Monthly Archives: November 2012

Master, The Tempest Is Raging

I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Mark, which some say is likely Peter’s first-hand account of the life of Jesus as he related it to Mark.  Mark’s gospel is action packed, and you find yourself drawn right into the action.  He moves quickly from one thing to the next.  In fact his favourite word is straightway, that is, immediately,  Another thing– he continually writes of these long-ago things in the present tense.  It is as though he is reporting “live.”

And so after explaining to His disciples the parable of the sower Jesus says to them, “Let us pass over unto the other side” (Mk. 4.35).

As I understand it, He was already in a boat from which He had been speaking to the multitude, so His disciples just took Him as He was, and headed for the opposite shore.  Jesus, apparently, took advantage of the time to get some much-needed rest, and fell asleep on the pillow (or seat cushion) in the boat’s stern.  Things went quietly for a bit, but before long a great storm of wind arose.  The waves were so high they were beating into the boat.  I won’t be the first to point out that Jesus had not said, “Let us go out into the deep and be drowned.”  But the disciples were sure they were all about to go to the bottom.  Jesus must have been completely worn out from the intense ministry of the last few days, for, while the disciples are bailing water for all they’re worth, at the same time wet to the bone and hanging on for dear life lest at any moment they be pitched overboard… He, of all things, is sleeping like a rock.  The storm is raging and they are losing the battle and are filled with fear; they know they are going to go under any moment now.  And He?  When they dare take their eyes off the storm they cast incredulous (and maybe resentful) glances at their sleeping Master.  How can He be so completely oblivious to what we are going through?

Finally they can take no more.  They wake Him, almost chiding Him for His apparent indifference to their peril.  “Master, is it of no concern to you that we are perishing?”

And He opens His eyes, and arises, and looks around.  And He rebukes the wind, “Be silent!” and speaks to the sea, “Hush.”  And the wind completely collapses, “and there was a great calm.”  (I like the differentiation here—that to the winds of the heavens He delivers a stern rebuke, but to the water these winds have stirred up, He speaks a quieting word.)

Then He looks around on His wondering disciples, and says (and I see Him smiling in love and shaking His head reproachfully):

Why are ye so fearful?  How is it that ye have no faith?

…But if the storm had made them fearful, now they are filled with an entirely different kind of fear.

And they feared exceedingly and said to one another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?

That’s how the King James Version has this verse.  More accurately it says, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”  In other words, someone who could do what this One just did… they weren’t even sure He was human.

But He was human, beloved.  And still is.  And yes, what a wonder that He can speak to the wind and the waves, and they obey Him, and suddenly the storm is past.

To me it’s an even greater wonder that in the midst of the storm this man could sleep so soundly, so trustingly.  I tell you, in my own life I long for this more than to see the storm gone.  This Man was as human as you and I.  The writer of Hebrews, among the verses he quotes to verify the certainty that Jesus was as much flesh and blood as you and I, quoted this verse to clinch it.

I will put my trust in Him (Heb. 2.13).

He is speaking of Jesus.  He put His trust in God.  In other words, when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, He lived as One who put His trust in God.

And the fruit of this trust—oh, the beauty of the peace and rest He enjoyed as a result of this trust in God His Father.

Do we envy Him that relationship, meanwhile reconciling ourselves to something less?  But what was the whole purpose of His coming?

Howbeit, when He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all the truth… He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine, and shew it unto you (Jn. 16.13,14).

He will lead you into this same relationship, will bring you into the same loving trust.  “He shall receive of Mine, and declare it to you.”  That is, He will impart to you what is Mine so that it is yours also.

Yes, this same loving relationship between Father and Son, this same trust.  It is the new-covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring us into this, to perfect this in you and me.

Do we pursue the high things of God?  But I wonder if coming into this trust isn’t the greatest of all spiritual attainments.  I wonder if it isn’t the deepest work of God in our lives to simply bring us to the place where we trust Him.  That is, trust Him when we are in the midst of the raging storms of life, trust Him so deeply that we aren’t moved in times of turmoil, but rather know a deep and abiding peace.  Maybe the problems are still there, and the perplexities.  And the troubles.  But in the midst of it all we are asleep on the pillow… knowing that we were invited not to go under, but to go over to the other side.

