I have recently been renewed in my experience of following Jesus. With it has come a deeper clarity and appreciation for the Kingdom of God. With it has come a renewed longing for the personal presence of God, and what this means in terms of His Kingdom. So let’s look briefly at this Kingdom.
In the Old Testament, Jewish understanding of the ‘Kingdom’ or ‘Malkuth’ as it was termed, was a very powerful one. The OT people understood it in terms of ‘God’s rule and reign; His empire’. They would apply it to His rule over them specifically as a nation, and indeed generally over the nations, and the affairs of mankind, and how it would ultimately come at the end of time.
Whilst not having enough space here to cite all examples, one such Scripture is where King David says in 1 Chronicles 29: 11 – 13:
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendour,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honour come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
To add to that there are numerous extra biblical quotations, all referring to a similar Judaistic understanding / viewpoint of God’s Kingdom. Nothing of course is wrong with that. This is thoroughly Biblical: God is indeed the exalted King over creation, over mankind, over the affairs of the nations, and indeed His people, and that presently, and this will be ultimately realised at the end of the age.
However, something wonderful happened at the advent of Jesus Christ. He took men from a Judaistic viewpoint of the Kingdom to a Christocentric view of the Kingdom. He came with a message of ‘Basilea’ (the Greek term the Gospel writers used) – ‘proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom’ or that ‘the Kingdom of God was at hand…’ He came with this dynamic fact: The Kingdom was personally present in the Man, Christ Jesus.
This Kingdom was not just present in His message or even His mission, though certainly that was the case! Nor was it even just a promise for a future time, to finally consummate history at the end of the age. He came proclaiming a new understanding of the Kingdom of God. Without doing away with the OT understanding, He came with a more powerful fulfilment: The Kingdom was in-fact present in His very person, and to remain by the outpoured Spirit.
Jesus said in Luke 17: 21:
…‘nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
He also said in Matthew 12: 28:
But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
And further promising its remaining presence in John 14: 16 – 20:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.
So if you like, God wants us to go from a ‘Malkuth’ understanding to a ‘Basilea’ understanding. (And for all you Biblical language experts, I know a change in language means nothing, nor does the fundamental meaning of the words differ, though there are some who could argue that point further.) Rather, it is our viewpoint of the Kingdom that God wants us to re-examine.
2000 years ago, in Jesus Christ, the Kingly rule of God had come. In fact, the King was present, and was promising His rule, His reign and His presence to those who were ‘poor in spirit’. All this not just as a future hope, but a present reality. Though His voluntary death and suffering was a stumbling block to many, it did not deny the fact, but actually proved it all the more, for those humble enough to receive it. The reality was that His sacrifice had opened up the Kingdom to all, and because of this, today we still can say, ‘the Kingdom has come.’
This Kingdom, as George Ladd puts it, was a present gift, given from ‘the seeking God…’ It had ‘broken into history…’, rather than appear at the end of history, as was formerly thought. It came through His Son to mankind. Thus Jesus called it a treasure to be sought now, here, as well as a future promise. It was so glorious and so present, that men were called to ‘forsake everything…’ for it.
2000 years ago, God set something in motion: God’s Kingdom had indeed broken into ‘our’ world! Coming with this Kingdom would be forgiveness, freedom from the rule the enemy, righteousness, healing, love, victory and hope, the Gift of the Holy Spirit, authority, including much, much more! All the promises of God had come in Christ, and been made possible through His death and resurrection. The Kingdom had drawn near, and would remain still very present. Now by the Spirit, Jesus is still exercising His dynamic rule and victory. He has set something in motion, and His Spirit carries on in like manner. Like a ‘small seed… growing into something large…’ or like ‘yeast’, the Kingdom is still moving, acting, growing, advancing among His people, and in this fallen world!
Of course, we must always remember that God’s Kingdom is coming in a definite and final way, when all the world will acknowledge that He indeed is King over all things. But let us not miss out on something equally as true and glorious; a glorious reality that is pivotal to the reason that Jesus came; to bring to men His present ‘basilea’, His glorious Kingdom, personally, on our part and on His! If this be so, then how transformed we and everything we come into contact with would be!
Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: basilea, george ladd, Good News, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Kingdom, Kingdom of God
Isaiah 9: 6 – 7
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
I’d like to look at a theme that has been burning in my heart for months about the theme of ‘Sonship’. Preaching from the above text, at the beginning of this year the Lord clearly spoke to me concerning this theme, and in regard to something He wanted me to embrace more than ever. Also, I believe that this is a key theme for the Church at large to embrace, as it will be essential in the future move of God.
In the above Scripture, we see the nature of ‘sonship’ in the Son – Jesus. It foretells of His becoming a child, though He is in fact, eternally a Son. (‘A child is born… A son is given…’) And the text clearly shows that because Sonship is something Jesus ultimately manifest in His life, through becoming a child and submitting to the Father, He inherited authority and power. His ‘Sonship’ was set for us to follow, as sons. His Sonship was not only His ‘status’ by name only, but was also experienced. He did not need to enter into the ‘experience’ of sonship (becoming a child) on the one hand, yet did so because He was a Son! Jesus even said in His teaching, that unless we become as a child, we cannot receive or enter the Kingdom.
So as in the natural, sons submit to a father, then later on they receive an inheritance, so it is a type of what is actual in the Kingdom. We are declared to be sons upon being Born-again – if you like a ‘status‘ is given. But then we must enter into the experience of sonship for a greater manifestation of power, and a full inheritance, because we are sons. This is evidenced with Christ in Luke 3 & 4, where Sonship was decreed by the Father at Jesus’ baptism, but then Sonship was experienced through the submission in the wilderness testing / temptation, and the subsequent inheritance of power with God in advancing the Kingdom. Here, Christ came out in the ‘power of the Spirit…’ and He ‘proclaimed the Kingdom…’ But please note: the Spirit compelled Jesus into the wilderness! We have also received the Spirit of Sonship. And by God’s grace we should not reject the dealings of God. They are for our destiny to be realized.
In the above Isaiah passage, this ‘son’ also inherits ‘government… upon His shoulders…’ and He inherits names: ‘Wonderful Counsellor (Supernatural in counsel) Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…’ etc. So though a son eternally (given) He comes to a place of being just a child (born). This is one of the great mysteries of all time. He in His Sonship becomes nothing, then inherits the Kingdom and subsequent authority!
One more thing of note in the Isaiah passage is that Jesus the Son is called ‘Father’. In Israel the King’s heir when inheriting the throne became a father to the people, not according to age or stature but according to God’s choosing & dealing with the man, and in turn, man’s response to God’s workings. True sonship produces true fathers; true fathers manifest authority in a fatherly way. They in turn raise up and release new sons. This is both seen in the natural and this is how it ought to be in the Kingdom of God.
What then do ‘true sons’ inherit by coming under the Father’s dealings and authority?
1. Sons inherit governmental authority.
A hireling does not understand the dynamics or heart of the Father, nor His house, neither His desire for it. A son however, does, and as a result will actually ‘give himself’ for that fulfilment.
Isaiah 22: 15 – 24 speaks of a situation in which a man by the name of Shebna is steward of over the nation of Israel. The steward was basically a prime minister, under the headship of the King. Isaiah describes a number of assaults on the nation, and always brings a word from God looking for steadfast and faithful leaders to respond to what God is saying. Shebna in this account fails to fulfil the duty of his office, and instead accepts the death of the nation, and only seeks his own memorial to be fixed, rather than caring for the future life of the people. Thus God disposes him from his position and function, and replaces him with a man called Eliakim son of Hilkiah. Look at what the Lord says to Eliakim:
“On that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honour for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots—all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars.”
Note the following:
· The terms ‘my servant’ and ‘son of’.
· How God makes him a ‘father’ to the people.
· The keys of the Kingdom (of David) are given to him. Keys to open, permanently, and shut permanently. (Authority and power)
· This Scripture while historical is also prophetic of Jesus Christ, and is linked in with Revelation 3: 7 – 13. Here the Philadelphian believers may have been excommunicated from the local synagogue, however in their becoming outcasts for His name’s sake, Christ comes to reassure them that they have a place of access and authority in His Kingdom. The day will come when their persecutors will acknowledge what God has done for them and granted to them. As over-comers they can take their place in the Temple of God. Christ in having the keys to the royal household, has given them a place with Him, not those who presume authority.
In other words: Kingdom authority is realised when God’s servants not only enjoy the status of sons, but because they are such, they ‘enter into’ Spiritual sonship. It may be God’s dealings through suffering; it may be a wilderness experience, or it may be demonic attack. Those that learn in those times to come under the shadow of God, experience what it is rely solely upon the Father. He then enlarges their capacity. They then inherit authority in the Kingdom, which is spiritually exercised in a paternal / fatherly way. This is how God expresses Himself.
