May 31st, 2011 by Daniel Kolenda

One night, in family devotions, I was reading to my kids from a Bible storybook about Cain and Abel. In this author’s rendition of the story, Cain’s offering was rejected because it was not his best, while Abel’s offering was the best he had to give and therefore acceptable to God. It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks…this writer missed the entire point of the Biblical story! In fact, I believe the reality is quite the opposite. Cain was a “tiller of the ground”. His days consisted of backbreaking manual labor and he earned every morsel with the “sweat of his brow”. When asked to bring a sacrifice to God, he must have surely thought that his offering would be the best in God’s sight. Cain’s offering was the hard earned fruit of his labor, the work of his own blistered hands. But, in spite of all Cain’s striving, God rejected his offering. The Bible says, “Cain was exceedingly angry and his countenance fell” (Gen 4:5). Cain was so frustrated and angry because he had indeed brought his best to God…and yet his best was not good enough.

God said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” “Do well?” Cain must have thought. “I’ve done the best I can do.” Perhaps Cain knew in his heart that he had worked longer and harder than Able ever did. Through sweat, tears and hard manual labor Cain had worked the thorny soil to bring this offering to the Lord. Yet God was pleased with Abel’s gift and not his own. Cain could not understand and soon his frustration boiled over into murderous rage.

Why was Abel’s offering acceptable to God? Was it a better offering? Had Abel worked more or harder or better? On the contrary…Abel brought the blood of an innocent other. The real sacrifice was not his at all…it was really the sheep who had paid the dearest price. Abel was NOT relying on the work of his hands and the fruit of his labor. Somehow he understood that it was the blood that satisfied God.

“Without the shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb 9:22). Cain is a type of all those who come to God with the work of their own hands. Even if we do our best and strive with all our might to please God, we will always come up short, no matter how well-intentioned we may be. Whenever you swipe the credit card of your own righteousness into God’s ATM it will ALWAYS be declined. All our righteousness is like filthy rags.

Abel is a type of all those who come to God with the blood of that innocent other; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is the blood of Jesus that has cleansed us from all sin (I John 1:7). It is the blood of Jesus that has purged our conscience from dead works (Heb 9:14). It is the blood of Jesus that has reconciled us unto God (Eph 2:13). It is the blood of Jesus that has redeemed us (1 Pet 1:18). Abel came not on the basis of his works, but in faith, and like Abraham, “It was counted to him as righteousness.” By faith we carry God’s own credit card, without a capital limit, backed by the collateral of heaven’s endless supply, and billed to Calvary’s address. Hallelujah!
 

Daniel Kolenda is an evangelist with Christ For All Nations, along with Reinhard Bonnke.

Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: , , , ,

February 19th, 2011 by Daniel Kolenda

I heard a minister recently talking about the rapture and trying to make the point that every prophecy necessary to the return of Christ has already been fulfilled. One of his points was that the Gospel has already been preached in all the world according to the promise of Jesus in Matt 24:14 (And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.), “Now” he said, “We’re just waiting for Jesus to come back.”

If you are one of those standing in line waiting for the rapture like a ride at Disney World, consider these statistics on world evangelism that I have collected from a variety of sources. As you read these keep in mind that in the United States there is 1 ordained minister for every 200 people. Yet…

– For every million unreached Muslims there are less than 3 missionaries.

– In Afghanistan there are 17 million people, 48,000 mosques…but not a single church.

– In Turkey there are 44 million people, but less then 200 Christians

– In India alone 500 million people have yet to hear the Gospel

– 30% of the world’s population (more than 2 billion people) have had virtually no exposure to the Gospel.

– The New Testament has been translated into the mother tongue of over 80% of the world’s population. However the remaining approximately 20% will require over 5,500 new translations.

Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The word, “Nations” is “Ethne” in the Greek meaning ethnic people groups. Yet…

– There are an estimated 6,700 unreached or nearly unreached people groups.

– The countries with the most unreached people groups in descending order; India, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh.

– 98% of all unreached people groups are located in the “10/40 Window”.

THE GREAT COMMISSION IS STILL UNFULFILLED! Oswald Smith said, “We talk of the Second Coming; but half the world has never heard of the first.” Regardless if you are “pre-trib”, “post-trib”, “mid-trib” or some other “trib”, we must all confess that there is something desperately wrong with this type of doctrinal philosophy that makes us happy to escape with our own hides while the world burns and billions of people are lost. Where is the heart of Jesus in that? “…that none would perish, but that all would come to repentance.”