It’s Automatic

Last time we talked of Jesus urging His disciples, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”  It’s a warning.  We are to take heed to our hearing.  Whether or not the ground of our heart brings forth the fruit our Lord is looking for depends on the quality of our hearing.  Do we take his word seriously—that shallow soil or weed-infested ground can hinder the seed from bearing fruit?  If our hearing is good, we lay that to heart.  We cooperate with the Divine Farmer, seeking His help to make sure our hearts are good ground with deep, fertile soil where nothing is growing but the Good Seed He planted.  In this kind of ground the seed will surely bring forth… an hundredfold.

And, as we see in what Jesus says next, our work in done when we present to the Lord this kind of soil.  The rest is up to Him—and to the Law of life in the seed He plants.  After exhorting His disciples to make sure they are hearing what He is saying, Jesus continues with this:

So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
And should sleep, and rise night and day,
And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear (Mk. 4.26-28).

The emphasis in the original is, “How, he knoweth not.”  There is a mysterious process of life at work in the seed—the same process we mentioned in an earlier blog.

As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all (Eccles. 11.5).

In the natural creation, it’s life that causes the child in the womb to grow.  It’s life that causes the seed to grow and bear fruit.  These are the inner workings of a law of life God set to work in nature when He created all things.

And God created all these things with this in mind:  their voice speaks to us of the wonder and beauty of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus in His parables drawn from nature is speaking of the Kingdom of God.  It is “the word of the Kingdom” that the sower sows, and, depending on the soil conditions, brings forth fruit.  And so, as we said, we have a part to play there.  He that hath an ear, let him hear.  We can seek to be good deep soil, and keep out the weeds.

But once the conditions are right, our job is done.  It’s no use the farmer standing anxiously over the ground as if so doing could help the seed along.  “The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself.”

This word in the Greek is automate (pronounced automatay).  Sound familiar?  I’m not much of a Greek scholar, but even I could tell what that word likely meant.  Here’s what a real Greek scholar (Kenneth Wuest) has to say about it.

The words of herself are the translation of automate which is made up of autos (self) and memaa (to desire eagerly).  The word means in its totality, “self-moved, spontaneously, without external aid, and also beyond external control, with a way and a will, so to speak, of its own that must be respected and waited for.”  We get our English word automatic from this Greek word automate.  There is only one other example of its use in the New Testament, where the gate opens to Peter of its own accord (Acts 12.10).  The earth, therefore, brings forth fruit automatically.  The nature of the soil, the weather, and the cultivation of the plant, all enter in.  But the secret of the growth is in the seed itself.

This is very encouraging to us, isn’t it.  The farmer doesn’t stand anxiously over the seed he planted.  He isn’t wringing his hands as to what will happen next.  He doesn’t stay up all night worrying.  He just goes about his daily routine, sleeping, rising, sleeping, rising… and… what’s this?  The ground that received the seed is bringing forth now!  The seed has yielded to a law of life that meant it first had to die… and now it is growing, growing, growing… “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”

So with the Kingdom of God that is growing in the earth right now, and in due time will be openly manifested.  There is a beautiful mystery at work that the hand of man has no part in—the mystery of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which is at work in those who believe.  We need to respect that working, and wait patiently for the results.  Something spontaneous–automatic– is happening while we wait, something that is working of its own accord as we rest in the Lord.  Having kept out the weeds, we only need to yield to the seed that has been sown, trusting the Law of the Spirit of life to bring forth the seed that was planted in abundant fruitfulness… to the praise and glory of God.

How’s Your Hearing?

Jesus has entered a boat and is speaking to the multitudes on the shore.  He speaks to them a parable about a sower who sows seed on various types of ground.  It’s all the same seed, nevertheless the ground it is sown in brings forth different results.

Some seed falls by the roadside where the ground is packed so hard it can’t even get in, and immediately the birds come and peck it all up.

Some seed falls on thin soil with rock underneath, and although it springs up quickly, when the sun gets hot it just as quickly dies because it isn’t deeply rooted.

Some falls on ground that looks good but is infested with the seeds of thorns, and when the thorns grow up, the plants growing from the good seed are choked out.

