizabeth. (Google tells me you can still do that.)

Philippi was one of several colonies in the Roman Empire. Colonies were originally Roman outposts established to secure conquered territories. “Eventually, however, the term came to denote the highest status of a Roman city” (Wikipedia). “The idea of a colony was, that it was another Rome transferred to the soil of another country” (Vincent’s Word Studies). Inhabitants had the privilege of Roman citizenship, which meant “exemption from scourging, freedom from arrest, except in extreme cases, and, in all cases, the right of appeal from the magistrate to the emperor” (Vincent). The inhabitants spoke Latin and were subject to Roman law. The coinage had Latin inscriptions.

Philippi, then, was a miniature Rome. Its citizens, although in distant Macedonia, were citizens of Rome.

The word translated “citizenship” or “colony” is the Greek politeuma, a noun. It’s interesting that earlier in his epistle Paul used the verb form politeuomai when he urged the saints in Philippi, “Only let your conversation [interaction, conduct, citizenship] be as becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…” (Phil. 1:27). In fact Robertson’s Word Pictures suggests that the better translation here would be, “only do ye live as citizens…” Politeuomai is found in only one other place in the New Testament, Acts 23:1, where it is translated “lived.” The more common word for “conversation, conduct” is anastrophe, which is used 13 times in the New Testament. So, in selecting politeuomai here, it’s very suggestive that Paul has in mind that, whereas the saints in Philippi were in distant earth, they were citizens of heaven.

Although of Hebrew lineage, Paul himself was a Roman, but not because his hometown Tarsus was a Roman colony. Someone in an earlier generation (his grandfather or great grandfather?) had become a Roman citizen. This is why when Paul was about to be stretched out for a scourging, he said to the centurion, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25). The centurion in charge of the scourging immediately reported this to his commander. “Take heed what thou doest, for this man is a Roman.” The commander instantly came and queried Paul personally. “Art thou a Roman?” Paul confirmed that he was. The commander responded, “With a great sum obtained I this freedom.” The word he used is politeia, citizenship. “And Paul said, But I was free born.” Upon this they backed away from him as though he had the plague—or should I say as though he were the Roman emperor himself.

So Paul reminds the Philippians, “our citizenship—our politeuma—is in heaven.” I think I see the root there from which we get our word politics, although I doubt that “our politics is in heaven” would qualify as good exegesis. But if our citizenship is there, our politics is certainly there also. In any case, when we read that verse in context we discover that Paul is brokenhearted because of those whose walk made them “enemies of the cross of Christ.” How so? How were they enemies of the cross of Christ? They “mind earthly things.” It is upon this that Paul says, “For, our citizenship is in heaven…”

That’s quite something, isn’t it. Just as the residents of Philippi were citizens of Rome, the saints there were citizens of heaven.

The psalmist foresaw this long ago. He spoke of Rahab and Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia… cities and regions of the Gentiles, and then with those in mind he said, speaking now of the glorious city of God, “This man was born there” (Ps. 87:3). They lived in Babylon, or Tyre, or wherever. But they were on the census rolls of the heavenly register as citizens there, having been born there:

And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her, and the Highest Himself shall establish her.
The LORD shall count, when He writeth up the peoples, that this man was born there.

What is this but the wondrous Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has made born-again—that is, born-from-above—disciples of Christ from all nations citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem!

Yes, of course I seek to be a good citizen of Canada. True disciples of Jesus in whatever country they are sojourning have always sought to be good citizens, obeying the laws of that country—except when those laws violate the law of their heavenly country. That must always be first and foremost.

So I want to lay to heart what Paul is saying. I don’t want to be minding earthly things, but heavenly things; I want to be a good citizen of heaven my home and native land, obeying its law, enjoying its liberty from sin and death, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, loving Him and those around me, speaking always with grace the salt-seasoned language of heaven, drinking always from its springs, feeding ever on its bread, bearing its arms against evil, shining forth its light in the darkness of this world, a citizen of heaven devoted to the Lord of heaven, with single-eyed allegiance waiting, waiting, waiting expectantly and confidently for Him… and as I wait, always rendering unto Him the living coinage of His own image and superscription, in all things conducting myself here on earth in the little colony of heaven of which I am a part—a local church—in such a way that “a little bit of heaven” is brought nigh right here where I live in Canada.

