Tag Archives: The Gospel

What Are You Thinking?

In view of what we have been sharing about walking in the light of His countenance, I wonder if I don’t hear someone thinking, what are you talking about, do you know anyone who enjoys this kind of light, this New Covenant glory you are talking about?

In fact I know many who enjoy this… in measure.  It’s that inner sense of His shining face, a sense of illumination as to His will, and the steps He is leading us in.  He has lifted up His countenance upon us; He is smiling; He is pleased.  There is the assurance of His love.

But I also know at least one person who knows the times when darkness veils His lovely face, times that call for us to “trust in His unchanging grace.”

And remember that in the very passage we have been dwelling on (2 Cor. Ch. 3) Paul says:

Seeing, then, that we have such hope we use great plainness (openness) of speech, and not as Moses who put a veil over his face…

Hope?  This seems to imply that we may not be experiencing the full reality of what Paul is setting forth—not yet, that is.  Do I see His shining face?  Well, yes, in measure.  We enjoy this light of His countenance in measure.  But there is much more to come, and I don’t want to cheat myself of that.  So I nurture hope in my heart.  It is in the sphere of hope that we embrace these things—that in the New Covenant we have the hope of seeing the face of Jesus Christ shining with the glory of God, and our being changed into the very same image… from one measure of glory to another… to another…  It is with this confident hope and expectation that we unveil our own faces in every step of our walk, and continue to turn our unveiled faces with anticipation upward.  We know we will not be disappointed.  For “hope does not disappoint,” anchored, as it is, “within the veil.”

And so we seek to war a good warfare on the basis of this hope.  Yes, warfare.  We must recognize that we are in a war; this new-covenant hope is intensely resisted by the forces of darkness.  They are able to affect even our own thoughts.  This is perhaps the most difficult thing we Christians have to go through—the darkness of our thought life.  There are night seasons when His lovely face is hidden from us, and our minds are prey to darkness. That lovely shining countenance we love so much… now we are sure it is a frowning countenance.  In such times let us recognize our thinking for what it actually is—just that—darkness, not light.  Let us be on our guard, then, and beware lest we start believing that what we are thinking is actually true.  All those doubts, fears, evil surmisings, dark forebodings… let us recognize all that for what it is—darkness, not truth!

So let us keep this living hope ever before us, more and more seeking to gird up the loins of our mind, to discipline our mind not to dwell on darkness.  Let us put on the armour of light.  Let us guard against meditating on the darkness in times of darkness.  Let us meditate on the Light in the night watches—not on the night (Ps. 63.6).  Wrong thinking, if we do not recognize it for what it is, can become an enemy stronghold in the mind.

It can become a habit of mind to meditate on darkness—on some problem or evil circumstance or failure.  Or… have you ever entertained an imaginary conversation with someone who had done you wrong, and you are doing warfare with that person with your imaginary words?  Once when I was doing this myself, the Holy Spirit intercepted my thinking with a question.  “What are you thinking?”  I suddenly became aware that all I was thinking… it was just darkness!  I was embarrassed at the time, but I am grateful for that question now; it has helped me many times to dismiss thoughts that are darkness.  David cried out, “Search me O LORD and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts…” (Ps. 139.23).  This is what that question did for me.  It was God knowing my thoughts, and thus I was able to know them myself.  We deeply need this kind of input from our God, showing us the nature of the thoughts and intents of our heart.  Without it, and all unawares, darkness is seeping into our hearts as we think on these things.  Our adversary is building his own stronghold in our very thoughts when we do this.

Paul spoke of weapons that are effective against the strongholds of darkness.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;
Casting down imaginations (reasonings, arguments), and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ… (2 Cor. 10.4,5).

Paul is speaking of the enemy strongholds in the minds of those who were calling in question his apostolic authority and accusing him of a mere human agenda.  No, he cautioned; he might be walking in flesh, but he did not war after the flesh; he had weapons which could bring these strongholds down.

But it is vain to think we will have any success against the strongholds of darkness in the minds of others before we ourselves have brought into captivity every thought of our own mind to the obedience of Christ.

And so Paul continues:

And having in a readiness to revenge (avenge) all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

Your in this verse is plural.  Meaning “you as a church,” which is how Weymouth translates it.

