Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Call To Priestly Honour

The writer of Hebrews addresses a “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3.1).  It’s the calling to participate in the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood is after the order (or, model) of Melchizedek.  That’s why it’s a heavenly calling.  The Levitical priesthood was an earthly priesthood, the Melchizedek priesthood a heavenly.

Now, there is only one high priest after the order of Melchizedek—the Lord Jesus Christ.  The heavenly calling is to become a partaker of His calling—to be a king and a priest in union with Jesus Christ.

This is a very high calling, and very demanding. It means making a certain Sacrifice by which we have said good-bye to our own interests in all things.  It’s always God’s own interests that the priest is to be preoccupied with.

The Hebrew for priest is kohen.  Years ago I wrote a note into my Bible that says, “The word kohen is believed to be derived from kahan, a form of kun, the Hebrew for to stand.  Thus, a priest is one chosen by God to stand before men on behalf of God, and to stand before God on behalf of men.”

I used to dwell on that a lot.  Which of the two is the greater?  To stand before men on behalf of God?  I have to confess I liked that idea… and would imagine myself standing importantly before the people in God’s stead delivering a message from God.

But what about standing before God on behalf of men?  It’s this that the writer of Hebrews emphasizes.

For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself is compassed with infirmity (Heb. 5.1,2).

That’s the first thing on the mind of the Holy Spirit.   A high priest is taken from among men and is ordained for men, or, on behalf of men, in things pertaining to God.

And—this is the important thing to see—it is God Himself who wants a man who stands before Him on behalf of men.  It’s easy enough to see that men need a priest who stands before the terrible God on their behalf.  But do we see that being a priest who stands before God on behalf of men… this is what God Himself wants?  For God is love.  This is His heart.

What are the qualifications of such a priest, then, and the preparation involved?  There’s much to this, of course, as detailed in Leviticus Chapter 8, which we won’t go into just now.  The writer of Hebrews singles out just one thing.  Compassion.  Other translations have this as “gentleness,” or “forbearance.”  The ESV has, “he can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.”

This is why God chooses his priests from among men.  They too are beset with weaknesses, so they are able to identify with the failing.

These (the failing) fall into two categories—the ignorant and the erring.  Some simply don’t know any better; it’s easy enough to be gentle and forbearing with such.  But what of the erring ones—those who know better, and are still at times “out of the way,” wayward, erring, struggling in their walk with God?

The one who knows his own heart and who has “been there, done that” will remember his priestly calling in cases like this as well.  He will be standing before God on behalf of this one as well… interposing himself on behalf of this one, and making intercession.

For, this is what our great High Priest had done and is Himself doing—He whose calling we are to be partakers of.  He interposed Himself on our behalf, laid down His life for us, took upon Himself our infirmities, became our sin offering—our sin.  Now He sits at the right hand of the throne of God, the place of all power in heaven and earth, where He can have compassion, deal gently, with the ignorant and the erring.  I like how the Greek has it.  It’s more than just a feeling.  He “is able (Gk. dunamenos), that is, has power  to deal gently…”  In other words, His compassion is effectual, is vital, has power in it.  And nothing is able to break that power.  He abides our High Priest continually.  As a result:

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).

I love that emphasis, and am personally so thankful for it– to the uttermost.  For I see things in my own heart that make me despair at times.  But I take courage.  He that has begun a good work in me wants to complete it… and is able to complete it… and WILL complete it!  He is at the powerful right hand of the throne of God making intercession for me...

…And for others as well.  And He calls me to join Him in that same intercession for others.  Sometimes it’s not all that easy to hear His voice when it comes to that; some of these “others” can be very trying.  But it’s a priestly honour to do so, if we can receive it.  That’s what the Holy Spirit calls the priestly calling—an honour.

And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God… (Heb. 5.4).

Yes, of course, we recognize it’s an honour to stand before men on behalf of God, and many there be who seek this… failing to recognize only the called are authorized to do so. But the writer of Hebrew is reminding us that it’s just as great an honour to stand before God on behalf of men.

Do we hear His voice calling us to this honour, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling?