This is my way, O Canada, of standing on guard for thee.

On The Resurrection Side Of Death

Someday you and I who are believers in Jesus will be on the resurrection side of death.

That is a wondrous hope, isn’t it, we rejoice in this hope.

But wait a minute. What is wrong with this statement? Yes, I know, nothing, really. So let’s rephrase the question. What is this statement missing?

Surely it is that the word “someday” is short of the mark. For, while this is a future certainty, to faith it is also a present reality. This is how F.B. Meyer meant it in Our Daily Homily for Joshua 1:3.

Reckon that thou art on the resurrection side of death.

That is, now.

Meyer is drawing a parallel between the Israelites’ traverse of Jordan and entrance into the land of their inheritance, and the Christians’ entrance into their inheritance in the risen Saviour, the Lord Jehoshua the Christ.

Meyer is using the word reckon because he is thinking biblically; he has in mind Paul’s words in Romans 6:11.

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Reckon is an accounting term. One can only reckon something to be true because that something is true, is a fact. The fact here is that since Christ died unto sin and lives unto God, those baptized (immersed) into Him are also dead unto sin and alive unto God. It is with his earlier statement in mind that Paul says this. A few verses earlier he has said:

Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we were buried with him by the baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3,4)

This baptism is considered by many to be water baptism, but water has no power to make this kind of transformation; only the Spirit baptism can do so. Baptism in Holy Spirit is baptism into Christ.

It is this baptism that was represented by the Jordan baptism that became the way of entrance for Joshua and those with him into the promised land. If you recall the story, twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel were set up on the Canaan side of Jordan, and twelve stones were set in the midst of Jordan; they were “buried” with Joshua in that Jordan baptism, and, we are told, “are there to this day” (Josh 4:9).

The twelve stones that were set up on the Canaan side—how profound it is that God put into the heart of Joshua to enact the shadow of a spiritual reality that would be fulfilled some 1,500 years later by another Joshua, our Lord Jesus Christ, and those with Him on the resurrection side of death, where even now we who are baptized into Him stand by faith.

…Buried with Him in the baptism, wherein also ye were risen with Him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead (Col. 2:12).

At his homily on Joshua 4:20 Meyer says this:

How those old stones would have cried out, if Israel had gone back over the Jordan! And does not Christ’s empty grave protest against our living amid the pleasures and cares of the world from which He has gone, and going, has taken us also?

I love that. It reminds me what Paul says further along in Colossians.

Wherefore if ye died with Christ… (2:20)

If ye then were raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.
Mind the things above, not on things upon the earth.
For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth… (3:1-5).

There again is that wondrous future hope. “…Then shall ye also…”

…And also the present reality we are called to prove and enjoy even now.

Let us not go back over Jordan, brothers and sisters. To our shame we’d have to go through a tomb to do so, a tomb that is empty!

The Open Heaven In Bethel

Please give yourself more than the usual time to read this one; it’s much longer than a blog post is expected to be. My apologies, I got carried away. Thank you.

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I’ll state right up front that this message has nothing whatever to do with any church that lays claim to the name Bethel, unless, perhaps, it is to help toward the true understanding of that wonderful word.

I recently heard the leader of a certain church proclaim that the reason there is in his church an open heaven—I assume he meant the revelation he preaches—is because he is “a man under authority.” I knew what he had in mind—an organization he is involved in. This organization is headed up by a man who titles himself a bishop and an apostle, under whose authority this leader and others elsewhere have placed themselves.