Let this become our seeking then.  God has spiritual weapons with which we can pull down strongholds and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.  This would indeed be a formidable church.  But first it will take discipline in our own thought life– not dwelling on the darkness, but rather earnestly seeking to fix our eyes on Jesus’ shining Face.  This will create another stronghold that the Prince of darkness cannot invade.  Let us gird up our minds, then, let our minds be filled with the light of faith, and hope, and love.  We have the hope of certain victory.  We will yet see the light of the glory of the Gospel of Christ triumphant over all darkness.

Light That Changes Us

We have been talking about walking in the light of our Lord and Saviour’s countenance.  It is light that changes us, as Paul shows when he compares the glory of the old covenant with that of the new.

Moses when he came down from the mountain after communing with God did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him (Ex. 34.29).  When the people saw him they shielded their eyes, could not look steadily into his face, could no more look on his face than look at the sun.

But then the glory on Moses’ face began to fade. So he covered his face.  He could not let the people see the fading glory—and he refused to minister without that glory.  So he went into the tent he had set up, and took the veil off while he communed further with the Lord.  Then, recharged as it were, he would come out and talk with the people again, till the glory began to fade again.

What Moses did was prophetic of the whole dispensation of the old covenant—and also of the blindness of the hearts of the people under that covenant.  Paul called the old covenant a “ministration of death” that would one day come to its end; its glory would come to an end.  But tragically, most of those who were bound under that covenant refused to acknowledge that it was over; there was a veil upon their hearts that prevented them from seeing that the Sinai covenant was history.

For, God had brought in a new covenant—one whose glory was never going to fade.  Those who drew nigh to God by this covenant would, with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ, and be transformed “into the same image from glory to glory.”

“To this day,” grieved Paul, that same veil remained on their hearts in the reading of the old testament.  We may well say in our day it is still there—even in the reading of the new testament.  For “the letter” of the Scriptures has no power to change; it is “the Spirit that gives life” (2 Cor. 3.6).

And so Paul adds this:

Nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away (2 Cor. 3.16).

He has in mind Moses returning to commune with the Lord, and taking away the veil while he talked with Him.

Let us not miss what Paul says next.  With apostolic authority and Holy Spirit inspiration, he brings this old testament picture right up into the new covenant.  “Now the Lord,” he says, referring to this passage about Moses returning to commune with the Lord, “is the Spirit…”

It is in unveiling our hearts to the Spirit of the Lord that we discover the shining face of the Lord Himself.

And in this light what do we discover?

“…And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

What does he mean—liberty?  This.  The covenant of the law was a covenant that “gendereth to bondage” (Gal. 4.24).  The Sinai covenant brought forth children of bondage.  It was “a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5.1).  Rather than liberating from sin, it actually intensified sin in the heart of man, and brought them deeper into captivity to the law of sin and death (Rom. 7.23).  But the new covenant—the perfect law of liberty—minsters grace to the hearers and sets them free from the law of sin and death, empowering them with the quickening power of Life to do the will of God.  As Paul says in another place—and I wonder sometimes if this is not the most wondrous verse in the Bible:

The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath set me free from the law of sin and death.

The new covenant walk is a walk in the Spirit, a walk in the light of His countenance.  A walk in liberty.  A transforming walk.

…Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
But we all with open (unveiled) face beholding as in a glass (mirroring) the glory of the  Lord are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord (that is, the Lord the Spirit).

This is what the light of His countenance does as we walk in it.  It is new covenant light that changes us into the same image we see in the mirror.  It is true light, making true in us what is true in Him (1 Jn. 2.8).

Let us keep looking into this mirror!

Our Grave Is Behind Us

Last time we talked of the joyful sound, the Shout of Triumph—the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ– and the significance of walking in the light of His countenance.  The light in His face is Gospel light, new-covenant light, light that makes what is true in Him true also in us.  It enables us to walk even as He walks, no longer subject to the law of sin and death, but in the empowering sway of a new law, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

And it means that the same light of the Gospel that shines in the face of Jesus Christ shines forth from the faces of those who are beholding His face.