This is often why when we look around the world those that are persecuted for the faith often carry spiritual riches beyond those in the west. Or those who have done great exploits in the West, have often gone through great wilderness experiences. It is God’s way to bring us into the likeness of the His Son. The Good Father wants His sons to inherit! But He also wants His sons to have His Son’s heart and not take the glory for themselves when endued with such authority in the Lord.
2. Sons are released into Kingdom power.
There is nothing more precious in the sight of God than when a person having gone through the wilderness, comes out in the power of the Spirit, and makes a telling impact in their generation for the Lord.
Moses came into his role as deliverer for Israel after ‘tending sheep’ in the backside of the desert. Previously, he had tried to bring matters into his own hands and bring a ‘judgment’ regarding an issue between two of the people of Israel, and ahead of God’s timing. But upon that mistake, he is thrust into the wilderness where God taught him solitude, brokenness and to see the Divine in the midst of the meaningless. Moses came out with a rod of power that literally delivered an entire people, brought God’s power and subdued an enemy nation.
Paul, previously Saul after his conversion is moved into a similar forgotten place for a season. We don’t need to talk about how God used that man. Sure enough, God’s government and power flowed through him, even when in prison.
3. Sons manifest ‘The Son’.
Just as sons inherit government and power because of submitting to the Father, they likewise begin to manifest the ministries of Jesus: Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are the five-fold governmental functions or ministries of Christ in the Church. They serve as headship ministry to the rest of the Body, and cause the Body at large to become as Jesus is. They also manifest something of who He is to a dark world.
I remember a word brought from a brother in the UK once about some mighty men God used at the turn of the 1900s. He said by the Spirit, that they were as they were because they had been ‘Born in the FIRE!’
The fires of revival? For sure. But also the Fires of testing. The greats of yester-year were not just particularly favored, but they experienced ‘sonship’. They went through the wilderness… they humbled themselves as children. As a result they inherited as much as they could this side of heaven. They through suffering and hardship carried a deposit of the Kingdom. God’s government rested on their shoulders! They saw the Kingdom expressed in the power of the Spirit. All because they went the Jesus way of ‘sonship.’
May this be a year when true sons begin to emerge to a place of expression of God’s rule, and become fathers to a new generation of saints expressing the glory of God in the earth.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: God's government, isaiah 9, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Scripture, Son of God, sonship, wilderness
I want to just bring a brief word of exhortation at this time to all the readership of VOR. Whether you know the Lord or whether perhaps you are weighing up the cost of following Him. I am sensing at this time that even the best of us can be distracted from the key thing in the Kingdom of God. Life throws up so many issues, and there is an enemy out there seeking to violate the purposes of God. I hope the following helps deal a ‘death-blow’ to any of those things at this time.
As I sit writing this morning, my heart is stirred by the call of God, coming again to me with fresh clarity and intensity. My mind has gone back over the time when from a child God spoke to me and called me, and how in His faithfulness He kept coming back to me and back to me, again and again. He would come at times and remind me of HIs holy calling, and that His willingness to perform that concerning me was greater than my willingness to follow!
Today, I am reminded by the following things in this regard:
1. The Call of God costs.
I remember the voice of a prophet laying hands on me when 15 years old, and another when I was 18 years, declaring by the Spirit – “What I am going to call you into is going to cost you something. You have said in your heart ‘why can’t I be like other young men; why can’t I do what others are doing?’ You can not because I do not permit it, says the Lord… You are mine!’
To some of you this would seem hard or harsh. But I can tell you today that those words did something in my spirit that did me good! I did not feel condemned or hurt but I felt encouraged. I thought: ‘How amazing, that in this ruthless word from the Spirit of Christ, I was yet assured that I was His, and He was mine!’ This is the Spirit of Jesus in prophecy.
This is what the rich young ruler failed to grasp in the account of Mark 10 and Luke 18. All he heard from the Lord was the cost, ‘Give up all you have and give to the poor…’ yet he failed to hear the words, ‘then come follow me…’ If only he had grasped this! Grasping this alone would have been enough to have outweighed the carnal delights and its pull.
Some of you have felt the cost of the call of God upon your life, and may even sense it again now as you read this. Yet your heart is in a kind of spiritual negotiating with God. I have something to tell you from my own experience, and in line with the Scriptures: There is no negotiation! But there is a Treasure that far outweighs the cost! Jesus is all we need. Brothers and sisters there is only one response to the Call of God. Yield, give up your rights, do whatever He says… you will be satisfied.
2. The Call of God consecrates.
When I think of this, I think of surrender, but not just in terms of giving up something, rather in terms of giving oneself to something.
Samuel was called of God from a boy, and from a young age had to learn complete obedience to the voice of the Master. He also had to learn separation from the world and devotion to God’s presence. In this, God anointed His servant for holy and powerful purposes. The rest is history… Samuel was one of Israel’s greatest prophets and judges. He was a voice to a people and to a kingdom.
Again, I tell you from experience that the Call of God demands consecration to Him alone. There have been times when the enemy or the flesh has come to war against that in me, trying to revive the carnal man and his lusts for the world, pride and desires. But during those moments it is as if an inner whisper comes and reminds me: ‘You belong to Me… flee from it.’
He has bought us at a price! We are his for His own purpose. The need of the hour is for a total consecration to God and His purposes. This is a crucial moment for the Church. We need consecrated vessels to carry out God’s will. I pray daily much for a consecrated generation that will totally yield to the Lord, and do it on His terms, for His glory. It’s the only thing that will make a difference!
3. The Call of God keeps.
Think a moment about Peter, loved by God; called and chosen to be an apostle, and a leader among men. Yet somehow in the mysterious dealings of God, Peter goes through a season of testing, where satan incites him to deny the Lord. God knows more about the heart of man than we do about ourselves. God was not out to destroy Peter but He was allowing this attack of the enemy to make something of Peter. Some of the most wonderful words in Scripture are these: ‘But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.‘
May I say this: God’s call is more powerful to keep us than any of will ever realize! No, I am not an extreme Calvinist, neither am I an extreme Arminian. (I still cannot work God out!) But I know the God of the Bible. I have met Him in Jesus Christ, and know the Holy Spirit at work. (Not as much as I should, I add!)
I can say with confidence: His faithfulness is great and reaches to the skies! (Psalm 35: 5 & 6) and that His ability to keep me is far greater than may ability to remain faithful.
Also, we are assured by Scripture that God will not only keep us, but He is faithful to complete the work He has called us to. Our duty is by His grace to remain in Him! (John 15: 4 & 5)
My prayer this day is that as you read this you will be reminded of the Call of God on your life. It will cost until it is completed. It demands consecration to His ways and purposes. Yet He is faithful in His part to do that which we cannot do – bring it to pass.
May God do it in our day and generation!
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: apostle, consecration, faith, God, Jesus, Kingdom, Kingdom of God, prophecy, prophets, Scripture
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…” -Mt. 4.23a
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” -1 Tim. 2.5
The Gospel of God is the most marvelous thing in the universe. It confronts us in our sin and unbelief. It heals and restores our minds and hearts. It dispels the lies we’ve been told and obliterates the lies that we’ve lived.
As His mercy shocks and transforms us, we begin to see the majesty of Jesus the Christ, and beholding Him, we are changed. We are not inducted into a new religion and handed a bag of truths. Instead, we are introduced to the Man who is the Truth in and of Himself. He is abiding, dependable, unwavering. When we see Him as He is, we are compelled to turn from sin, put down our “nets,” and follow His voice.
The Gospel has the power to reverse natural circumstances. In the Gospel, blind men are made to behold the colors of the rainbow and the beauty of a child’s face. A child who could not walk can be seen “leaping and praising God.” The insane or anxiety-stricken can walk in transcendent peace and soundness of mind. Hell’s strongest and best crafted chains are shattered in a word. This Gospel jolts us with the reality of the heavenly government. There is a Man at the right hand of God who has “all authority,” and He delights in doing good.
The Gospel also reveals to us that we have no life in and of ourselves. It shows us that our highest wisdom is foolishness and our greatest morality is as pure as polluted water. It shows us that we have avoided God, even in many of our best attempts at serving Him. It shows us that our view of His judgments is too light. It shows us that our view of His love is too shallow. The Living God utterly transcends every fixed category that our finite minds have sought to place Him in. “For now we see in a mirror dimly,” but as we commune with Him “face to face,” we begin to know more fully the fervency of His love and the sanity and soundness of His purposes.