Becoming A Well Of Living Water

I’ve been thinking about wells the last few days.  And no wonder, I suppose.  When a friend said the other day, “It’s been so dry,” his comment could easily have been a reference to the weather.  But I knew he was speaking of the spiritual drought many of us are enduring.  We know firsthand what the psalmist means by “a dry and thirsty land where no water is.”

So did the ancients our Bible tells us of.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… they were desert people.  They hadn’t yet entered the land of flowing streams and brooks of waters, and since water was a matter of life and death to them (as it is to all peoples) this meant searching for wells in the desert for themselves and their flocks.

Abraham digged wells.  Later Isaac had to redig them, for the Philistines had plugged them with earth in an effort to force him out what they considered their own territory. Isaac dug other wells also, which became a source of contention when the inhabitants of the land he sojourned in sought to expropriate the wells for their own use.

In the days of Jacob flock-watering had become tightly controlled.  No one was allowed to water their flock till all the flocks were gathered together, at which time “the shepherds” took the stone off the well’s mouth.  Jacob, however– though he was not a member of this organization of shepherds and had no pastor’s official credentials– rolled away the stone and watered the flock that the shepherdess Rachel had led to the well (Gen. 29.1-10).

Moses did much the same thing.  When the daughters of the Reuel came to water their father’s flock at a certain well the shepherds tried to drive them away.  Moses rose up and helped Reuel’s daughters, and watered their flock.  This eventually led to Moses becoming a shepherd himself—first of sheep, and then of the flock of God.  It was when he was shepherding the flock of Jethro his father-in-law that he met God at the burning bush and was commissioned to shepherd His people out of Israel and through a wilderness, where, time and again, the need for water was a serious issue.

On one occasion when they were faced with no water the LORD spoke to Moses:

Gather the people together, and I will give them water (Num. 21.16).

How did He give them water?  He commanded the people to start singing to an unseen well in the sand as the elders began digging with their staves.

Then Israel sang this song, Spring up O well: sing ye unto it:
The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves.

In other words, right there in the sand below their feet there was a secret well.  The people didn’t know it was there, but God did.  Right in the bleakest most desolate of places there was a well.

Is not this a promise for you and me?  I see in my mind’s eye another flock of bleating sheep in a waste and howling wilderness… and a Shepherd leading them.  Leading them where? To a Well.  For, we too are a people of eternal purpose, just as those of old were.  I know it’s very dry these days, but God will not let the sheep of His pasture perish in this present wilderness for lack of water.  The Shepherd of Israel… we are the sheep of His hand.  It is His responsibility to lead us to water.  And He will do so.  We have His promise that He will do so—to “fountains of living waters” (Rev. 7.17).

It is for Him to do the leading.  And for us?  What is our part?  Our part is to cry out to Him for this precious Life Source, and follow His leading.  At times it may mean getting the earth out of a well the Philistines have contaminated.  It may mean moving to another locale.  I don’t necessarily mean geographically, although that might be the Shepherd’s leading at times.  I mean spiritually.  We the flock of His pasture must be nomadic, ready to move on, ready to follow our Shepherd, ready to move out into the desert as He searches out for us another Well.

And when instead of water we find nothing but sand even though we know we are there in the leading of the Lord, it may mean singing to the sand around us—and digging.  It is the Spirit of Christ Himself who is that Well of living water… but at times we might have to engage in some serious digging to find Him… all the while singing as we dig.

And blessed is the person who does so.  Blessed is the person who, through all the wildernesses of life, continues to seek out and find that Well of living water. For, an even greater promise awaits such a one.  God says:

I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water (Isa. 41.18).

And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water (Isa. 35.7).

Note this.  The dry land becomes a spring of water.  The thirsty one—the one who needs water—ultimately becomes a spring of water himself.

Just as Jesus promised that thirsty woman at the well of Samaria:

Whoseover drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be (that is, become) in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (Jn. 4.14).

That is to say, we come to Him thirsting for water, and we go away having become a fountain of living water that satisfies the souls all around us thirsty for Life.

