Renaming “God”

Text: Ezek 16:8-22 ; Ps 104:14-35; Acts 14:8-18; John 13:1-15

INTRODUCTION 

“GOD”
MEANS WHAT?

There’s something dreadfully wrong when we hear Christian people talking a lot about “God” and not speaking much about “Jesus”, for scripture teaches us that whatever we truly know about God we know only through the gospel of Christ (John 17:3; Acts 17:29-31).

In our multicultural post-Christian society “God” can mean almost anything.

Many people will tell you they believe in “God” but their lives show no evidence of it; they’re what we call “practical atheists” (Ps 53:1); “Oh My God!” (OMG) has become a popular exclamation today but it certainly isn’t a prayer. And common language shouldn’t deceive us into thinking that the “God” of the Muslims is the Father of Jesus. In fact the Koran goes out of its way to deny Allah has a son.

There are places in the New Testament where even demons testify that there’s one God but that won’t keep them out of hell (Mark 5:7; Acts 16:17; James 2:19). The apostolic message is crystal clear, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”” (Acts 4:12). The groundwork for a spiritual revival today must begin with a revival in speaking about Jesus! Such a transformation will never come unless we move beyond a spirituality tied to creation.

NATURE AND GOD

Ours is a land greatly blessed, I can recall the brilliant starry skies of outback Australia, the beautiful white beaches of northern Queensland, the grand vistas over the desert from the top of Uluru and the majestic forest as it comes down to the sea at Denmark. But no one turns from their wicked ways to worship the Father of Jesus (John 4:23) through contemplating nature.

We are like the pagans to whom Paul preaches, “he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”” (Acts 14:17). As a nation we have turned away from the Master Designer (Acts 17:27) living increasingly lawless lives. Against the backdrop of our marvellous climate and geography our spiritual dullness marks us out as an especially wicked people.

The other week a devout Christian friend and I, he’d grown up in one of those cold Eastern European countries, walked out of his house into the sunshine and brilliant blue skies over Perth and he spontaneously exclaimed. “This is paradise, and anyone who doesn’t think that is wrong.” Cf. Korean Christian arriving in Australia; “This place is like the Garden of Eden, no wonder people here don’t believe in God.”

Instead of a nation of grateful worshippers we are a country of complainers; we whinge about politicians, hospitals, schools, the police force, public transport… We are the people of whom Paul speaks in Romans who see God’s “eternal power and divine nature in the things that have been made” but “without excuse” wickedly refuse to “honour (God) him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom 1:18, 20-21).

Our rank ingratitude in the face of our material blessedness surely places Australia under a far more severe judgement than almost anywhere else in the world (Luke 12:47-48).

This terrible state began with a profound corruption concerning the identity of “God” in Eden.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? 

WHAT’S IN A NAME? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet;”

This might be true of roses but it is insidiously false when it comes to how the God of the Bible reveals himself in the foundational chapters of Genesis. Where in our English versions we find the word “God” used throughout Genesis 1 this is a translation of a Hebrew word (Elohim) that would be recognised by people outside of Israel.

From Genesis 2:5 on however we find the name “LORD God” (Yahweh Elohim) used, a name unique to Israel’s covenant relationship with their Redeemer, the personal name specially revealed to Moses (Ex 3:14). So when we read in Genesis 2:17; “the LORD God commanded the man, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.””, we can see that Adam had an intimate personal knowledge of the divine will.

Then suddenly in Genesis 3 Satan enters the scene and with brilliant trickery debases the Word of the LORD by saying, ““Did God (Elohim, not Yahweh Elohim) actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”” (3:1).

By distorting language, the devil undermines the personal character of the commandment of the LORD.

When the dulled damsel replies, “God (Elohim) said”, not “Yahweh Elohim said” (Gen 3:3), Eve has already begun her Fall.

We know the rest of the story, Adam and Eve desire to be like “God” (Elohim) and lose the glory of intimate communion with the LORD’s (Yahweh’s) personal presence (Gen 3:7ff.; Rom 3:23).