The apostle Paul was smacked with this revelation on the road to Damascus. Running to and fro, thinking he was doing God a service, he came to find out that the seams needed to be busted out on all sides of his theology, thought and mission. God in Christ was so much more than he ever imagined, and his best attempts toward righteousness were not only insufficient, they were entirely incapable of hitting the mark of true justification or redemptive experience. He was feverishly engaged in religious activity, but had failed to behold the Man, Christ Jesus. Missing Him, he was missing everything. Are we failing to behold Him? Are our ministries eye-turning and impressive, groundbreaking and the talk-of-the-town, yet missing everything?
The Gospel shows us the kind of Person that we have never before known: One Who gives Himself completely; One Who doesn’t break His word or exaggerate; One Who possesses all power yet sacrifices Himself in all gentleness; One Who Is exactly what He says He is; One Who, in the very expression of Himself, chose to forsake His own life that we might gain life. The Gospel shows us that even though we’ve been created in His image, we are really not like God at all. We are fallen. Significantly flawed, self-absorbed in motives, easily irritated, moved by ego… the writing is on the wall. Our noses are sticking out. Our little kingdoms are tottering, and we, the self-appointed Emperors, have lost our shiny garments. We are ashamed. We’ve been exposed by the cogency of His truth, laid open by the power of His light. Yes, we are fallen.
Yet, the Gospel turns over the table of man-centered government and humanistic philosophies. While we were obstinate and entirely rebellious toward Him, this message opened up to us the very wisdom and power of God Himself. We have been lavishly offered His perfect righteousness and freedom, a gift from the Father of lights.
He has sent “the apostle and High Priest” of heaven, His only Son, to become the sacrifice that would split the skies open. We have access to God through repentance and faith in the Son. This Man, who is so unlike us, has torn the dividing veil that hung between us. We are not like Him, but the Gospel impacts and stuns our senses. Not only has forgiveness been opened up, but we are invited to come into His nature, to become like Him!
O, the blood of the Son! It opens the gate to the palpable experience of His Spirit, through which we come into intimate fellowship with the Creator of all things. We are gloriously enabled to hear the Voice of the One Who holds time and space in His palm. We are not only made to be His servants, but His friends. The blessing of Abraham rests on us with a blissful weightiness. The window of grace is opened for us to know the Lord in reality. The Gospel is beyond phenomenal. It is the wonder of the ages. It is the unswerving expression of the Father’s kind intentions toward us. What a glory this Gospel is! Have you any wonder or awe for the Gospel anymore? Is the Gospel still to you what it was when you first believed?
No wonder Jesus went preaching. No wonder His heart burned. No wonder He eventually entered a public ministry. He had good news! Very good news! He was announcing the presence of the Kingdom of the only true God. He was revealing the Father to a degree that had never before been seen or known. The Spirit of the Lord was resting upon Him, and so He prayed fervently, rejoiced incessantly, preached and taught openly, displaying the works of the Father for all to see.
Surely a people transformed by that Gospel would give everything to see His Kingdom come. When he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” they would say, “Yes, Lord. I am compelled by Your beauty and holiness to say, ‘Yes.’”
When He said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,” they would “immediately” leave everything to follow this wonderful Man.
When He taught regarding the kingdom and the prophets they would yearn to hear Him more. When He preached they would give themselves to His words without reservation. When He demanded the utmost sacrifice and loyalty their response would not dwindle. After all, where else could they go? They had been seized by “words of eternal life.”
How could we turn our hearts away from such a breathtaking Man and such a glorious Kingdom? There will be no price too high to pay and no sacrifice too great when we, in this final season of history, are awakened to the beauty and wonder of the Man, Christ Jesus.
Would you pray with me? Lord, give us a fresh hearing of the Gospel… that foundational word that reveals Jesus to our hearts. Open our eyes again, Father. We want to see Jesus.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: glory of God, Jesus Christ, Kingdom of God, the Gospel, transformation
Acts 7: 37 – 45 (Stephen’s address)
This is that Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us.
But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:
‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of Molech
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.’
Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them.
To begin with in this article, I am going to make a controversial statement: ‘The Western Church today is struggling in many areas of its ministry because it does not understand its Jewish roots!’
You may wonder how I can make such a statement, especially against statistics of unprecedented Church growth in the last 100 years or so. (Which even if it is the case, doesn’t validate or invalidate everything we do.) And what do I mean by Jewish roots? I do not mean becoming Jewish per se, or taking on another culture when you are not of Jewish decent. Rather, I mean the ways of God revealed to those key men and women of faith in Israel in Biblical history, of whom Jesus is the pinnacle in every way.
The Church can continue to be used by God, because His heart is gracious and wanting ALL to come to repentance. But His plan of salvation is more than access to heaven. It is about becoming a Kingdom people. That is why Christ came. There is a text, which demonstrates something of the difference between seeing God’s power, as opposed to those that go deeper to see His ways as well as His power.
Psalm 103: 7 – He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
This for me is an interesting Scripture. God’s people can know His power without knowing His ways. It takes a unique person to find out God’s ways. Moses was such a man. He not only found out what God could do for the people of Israel, but what God wanted to do for them in terms of purpose and strategy. How we could benefit from doing such a thing!
It is my firm belief that with every reformation, revival, renewal and outpouring of any kind comes not only an intensifying of God’s power and presence, but a revelation of God’s ways. The same Lord who came to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; the One who visited Moses at the Bush & Sinai; the One who led the people of God into the land of promise; the One who revealed Himself to David, Daniel and all the other prophets and kings – this God came in flesh and met with humanity. In particular, this God met with a people, and revealed His Son according to the flesh through and to a Jewish people, that through His death and resurrection Israel might reveal His Kingdom to men of every Nation. This was Israel’s unique call and destiny! This is why 12 uneducated men saw themselves as the beginning of that fulfillment. From them, and other early disciples, the people of ‘the Way’ continued to minister Jesus Christ according to a unique understanding. They saw themselves as an ‘eschatological people.’ They were a newly formed people of the age to come, foreseen in OT prophecy, living in the present and carrying the Kingdom because of the visitation of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God. Yet they knew that it was not yet all consummated as the prophets had also foretold. Israel as a nation had not yet fully turned (many had rejected Jesus) and all the nations had yet to experience the Gospel of this inaugurated Kingdom. These things would have been central to the early Jewish believers and their mission. So was their understanding of the gospel and the Kingdom of God on the earth, which was steeped in Jewish history and Scriptures, even if Christ came to redefine what some of that would look like. It was a very Jewish thing to be a follower of King Jesus.
So when the same Spirit of God of the early Church visits today by outpourings of various kinds, He comes to restore the NT faith as prescribed by Jesus and then the 12. This can often be startling, even offensive, and bring a great shock to the system if God’s people today do not allow His Spirit to enlarge their spirit during such a season of visitation. You see, we westerners have put the faith into a mold and we view it through a certain western shade. Hence, Church history has known its fair share of turmoil. Yes, there have been splits due to the division of the enemy, or the spirit of rebellion in a people, or even an abuse by a key leader. But not all schism has come because of this. Some have come, because God has revealed who He really is, and a return to the NT faith & practice is required, and reformation has had to come as a return to His ways – it’s the only wineskin that will hold the new wine!
The theme of Jewish roots is a big subject and thus I will not have time to even scratch the surface of it. So with the above issues in mind, I would like to look at one particular theme, which I believe is absolutely crucial in the ongoing purpose of the Church. I believe if the Western Church grasps this in the near future (as I believe the Chinese Church has), we could be hearing of powerful transformation coming to people, houses, communities and nations. It is what I call the New Testament Exodus.
Recently, I wrote these words in a booklet I put together:
I am convinced that to understand the true meaning of the Gospel disclosed by the New Testament writers, we have to get a grasp and revelation of the account of Israel’s Exodus. Even more so, I believe the Exodus will have special spiritual significance in the life of the Church in these early years of this new millennium. Perhaps the Exodus is the key moment in all of Israel’s history. It is central to their existence and understanding of the one true God and their role as His chosen people. I am a deep believer that it was with the Exodus in mind, the Gospel writers understood the emergence of Christ and His powerful victory on earth. In fact on the mount where He was transfigured and the disciples saw His glory, it is recorded that He spoke with Moses and Elijah regarding His ‘departure’ or ‘exodus.’
I believe that there are vital revelations deeply ingrained in the Exodus for the New Testament people of God. And to add to that, they will bear special significance and power in the imminent move of God that is about to break into the Western nations.
Getting back to the basics.