Here’s some food for thought; Jesus died more then 2,000 years ago. If it was God’s ultimate goal to rapture us all out of this “old god-forsaken world”, then why are we still here? What are we still waiting for? One person told me, “Jesus is building my mansion in heaven.” Really? It took him 6 days to create the entire cosmos, yet he’s been hung up with your “mansion” for 2,000 years? Not likely.

Heb. 10:12, 13 says, “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.” Since we are his hands and feet, then He must be waiting for…us. If He is waiting for us, and we are waiting for him, it would seem we are at an impasse. This is why Jesus told his disciples, “GO” into all the world and preach the Gospel. No more waiting and debating…just Go and PREACH.

“In the vast plain to the north I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been” — Robert Moffat

 

Daniel Kolenda is an evangelist with Christ For All Nations working alongside Reinhard Bonnke, learn more at his website www.danielkolenda.com.

Posted in Evangelism & Missions, Featured Articles Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

November 2nd, 2010 by Bethany French

Author’s note:  This is the second article of a mini-series reviewing Princeton professor Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the first few chapters of this book.  To read the first article in the series, click here.

Kenda Creasy Dean’s book Almost Christian covers five major findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion that may perhaps bring about a major change in the way many mainstream churches and/or parents  approach youth ministry or parenting:

1.  Most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise don’t give it much thought.

2.  Most U.S. teenagers mirror their parents’ religious faith.

3. Teenagers lack a theological language with which to express their faith or interpret their experience of the world.

4.  A minority of American teenagers–but a significant minority–say religious faith is important, and that it makes a difference in their lives.  These teenagers are doing better in life on a number of scales, compared to their less religious peers.

5.  Many teenagers enact/espouse a religious outlook that is distinct from traditional teachings of most world religions–an outlook called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Some of my conclusions from reading these first few chapters in conjunction with my own personal experience are as follows:  The problems that exist now are direct results of a culture of self-indulgence; a culture that equates physical, emotional, and spiritual discomfort as something to be avoided at all costs.  Christian vocabulary has been perverted:  the word “Love” does not mean anything more than an exalted version of “Warm fuzzies all around,” “salvation” means that “all generally nice people go to heaven,” and the biggest “sin” is to hurt anyone’s feelings or cause discomfort any way, for any reason. A version of the larger American culture, which holds all of these views, has been adopted by many parents and churches (consciously or not).

Dean clearly highlights the source of the problem as a breakdown of the parents’ and congregations intentionally modeling radical faith in God and demonstration of the gospel to their children, and the failure to recognize that the goal of the gospel is beyond the individual.

We ‘teach’ young people baseball, but we ‘expose’ them to faith…we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging ‘when youth are ready’ (a confidence we generally lack when it comes to, say, algebra).  We simply have not given teenagers the soul-strength to recognize, wrestle, and resist the symbiotes in our midst, probably because we lack [it] ourselves… Exposing adolescents to faith, as it turns out, is no substitute for teaching it to them…

By and large, Smith and Denton concluded, parents ‘get what they are’ religiously…Parents matter most when it comes to the religious formation of their children.

Although the child is still responsible for his/her own response to the gospel, and even in the cases where the parents are truly living radical lives and teaching their children to do the same may choose to diverge to the path of least resistance, families and communities that adopt an intentional way of living and teaching spiritual precepts will raise children who are much more able to talk articulately about what their faith means to them in their daily lives.  It may be that many parents in their own lives, as well as the lives of their children, have bought into one of the central precepts of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is that the main goal in life is to avoid interpersonal friction.  And, as Dean writes,

Spiritually sensitive youth often cause trouble in their communities (religious or secular) because of their alertness to the sacred.  It is hard to imagine researchers, interviewing Jesus after he turned over the tables in the temple, ascribing the act to religious maturity–but in Christian theology it is a story of righteousness and divine purgation.”