Fallen human beings will always try to reduce “God” language to something manageable.

So it is that Indigenous peoples all over the world believe in a great Creator, but knowledge of such a distant deity never has power to save them from their idolatries.

Even Israel exchanged the glory of the LORD for the worship of other gods (cf. Ps 106:20). In deep pain the LORD/Yahweh exclaims; “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” (Hos 2:8; cf. Ezek 16:8-22; Rom 1:23).

The sin of ingratitude is timeless. Before they entered the Promised Land the LORD warned his people, vs.17Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ vs.18 …remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut 8:17-18). In our world children are taught, “You can be anything you want to be.”, you can construct your own gender, fashion your own identity. Adults stream to life coaches to “reinvent” themselves.

All such follies stand as signs of the judgements of God (Rom 1:21ff.). We should expect these sorts of things of the world. But when professing Christian people face retirement with a self-centred attitude, even a “bucket list”, which says, “We deserve it, we’ve worked hard for it.” we’ve conveniently forgotten we could never achieve anything apart from the gifts God has given us (1 Cor 4:7). Things are bad, really bad. So let’s turn to Jesus.

JESUS

Unlike us Jesus never forget who he was, where he had come from and where he was going. We read today in John’s Gospel, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God…” (John 13:3). Satan has led all humanity on a path to usurp creation from God (cf. Luke 4:6), but Jesus knew everything he had given to him by his Father (Matt 28:18; John 17:2). But he also knew his inheritance would come in a way radically counter to all the cultures of humanity, the way of the cross.

The depths of the sufferings of Jesus expose and challenge to the core all abuses of God-language. Have you ever heard another believer casually call the Father of Jesus “Abba”, or even “Dad”? Quite frankly I am not sure who’s these folks are talking to for their is a weightiness in calling God “Abba, Father” that is immeasurable.

The only place where Christ says “Abba, Father,” (Mark 14:36 cf. Rom 8:15) is in Gethsemane where he is being crushed to death under the sorrow of bearing the cup of God’s wrath on the sin of the world. In the utmost existential crisis of identity (Heb 5:7-8) Jesus’ soul understands that bearing the cup of wrath (Isa 51:17, 53:3; Jer 25:15; Rev 14:10) means losing the intimate personal covenant presence which has always empowered him to name God as “Father”.

The cross’s cry of dereliction, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) is a revelation that under our judgement God the Son can no longer discern where he has come from and where he is going and it seems like nothing has been given into his hands. On the cross Jesus must embrace all of humanity’s distortion, misuse, and manipulation of the name “God”, in whatever language. An abuse for which we all deserve eternal condemnation (Ex 20:7). But the good news is since Christ’s death is a death in our place it means the death of our inability to truly speak of God.

When he was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Rom 1:4; 6:4) Jesus naturally began to speak of his disciples in a relationally supercharged way; “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”” (John 20:17). A band of brothers and sisters who gather together, pray, and ministry in the name of Jesus immersed by the Spirit in the love of the Father is the very essence of the Church. A Jesus-centred Church is a normal Church, but this is a body formed only in the way Jesus own God-language entered perfection, through obedient suffering (Heb 2:10; 5:9).

CRUCIFIED EYES

A Christian friend visited me recently who has had a painful divorce a host of family problems a long history of depression. In conversation he shared with me his daily routine; thanking God for life and another day when he awakes, for food on the table, the car he has been given to drive, the friend he is on the way to see…..and on and on.

Beyond all human diagnoses he has power to live like this because being humbled by the Lord over many years he has come to see “God” through crucified eyes. He has been released from his own religious imagination and the distorting lens of culture, tradition and family influences to see Jesus and the Father more and more as they really are. He can testify that above all God is a crucified God. Only those who possess a vision of life (Acts 17:25) through the lens of the cross (crucivision) can understand and name “God” as he really is (cf. 1Cor 3:21-23).