You see, we have to believe that when Jesus came to this earth, and when the early Jewish disciples ministered before and after His resurrection / ascension, they saw everything in a particular light. All their words, actions and perception, were deeply grounded in the revelation of God and His Kingdom, progressively promised in the prophets, shown in glimpses through types and shadows, revealed and fulfilled in Jesus! Matthew really seems eager to lay hold of this theme. In chapter 2: 15 in quoting Hosea, Matthew says:
‘Out of Egypt I called My Son…’
Already here Jesus is being described in ways pertaining to Israel as a whole. Even as Israel, as a son, was called out of Egypt into the Land of Promise, Jesus – the Son fulfills and embodies Israel and fulfills her destiny. (Even Isaiah’s prophecies use the terms ‘son’ & ‘servant’ and they hold double meaning in the light of the NT.)
Then to add to that Jesus is baptized in Matthew 3. Why did the Pharisees get offended at such a thing? Because ‘washings’ were an important part of Jewish practice. To receive the ceremonial washings in Israel was to identify with the Nation; and even Gentiles, if wanting to become a part of the Nation, had to go through such strict washings. Yet Jesus, identifies not with the traditions of men but rather John the Baptist’s baptism, and with all those of a humble heart – sinners, poor, weak and those without hope. Luke records in his Gospel narrative that Jesus was baptized, ‘…when all the people were being baptized…’ What a gracious & merciful Master!
He goes through a true baptism, not one of hypocrisy. He does it to fulfill righteousness. And what’s more, he is identifying with the people of God and the Exodus of the OT, and He is introducing a new Exodus. Paul, a Jew of Jews, in 1 Corinthians 10: 1 & 2 says:
‘For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.’
And later in verse 11:
‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.’
So, even in the act of Baptism Jesus is identifying with a people, ‘called out of Egypt’, and going through the waters, which signifies the cutting off of the old life, and entering to the new as a fulfillment people. Jesus really is making big statements even with His actions! How many times do we perceive in the West today, Baptism as just symbolic of an inward change? When whilst it carries that symbolism, it also has deeper significance in terms of our identifying with this glorious God-man Jesus and His end-time people. So then this was a very Jewish thing and an understanding of the early Jewish ‘Jesus -sect’ (as some would have called them) would have added a weightier meaning to this important act in response to faith. We as a NT people joined in union by Jesus, our Sacrificial Lamb, Deliverer and Apostle, have left Egypt (the world and its hold) and have become heirs of the promise – the Kingdom now and to come.
Now add to this Exodus viewpoint, there is also this thought coming through: Jesus is being baptized in the river Jordan, quite a dirty river, and indeed forbidden as a place of purification by early rabbinic tradition. Jordan was the second major body of water that the children of Israel crossed by miraculous intervention. After their crossing into the Land, 12 men were chosen to take 12 stones from the river and place them as a memorial for the 12 tribes of Israel. (Joshua 4: 1 – 9) The Gospel’s closely link the choosing of the 12 disciples / apostles in their narrative shortly after the Baptism & wilderness accounts. God is speaking in a significant way!
Now regarding the wilderness account in Matthew 4, Matthew then carries the Exodus theme further with these words:
‘Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights…’
Recorded here is how the Spirit leads the Lord into the wilderness (a place of significance for Israel.) There He is tried and tested, yet triumphs in weakness. He is there for a symbolic number of 40 days, without food, in comparison to the children of Israel who complained for lack of food. So the fulfillment of Israel’s existence and role is now starting to really take shape. Where a generation of the children of Israel under Moses did not go into promise because of unbelief and disobedience in the wilderness, this glorious Leader is different: He defeats the testing of satan in that wilderness and comes out filled with power of the Spirit! He has demonstrated that ‘man will not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ He did this in the power of God, and is making up for Israel’s unbelief in the God of their fathers. Israel’s glory and victory is in this glorious Man!
Now something quite phenomenal begins to take shape in the account of Matthew. From there he tells of Jesus going into the region of Galilee, or as quoted by Matthew from Isaiah – ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’ In the OT, Israel when led out was given a unique mandate from heaven in Deuteronomy 7: 1 – 6, that they were to ‘drive out the nations… and burn their idols…’ and they were to then possess the land of inheritance. Jesus begins to demonstrate a whole new meaning to this. As mentioned earlier, He then gathers twelve young men to Himself (remember the symbolism.) However now, He begins to preach the Kingdom as drawing near, and it is recorded, ‘healed every disease and sickness… news spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering with pain, the demon possessed…He healed them ALL. ’
Jesus is redefining to the Jewish people what their calling really is all about. It is to be a light to nations covered in darkness. As He drives out all the affects of darkness on a poor and helpless people, so too are they called to bring Light to the Nations. As He is delivering them from idolatry, which culminates in demon possession, so are they to reveal the One true God in His Son – Jesus, and a possession of His Spirit. As He deals with the tyranny of satan, so too are they to preach release to the captive and an entrance into a new Kingdom which is not of this world. They – the people of Israel, in Jesus, are to be a people who fulfill what their ‘Moses / Joshua led ancestors’ foreshadowed – drive out the works of evil, inherit the promise of God, bless the nations, and enter the rest of God.
Later on in Matthew, Jesus teaches ‘the sermon on the mount,’ (which is itself symbolic of Moses & Israel receiving the OT law on Sinai) He comes down from the mountain and does powerful signs of the Kingdom, even to a gentile centurion with great faith. Make no mistake, Jesus really is moving and fulfilling things in an unmistakable way to the early disciples, and the nation at large.
I believe what is being portrayed is powerful and glorious. Because it is then the 12 disciples, after Jesus demonstrating to them and teaching them His law and His ways, who are then ‘sent’ or ‘apostlized’ to do the very same thing – take the Kingdom message and power, drive out demons and proclaim ‘peace’ to the house that receives them. They are embodying Israel’s rediscovered calling. Initially, they are to go only to the lost sheep of Israel for it is firstly a matter of fulfillment and significance to them as a historic covenant people. But Luke later records, that the 12 were to become a group of 70, and no such geographical or racial boundary is given at that time of sending. Thus the prophetic call to Israel as God’s son and servant is fulfilled in the Messiah – Jesus Christ, and all those who attach themselves to Him. Therefore, it is a VERY Jewish thing for a Jew to embrace this glorious God-Man; it is a very Jewish thing to be a missionary for God; in fact it is very Jewish to be Apostolic, and it is a very awesome thing for a Gentile to be accepted as part of the people and share in that calling!
As I quoted earlier from my book, in Luke 9, Jesus speaks of ‘His exodus’ later on when on the mount of transfiguration. He is to die a terrible death and become Israel’s Passover Lamb, as well as their deliverer in leading the people out of bondage. But His death is not final, rather it is a doorway. He is to go to the depths of the grave, as Psalm 68: 15 – 18 & Ephesians 4 says, and lead captivity captive. And He is to lead that formerly sinful idolatrous people, (Jews & Gentiles alike) into His rest, through death, resurrection, reigning and granting us access and peace with God, through Himself! Hebrews 3 even likens the greater ministry of Jesus to the lesser one of Moses. In fact the whole of that epistle is about this theme. It really is awesome, this New Testament Exodus!
This is another mountain experience with God, as was the Sermon on the Mount. Again, God is alluding to the Sinai experience. This time it is not only about His law entering the heart of men, but rather Jesus now being the fulfillment of the Law & Prophets. His Jewish disciples were not to see the preparatory types and shadows as an end in themselves. God thus hides the two OT figures away after Peter’s desire to build tabernacles for them. God centers His will and revelation in His Son. After this powerful experience on the mountaintop with the inner circle of Peter, James & John, (not forgetting Moses & Elijah) Jesus goes down and finds a mess. The disciples cannot cast out a demonic spirit from a boy. There is a large crowd watching. Jesus gives a startling indictment against that generation (not just the apostles) that they are ‘unbelieving and perverse!’ He subsequently casts out the demon and the people are amazed.
This carries with it tones of what Moses faced upon his coming down from the ‘mount of God’ after receiving the law. He came face to face with demonic activity in the form of worship of a golden calf. He too faced an ‘unbelieving and perverse generation.’
The difference now with Jesus, as opposed to the day of Moses, is that our Lord has not failed to deal with the powers of the darkness that affect the nations. Moses may have destroyed the golden calf, but later on he is himself disobedient and filled with unbelief over the use of the rod of God. Moses did not go in to inherit. Jesus, full of faith and the Holy Spirit has overcome! He was perfectly obedient to the Father’s will. (Phil 2: 8 / Romans 5: 19 / Hebrews 5: 8 -9) He has inherited and will possess the Nations. The decisive victory at the Cross has been accomplished! He now has entered the rest for us, and we are to know of this inheritance also, now and in the ages to come.
The book of Acts shows how seriously the early Church took the words, mission and methods of Jesus, and how they perceived them. They carried on in that pilgrim spirit, exporting and sending, dispossessing and inheriting. Jewish disciples and apostles bringing people of all tribes into Israel’s inheritance of the Kingdom, through the message of Jesus Christ. God had revealed His New Testament Exodus to His people – how could they do anything but respond!