Which of the prophets, including Jesus as the Son of God, was not hated and persecuted, even killed for following the Spirit of God, laying down their lives as their sacrifice of love and obedience to God, and out of desperate concern and passionate desire for the restoration of those who were opposing the will of God?  How often did God send His prophets not to the ‘pagan’ nations, but to His own people, who were following Him with their lips, and not with their hearts?  How is that different than today, where so many in our churches say, “I am a Christian,” and yet they do not have the transforming love of God gripping their hearts to lay down their lives in obedience to Christ?  As Dean says,

It is in following Jesus that we learn to love Him; it is in participating in the mission of God that God decisively changes us into disciples.”

Let us awaken our hearts to experience the living God, as in Dr. Michael Brown’s Rhyme of the Modern Parishioner:

Pour your life out for broken lives –
Let God your heart break too.
Take up the cross, deny yourself;
Just live His will to do!

Wake up, be brave, be honest;
Today — oh hear His voice!
Be ruthless with your schedule;
Seek GOD. Make that your choice.

Posted in Culture, News Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

August 16th, 2009 by Bryan Anthony

p7110004-geneva-bible-picture-427x341“…. no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of the human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” -2 Pet. 1.20-21

Please hear this remarkable word from Nathaniel West:

In the hour of affliction we learn more of God’s word, and God’s way, than in a whole age of sunshine and prosperity, and it is well to remember that the prophecies were spoken first in that moment when Israel’s night was the darkest. Paradoxical indeed, it was then that the light was the brightest, the promise the sweetest, and the devotion the deepest. So will it be again. Israel will be able to say, when emerging from the last great tribulation, as when returning from Exile to build the Temple:

“The Lord hath chastened me sore,
But not abandoned me to death.
The Lord is God. He hath given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords,
Even to the horns of the altar!”

Affliction, Light, and Consecration, these are the best handmaids of a true interpretation.

(Nathaniel West, The Thousand Year Reign of Christ; Kregel Publications, p. XVI)

It is often said that we form our theologies and interpret the Scriptures based on the lens through which we look. Depending on the stream of our religious upbringing and our experiences in life, we often interpret passages with our own particular presumption and bias.

It is also said that we often interpret the Scriptures based on the level of willingness we possess to truly hear what they require and promise. In other words, we find in the Word what we want to find, and discard that which demands a higher call to the death of the self-life. We see what we want to see, and no more.

Nathaniel West wrote that “Affliction, Light, and Consecration” are the greatest and most necessary helpers for a true interpretation of the Scriptures.

What do we know of affliction? West is speaking of Israel’s affliction under judgment and exile, but is there an affliction that we willingly give ourselves to, and that would make way for a better interpretation of Scripture? I believe, in at least one aspect, that our self-made value systems, bumptiousness from familiarity, and “know-it-all” attitudes must be afflicted before the Light of interpretation can be opened. We’ve got to crucify our own wisdom, and lay our souls low before the same Spirit that moved the prophets. Are you reading the Scriptures categorically and robotically, or are you turning away from your own frozen knowledge and facing the burning bush that the Scriptures constitute?

Next, there is the element of light. When our own wisdom has been afflicted and set aside, then we are postured inwardly to receive the Light of God through the Scriptures. We must receive Light from the Spirit of God, or else the Bible is an impossible book to engage, enjoy, and receive from. If the same Spirit who rested on and moved the prophets does not rest on us, we will not gather from the Scriptures what the Lord has desired to give. We must ask the Spirit to come with His own Light, otherwise we will not be reading rightly. Therefore, dear saint, we ought to pant for the presence of the Spirit in the midst of our reading, so that Light may come, and our reading may itself become an act of Communion with God.

Lastly, the element of consecration. If we come to the Scriptures with no true intention of consecrating our lives to the Light that He gives us, we are not likely to come into a true interpretation. The Scriptures were not merely given for the formulation of eschatological ideas, the constructing of Doctrinal charts, or any such thing. They were given so that the Eternal God, and His great purpose, would be exposed to Israel and the nations, and that men would come into the reality of what He has always intended; namely, the revelation of Himself, and the glorification of His ways.

If we are unwilling to consecrate our lives to the Light that He gives, we will invariably miss what He is speaking. But if we come to the Scriptures in the same Spirit by which they were written, all the glories of His nature and will become intensely available to us.

“Affliction, Light, and Consecration, these are the best handmaids of a true interpretation.”

Posted in Scripture Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

January 5th, 2009 by Bryan Anthony

deposition“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.

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