The Gospel Of Eternal Life

Three times in his letters the apostle Paul refers to something he calls “my gospel” (Rom. 2.16, 16.25 and 2 Tim. 2.8).  There is of course only one Gospel—the Good News of our salvation.  But Paul was able to call this Gospel his own.  How so?  It’s because the gospel of God was not just hearsay to him; it was operative in his own life.

And what is the Gospel?  I realize many of us are very familiar with this, but I think we do well to look into the nature of the Gospel of Paul, lest the Gospel we’re so familiar with turn out to be a Gospel other than—or maybe less than—the one that lived and burned like fire in Paul.  So let’s look at this.

Paul, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God
Which He had promised afore by His prophets in holy scriptures… (Rom. 1.1,2).

This gospel is laid out in great detail in Paul’s letter to the Romans, but we will go to his second letter to Timothy, where it is encapsuled.  It is a very powerful gospel—very great glad tidings.

Paul is writing to Timothy from a Roman prison where Nero has cast him, intending shortly to execute him.  As we read later in the letter, Paul himself anticipates his end is at hand.  But he doesn’t call it an execution.  He calls it an offering unto God.  He is “ready to be offered,” he tells Timothy.  He has “fought a good fight,” he has “finished his course,” he has “kept the faith.”  He looks forward to the crown of righteousness which is laid up for him, “which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me in that day, and not to me only but unto all them also that love His appearing” (2 Tim. 4.6-8).

Paul begins his last letter with these words:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus…

These words remind us of his letter to Titus.

Paul, a bondslave of Jesus Christ according to (in accordance with) the faith of God’s elect, and the knowledge of the truth which is after (accords with) godliness;
In hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie promised before the ages of time…

Paul told the Romans that God promised the Gospel “by His prophets in holy scriptures.”  Here he says God promised it “before the ages of time.”  So this Gospel is a very great thing in the eternal purposes of God.  We highlight the words, “in hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie promised…”  They echo the introductory words to Timothy we quoted above: Paul says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ “according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.”  And so what has God promised?  Life.  And what life has God promised?  Eternal life.  Before the ages of time God promised that out from a whole race bound under the law sin and death He would bring a new man into a new dimension of life—eternal life.

But what does this eternal life involve?  Dying and going to Heaven and living forever?  Let’s read Paul’s letter to Timothy a little further.  We’ll discover the astonishing gospel unto which Paul had been separated.

First, he calls Timothy to boldness.  He is not to be ashamed of what he is involved in.

Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but suffer evil along with the gospel according to the power of God…

The testimony of our Lord is the witness to the truth to which Christ was faithful in His own life and walk, and which we too are equipped to give by His Spirit.  We note in passing that Paul gives no credit whatsoever to the reprobate Roman ruler Nero for his imprisonment; he is a prisoner not of Nero but of Jesus Christ.  For, Nero may purpose to shut the Gospel down, but Paul knows it is actually for the furtherance of the Gospel that he has been jailed.  His sufferings and imprisonment will result in the Gospel not being shut down but actually growing.  And so he seeks to encourage Timothy with the same realization.  This Gospel is attended with much shame and suffering as far as this world is concerned; many there are who will not bear the shame and afflictions of the Gospel.  But Paul assures Timothy that God has all the power necessary to equip him to bear up under it all, and suffer the evils the gospel suffers in its way of triumph.

Now Paul lays out for Timothy (and for all of us) the staggering dimensions of this awesome gospel of God.  Let’s read it carefully.

…Suffer evil along with the gospel according to the power of God,
Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, nor according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the ages of time,
But is now made manifest by the appearing of Jesus Christ, who hath abolished (annulled) death, and hath brought life and immortality (incorruption) to light through the gospel;
Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles” (2 Tim. 1.8-11).

This is such a powerful passage of Scripture.  Paul says that Jesus Christ has “abolished death.”  That is, He has made death impotent, he has made it “of no effect.”  He has made death so that it “doesn’t work” anymore, as the word literally means.  It has no power.  This is what God accomplished in the cross of Jesus Christ.

But that is not all.  In what Paul is saying here he has his opening words in mind, “the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.”  He returns to them now, saying that the God who has made death of no effect has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  We too easily miss the import of these powerful words.  Paul is not talking about a gospel that merely informs us that God has brought life and incorruption to light; he is talking about the gospel that is an actual demonstration of the truth that Christ has annulled death.