This is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.  He must shine forth.  Our world is in the grip of “sin’s dread sway” and the tentacles of death.  Oh for the Joyful Sound of the Gospel of eternal life to go forth in this hour proclaiming liberty to the captives!  Oh to go out with joy, and be led forth with peace—testifying, demonstrating in the power of the Spirit, that those who know the Joyful Sound—they live no longer under sentence of death.  They have been sentenced to Life!  Their grave is behind them, not before them.

Yes, they may “fall asleep in Jesus,” but death is no longer their lot.  And so, what joy!

I came across this gem in a book (When He Is Come) by A.W. Tozer recently, and want to pass it on.

The joy of the Holy Ghost is not something worked up—it is a post-resurrection joy.  Christ came out of the grave, and the Spirit of the risen Christ comes back to His people.  The joy that we have is the joy that looks back on the grave.  This is not a joy that we have in spite of the knowledge that we must die—it is a joy that results from the fact that in Christ we have already died, and risen, and there is no real death out there for the true child of God.

Astonishing words, but for those who know the joyful sound of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—it’s a fact.  They were buried with Christ in baptism; their grave is behind them now.  And being also risen with Him, they walk no more in darkness under the pall of death.  Now they walk in the light of His Countenance.  It may be as dark as the grave round about them, but right in the midst of it all they know His Voice and walk in the light of His shining face.

It is light, as I said, that liberates from the law of sin and death.  And so these ones—how beautiful are their feet upon the mountains!  Oh the message they have!  It is not just words; the way they walk and the Kingdom they walk in is their message.  It is Good News!  They proclaim by their very lives that their God reigns!  Not sin.  Not death.  Their lives proclaim that where once sin reigned in the power of death, now “grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5.21).

This is His promise—the promise of the Gospel.  The law of sin and death reigns in each and every one of those born in Adam.  All you have to do to find yourself under the law of sin and death is get born, and you don’t have any choice even in that.  But—oh the joyful sound—those born in Christ have been liberated from the law of sin and death!  They have entered the Kingdom of God, and a new Law rules in them now.  Sin and death no longer hold sway!  Now they walk in the liberating Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus!

Family of God, those of us who know the joyful sound, we are grateful, and forever shall be, for what our beloved Lord Jesus Christ accomplished in His Cross.  Yet even after all these centuries we have scarcely scratched the surface of this wondrous Gospel of the Kingdom, the Good News of our salvation.  Wondrous things and mighty triumphs are before us!  Let us take up our own cross, then, and follow with our Saviour, lifting up our eyes and walking in the light of His countenance– come what may.  The promise is that His kingdom of grace and eternal Life will ultimately overthrow the kingdom of sin and death till there is not so much as a trace of it left on this planet, and the glory of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.

The Joyful Sound And The Shining Face

The last few days I have been making melody in my heart to the Lord with the words of an old song that I first heard many years ago at Brother Graham’s little Faith Tabernacle in Calgary.

Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound.
They shall walk, walk O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound!

The words are from Psalm 89:15.

Now, what is the joyful sound?  The Hebrew word is teruwah, which means shout of joy or triumph, or the sound of a trumpet blast, whether of jubilee or alarm of war.  In this song it is obviously the shout of joy and triumph, for Psalm 89 is about the eternal Throne of David, and is prophetic of Christ the Son of David ascending to the throne of Heaven.  (What a triumph that is!)  We find the same word in Psalm 47.5:  “God is gone up (has ascended) with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.”  It is also used of the great shout the people made when the ark came into the camp (1 Sam. 4.5) and later when David and all Israel brought the ark home to Zion (2 Sam. 6.15).

All this, of course, is prophetic.  For you and I in new-covenant days, the joyful sound can only be the shout of triumph that accompanies the Glad Tidings of great joy—that the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, has triumphed over all His enemies and ours, and is seated on the highest throne in the universe with all power in heaven and earth.  There’s a lot of bad news out there these days, but beloved, have we heard these tidings—this Good News?  Do we know that Salvation has come—the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who has triumphed over the reign of sin and death in the family of man?

Wonderful—astounding—news!  Oh, the Gospel that we have!  It truly is the joyful sound!  It is truly cause to shout and leap for joy!  For, on the Cross of Calvary our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ stopped—yes, stopped—the invasion of sin and death into the family of man.