Now because of God’s grace revealed in His Son, we have inherited a Kingdom! We must pray much and examine the early Jewish Church life and practice. Pray for the same understanding of God’s ways, grace and power to be upon us. The first Jewish disciples saw everything in this light (as well as much more), and so too must we! We are a chosen race, as Peter declares, to declare the praises of God, who called us out of darkness. That’s Exodus type language. Paul says in Ephesians 3, the Church is called to ‘make known the manifold wisdom of God to principalities and powers…’ – that’s Exodus understanding!
So then people of God, Jew and Gentile alike, through faith in Jesus Christ, let us rediscover our Jewish roots. If we do, it will affect our understanding of who we are, and where we are heading, in this age and in the age to come. I thank God for the Jews, chosen and elect of God to a unique destiny. I thank God for the early band of Jewish disciples – holy radicals for Jesus who turned the world upside down. I thank God mostly for Jesus. Who by His grace brought me – ‘an alien’ by natural birth, and adopted me as a son. So that with the faithful remnant of Jewish brothers we can see an Apostolic witness of ‘sent ones’ taking the Kingdom of God, through the message of Christ to the Nations and the Nation of Israel.
Finally, I believe that as we see the day of the Lord approaching, the Church will more and more understand her origins and identity. In that moment she will become by the Spirit, all that God has called her to be. Israel needs to witness an authentic apostolic expression of Jesus Christ today, as prescribed in the early Church of the 1st Century. Only then can a jealous Israel, like Moses, turn aside and ‘see God’ in us earthen vessels – a type of burning bush, and come closer and believe. My prayer with Paul is for ALL of Israel to be saved, and for the Nations to join with her to form a ‘Jesus-people’. When such a ‘New Man’ is formed we will see Christ’s return. May I encourage you to pray for revival in the Nations, including the Middle East. And pray for revival in Israel, for as Paul says in Romans 9: 1 – ‘…my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit…’ – it is God’s desire!
May God do it in our day! Amen & Marantha!
Posted in Scripture Tagged with: Exodus, israel, Jesus, Jewish roots of Christianity, jews, Kingdom of God, Moses, New Testament, Old Testament, the church
“When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.” -Mk. 15.42-43
While on a sabbatical in December of 2005, I stumbled onto the story of Joseph of Arimathea in the Gospel of Luke. Though I had read the story on many occasions over the years, the Lord highlighted it in a fresh way to my heart. In the margin of Luke 23 I wrote, “There is an apostolic sight in Joseph here, and it should be noted how he honored and esteemed the body of Christ.”
While the text is clearly a historical account, and while it was not meant by any of the Gospel authors to be mystified (Joseph’s story is in all four Gospels), the Lord has quickened several things to my heart that go beyond what a natural reading of the text would give us. I believe we need to see a recovery of the kind of perception that was Joseph’s during the historic event of the crucifixion. We’re going to look at it primarily in Mark’s version, though we’ll glean from the other Gospels when necessary. Let’s get into the text to peer into what I believe the Lord is getting at.
“When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea came…”
The crucifixion took place, as you probably know, on the “preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath…;” namely, what we know as Friday. This must have caused a certain measure of haste in getting the body of Jesus down and moving it to the burial site before the sun went down, for the Sabbath was about to commence. Hear Craig Keener on this:
If Jesus died at 3 p.m. and Joseph stopped to seek Pilate’s permission, perhaps only an hour remained before sundown and the prohibition of work. Although anointing and washing the corpse was permissible even on the Sabbath (m. Shab. 23:5), some other elements of the burial could be conducted only in the most preliminary manner for the moment, though undoubtedly hastened considerably through the agency of Joseph’s servants. One could not move the corpse or its members on the Sabbath. (Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew; Eerdmans, 1999, p. 691)
So this is a crucial note, “When evening had already come…”
There was a measure of urgency in that which Joseph was setting his hand to. He was a faithful member of the Sanhedrin, and did not want to do damage to the Sabbath, so there was little time to work with. Yet there was something driving him inwardly, a holy value, an otherworldly esteem for the One hanging on the cross.
While Rome thought it was fitting for those crucified to hang on the cross for days to be picked apart by scavenging birds and racked by the elements, this was not the desire of the religious authorities in Israel. They sought to bury their criminals by sundown if at all possible. Even murderers and thieves deserved a timely burial in the minds of first century Jews.
The Scriptures make clear, however, that Joseph was not only being driven by customs, or even good human ethics. He was seeing something that the majority of his colleagues were missing, and even most of Jesus’ disciples had withered under the heat of trial that Jesus’ arrest and death presented.
But “…evening had already come, because it was the preparation day…”
I wonder if we realize that evening has already come, and that we are in the midst of the most requiring preparation day that the Church has ever known. In the natural sense Joseph scurried around due to the setting of the sun, and we need to see the recovery of an eschatological consciousness to help us see that evening is already upon us- the end of the age is near. We are in preparation for the greatest times of awakening, glory, tribulation and trial that the world has ever known. Are our lives reflecting this? Are we willing to give ourselves lock, stock, and barrel to the kind of preparation that will fit us for the days ahead?
How aware are we that the evening has already come, and that this is the preparation day?
The apostle Paul said, “…brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on…those who use the world” should live as though not to “make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7.29b, 31)
Friends, the evening has already come, and the “form of this world is passing away.” The people of God ought to be marked with a sense of urgency, surrendering their lives to the most ultimate kind of preparation in prayer and fasting, witness, study, and service to family and community. Our dealings and interactions with spouses, children and other saints need again to be counted as “holy unto the Lord.” Are we aware that the evening has already come, or are we treating our days as if they are dispensable, without value, hum-drum and mediocre? If we are going from event to event, restaurant to restaurant, movie to movie, conference to conference, and these things have become the high points of our lives, we have been robbed of the kind of Kingdom awareness that God desires us to live in.
Our every day ought to be marked with eternity, with the Spirit of prayer, with an awareness that the evening has already come, and that this is the preparation day. One prophetic man who became a “grandfather” in the faith to me used to tell me that our days should be “charged with remarkable meaning since there really is a Kingdom at hand.”
Joseph had a natural urgency because of the setting sun. He wanted to give Jesus an honorable burial, and he did not want to miss or transgress against the Sabbath.
Saints, the “sun” of this age is setting. History’s final pages are being turned. It is the preparation day like never before. Are you preparing for His coming? Is your heart free from the spirit of this age, its allurements, its greed, its lusts, its jockeying for power and position? We need an apostolic kind of seeing in this, for worldly influences are still prevalent in the House of God. The same addictions, bondages and hollow pursuits that the world is caught up with can still be found in the lives of God’s people. The same tactics and earthbound methods that the world utilizes still empower much of what we see in modern ministry. We need to come into the kind of weakness that Paul valued. We need holy perception. We need to value what the Lord Himself values and esteems.
It is not the time to get cozy with the world. It’s time for a baptism of clear seeing to help us find the exit signs in the busy, fast moving train of our culture. We need to find the exits, and flee to some still and quiet place where we can focus on the counsel of the Lord. We need to hear His heart, what He is after in our lives, and give ourselves without reservation to that holy preparation. History’s evening is already upon us, and the midnight hour approaches. How are you preparing for the Day of the Lord?
“…the day before the Sabbath…”
Again, Joseph did not want to miss out on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a picture of the reign of God in the lives of His people. Jesus demonstrated the reality of the Sabbath by living under the canopy of the Father’s authority and government. He was working feverishly among the sick and diseased, but he was at rest from human striving and self-conscious ministry. He was suffused with the power of God, driven by the love of God, and having His being in the wisdom of God. What can be said of our ministries? Are they mechanical and methodologically driven, or are they being carried out in the wisdom and power of Christ? There is only one kind of ministry in the mind of the Lord, and it’s that which He accomplishes through us, and if it’s His work it will redound to His credit. Who is accomplishing your ministry and who is it unto?
What God was after in the Sabbath was really a preliminary example, or an introduction to the greater Sabbath which came in Christ, and the ultimate Sabbath which will be manifested at the end of the age. When the Lord assumes Kingship over the nations at His return, the entire cosmos will experience a Sabbath that is indestructible, permanent, and beyond anything we’ve ever imagined. The scholars talk about the “indestructibility and inviolability of the covenant,” and we will see its full unveiling during this time, when the Glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The government of Jesus Himself will be spreading with force and rapidity, and the nations will know war no longer. Sabbath will be the mark of our existence, righteousness will flow like a mighty river, and justice like an ever-flowing stream (Am. 5). O, how I long for His return! It’s almost the Sabbath, friends. God will come and make His abode with us. Is that what you’re wanting, or are you clinging to something lesser?