This is what the Gospel is all about—and nothing less.  The Gospel is a bringing to light, a manifestation, a shining forth… of a life that is dominion over death.

And what is death?  Paul is not talking solely about the death that terminates our mortal existence.  Yes, in due time that too is vanquished.  But primarily Paul is talking about the death that reigns over the whole family of Adam all their days.  Death is not merely an event that ends our life here on earth.  It is a domain in which all men have been bound since the day Adam sinned in the Garden.  All, that is, except those who have been liberated from that bondage by the Gospel.  The Gospel of God is a gospel that brings men into the kind of Life over which sin and death has no dominion.

Paul wrote to the Romans, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8.2).  He wrote, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one, much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5.17).

Christian, is this the gospel—the glad tidings—unto which you and I too are separated?  Are we walking in a Life that reigns over all—over sin, over the domain of death?  Over the flesh, over the world, over the Devil?  And this not only in our own lives but in the lives of those around us?

This is why He saved us.

But it doesn’t end with our own salvation:  “He saved us, and called us with a holy calling…”  What is the calling?  It is the calling to walk in eternal life and make eternal life manifest in a world bound under the law of sin and death.  What does Paul urge us to, then?

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life whereunto thou art called and hast confessed a good confession before many witnesses (1 Tim. 6.12).

Let us lay hold on this eternal life, Christian.  This is our calling.  It is unto this that we, like Timothy, have been called on behalf of all men.  It’s the Gospel of God, the Gospel of eternal life.  Let us never settle for a gospel less than this!  It is good news—very good news indeed!

Nay World, I Turn Away

I mentioned last time the price tag that is on the Testimony of Christ in our lives—the Testimony of the Spirit that means the Presence of Christ Himself is with us.  This will garner us the same thing it garnered Him.

But there is a price tag—a far heavier price tag—on being the friend of this world that hates God and His Christ. Oh, the loss… to one day discover that in going my own way in this present life (which is but a vapour), I missed out on the golden opportunity and privilege of walking with precious Jesus, and sharing His Cross… and being one in a great company of others who have done so at the cost of their lives in this world– the saints of the Lord.

Do I want to be the friend of a world that has crucified my Lord?  A world that through the centuries has spilled the blood of my brothers and sisters in great numbers, and continues to do so even today?

Nay world, I turn away,
Though thou seem fair and good:
That friendly outstretched hand of thine
Is stained with Jesus’ blood.
If in thy least device
I stoop to take a part,
All unaware thine influence steals
God’s presence from my heart.

I miss My Saviour’s smile
Whene’er I walk thy ways;
Thy laughter drowns the Spirit’s voice
And chokes the song of praise.
Whene’er I turn aside
To join thee for an hour
The face of Christ grows blurred and dim
And prayer has lost its power.

Margaret Mauro

The Price Of The Presence Of Christ

Posted on

I can sum up in one sentence a book I’ve been reading on early Christian history.  The early Christians lived in a world that hated God and loved blood.  The populace of Rome and other cities of the Empire came out to the arenas for their blood sports as passionately—and as routinely—as North Americans to a football or hockey game, cheering and jeering and betting on the outcomes.  Professional gladiators fought to the death; Christians and criminals died horrible deaths.  It was entertainment to a society that had become completely depraved.  They loved blood.  And ultimately God gave them blood to drink—their own at the hands of the barbarian hordes.

This is the kind of world the early Christians were up against and in which many of them became martyrs.  The story of their sacrifice is deeply moving.  But that was just the beginning.  Apparently the number of Christian martyrs all through history amounts to about 70 million.  Half of that total—something like 45 million—took place in the 20th century.  The world has not changed all that much, has it.  We’re in the early years of the 21 century now, and stories of Christian persecution are frequent news.

Notice what I just said: stories of Christian persecution are frequent news.  Here in North America we don’t experience this first hand.  We enjoy religious freedom; the world about us more or less leaves us alone.  That is, so far.  There’s a foreboding by certain Christians on a website I sometimes visit (SermonIndex) that persecution is at the door in the United States.  This likely means Canada too, I would think.  Considering the past—and what is happening in other nations even today—it’s inevitable that severe persecution will be the portion of western Christians too.