You say it doesn’t appear to be true?  And that sin and death are on the rampage like never before?  Then family of God (we who know the joyful sound) let us walk in the light of His shining countenance so that from our own faces there may be a shining forth of the truth of the Gospel in this dark world of ours!

For, that Jesus saved us from our sins, and from death the wages of sin, is only the beginning of the Glad Tidings.  Our Salvation is not only salvation from something.  He is salvation to something as well.  Yes of course, you say, now we’ll go to Heaven when we die.  True, but don’t sell yourself short.  It is much more than that!

Saved by His Life?

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).

What is this—saved by His life?  Yes, it is wonderful that our Saviour’s death justifies us and reconciles us to God.  But His resurrection and ascension and the gift of His Spirit makes us a new creation now.  Jesus told the disciples He would send them the Spirit when He went away, enjoining them to His own eternal life.  “Because I live,” He promised, “ye shall live also,” (Jn. 14.19).  Do we grasp this?  He is alive with eternal life!  “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him” (Rom. 6.9).  Wonderful for Him, right?  Yes, and wonderful for you and me also!  For He says, “Because I live ye shall live also.”  This is the power of His ascension life!  And He is not talking about mere unending existence; He is talking about the Life over which sin and death have no dominion.  Meaning that there is provision for us right here on earth to walk step by step in the Pathway of Life Himself… right through the valley of the shadow of death.  It is a walk in the Spirit that is an outshining of the truth that, right here in this present evil world, sin and death no longer reign in those who are saved.  The sorry picture is that all too often there is no apparent difference between those who are saved and those who are still captives to the law of sin and death.  Why are we not more jealous for what is our own?

Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6.4).

Newness of life!  It is a walk in the light of His countenance—His face!  It is new-covenant light; we are not governed by rule and regulation, statute and precept and ordinance, but by a Law of life.  Meaning (let us understand this) those who walk in this light are no longer subject to the law of sin and death.  They walk in the light of life.  They are rebels, you might say: they refuse to obey the law of sin and death any more.  They have heard and know the joyful sound; they have a different ruler now, and they walk in the light of His countenance…

…And therefore in their own faces they manifest His own Shining Face of victory, shining in the darkness of this world the light of life and love and joy and peace and hope and righteousness.

More next time.

The Blessing Of Abraham–The Gospel Of Christ

In my reading this morning these words arrested me:

And I am sure that when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 15.29).

This is Paul writing to the Romans about a trip their way he hoped to make.  And he knows he will come to them “in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.”

The blessing—this is the promise God gave Abraham.

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen. 22.18).

Paul with Holy-Spirit illumination points out that the seed of Abraham is Christ.

He saith not, And to thy seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ (Gal. 3.16).

Christ—and those in Christ—this is the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3.29).  And so here is Paul, a man in Christ, coming to those among the nations to bless them with the blessing of Abraham.

What is the blessing of Abraham?

Shortly after the Spirit had fallen at Pentecost Peter was speaking to the people in a portico of the temple.  He reminded them that they were “the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (Acts 3.25).

What is this blessing?  Peter continued:

Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities (Acts 3.26).

“Unto you first…” He was speaking to those who were Jews by nature.  Before long this blessing would go forth to the Gentiles too—God’s promise of old to Abraham now being fulfilled.

But does not our breath catch in our throat when we discover the reach of this blessing?  Not only how wide its reach—that those who embrace Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, are a people blessed with the blessing of Abraham—but the depth of its reach as well, and its height.  All too often we Christians view God’s blessings within the narrow confines of earthly prosperity—something even the most wicked of men can enjoy.  Here Peter says that the blessing of Abraham consists in God’s Son Jesus turning men and women from their iniquities.

This is a profound statement.  These ones are blessed in that sin no longer has dominion over them.  They are free from the bondage of sin.  This is the blessing of Abraham!  And there is a fullness to this blessing… so great a fullness, and with such staggering implications (just read prayerfully through Romans 5.12-21), that one can scarcely take it in.

Sin has wrought utter havoc in the family of Adam, and terrible sorrow.  But there is Good News.  Exceedingly good news!  We need not be subjects of the domain of sin and death!  One has come who brought into being a totally different domain—the domain of the blessed, of those who are now free from sin and all its ruin.  This is what “the blessing of the Gospel” is all about.