Someone rang me the other day as part of a pastoral search for their church, and wanted to know what I could tell them about a certain minister. I don’t know the man personally but counselled they ask him what has been the most painful experience of life and what he had learnt about Jesus through it.

The revelation of who God is does not come through intelligence, personality, giftedness or achievements, but submission in suffering.

Many of us at St Marks have suffered in deeply painful ways, yet many of us find it difficult to talk to one another, let alone non-Christians, about JESUS. How can this change?

CONCLUSION

Firstly we must want to witness a dramatic shift in our speech. Satan has progressively encouraged the use of relatively inoffensive “God” language inside and outside of the Church to push out the name he hates above all other names, the only name to which he must submit, the name of….. (Mark 9:38; Acts 4:12; 16:18; 19:13; Phil 2:9).

Only the name of Jesus is filled with prophetic power to revive the Church and converting to save the world (Luke 24:47; Rev 19:10).

As I walked into a bookstore the other day which has 100’s of “God” titles, I spotted a book upon whose spine was, ‘LORD JESUS CHRIST (Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity)’.

I was instantly excited because the name of Jesus is inexhaustibly wonderful (Eph 3:8).

I had to pause when someone sent me a Spurgeon quote the other day; “Jesus- a gathering up of the hallelujahs of eternity in five letters”. Is that how you want to feel and speak about Jesus and is this the sort of Church we want St Marks to be?

Shortly we will set up our ministry teams for 2018; what they achieve for the kingdom of God in Bassendean and beyond will totally depend on their naming God in the way he has named himself, the God and Father of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; 1 Pet 1:3 etc.). May it be our prayer to think and speak of God only in this way. 

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 11th February, 2018 | St Marks

Author: Dr. John Yates


MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 11th February. 2018 |       |


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Prosperity versus Spirituality

Personal Matters

Last week I was in Bandung Indonesia for an Asian Christian leadership conference.

This Christ-centred event raised more sharply than ever the question of whether a spiritually mature Church can ever exist in a materially affluent culture.

For instance, an elderly South Korean related how after two major wars Korea was one of the poorest nations on earth, then the people started to cry out to God and experienced both economic and spiritual miracles.

Today Protestant Christians are easily the most highly educated and professional group in the country.

But in recent years there have been subject to public scandals a marked decline in prayerfulness and the nation’s youth are turning away from the Church in droves.

What surprised me in Indonesia was listening to speakers from a wide range of nations bemoaning deviations that are becoming normal part of church life. In Thailand for instance a leader is more likely to be chosen for strategic reasons than because he/she is a person of character.

All the sins of the Western Church I have been speaking against for decades seem to be infiltrating the “two thirds world”.

One Puritan famously said of the early American experience; “Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” Is this situation inevitable? It certainly seems to be usual in scripture.

Fat Believers

Moses explained that the wilderness experience of Israel was a fatherly test so that in the land of promise they might not say;

‘my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’

Deut 8:5, 17

But he also prophesied,

‘“Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them…”

Deut 32:15

Throughout the history of God’s old covenant people physical prosperity is repeatedly followed by spiritual ruin.

Possessed by our Possessions.

For instance the mega rich Solomon, unlike his father David, led Israel into idolatry (1 Ki 11:4).

Whilst the New Testament covers a short span of time we see the same problems surfacing.

Paul warns, “in the last days…people will be lovers of self, lovers of money…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim 3:1ff.).

These are our days and Christ warned a Church like our own; “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:16).

Few Australian Christians find material prosperity a block to their spiritual maturity because the creature comforts of our capitalist culture long ago got the upper hand. We are possessed by our possessions.

Ownership

Contrast this with the testimony of the Early Church; “those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them…and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4: 32, 34-35).

Living as the family of God the first Christians laid aside their legal rights of ownership so as to better care for each other.

Working to Give to Others

In the light of Christ they knew everything a Christian has is a gift from God and presents an opportunity to give to others. E.g. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph 4:28).

I can’t think of many local believers whose primary motivation for working is to give to others. If you are an exception it can only be because you have had an exceptional revelation of the gospel.