Joseph did not want to miss the Sabbath because he valued it, and I wonder if we value the reality of Sabbath. The fact that we are willing to busy ourselves with programmatic ministry, but not to wait on the Lord for His power and life is a statement that we are not really anticipating the great and permanent Sabbath which is to come. Jesus was no doubt busy in ministry, but He was only doing that which He saw the Father doing. “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (Jn. 5.17)
Have we rested from our works and been inducted into a resurrection-empowered ministry through communion with the Father? Or are we only operating through our own ideas and creations? There is a Sabbath reality that we are called to walk in, and it is a heavenly peace and rest, out of which will flow the kinds of works that we see the Father doing.
This kind of sabbath reality in our lives will prepare the way for the greater Sabbath to come, when “…the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21.3-4)
Are you living in the glory of this sabbath now? Are you anticipating the greater Sabbath to come? Friends, it is “the day before the Sabbath,” and the Lord is calling us away from the buzz and hype of this religious age, and to the place of prayer and priestly stillness, where we are able to hear His voice, and thereby do the works of God Himself.
“Joseph of Arimathea came…”
There is something to be said for the nature of surrender and response in the lives of Biblical men and women. We are so accustomed to hollow responses to truth that we hardly know what it means to come to the Lord in reality. When the Lord called to Moses from the midst of the bush, he said, “Here I am.” (Ex. 3.4) From the initial call, the Lord had Moses in totality. From the first call, Moses responded as a man, “warts” and all. He came to the Lord, even with insecurity, as he found it difficult to believe that the Lord would set him apart as a deliverer. But the Lord had him in the first statement, “Here I am.”
We are more apt to give heroic responses and make emotional commitments, but to decay and diminish in the first season of trial. We will commence heroic fasts, or blast off with some impressive outreach, but we are not accustomed to coming to the Lord in totality, where He has us in the valleys as much as He does on the mountains. But the Biblical men knew what it was to come, and even in weakness, their coming was something more than a hollow response.
I love it when Abraham says, “Here I am.”
When Isaiah says, “Here am I, send me…”
When Elijah says, “The Lord, before Whom I stand…”
When Paul asks, “What would You have me to do?”
When Jesus says, “Not My will, but Yours…”
There you see, that though they are vessels with weaknesses, they respond to the Lord as men, not as religious performers. We need to see the recovery of this kind of totality in surrender. We need our ‘Yes’ to be ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ to be ‘No.’ Joseph’s situation was the same:
“Joseph of Arimathea came…”
Why was his coming significant? Why was it something more than the common experience of coming and going? Because his coming was not by choice of pleasure, nor was it self-driven. He was coming as a man who was willing to give honor to One who had been dishonored on a national scale. He was going against the tide of his generation to show value to Someone who had the highest esteem in the invisible courts of Heaven, but was despised in the courts of men. I wonder how brash and biting the wind was against the face of Joseph. What did it require of his soul to follow what he knew to be true of Jesus? He was a prominent member of the Council, but his associates were not tracking with him at all. In fact, they were in an opposing stream, and he was required to swim against the tide.
“Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council…”
I don’t believe that this is an unimportant detail. There is a principle being laid out here. It is very possible that Mark is getting this information from the apostle Peter, as many consider him to be Mark’s primary resource. Perhaps this point was inserted by Peter and Mark to show us the manner of man that Joseph was.
He is called a “secret disciple” in John’s account, and he remained a secret disciple out of fear of his colleagues and kinsmen who did not receive Jesus in the way that he did. So there is a remarkable tension mounting here. You have Joseph, a prominent member of the Council of the Sanhedrin, moving along with his associates during the event of the crucifixion. His heart is breaking as he watches his own colleagues make mockeries of the Messiah, pulling out sections of His beard, spitting upon Him, and hurling abuses at Him with the very Scriptures that were meant to magnify Him.
Joseph is walking alongside persecutors, seeing a live example of the deception that comes upon men when they function in a religious system that lacks the reality of God. He sees that men have put the Son of God in chains and depreciated His Manhood. They have been blinded to His deity, and defaced His humanity. The Son of God is being utterly despised in ways beyond description, and here you have a “prominent member of the Council” whose soul is cracking and breaking on the inside. I can almost see him at the back of his circle of colleagues, vision blurred by tears as he looks upon the Man on the cross, while heckling men shout blasphemies that echo down the hill. Joseph is weeping and trembling inwardly, for another wisdom is moving on the inside of his heart. He is losing sight of his prominence, and a love for the Crucified One is rising in His soul.
I don’t think Mark is mentioning this to hype up the Christian testimony. In other words, he is not using the “fame” or prominence of Joseph to validate the Christian witness. I believe he is trying to tell us that Joseph was being compelled to break out of the “course of this age,” and to do something that could bring reproach and shame upon him, perhaps even threatening his career and future provision.
Therefore, when “Joseph of Arimathea came,” his coming was not an insignificant detail in the story. He was surrendering to the truth that was flowing like waves through his inner-man. He treasured this Man too much to let Him go without an honorable burial. He did not have the book of Romans to undergird his Christology, but he knew this Man was worthy of honor. He knew that he was seeing something that the others were not seeing. He believed Him, though the disciples had fled and his colleagues had bitterly opposed Him. He had a sight that enabled him to value and esteem that which was being despised by men all around him.
What about you, friend? Are you feeling the resistance of this world’s view of Jesus and the Gospel? Are you willing to go against the tide of this age and to value and treasure the Man on the cross? Do you see the glory of the cross, or is your soul finding treasure in some other place?
Joseph gave away one of his own reserved family tombs to make a place for the body of a Man who had been marked a heretic and a deceiver. It was a lavish place for burial, and one wouldn’t give away a tomb of that quality unless there was a unique appreciation for the one being buried. Joseph was unconsciously fulfilling prophecy, and demonstrating a wisdom that this world cannot fathom or make sense of. When we are seeing by the Spirit, we too will unconsciously fulfill prophecy, and the world will not know what to make of it.
“…who himself was waiting for the Kingdom of God…”
Here we get another glimpse into the kind of man that Joseph was. Though surrounded on every side by religious power and pomp, he had a spiritual longing that grafted him into a continuum with the prophets of old. He is described as was Simeon in Luke’s Gospel: one who was “waiting for the Kingdom of God.” Isn’t it remarkable? Simeon had the discernment to recognize the presence of Israel’s King in a little Jewish infant. Amid the cries of other children being circumcised that day, he saw the “light that lightens the Gentiles and the glory of the people Israel” in the weakness of a common Carpenter’s newborn Son.
Joseph too recognized the glory of Israel, but in a mangled, bloody and bruised, terribly marred Man who was being crucified between criminals. Simeon valued Him in his babyhood, and Joseph valued Him at the place of His death. The incarnation and the crucifixion are the greatest displays of the nature and character of God, and it is utterly impossible to recognize their glory unless you are “waiting for the Kingdom of God,” and have learned to value what He values.
Are we that sensitive to the presence of the Lord? These men recognized and esteemed Him when men walking in natural wisdom did not even acknowledge His presence. They rejoiced in Him, cherished Him, and exalted Him when there was no logical reason to declare Him as King. Are we missing His presence in the everyday affairs of life? Are we like Simeon, led by the Spirit to acknowledge Him in the midst of the temple traffic, or are we like the men who circumcised Him, caught up in another religious service- one among many that are all too common, mundane, and devoid of awe and wonder?
Have we placed any measure of trust in our own righteousness, in our ability to produce successful Christian programs, or in the power of democracy or other man-centered political paradigms? Simeon and Joseph were waiting for the Kingdom of God on both ends of Jesus’ earthly life, and they were granted a vision into His heart that few were able to see. They valued what He valued, were required to go against the tide of their generations, and were privileged with honor from the Lord. Their names will always be known in annals of Heaven’s history. Where would we like our names to be known?
Are we “waiting for the Kingdom of God,” or are we hoping for ministerial success so that our bank accounts and reputations will be bolstered up? Are we God-centered servants, or are we being fueled by human influence and prestige? If we are being moved by the praises of men, we may well find ourselves in the same shoes as Joseph’s colleagues, thinking we are doing God’s works, accurate and prominent in leadership attributes, but having a hand in crucifying that which He loves and esteems.
If we are waiting for the Kingdom of God, we will value what He values, even if it is presently mangled and without human attractiveness.
“…and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.”
I don’t know what was required for Joseph to come to this kind of intentionality and resolve. He was bent on burying Jesus honorably, and while it is unlikely that he had a place of influence before Pilate’s throne, he gathered up courage and went before him.
Now Pilate is far from a type of the Lord, but there is something we can draw out of this, and it will require a courage that we have yet to come into corporately.