No more let sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

The blessing of the Gospel is not a message in word only.  It is not mere theory.

For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance… (1 Thes. 1.5).

The Gospel is a message in the power of the Holy Spirit that proves, that demonstrates, the reality of the victory of Jesus Christ over the whole realm of the law of sin and death.  We really ought to be beside ourselves with joy for this, and I suspect that the reason we often are not is that we just don’t see the powerful far-reaching implications of this Gospel… and have not been impacted by it all that much.  There is a Gospel that stops the workings of the law of sin and death in its tracks.  There is a Gospel that in the fullness of its blessing means the dominion of grace and righteousness and eternal life.

It’s the blessing of Abraham—which in another place is revealed as the promise of the Spirit of God.

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal. 3.14).

How does Jesus Christ turn people from their iniquities?  Yes, first by dying upon a Cross to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

But then He ascends to the right hand of the Father in order to receive for us the Promise from the Father—the Holy Spirit of promise—and comes again in the power of the Spirit, that you and I might live the blessed life that is free from sin, victorious over all.

Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear (Acts 2.33).

Brothers and sisters, let us not settle for less than this Gospel.  Theory will not cut it in this hour.  Paul could say, “I’ve got the goods.”  He was sure that when he arrived in Rome it would be with “the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.”  Let us earnestly seek God in this hour for this same Blessing, the Blessing of the Gospel—the kind of Gospel Paul had—a Gospel not in word but in power.  For we too, like Paul, are called to be emissaries of this Blessing… “far as the curse is found.”

Is God Home?

Years ago I saw a cartoon in a religious magazine that showed a small boy standing on the doorstep of a large church.  Apparently he has just knocked on the ornate door, for the door stands open and a clergyman with his hand on the doorknob is looking down at him.  The little boy, neck craned upward, asks, “Is God home?”

How cute, eh.  Who but a child would expect God to actually be at home in the house of God?  But, out of the mouth of babes…

So let me ask a question.  Why did God save you and me?  Most likely we answer that He saved us because we needed salvation; we realized we were bound in sin and about to get our wages (death).

And that’s true.  But let me ask another question.  Why did God save Israel out of Egypt?  We need to know this, because the story of the children of Israel coming out of Egypt and entering into the Promised Land is one of the Bible’s great building blocks.  It’s this prophetic story by which God builds our understanding of His great plan of eternal salvation in Christ.  There are other building blocks, but as we read our New Testament we discover that this one is certainly a major one.  Paul tells us that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5.7), and this is of course a reference to the night Israel was delivered from Egypt by the Passover lamb.  Peter has the same event in mind when he tells us we have been “redeemed… with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pt. 1.19).

Then on one occasion in the wilderness when the people were bitten by poisonous serpents, God directed Moses to set up a serpent of brass on a pole.  Whoever looked up at the brazen serpent was delivered from the poison at work in his system.  One moment they were on their way to the land of the dead; the next they were in the land of the living.  Jesus Christ selects this event to open our eyes to Himself, telling us that “even so must the Son of man be lifted up (on the Cross of Calvary), that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3.15).

And so with Israel’s salvation story, God opens our eyes to our own salvation story.

Which is why I asked those questions.  Why did God save you and me?  But why did He save them?  Once we discover the answer to why He brought them out of Egyptian bondage we will have a better understanding of His objective in our own salvation.

So let’s read what God had in mind by delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage.  Here are three verses in which we have God’s reasons from His own mouth.

I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright (Lev. 26.13).

This is the reason that most usually comes to mind when we think of why God brought them out of Egypt.  The Israelites in Egypt were under the grievous yoke of slavery.  They cried to God in their bondage and He sent a deliverer to set them free.  By the blood of the Passover lamb He redeemed them from “the house of bondmen” (Dt. 7.8), and they were happily on their way to the Promised Land.  This was their gospel—their good news.  And here we have a close parallel to our own Gospel, the Good News of our redemption in Christ Jesus, our salvation from the bondage of sin by the blood of Christ our Passover.  We have been redeemed, we are free!  But free to do what?  Here’s another verse:

For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (Lev. 11.45).