Will we never learn? Considering that much of this leader’s teaching is with spiritual perception it is a grief of heart to hear him misconstrue why that is so. It is false teaching that for the full and unhindered release of all that God has for us so we can grow to full stature, we must be under a “covering” apostle or “covering” bishop or some other authority figure in a hierarchy. The one-man bishop system has been around for a long time in one form or another; more in vogue these days is a hierarchy with the apostle at the top and the pastor/teacher at the bottom. Beloved of the Lord, no. This teaching is more likely to hinder spiritual growth than foster it, and definitely does not provide the means for an open heaven.

At least not according to the Scriptures, if we dare go by the Scriptures.

Jesus in conversation with Nathanael told him He had seen him under a fig tree even before Philip invited him to “Come and see” for himself this Man they had just met. That astonished Nathanael; someone with that kind of eyesight had to be the Son of God, the King of Israel, and he believed on the spot. But marvel that it was, Jesus knew Nathanael had no idea what was yet in store for him and the other disciples. “Thou [thou is singular] shalt see greater things than these,” He told him.

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you [you is plural, speaking not just of Nathanael now but of all the disciples] Hereafter ye [plural] shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (Jn. 1:51).

What a profound passage of Scripture. Jesus was saying that He Himself is the fulfillment of the ladder Jacob saw extending up into heaven from where he lay sleeping on the ground with a rock for his pillow. Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon the ladder (the stairway, as some suggest) and—hold your breath—the LORD Himself standing at the top of it, and speaking to him. What a powerful vision this was to Jacob, what an eye opener: note the four beholds in the passage. “Behold, a ladder… behold, the angels of God… behold, the LORD…” who spoke to Him and said, “Behold, I am with you…” We won’t just now go into all He said; our focus is on what Jacob said when he woke up:

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:16,17).

With these words Jacob took the rock he had used for his bolster and set it up as a pillar and poured oil upon it, and, while he called the name of the place Bethel—house of God—it was the anointed stone itself that he said “shall be God’s house” (Gen. 28:2).

And so in the fullness of time we find the anointed Rock of ages proclaiming that He the Son of man is Himself the true Bethel, He Himself the House of God, and the Gate of heaven. That is the real eye opener, isn’t it.

In my reading a while back I came across a statement concerning Christ, that as the mediator between God and man He is “the ladder of Jacob’s vision conjoining sundered heaven and earth” (E.K. Simpson quoted by F.F. Bruce in The Epistle to the Hebrews). Sundered means broken apart, violently separated. Conjoined means joined together for a mutual purpose. This lines up with what one of the commentators I read pointed out, that Nathanael, after Jesus had told him He had seen him under the fig tree, declared Him to be the Son of God, with Jesus in response calling Himself the Son of man (Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament). For He, the Christ, is at once both Son of God and Son of man.

It is in the Christ, then, that a sundered earth and Heaven—the grievous consequence ages long of Adam’s sin—are again one, and because of the conjoining, those in Christ have an open heaven, and they have it simply because they are in Him, not because they are properly submitted in some man-made authority structure. Each and every member of the body of Christ has the privilege of an open heaven simply because they are in Christ, and share His own open heaven. Heaven is open in Christ.

There are several references in the Bible to heaven being opened, but this that Jesus told His disciples they were to anticipate is unique among them, in that it speaks of heaven opened not to an individual but to a community of people, disciples great and small. “Ye shall see heaven open…” Linked to this is the occasion when Jesus was baptized by John in Jordan. At that time “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape as a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved son; In thee I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22). It was the anointing of the Spirit that would empower Him as the Christ, the Anointed One, and in due time enable Him to impart His own anointing and open heaven to His disciples. For in due time—after His own Calvary baptism—He would begin His ministry of baptizing in the Holy Spirit.

It is by the Spirit baptism that believers are baptized into Christ; it is thus that they become part of Bethel; it is thus that Bethel becomes the habitation not only of God, but of His beloved family, all of whom are made partakers of the anointing and open heaven of His beloved Son. That open heaven is theirs individually, but Bethel is both an individual and a corporate reality, and the “expanse” of the open heaven in the corporate reality is far, far greater than in the individual. (Oh that we give ourselves to functioning thus!)