Christ the Key

The Bible upholds the super-generosity of God in Christ;For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9).

In heaven Jesus was full of the riches of the love of his Father, but sensing a lost humanity in great spiritual, moral and physical pain he was moved to empty himself and enter our sphere of suffering (Phil 2:7-8).

The absolute impoverishment of the cross launched Jesus into the resurrection as the restorer of all God planned for us to enjoy in the beginning (John 1:16).

Christ’s emptiness has becomes fullness for us (Col 2:9-10).

This measure of love alone can heal the selfish possessive individualism which grips the culture of Western Christianity.

SACRIFICE IS THE ESSENCE OF CHRISTIANITY

Jesus gave up everything for us that we might give up everything for him, and for others. Such sacrifice is the essence of Christianity; “By this we know love that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16). Many Christians are praying for the power of the Spirit to signs, wonders and live a more prosperous life. Yet how rare is it to hear folk praying for spiritual power to lay down their lives for others like Christ did. Such prayers would be answered! Whilst most believers would affirm what I have said above hedonism still reigns among us. When I asked the Lord for a solution to this problem he gave me a concrete reply. 

Spiritual Exceptions

The “Clapham sect” was a group which combined affluence with extreme Christian commitment. Gathered around William Wilberforce this wealthy influential group were moved by the sufferings of slaves to give unreservedly of their resources to alleviate suffering.

These men and women truly knew the Spirit’s power because he enabled them to be sensitive to Christ’s sensitivity to the pains of others. This empathy is exactly what is lacking in the affluent Australian Church of today.

It is the “fellowship of sufferings” that alone can enable us to live as exceptions to our greedy culture (Phil 3:10).

The cross teaches that the one thing more powerful than personal pleasure is a love that feels the pain of others. 

Material prosperity and spiritual maturity can exist together wherever the followers of Jesus are willing to be brought in touch with the sufferings of lost humanity. It’s as simple, and as hard, as that.

Conclusion

The history of humanity’s quest for affluence is predictable but not inevitable.

The enticements of the delights of Eden overpowered any awareness of the pain sin would cause God (Gen 3:6).

Canaan was a new Eden whose worldly temptations proved as irresistible as the Garden.

Contemporary Australia too is an “Eden” where most believers choose possessions and sensory experiences, especially the emotional one they have in Church, over the pure but painful love of God!

This can change if we ask the Holy Spirit to give us a deeper identification with love’s sensitivity to the pain of others expressed in the cross.

The fruit of such prayer will surely be the highly unusual combination of material prosperity and spiritual maturity.

Do not however expect such a form of life to be appreciated by the wider society or the dominant culture of the Church.

Those who follow in this way of Christ will experience the power of the Spirit, but they will also be labelled, like the godly of old were, as another extreme Christian “Sect”.

But haven’t we had enough of “normality”??

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 11.9.16 | 

Author: Dr. John Yates

Unclean spirits

Personal Matters

A man tries to kill himself by running straight in front of my friend’s car, a brother’s niece hospitalised and on suicide watch, children who are too anxious to go to school, a ministry forced to move on because of chronic lying, personality disorders surfacing in Christian leaders, the chemsex phenomena (gay sex on drugs) and the insistence that kids as young as 5 can determine their “real” gender identity.

All these are happening around us in “the lucky country”; and the presence of global terrorism is inescapable.

Biblically, the world is getting weirder because the bondage to demonic powers is intensifying. Whilst Western Christians can mouth biblical passages about spiritual warfare have lost our discernment of demonic powers.

If we were discerning spirits we would already be in a spiritually militant Church actively engaged in overt spiritual warfare seeing the type of demonic manifestations recorded in scripture (Mark 9:25-29; 1 John 2:18-27).

We are blind to such things because we have lost touch with an essential component of biblical spirituality.

Unclean Spirits

… unclean spirit

Whilst the Greek New Testament uses “unclean spirit” (pneuma akatharton)

21 times many recent translations render this “evil spirit” attempting to make the text more intelligible to modern readers (CEV, GNT, NLT, NIV 1984 edn.).