This second verse tells us that God brought them out of Egypt to be their God.  What did He mean by this?  Wasn’t He their God in Egypt?  Yes, but bowed down in the yoke of bondage they were not free to worship Him.  He wanted to be their God… and He explained what being their God implies.  If God is to be their God, they must be holy—separated unto Him.  This they could not be while serving Pharaoh in the iron furnace.  God liberated them to the intent that they could worship and serve Him unhindered.  And since He is a holy God, this would mean holiness on their part, something that the New Testament writers enjoin on us as well.  Peter calls us to holiness, quoting the same words God commanded Israel when they came out of Egypt.

Be ye holy, for I am holy (1 Pt. 1.16, Lev. 11.44).

This brings us to another verse.  And to get the impact of it let’s put ourselves back there in Egypt.  We have known nothing but grinding slavery all our lives, and it would take an absolute miracle to be free.  But one day there is good news making the rounds among the slaves.  And suddenly the impossible miracle is actually happening!  Oh, what a Name this mighty God is making for Himself!  He judges Egypt and brings us out of Egypt and parts the Red Sea and brings us through and utterly destroys our enemies… and we are on our way to the Promised Land rejoicing!

And we come to Sinai, and… what is Moses asking?  During the time of the giving of the law at Sinai God tells Moses we are now to bring Him an offering—gold, silver, bronze, blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen, rams skins dyes red… oil, spices, onyx stones….  What’s this all about?  We are on our way to our Canaan inheritance, but what does this great God who has delivered us have in mind?

And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them (Ex. 25.8).

Do we see open mouths and wonder on the faces of those around us?  I am sure this would have been a real jaw dropper back then.  These people had a long history with God.  He was the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  But now what’s this?  He wants to dwell in their very midst?  This is something utterly unheard of.  Never before had this great God of their fathers mentioned anything like this.

But this, He says, is why He brought them out of Egypt.

And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them; I am the LORD their God (Ex. 29.46).

What a wonder.  Here they are, the Red Sea behind them, hearts full of expectation about the promised inheritance before them.  And how wonderful to think that the God of their fathers who just made for Himself an everlasting Name by bringing them out of Egypt would bring them into the promised inheritance.  What more could they ask?

But this was not enough for God.  He wanted to dwell in their midst on the way there.  He wanted a Sanctuary—a Holy Place—so that He the Holy God could dwell in their midst.

Fellow Christian, let us lay this to heart.  The great God who accomplished for us so great a salvation in Calvary’s cross is not content to just save us so we can live out our lives and then go happily to Heaven.

He wants to dwell in our midst on the way there.

So I can’t help asking one more question, and I wish more were asking it.  Oh, how thankful we are for the salvation we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.  But…  is God getting the desire of His heart among the saved these days?  Is God finding His Sanctuary, His Dwelling Place in our churches?  Is God actually home?

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.

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.


What World Do You Walk In?

Habakkuk the prophet spoke of a time when he could find nothing but desolation all around him.  The fig tree had not blossomed, nor seemed likely to blossom.  There was no fruit in the vine.  The labour of the olive had failed.  The fields had yielded no food.  The flock was cut off from the fold, and there was no herd in the stalls (Hab. 3.17).

This was a spiritual scene Habakkuk was prophesying about—signs of a frightening spiritual crop failure, and therefore severe famine at the door.  Yet what was Habakkuk’s reaction?

Yet will I rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon my high places (Hab. 3.19).

Joy?  Rejoicing?  How can it be possible to be in the midst of such grievous circumstance and yet tap into a source of joy?

Let me tell you of one high place higher than all others—the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who is seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places “far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1.21).

And we are called to walk in Him there.

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving (Col. 1.7).

Fellow Christian with the hinds’ feet of the Holy Spirit, though we live in an evil world of trouble and great darkness, it is our heritage to be living and walking in the high places of an entirely different world.  In Christ we have the opportunity—and the provision by the Holy Spirit—to walk no longer dependent on this world for our peace and wellbeing and happiness and security.  Those who walk in this world, when evil circumstance—trouble or affliction—comes upon them, their peace and wellbeing evaporates like the morning cloud in the heat of the sun.