And some of the seed falls on fertile ground that yields fruit (I like that word yield here) “some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred” (Mk. 4.8).

At the end of the parable Jesus says to the multitude, “He that hath ears let him hear” (Mk. 4.9).

Luke has this more dramatically, telling us that Jesus cried out this warning.

And when he had said these things He cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Lk. 8.8).

In other words, let no one underestimate the eternal importance of what He has been saying!

After speaking this and other parables to the multitude, Jesus goes aside with his disciples and explains the parable.  He didn’t do this with the great multitude, at this point already realizing that most of them weren’t all that interested in what He had to say; they followed Him just for the signs and wonders and miracles.  Others were openly against Him, and followed along looking only for an opportunity to find fault.  But now he explains the parable to the disciples.  He has been talking of hearing the word, likening the hearers of the word to various types of ground.  We won’t enlarge on this here except to say that God intends the seed of the word in our lives—the word of the Kingdom of God—to bear abundant fruit, and depending on the condition of our heart this may or may not happen.  Hardness of heart, persecution, the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches… all these and the lusts of other things can cause a crop failure.  But the good and honest heart that endures to the end will bring forth the fruit God is looking for.

What we want to emphasize here is that the Lord rephrases to the disciples His earlier exhortation to the multitude.  After He has explained the parable to His disciples He directs these words to them:

If any man have ears to hear, let him hear (Mk. 4.23).

This is phrased a little differently than the first exhortation, and the thought seems to be that Jesus recognizes that, unlike many of those who were stone deaf to what He had been saying, His disciples have ears to hear.  The more accurate translation of this second exhortation is, “Since a person has ears to be hearing, let him be hearing” (Wuest Expanded Translation).  You mean, Lord, your disciples actually have ears to hear, and you still admonish them?

It’s a profound warning for us, then.  It’s possible to have ears—even to think we are hearing—and yet not be hearing very well.

Christ continues by saying:

Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

Christian, let us guard against dullness of hearing.  Hearing… yet not really hearing.  Hearing… yet it doesn’t really register because we are going about our lives in this world, and, with all the things that cry for our attention, the ear that was once attentive is no longer hearing the way it used to.

Or, perhaps unknowingly we have become presumptuous, over-familiar with spiritual things.  It’s something that can creep in so easily on the heart.  We hear and presume these spiritual words to be ours because of some special group or move we have been involved in, or some great church we go to.

Or, apart from any group or church we are involved in, we have given the inherent pride of our own heart lots of water and sunshine, and we are now oblivious to our deep and continual need to walk in humility and “tremble at His word.”  And so now the seed of the word falls on our ear… and we heard it as usual, but actually nothing happened.  We have ears, but we are not really hearing.  We have lost what young Samuel had when he responded trembling, “Speak, Lord, for your servant heareth.”

In other words, the Lord had Samuel’s full attention.

The Lord Jesus Christ says that with what measure we give our ears to hear Him, in this measure what He is saying shall be measured out to us.  If we give our ears but a little, that’s what is given to us in return—little.  If our hearing is dull, we won’t get much.  If our ears are keen, are sensitive, we will hear more—in fact shall be given more than we anticipated.

…Unto you that hear shall more be given.

Is it possible then, that the Lord has spoken, and, although we heard the words, and got a little, there was more we could have heard?  Apparently.  The Lord says that it is to those who have ears and actually hear, that it shall be given.

For he that hath, to him shall be given.

And then the solemn final warning.

And he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

I don’t want to be in that category of the listener who the Lord says has ears but is actually going about his life not hearing what He is saying at all.  And suddenly I discover that what I thought I had… actually I did not have it, and it is taken from me completely now.

God’s Righteousness—My Friend

In 1513 Augustinian monk Martin Luther agonized day and night over the condition of his heart.  His conscience tormented him; he knew he was a sinful man, and that God was a holy and righteous God, and he was terrified.

One day Luther was preparing a course of lectures on the Psalms for a class he was teaching at the University of Wittenberg where he was Professor of Sacred Theology.  He came to Psalm 31 and read:

In Thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in Thy righteousness (Ps. 31.1).