Much of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is is a response to the ritual and moral uncleanness that sin brings. The “sin offering” of Leviticus is in effect a purification offering effecting a cleansing that makes God approachable (4:1-5:13).

The central purification offering of the Day Atonement cleansed the temple sanctuary permitting the holy God to dwell in the midst of an unholy people (Lev 16:16-22).

When the perfectly holy dwelling place of God appeared on earth the unclean spirits possessing people reacted with fear and loathing; v.23there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, v.24What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”” (Mark 1:23-34; John 2:21).

Christ’s presence forced them to recognise their actions in sinners was abominable in God’s sight (Lev 18:26-27; Rev 17:4-5).

Considering the category of uncleanness opens up dimensions of the cross rarely considered today; the washing away of impurity.

Jesus was the perfectly pure sanctuary entirely full of the Spirit of the Father and as such he prophesied, “…the ruler of this world is coming. He has nothing in me,” (John 14:30). The cry, ““My God…why have you forsaken me””, is a sign that the temple of Christ’s body is filled with the defiling impurities which cause the withdrawal of God’s holy presence Ezek 5:11; 10; Mark 15:34.

 In bearing our sin Jesus takes into himself every “abomination that makes” human life “desolate” of God’s glorious presence (Matt 24:15).

All that is vile and loathsome in God’s sight is taken into Christ desecrating the real sanctuary by the presence of our uncleanness.

The scriptural remedy defilement is the shedding of blood (Lev 16:19).

In shedding his blood Jesus has purified every space in heaven and earth where God and man might meet in him (Heb 9:22-24). He has triumphed over all unclean spirits by recreating holy places for the indwelling of God; “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Since Satan resides in the shame of the lost glory of fallen humanity it is the devil’s turn now to face shame in the presence of God’s holy habitation, the Church (Eph 2:20-22).

Unclean No More

As there is no uncleanness in Jesus, “in Christ” we are “completely clean” (John 13:10).

The Lord confidently declared, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3). Being “born again” is more than forgiveness, it is “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Tit 3:5 cf. Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11). With “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” we are unashamedly open hearted to the continual infilling of the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:22).

Having been declared clean “once for all” the process of inner purification goes on as we are “washed by the cleansing of God’s word” (Eph 5:26; Heb 10:10).

As far as our basic access to God in Christ goes we are in the position of the person described in the psalm:

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.

To be pure and free from unclean spirits is a fruit of the gospel; this is why the New Testament expects that the conflict between Christ and Satan will continue openly through the Church (Acts 8:7; Acts 16:16-18).

Psalm 24:3-4

Manifest Lord

As the Church lives clean so Satan and his unclean hordes are exposed as real and active.

As believers with a clean conscience “enter the holy places (in heaven) by the blood of Jesus” the presence of Christ must cause demons to uncontrollably manifest themselves (Heb 10:20-25).

The more the effectiveness of power of the blood of the cross is let loose in the Church the more the Lordship of Jesus over all things is manifest in the world.

The conflict between the Holy Spirit and unclean spirits becomes public for all to see and the asymmetric nature of the warfare between Christ and Satan becomes clear.

 The confession “Jesus is Lord” is a verbal reality across the Western Church, but the effective evidence of this Lordship in the visible expulsion of evil powers is largely absent.

This is a sign that demonic forces gave deceived on consciences of Christians into believing they are unclean. I have never heard a preacher say to his hearers, “You are unclean.”, but every time a congregation receives a message about being more healthy, wealthy, sexy, joyful, successful etc. the hearers are being consolidated in their sense of inner impurity.

Meanwhile the evil originator of every sense of unclean shame remains hidden (Zech 3:1-5). 

When Jesus entered the local assembly of his day the unclean spirits manifested uncontrollably in the presence of his Lordship; please name an “influential” mainstream church in the Western world where such things are happening today!

Conclusion

The biblical vocabulary of uncleanness has been lost amongst us because we no longer recognise what it means to be clean in Christ.