In the same way that Joseph valued the body of Christ, though it was mangled and disfigured, we have a holy calling to value and esteem Israel and the Church no matter how immature, incomplete, and unattractive they are. It’s not a humanistic, seeker-sensitive value. It’s an intimate enjoinment of our lives and prayers with the life and prayer of Jesus Himself. He is jealous over His people, and while He has severe correctives for the Church in our generation, He is still at the right hand of the Father, ever living to “make intercession” on our behalf.
This is a challenge to all who are “waiting for the Kingdom of God,” and are jealous for truth, holiness, and the fullness of Christ. When we look upon the Body of Christ, we usually see disfigurement and something less than what we would expect from a royal priesthood. In fact, many of the descriptions that the Scriptures give of God’s people (e.g., “body,” “army,” “family,” “holy ones,” “community,” etc.) do not seem to match what we commonly see in the Church, no matter what segment or movement you look at. Within our own fellowships, if you have relationship with the saints you will find so many idiosyncrasies, tensions and childish thought patterns that you could grow discouraged at the condition of the Church real fast. There are divisions throughout, compromises, bad doctrines, and faulty teachings much akin to the condition of the Church at Corinth in the 1st century. Yet Paul’s manner of relating to them was not professional, condescending or stand-offish. It was fatherly. He knew that he was looking upon a mangled and disfigured Body that was in need of further death and burial before a resurrection glory would result. For that reason he called them “saints,” “sons,” and “holy ones,” and confronted the erroneous teachings and morals out of an apostolic humility. It was not a humanistic, manipulative attempt at external humility. It was the very experience of the cross. “Death works in me, so life in you.” He was seeing “after the Spirit,” and like Joseph of Arimathea he had the grace to value the Body of Christ though the natural man would see little or nothing that was worthy of esteem.
We have to realize that the Body is radically connected with the Head, even if that reality is not being manifest in full as of yet. It has been pointed out by numerous teachers that when Saul of Tarsus encountered his Messiah on the road to Damascus Jesus revealed the intensity of His connection to the Body when He asked, “Why do you persecute Me?” Rather than asking, “Why do you persecute my followers,” He revealed His intimate identification and union with them, and Saul trembled unto salvation.
There ought to be a certain trepidation about our dealings with brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. If you find it easy to heckle and defame fallen leaders, teachers with imbalanced messages, or saints from another stream or denomination than your own, you may well be operating in the same spirit that rested on Joseph of Arimathea’s colleagues. In your attempts at being “correct,” you may well be speaking out against the Body of Christ, and thus Jesus Himself. If you do not have a value and esteem for those believers for whom you carry ‘concerns,’ you are likely ill-fitted to address or bring correction to them.
When Jesus set out to correct the waywardness and error of mankind, He sealed the deal by spilling all of His blood on our behalf. He did not open His mouth in defense or correction, even when he was being portrayed in an inaccurate way. He set the human race aright through death. Can you say that you are looking upon the Body with that kind of mercy and sacrifice? Until you are aligned with His own love, you are incapable of bringing the kind of correction that the Lord appoints. He is still at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us amidst our immaturity and blemishes, and He is requiring the same kind of mercy and intercession from us. Where corrections are needed they will come in His time and through the vessels that He chooses, but our first responsibility is to come into alignment with His heart in the place of prayer. Have you got that kind of selfless value for the Body, though it is currently a bloody mess, emaciated and unattractive?
Though Pilate is no type of the Lord, it will require the same type of courage for us to lay aside our arrogance, personal kingdom building, religious correctness and self-will to go before the King of heaven and “ask for the Body of Jesus.” If we are not “waiting for the Kingdom of God” we may be satisfied with asking for the success of our own ministries. We may be satisfied with feeling like our doctrine is superior to “those other guys in that other movement.” But if we have Joseph’s perception, we will go against the tide of religious prestige and the arrogance of heady knowledge to gather up courage, prostrate our lives before the King, and ask for the Body of Jesus, which is “…the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”
I don’t know about you, friends, but I’m not interested in starting my own movement or denomination. I want to see the fullness of Christ expressed through a people comprised of saints from every tribe and tongue. I have my own spiritual disfigurements, my own fellowship has immaturity and imperfect doctrines, and so does the rest of the Church. “We see in part.”
But if we are “waiting for the Kingdom of God,” if we want His glorification only, we can look with forbearance upon our fellowships, and upon other Christian movements and denominations. We can gather up courage to intercede for the Body of Christ, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4.13)
I’m asking for the Body of Christ, and I want to treasure it, even in its dying, so that a resurrection can result. There is no resurrection without death, and if we have hopes of reviving something that has never before experienced true life we negate the necessary process of God. There must first come a death to our self-seeking and self-reliance if we want to see Christ magnified in His Body. But we ought not think that we have that life by the accuracy of our paradigms or ecclesiastical conclusions. There is only one gateway to the resurrection life of Christ, and it is through death. Death to our arrogance, death to our achievements, death to our uppity correctness.
In the valley of the dry bones of Israel, Ezekiel was asked, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” We would be quick to give the Lord a verse about the resurrection, or to say, “Yes, Lord. Remember Lazarus? If You can do it for him, surely You can do it for them!” Ezekiel was on a whole different plane. He was not responding out of a pre-packaged correctness. He was utterly dependent upon the resurrection life of God, so he replied, “Lord, You know.”
It was that radical hope in the God of resurrection that caused the Lord to put the ball back into his court, “Prophesy to these bones…” When Ezekiel refused to play the know-it-all, the Lord said, “Ah. He knows something about dependency. He knows something about his own limitations. He knows something about my wisdom and power. He is fit to bear the authority to prophesy to the dead bones of his nation- to command life to come back into them.”
We think we’ve got the New Testament model of Church all hemmed in. We think our groups are superior to the others, our books are the most anointed, our services are the most impressive. We think we know what it means to be apostolic and authentic. The Lord is looking down upon our presumption and saying, “They won’t be fit to prophesy until they are broken and completely cast upon the Rock.” We’ve got to be able to say with Ezekiel, “Lord, You know.”
Can you pray for that death to have its full work in the Church without looking upon her with condescension? This is the mystery of apostolic sight. Paul could call the saints at Corinth “holy ones” (1 Cor. 1), though they were far from complete or mature. He gave himself to intercessions on their behalf, that Christ might be formed in them.
It’s easier to criticize and write negative articles than it is to come into this kind of identification with a Body that is mangled, disfigured, and unattractive to our religious hopes. But the Son of God displays another wisdom, and we see glimpses of it in Joseph of Arimathea.
It’s going to require courage, friends. We’ve never prayed quite like this before. We’ve never ascended Golgotha to this altitude before. But the joy is set before us. For after this process played itself out, “he granted the body to Joseph.” (v. 45b)
If we identify with the Son of God in His intercessions for the Church, we will see the formation and emergence of His Body, and it will be a witness unto Israel and the nations. It will bear His own nature and character. It will be immersed in the Scriptures, walking in holy power, Divine love, and true Godly meekness. It will be marked by the fear of the Lord and the beauty of His holiness. Men will take notice and be transformed, some will fear and oppose it, but the reality of God will again be known in the earth. The powers of darkness will again be made to tremble, as they did when God’s wisdom was openly displayed on the cross.
Since Joseph valued the body of Christ, even in death and disfigurement, a context was provided for the resurrection glory to spring forth from. Death is not the end, friends. Death is a gate to eternal glory. Just as Jesus was raised by the Father, so shall the Church be raised up, fit to overcome in the midst of the most trying times mankind has ever known. We will be fit to bear witness to the love of Christ, even to the point of death.
Friends, God is coming to the earth. We need to cry out for a heavenly perception.
Are you aware that “evening has already come?”
Are you giving yourself to Him in this “day of preparation?”
Are you willing to forsake whatever “prominence” you have if it hinders or impedes God’s desires and purposes?
Are you “waiting for the Kingdom of God?”
Are you “asking for the Body of Jesus?”
O, for Joseph’s perception! O, that God may have a people who walk in the fear of the Lord, demonstrating the mercy and wisdom of God until Christ “shall be all in all.”