Just what is an open heaven?

So then, yes, Christ is the gate of Heaven, and in Him that gate is open. In vain do men strive to enter Heaven any other way. Jacob said, the gate of heaven, not a gate of heaven. Heaven is closed to all outside Christ. But Jesus was not talking about the great hereafter when He said, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open…” In fact Young’s Literal Translation has, “Henceforth ye shall see…” So Jesus was talking about the open heaven, the access and the “seeing” that was His own present reality, and which would become the heritage of all those baptized into Him after He had accomplished the Cross. In fact many translators opt for opened here: “ye shall see heaven opened.” It’s the Greek perfect tense, which more accurately would be standing open. Not just a one-time experience, but a continual state, the result of something that had happened in the past.

“…Ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” Now, what is this all about—the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man? I don’t know what this is all about, and if you have more light on it please share with me. But the role of angels in Scripture is always relative to God’s purposes in man. Is that then what we are seeing here? Angels portraying God’s purposes in man? Further to that, the word angel both in the Old Testament and the New means messenger, and can refer not only to heavenly beings but to humans. Perhaps that also is the sense here. Putting both of those ideas together, the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man reveals that those once shut out now have in Christ unhindered access to the heavenlies of God, and are carrying out His bidding.

More specifically, more wondrously, this access is to God Himself. The Father. It is an open heaven that Paul has in mind when he writes to the saints in Ephesus and elsewhere that “through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). And again, “…Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in Him” (Eph. 3:11,12 ASV). That is Paul’s way of speaking of an open heaven. It means an ever-open door of access to the Father unto whom we may come with boldness and access in confidence, not because we are the bold personality type, but simply because of our faith in Christ. More on this in a bit.

And so, access to the Father. That’s what an open heaven means. Just as the Son had an open heaven and knew that the Father heard Him always, those in Him enjoy that same open heaven, the assurance of audience with Him unto whom they pray. Does the word audience sound too formal? Let’s call it the fellowship of prayer—the assurance that the Father always hears their voice, and they hear His voice.

And see His face. Just as the Son saw always the face of His Father, even so those in Him have that same open heaven; they too see Father’s face, enjoy His favour, and open-armed welcome into His very Presence. That is the significance of seeing His face. This we gather from the story of how King David allowed Absalom to return from exile but forbade him to see his face. That is, he was still not in favour with the king; he was shut out from the king’s court and presence (2 Sam. 14:24). Absalom managed to get himself reinstated, but what was he after? I don’t think it was loving fellowship with his father the king. Seeing a king’s face, being in his court and presence, means position, authority, power, prestige, all of which are deadly dangerous when they become ends in themselves. Yet this is what Absalom was after, this is what motivated him—His own glory—and he would stop at nothing to get it.

Let’s read of those whose motive is right—the glory of God. Unto these the King can safely grant His own authority and power in whatever He bids them do:

…And His servants [bondslaves] shall serve Him. And they shall see His face (Rev. 22:3,4).

That is an open heaven—seeing the face of God. The word serve here is always used of priestly service. Not only are they bondslaves “bought with a Price,” who therefore have no right to themselves anymore, they are priests who have access to the very throne of God. They are “on the in with” God, they are privileged to see His face, being those of His “inner circle” round about the throne by His loving invitation and enabling grace. They have precious fellowship with one another, these priests, but they are not focused on one another. Like the cherubim of glory who, while facing one another their faces are “toward the mercy seat” (Ex. 25:20), even so the fellowship these share with one another is fellowship with God in the pursuit of a mutual purpose, the glory of God in Christ.

God’s “inner circle,” then, those who see His face, are priests. But we must forsake what springs to mind when we encounter the word priest, which has long since been redefined and bears no resemblance to the full biblical revelation. May I suggest the following definition to your thinking? A priest is one who walks in love—love for God and for others—and has lost sight of himself or herself in the process. Such a one cherishes on behalf of others a blessed a relationship with God, a holiness by reason of which they see His face.