Deliver me in Thy righteousness?  Luther was arrested by the words.  How could God’s righteousness deliver him?  God’s righteousness was his greatest problem; sinner that he was, God’s righteousness must surely condemn him.

Then Luther began thinking of Paul’s words to the Romans.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith (Rom. 1.16,17).

Suddenly the light went on.  Here are Luther’s own words about what happened.

I had greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the righteousness of God,” because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and acts righteously in punishing the unrighteous…. Night and day I pondered until… I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, He justifies us by faith.  Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.  The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before “the righteousness of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.  This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.

The rest is history.  The Reformation (though terribly contaminated by the hand of man in his attempt to accomplish the works of God) was a significant milestone in the unfolding purposes of God.

But justification by faith is only the beginning of the Christian walk.  It is tremendous world-shaking truth, but God never intended that we should receive His gift of righteousness only to satisfy ourselves that we are now fit for Heaven.  Paul does not lay the foundation of justification by faith in the first four chapters of Romans to stop there, but to build thereon.  The righteousness of God is not just something that is put to our account by our faith in Jesus.  As we read Romans Five to Eight we see that the righteousness of God by which we were justified becomes the principle of life pulsing within us—and the outer garment we wear for all the world to see.

We have not yet seen the full outworking of this second part—the saints of God walking in no lesser righteousness than the righteousness of Christ Himself.  But when we do we will discover this to be more world shaking than the rediscovery of justification by faith.

It is wonderful truth that Christ died for us.  But wonder of wonders, my friend Righteousness not only died for me, He lives for me.

Paul says:

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).

Meaning?  Not just that when God looks upon the believer He sees us justified through the blood of Christ.  Much more than this, the same eternal life and righteousness of the Ascended One is in me by His Spirit.  And so, “Because I live,” He says, “ye shall live also” (Jn. 14.19).  And He is speaking here of the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  By His Spirit He lives in me the life that is otherwise impossible for a man to live, saving me in all things day after day after day.

And so we have this from Romans Eight:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit (Rom. 8.1-4).

How little we Christians have entered upon this powerful truth.  Like Luther we still think of righteousness as that outward set of rules that is against us.  What about the Gospel—the good news—the righteousness of God that becomes the inner empowering law at the spring of our being and life?

The word condemnation in the above passage is often taken to mean the guilty feeling we have as a result of sin.  We feel “under condemnation,” that is, “guilty.”  The word actually means there is no “sentence against” those in Christ Jesus.  There can be no charge whatsoever against those who are in Christ Jesus, “who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.”

Mark those last words.  My friend Righteousness who first gave me a hand up out of the pit of sin and death continues to walk with me by His Spirit, thus enabling me to walk in righteousness—His own righteousness—all my days.

I love the old hymn by Nicholas von Zinzendorf (translated by John Wesley):

Jesus thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed
With Joy I shall lift up my head.

My beauty are, my glorious dress!  Not just my legal standing before God, but the robe of righteousness I live in and wear, covering me from head to foot with the beauty of Christ.  And so “‘midst flaming worlds” when all around me is going up in smoke, I am not one of those hanging my head in fear and shame; I lift my head high with the greatest joy!

Here’s the whole hymn… but be forewarned:  it’s not in the genre of some of our modern light chaffy entertainy type Christian music.  I doubt you can take this one in without your heart being on its face.

http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/j/t/b/jtbloodr.htm

Where Is The Good Way?

Over the years of my Christian walk I would frequently hear of some new thing that people were excited about—some new way or methodology that its inventor promised would help us better live the Christian life and take us closer to our destination.  Sometimes I have wondered if the destination people are looking for is the same one God has for them—Himself—for I haven’t been able to agree that these many new ways brought people closer to Him.

With this in mind I was reminded a few days ago of a word the prophet Jeremiah gave during a time of waywardness among the people of his day.

Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls (Jer. 6.16).