I know this happens to you and me too at times.  But it need not.  There is another realm in which we can walk.  Those who have received Christ Jesus the Lord, we can walk in Him.  Regardless of present evil circumstance or affliction, JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, and so, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, we can be living and walking in One who is seated upon the Throne of God in a kingdom and dominion that transcends and rules over all.

Let us consider this earnestly, and meditate upon it, and sow to it.  It is quite the thing that there are people on this troubled planet who are actually rooted and living in a different world.  They are not subject to the vagaries and transience of earthly things. There may be some deeply galling circumstance in our life, or deep affliction, something from which, like a prison, there seems no escape.  But right there we can be living in another realm.

Consider the apostle Paul when he was a prisoner (Phil. 1.13)… and not quite sure how things would go for him (2.23).  How long would he be in this prison?  Perhaps he might even be executed?  And yet he is filled to overflowing with joy.  Read his letter to the Philippians remembering he is in prison while he writes this.  Yet he is filled with joy, so much so that his joy just spills over to those he is writing to.  You have to read the whole letter in one sweep to get the feel of it, but here are two or three verses.

…Christ is preached, and therein do I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice (Phil. 1.18).

Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me (Phil. 2.17,18).

Paul expects it could well be that his days here on earth are over, but he is filled with joy, and seeks to infect his friends and brethren with the same joy.  Like Habakkuk, he is rejoicing in the midst of the worst possible circumstances.

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3.1).

These are Habakkuk’s words, aren’t they.  And it appears Paul is about to sign off.  “Finally, my brethren…”  But the joy continues to well up, and now something else comes on his heart,  and it is not till he has given us one of the most precious chapters in the whole of the Bible (Philippians Ch. 3) that he picks up his benediction again:

Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice (Ch. 4.4).

How can he be so full of joy considering his circumstances?  It’s simply because he is rooted in a heavenly Ground that transcends his present evil circumstance.  He knows that the Gospel of Christ in him is a power that rules over all; whatever comes it is not possible for him to be disappointed.

…According to my earnest expectation and my hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Ch. 1.20).

We find this same confidence in Paul’s second letter to Timothy written when he is again in prison.  This time he is chained like a common criminal—and this time he knows for certain his end is at hand.  (He was executed under the Roman emperor Nero, likely in 67 AD just after writing this letter.)

And note what we glean from this letter; it’s enough to sink anyone in despair.  All in the province of Asia where Paul has laboured so earnestly have now deserted him (2 Tim. 1.15).  That in itself is enough to take the heart out of anyone—to see their life’s work disintegrate before their very eyes.  The flock, it seems, has been cut off from the fold; Paul’s labour of the olive has failed… or so it seemed.  And it appears it’s a rare thing that anyone comes to visit lonely Paul in prison; he makes special mention of a certain Onesiphorus who came from Ephesus and searched hard to find him and came often and refreshed him, “and was not ashamed of my chain” (2 Tim. 1.16).

What is more, Paul tells Timothy that the first time he stood before Nero no one showed up to stand by him and defend him (2 Tim. 4.16).  My.  One would think the Lord Himself had abandoned Paul… until we continue reading.

Nevertheless the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me… and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen (2 Tim. 4.18).

And so we see in Paul an unshakable faith and confidence that springs from a source other than this present evil world.  Paul is rooted in another world, a heavenly world—actually in Christ Himself, who never ever forsakes him.  He is being built up in Him, for he is established, grounded, in the faith, abounding therein with thanksgiving.  His letter is filled with words of encouragement for Timothy, whom he knows to be somewhat timid of nature, and vulnerable to fear and anxiety.  Paul reminds him it is for the Gospel that he is suffering these things, and regardless of the present scene, he is confident in the triumph of the Gospel—to be revealed in a certain Day.  And so he rejoices in the Lord, in the God of his salvation.

For which cause I suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that Day (2 Tim. 1.12).

Beloved Christian, there is a Day coming.  There is coming a Day.  But this does not mean that the Gospel is not triumphant even now in our present troubles—for the one who with hinds’ feet walks in Christ in the high places of a different world… while we confidently await the Day when that triumph will be openly manifested.

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!

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