To put that another way, the pure in heart…

…For they shall see God

When we read these words, then, are we thinking the way our Lord was thinking when He said this?

Let’s make sure we understand first that there is a seeing of God in the day of His appearing that is the ultimate reward of a faithful walk of holiness, while at the same time there is a seeing of Him that is our present privilege and provision. I must say that the dividing line between the two is not all that clear to me. Has not God always delighted in those whose faith and love pursues Him into what others say is only for tomorrow?

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14 NKJV).

Is that for tomorrow? Or for today? Or both.

And what is holiness?

And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you,
To the intent He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (1 Thes. 3:12,13).

Again, to walk in love is the purest holiness—complete separation from all else, including oneself. That is the essence of the priesthood of God.

This we pursue, then, aware that even as we pursue this there is a seeing of God that is the present portion of those in Christ—in Bethel, the house of God. There is an open heaven in Bethel for those dwelling in Bethel, which is “a spiritual house, an holy priesthood” (1 Pt. 2.5). (Underscore those words: the whole house is a holy priesthood, not just a select few in it.) It is this of which we read as the prophet David opens to us the desire of his heart:

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in His temple (Ps. 27:4).

“All the days of my life… to behold the beauty of the LORD… to enquire…” That is an open heaven. (I wonder to what extent that has dawned upon us—that the beauty of the Lord is revealed and beheld in His house.)

Seeing God, then, is our portion even now, and I’m convinced that this is the blessedness Christ spoke of in this beatitude:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8).

How then is the heart to be made pure? And how is that inner eye and ear of the soul—the conscience—to bear witness to this purity? It certainly bears witness to the sin-defiled heart; the guilty conscience cannot draw nigh God, cannot look upon God. But God has made provision to purify the heart; in fact in Christ has done so. Christ by His sacrifice has put away all sin, all guilt, has purged by His blood the defiled heart of man, something the blood of bulls and goats could never do. In the Old Covenant God had instructed Moses to sanctify Aaron and his sons by elaborate ablutions and offerings so that they could draw near Him, a holy priesthood involved in the holy things of God. If we could distil all that, all that ritual of the law, all that God instructed Moses to do in Leviticus Chapter 8, we would have what was fulfilled by Christ on Calvary and in His resurrection and ascension, and the sending of the Spirit. This is why Peter said that in giving the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, God accomplished what the Law in fact could never do, “purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8,9). That’s the way Peter put it, and I love this passage. “And God, which knoweth the hearts [literally and beautifully, the heart-knowing God] bare them witness…giving them the Holy Spirit… purifying their hearts by faith.” By faith, not by the ritual of the law. It works! Many a happy believer from that day to this has proven it to be so, the conscience bearing witness to this because of the enlightening of the Holy Spirit that it now enjoys, releasing the troubled soul from its burden of guilt. For, what Christ accomplished on the Cross—the offering for sin that purifies the heart—is in the Spirit, and so becomes the blessedness of those who receive the gift of the Spirit and draw nigh (let us learn to think as priests whenever we see those words draw nigh) “with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” as the writer of Hebrews testifies along with Peter:

Let us draw nigh with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:22).

The King James Version doesn’t bring out the Greek tense very clearly here; it is the Greek perfect tense again, and would be better translated, “having had and continuing to have…” The thought is clear in the New English Translation (NET). “…Let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” We are not drawing near in order to have our heart sprinkled from an evil conscience but because it has already been sprinkled; without the heart blood-sprinkled and cleansed it is impossible to draw nigh to God.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart… (Ps. 24:3,4).

That is saying the same thing the writer of Hebrews is saying. We draw near “with a true heart,” not in order to get a true heart. Are you asking, then, along with me, when did this happen? If I am invited to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith because my heart has been sprinkled from an evil conscience and my body washed with pure water, when did this happen? May light flood our hearts and faith receive it. The blood of sprinkling was poured out at Calvary, and was preserved, reserved, in the Spirit, and became effectual—let there be full assurance of faith concerning this—the moment I received the Spirit in whom that blood of sprinkling is forever efficacious. (“Our bodies washed with pure water” is, in my view, speaking of baptism. No, not water baptism; by “pure water” he has to be speaking of the Spirit of God.)