The question is, what will bring this persecution on?  In many countries to identify yourself as a Christian is to imperil your life.  Not here.  Being a Christian does not get you persecuted in Canada or the United States.  So how is it that persecution is likely to come upon us here?  What will change?

I hear someone saying it will happen because our society is more and more ready to openly express its growing hatred for God.  I agree.  But what will cause that latent hatred to be manifested openly?

Psalm 2 comes to mind.

Why do the heathen rage, and the peoples imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His anointed, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us.

Is not this increasingly the mindset of our western societies?  Enough of the confining cords and restraints of righteousness!  God is not going to tell us what to do.  We want loose!

But that means dealing with and silencing those who reprove them.  That means gathering together “against the Lord and against His Christ”—His Anointed One.  Yes, and, as the Christians in the book of Acts who quoted these words discovered, that means gathering together against the “anointed ones” as well—the Christians (Acts 4.26).

Jesus said:

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you (Jn. 15.18).

I’ve read these words often.  One day the light came on as I read them.  The whole context of this verse is… Jesus is speaking to His disciples about the coming of the Comforter, the Spirit of truth.  It was a “coming” that was in a very real sense the coming of Christ Himself to them.  For, He has just said to them, “I will not leave you comfortless (orphans); I will come to you” (Jn. 14.18).  And He is talking of the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  In other words, the full reality of the coming of the Holy Spirit to you and me is that Christ Himself has come, and is seen in our lives.  This is not going to be taken kindly by a world that hates God.  And so John says in one of his letters, “Marvel not if the world hate you” (1 Jn. 3.13).  Why are we not to marvel?  It’s because we live in a world that hates God… and suddenly, because of the Holy Spirit in you and me, they see God manifested in you and me.

This is the significance of Jesus’ words.  “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”  He goes on:

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (Jn. 15.18,19).

In other words, the world doesn’t hate its own.  If we are like the world, we are in no danger of persecution.  But those who are not of the world, those Christ has chosen out of the world and in whom His Spirit has come to dwell… the world that hates God will hate these anointed ones.

And what do we mean by the world?  When Jesus spoke these words to His disciples He was including many who boasted they loved Jehovah.  Yet their religion was just a cloak.  Very religious they might be, but they actually hated God.  See what He says?

If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.
He that hateth Me hateth My Father also.
If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father (Jn. 15.22,24).

That’s the significance of the Son of God.  They couldn’t go around professing they loved Jehovah when their God appeared in the person of His Son… and they hated Him.  In like manner, the coming of the Holy Spirit reveals the hearts of all men—those out there in the world… and professing Christians as well.  They won’t be able to continue saying they love Jesus when they hate those who are one with Him because of the Spirit of Jesus in their lives.

Most everyone likes to think of themselves as a nice person; most people would protest indignantly being told they hate God.  But it’s their reaction to the Holy Spirit—their reaction to a vessel in whom God dwells by the Holy Spirit—that tells on them.

Some, upon this revelation of their own hearts, will be convicted and broken.  And deeply repentant.

Others will harden their hearts, and take out their hatred of God and His Christ on those in whom He is shining forth.

There are many genuine Christians who live in countries where they are persecuted merely for being identified with the literal Name of Christ.  What about us here?  But remember, ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who is sent in Christ’s Name.  “…The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name” (Jn. 14.26).  It is this that we Christians need in the western world, where ordinary churchgoers are not persecuted but rather ignored.  There are many Christians in the West who are grieved to the quick over the state of their world—and their church.  They are seeking God about it.  They have a great cry on their heart.  I believe God is going to answer that cry with a baptism of His Presence that will mean Christ Himself is seen in them.

That makes me tremble.  Christ Himself?  Oh, how deeply we need this Testimony.  It’s something we seek to give ourselves to day by day… and sow to, and pray for, and long for, and cry for… and expect.

But this is the Presence of One that the world has demonstrated time and again it hates.  This is a visitation with a price tag on it.