Father, we ask for the recovery of Joseph of Arimathea’s perception, for the willingness to go against the tide of this age and all it represents, to value that which You value. We recognize our weakness. We are waiting for the Kingdom of God, for there is no other answer to the predicament of the nations. Would you breathe upon the Church, in all of our immaturity and incompleteness, and give us a Kingdom view? Would you take away our blindness, and give us Your perception? We are not willing to pursue mere success in ministry, and we are weary of being absorbed with our personal callings and destinies. We are asking for the Body of Jesus. Give us the right perception, give us courage, and let Your name be glorified from this time forth, and forever. Amen.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Body of Christ, Church, day of preparation, Joseph of Arimathea, Kingdom of God, longing for Jesus, Sabbath, sacrifice
Here we are at the end of another year – 2008, and facing a new year – 2009. I like this time, as it provides me with a great opportunity to thank God for what He has done, evaluate it and anticipate the new season of opportunity. In light of this, I am sensing God challenging me on a few issues as a leader in His Church. In 2008, I have sensed an incredible battle in the heavenlies regarding the Church. I am not one for speculative spiritual warfare type talk. (The Western Church is often confusing and messy over the issue.) However, this year I cannot get away from it. It’s as if there is an incredible opposition against the Kingdom of God. ‘Well, that’s obvious,’ you may say, but this last year has been significant in a way I cannot quite convey, and leaders across nations are saying the same thing. The enemy does not want the Kingdom being expressed as Jesus prescribed through the Church in these final days. Satan is attacking God’s people on all fronts – pride, secret sin, unbelief and fear of the new. It is crucial that the Western Church comes through this season in the right way, because I am convinced that there is a new day of Kingdom emphasis about to dawn. But it will cost us!
In the year 1998 the Lord changed my life during a season of intense dealing in the fires of revival at Brownsville, Pensacola, FL. I found myself as a 20 year old British guy standing face to face with Jesus. It seemed that everything I knew of the Christian life had suddenly taken on a larger magnitude, or had been emptied from me altogether. Everything now for the Lord was ALL or nothing. He wanted me to be His disciple, and in return, He wanted to give me Himself.
To add to that, the time of revival was not just about good feelings, although I experienced those. Rather, it was a time of incredible pain, as I went through a season where the Lord allowed a ‘dark night of the soul’ to come upon me for a month. A power of darkness came during that time and tested me, not with sin, but my standing before God and His call on my life. Yet in all of this, God was not only pouring in the new wine of the outpouring of the Spirit of revival, but He was preparing a new wine skin to hold that for future years to come. I needed stretching, changing, emptying, and that was painful but needed.
Mark 2: 22 says: “He pours new wine into new wine skins…”
This is a segment of Scripture which is remarkable, especially in the light Mark portrays these words of Christ. Mark has a beautiful way of putting accounts of Jesus’ life in a type of invisible connection, so that what the Spirit is speaking through Mark is not only seen in an isolated verse, but sometimes, in the connecting stories around it. Let me illustrate:
Mark 2 & 3 at first glance are an ad-hoc series of stories, with the lessons of the wineskin and Sabbath put right in the middle. But if we read this as a whole, in context, Mark is portraying a powerful truth. In Mark 2: 1 – 12, a paralytic man is placed before Jesus. But rather than proclaim healing over the man first, Jesus forgives the man’s sins! Never in Israel has anyone had authority to do this or dared to say this before! Yet Jesus did before the religious leaders of the day. And what’s more, to prove that that man’s sins were in fact forgiven, the man is healed – demonstrating that Jesus has the authority; that the man’s sickness was a result of sin; sins have been removed; and that Jesus was God – the Son. This was a new day, and it demanded a new understanding of this visitation of God through His Son.
Secondly, in Mark 2: 13 – 17, Jesus calls Levi to become one of His disciples. Levi is a tax collector, scorned by the people of the day. To make matters worse, Jesus and His disciples go to eat with Levi and other collectors and ‘sinners!’ Pharisees make judgments about those with whom He is eating and the One who is supposedly the Messiah. In a nutshell, Jesus says that He will call sinners to Himself and do it on His terms. This was not how men had perceived the supposed Messiah to have chosen His followers. This was new and demanded a new understanding of what this glorious Man was all about!
Then thirdly, the disciples are not fasting, as are those of John and the Pharisees. Jesus establishes before the critics that those with Him are not of an order according to man’s ideals, rather they are joined to Him. Those that are with Him are taking on a new law and Spirit as opposed to that of the old. This was not as men had prescribed things, yet a new understanding of the times and seasons was called for!
Fourthly, in verses 23 – 28, the disciples of Jesus are picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Again, the establishment challenge Him. He replies that He is Lord of the Sabbath. A new understanding of Sabbath was dawning, and it demanded a new understanding of its meaning for the called out ones of Jesus.
Then in connection to the above, let’s take a general look at Mark 3. Jesus heals a man with a shriveled hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Now the authorities want to kill Him. The old cannot contain Him!
After this, Jesus is healing and delivering the masses. Evil spirits cry out in acknowledgment and fear. This has never been seen before! Jesus then goes and prays all night on the mountainside, and chooses the twelve to be His Apostles. THEY are now to carry this same authority and power. They are to take this ‘new thing’ of the Kingdom to the villages and towns. Yet despite this, the authorities claim He is working miracles and setting men free by Beelzebub’s power and even His own family says He is out of His mind! This demanded a new understanding of the Kingdom of God working through a Man and an uneducated band of followers in an unprecedented way.
To summarize, let’s get this straight in our thinking: Jesus is ushering in a new age of Kingdom ministry and grace, the religious establishment cannot grasp it; His family says He is crazy; yet demons KNOW and cry out and the everyday people want to be with Him. This ‘new wine’ is being poured out into a new wineskin, and religious men cannot fathom it, and powers of darkness are afraid and know of its potency!
You see it’s not that Jesus’ is being the latest new fad in town just to be different. Men like that kind of thing generally, and we have lots of that in the West today. Weird for the sake of weird, or radical for radical’s sake. (It might be rebellion!) But rather, the new thing He is doing carries a unique Spiritual power of a Divine order – that in itself is radical by nature. It’s as new wine, and it comes with tremendous force against the powers of darkness. The old order of Israel had tried to fit Him within their traditions, yet He was Lord of the Law and Prophets. Pharisees would not and could not hold Him, nor could His family understand Him. But demons know what’s really taking place, and a random concoction of young men from all backgrounds and dispositions are the ones chosen to be the new wineskin and carry the new wine. Through them demons are driven out. God is altogether radical and unique in His movements and His choosing of vessels, and He delights to reveal His Kingdom through such.
In Acts 1, Luke begins by recalling to Theophilus, ‘all that Jesus began to do and teach…’ – and then Luke proceeds with the beginnings of the new people of God, who carry on as a new breed of disciples, by continuing to do ‘ALL that Jesus is doing and teaching..’ Ministry is incarnational. The Local church is as Christ’s physical presence in a community – His wineskin, carrying what He is saying and doing to a lost world.
Therefore, as Christ’s initial ministry came with the potency of new wine fermenting in a wineskin, so too does His continuing ministry. His mercies are new every morning. Revival is like new wine, but so often the establishment wants to destroy or dampen, or our peers don’t always understand. History shows with the Wesleys, that the old cannot contain the new. It’s not that Jesus wants us to be divisive or rebellious – God forbid! But rather, when He pours out His works through us, the inevitable opposition will come, but His disciples are those who not only embrace the new thing but they allow deep reformation to come, that they may contain the wine.
A. W. Tozer said the following:
A religion, even popular Christianity, could enjoy a boom altogether divorced from the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and so leave the church of the next generation worse off than it would have been if the boom had never occurred. I believe that the imperative need of the day is not simply revival, but a radical reformation that will go to the root of our moral and spiritual maladies and deal with the causes rather than with consequences, with the disease rather than with symptoms.
Let’s remember that God has set His principles in His Word, for us to live by and practice, both individually and corporately. However, let’s not be guilty of trying to put our mold upon God’s people. I believe He is looking for the local church to carry His Kingdom, as a fresh and dynamic expression of the Head through a Body.
Finally, a new wineskin not only means that the Church’s practices must be radically examined, but that God’s vessels must be tested by fire. One man once told me: ‘If a man tries to bear the anointing without purity of the heart, eventually that anointing will crush him…’ We must allow God to radically reform us in such a way that pride, secret sin, unbelief and fear will be utterly eradicated from our hearts. Allow God to expand and enlarge our capacity for Him – what He is doing and saying.
God has also established His ministries in His people, through leadership. Leaders are a gift from God and needed to keep people from wandering and on track in ministry. We leaders are to be an example of flexibility in God’s Kingdom mission. Our job is to warn and instruct – yes, but also to train and release.
My prayer 10 years on from the fires of revival in Pensacola, and for this coming year, is that we will become that new wineskin that facilitates what He is DOING and TEACHING through us, to the World at large. We are to be stretchable and moldable in His hand, not according to systems of this world but according to His holy nature revealed in His Son, Jesus. God is looking for people as the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times and seasons. Such people uncompromisingly look for what God is doing and saying, and as Arthur Wallis said, ‘throw themselves into it…’
Nothing except this will turn the World upside down.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Brownsville revival, Jesus, Kingdom of God, new wineskins, Revival, spiritual warfare