I imagine Jeremiah standing out somewhere, and he can see the busy people going here, going there… some in this way and some in that… confident these pathways will take them where they want to go.  And as Jeremiah watches, the Lord lays a message on his heart.  The Lord has counsel for His people relative to the destination He has in mind for them.  “Thus saith the LORD…”  It is the Lord Himself who advises His people to “stand in the ways, and see…”

In other words, see where these ways are leading you?  I wish we would lay it to heart and do the same in our day amid all our ways—the programs and methods we are so confident about, and are so sure are the Lord’s business.  Let’s have an honest look at these our ways, and see.  Are we really getting anywhere?  Are we making any real impact on our world around us with our many church programs and methodologies?  If we think we are, we are kidding nobody but ourselves… and have either not seen or  lost sight of the impact that the living God is capable of.

And so our Lord counsels us, while we are busy in these many ways leading nowhere, to ask for the Old Paths.  We are to recognize these other ways for what they are—man’s ways—and in the midst of them all ask, “Where is the good way?”

The good Way is about overgrown with brush these days.  But we are to ask, and continue asking, “Where is the good Way?”

And discovering this Way we are to “walk therein.”

And ye shall find rest for your souls.

“Ask for the Old Paths,” our Lord counsels.  What are the Old Paths, then?  The Lord speaks of these in the singular.  “Ask for the old paths: where is the good way?”  Singular.  There is just one Way—the Good Way—Jesus Christ Himself.  “I am the Way,” He says, “the truth and the life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (Jn. 14.6).

Here is our destination, then—the Father.  And here is our Way—the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

“Ask for the Old Paths; where is the Good Way…”  Jesus Christ Himself is The Way.  And so how do we walk this Way?  How do we walk in Him?  The only way we can walk in Jesus is to walk in the Spirit.  This is the Way the early church walked in.  I know Jeremiah was speaking to people under the old covenant, but remember—he was a prophet writing things for our day.  “Not unto themselves but unto us they did minister…” (1 Pt. 1.12).  And so from a new covenant point of view, the Old Paths are the New Thing the Lord began doing when He poured forth His Spirit at Pentecost, and the church of Jesus Christ was born.  Those early disciples began walking in a New and living way.  In fact the early disciples became known as the people of The Way (Acts 9.2, 19.23, 22.4, 24.14).  Can the same be said of us today?  Is it this that characterizes us?  Do we walk in this same Way?

I am reminded of something Solomon said:

As Thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all (Eccles. 11.5).

That phrase just haunts me—“the way of the wind.”  It’s a path that can’t be seen with the natural eye; there are inner workings in God that, like the child in the womb, are beyond the reach of the mind of man to grasp.  I know, when it comes to the weather and medical science we’ve got these things all figured out now.  But what Solomon said is still true.  We simply cannot know the things of God by human ingenuity and man’s device, no matter how inventive our new programs and methodologies and techniques.

It is so beautiful to see how Jesus combines those two thoughts about the way of the wind and the child in the womb, telling Nicodemus the teacher of Israel that there is in fact a Way in which he can come to know the things of God.  That is, by being born again, born of the Spirit—the Wind.  Being born of the Wind we become like the Wind, and so know His Pathway…  because we are borne along in it.

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Wind (Jn. 3.8).

Oh how we love this verse.  But how can we miss seeing that the born-again experience is to become more than just the initial point of our salvation and birth into the Kingdom of God… and then it’s left to us to proceed with our own works and ways?  No, the Way of the Wind is to be our Way all our days.  Could it be, then, that this is the reason why, in spite of all our ways– these methods, these programs of ours– that we—yes we the born-again people of God—simply aren’t getting anywhere?  We have missed The Way, we have lost our Way!  We want to see the lost saved, but we ourselves have lost our way.

God’s counsel to us is to ask for the Good Way, the Old Paths, the Pathway of the Wind—of the Spirit.

Oh, to see the churches abandon their own ways and return again to this beautiful Way!  Where are those who are asking for the Old Paths, the Good Way?  How tragic that time and again through church history, and again in our day, God’s people have swerved out of this beautiful Pathway of the Spirit and got involved in their own ways and works.  It is heartbreaking folly.  We would be so much further along if we would come to repentance, and return to the Old Paths, the beautiful new Way of the Spirit.  This was our Lord’s counsel to those of old.   It is His counsel for us today.

Yet when I read Jeremiah’s prophecy and the answer that was returned to the Lord’s counsel by those of old, I am troubled.  It was, “We will not walk therein.”

Is that our answer today as well?