With this provision of grace, then, those who are now a heavenly priesthood enter with boldness the Holy of holies. We lift up our eyes to the face of God. We enjoy an open heaven, and fellowship with Him in a mutual purpose.

…I am thinking in closing, and perhaps you are thinking along with me, of the “charge” Paul gave Timothy for the church at Ephesus:

And the end of the charge is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned… (1 Tim. 1:5 Young’s Literal Translation).

The perfect provision of God for those whom He calls to draw nigh Him and know His opened heaven in Bethel.

This is not to say that our open heaven will not at times be contested, although hopefully not neglected on our part. When being resisted we must resist the resistance, “steadfast in the faith,” we must war the good warfare of contending faith. To keep from neglect we must do our regular, our daily, spiritual maintenance lest our open heaven become clouded, dimmed; we must have absolutely nothing to do with anything the sensitive conscience detects as defiling; we must guard against temptation; if we have sinned we must go swiftly to our ready Advocate (1 Jn. 2;1,2).

Let nothing rob us, then, of our enjoyment of the open heaven—for the Lord’s own sake, and for others around us in deep need. An open heaven means open access to the throne of grace. Let us therefore come boldly unto that throne, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. As priests in a heavenly priesthood, this is our privilege. And our responsibility. Each of us being members of God’s heavenly priesthood in Bethel, in Christ, may boldly, confidently, ascend to Him who sits upon the throne for His provision on behalf of others in need, and descend again to minister to them that provision, all the riches of His glory and grace in Christ Jesus.

Are You At Wit’s End Corner?

The old poem Wit’s End Corner came up upon my heart in a time of prayer this morning, and I felt such joy in the promise of the God of lovingkindness who loves to meet us just where we are at our wit’s end. This is the theme of Psalm 107. I’ll just quote a fragment of it:

…And they are at their wit’s end (Ps. 107:27).

And then what?

Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses.

What is wit? According to one online dictionary it means astuteness of perception or judgment: acumen. When the King James Bible came out it meant simply knowledge, the ability to know what to do.

Our whole world is just about at that corner.

I myself am there… again. This morning as I came to the second-last verse my eyes overflowed with tears and my heart with His love and promise, and he who had been sorrowful was suddenly rejoicing! My beloved Jesus assured me, reminded me, He has been waiting right there to meet me! I can hardly wait!

That is the lesson to be learned at Wit’s End Corner, the lesson of learning the lovingkindness of the Lord. Here is the last verse of Psalm 107.

Whoso is wise, and will give heed to these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD.

Are you there too, dearly beloved of the Lord?

Are You at Wit’s End Corner?

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner,
Christian with troubled brow?
Are you thinking of what is before you,
And all you are bearing now;
Does all the world seem against you,
And you in the battle alone?
Remember—at Wit’s End Corner
Is just where God’s power is shown!

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner,
Blinded with wearying pain,
Feeling you cannot endure it,
You cannot bear the strain;
Bruised through the constant suffering,
Dizzy, and dazed, and numb?
Remember—at Wit’s End Corner,
Is where Jesus loves to come!

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner?
Your work before you spread,
All lying begun, unfinished,
And pressing on heart and head;
Longing for strength to do it,
Stretching out trembling hands?
Remember—at Wit’s End Corner
The Burden-bearer stands.

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner
Yearning for those you love,
Longing and praying and watching,
Pleading their cause above,
Trying to lead them to Jesus—
Wondering if you’ve been true?
He whispers at Wit’s End Corner
“I’ll win them as I won you.”

Are you standing at Wit’s End Corner?
Then you’re just in the very spot
To learn the wondrous resources
Of Him Who faileth not!
No doubt to a brighter pathway
Your footsteps will soon be moved.
But only at Wit’s End Corner
Is “the God Who is able” proved!

Antoinette Wilson

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