Jesus is the Victor but we are missing a massive dimension of his Lordship (1 Cor 15:57).

Our churches have become like the prosperous Israelites of old; “Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed. Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation.” (Deut 32:15).

Expect the Sovereign King to hand over nation and church to ever weirder things, until we bow the knee at his feet and allow him to “reign in the midst of his enemies” (Ps 110:2).

Like the exorcisms in the Bible this will not be pretty but it will surely constrain the confession, “Jesus is Lord!” (1 Cor 12:3). Who would desire anything else?

Find Your Voice

Introduction

I was in inner city Melbourne for a conference last week and experienced an ugly contrast between the world and the Church. Walking down Swanston St I came across a very conspicuous brothel with a neon sign reading, “Come in and select from one of our Summertime Beauties.” Such grievous things are part of our sin-saturated society, but back my hotel room I opened my computer and found an email about a Perth pastor trained by the “Reformation Now” network, a movement dedicated to raising up vocal advocates for gay rights.

Things people were once ashamed to speak of in public are now being proclaimed with pride; and it is getting worse all the time. Back in the conference I found myself in a workshop setting that seemed to be reflecting some foundational problems in Christianity today.

At one point I was so provoked by the spiritual dynamic that I walked across the room and sat with “the silent majority” as a prophetic statement that the speaking was being dominated by experienced Christian leaders so that the “ordinary people” were silent.

Illustrating the scope of this passivity a little later in the meeting a zealous African lady living in Melbourne shared how it took a long time for her to discover that there were actually other Christians in her workplace because they had kept so quiet about their personal faith.

 The spiritual crisis in Australian culture today is that though there are professing Christians in every trade and profession and from the Prime Minister through to the lowliest person sleeping in the streets the voice of Jesus is being drowned out by other voices.

These voices include the so-called “new atheists”, like Richard Dawkins, advocates for the legalisation of all drugs, like the Greens, campaigners for transgenderism, zealots for euthanasia or the promoters of same-sex marriage. In every case they are full of confident self-assertion and their voices are being magnified by the media.

Our country is sliding is sliding into an abyss of darkness because these very humanistic voices are carrying the day.

But flesh and blood voices are not the real problem, behind them we should discern the voice which “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship” this loud, boastful and blasphemous voice is the voice of all that opposes the kingdom of Christ, the spirit of antichrist (Eph 6:12; 2 Thess 2:4; 1 John 2:18; Rev 13:5).

All Australians are aware that soon after the next election there will be a plebiscite on the issue of “Equal Marriage” when we will have an opportunity to make our voice heard.

Unless there is some great miracle between now and then the nature of marriage in our country will be fundamentally redefined.

It is not my voice or your voice however which can make a difference to what is happening, only if the voice of Jesus is heard everywhere speaking to everyone from politicians to prostitutes, can our society be saved from an increasingly hellish future.

Paul prayed for the church in Rome, “May…God…grant you to live in such harmony with one another v.6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 15:5-6). This wonderful picture of the transforming power of the gospel is far from the reality of Christian witness today.

QUESTION

Q: How can the Holy Spirit bring us all into a unity in our testimony to Jesus? 

A: To answer this question we must go back to the story of the origin of evil in Eden.

The voice of the Lord” which formed the world “is powerful…full of majesty” and must have deeply moved the first human beings as it radiated throughout creation (Ps 29:4 cf. Ps 8; 19; Rom 1:19-20).

But a more glorious and beautiful word than that spoken through nature was spoken directly to Adam; it was a word revealing God’s deepest heart; ““You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Gen 2:17).

No doubt when Adam and Eve first heard this loving warning they accepted it by faith, but the integrity of every faith commitment needs to be tested in order to go deep into our hearts. Such testing required that Eve hear a rival voice to the voice of God.

The entry of Satan into Eden was a divine opportunity for Adam and Eve to speak out God’s commanding word to the devil in a way that would banish temptation from the earth forever.

Instead of rebuking evil Eve listened to the voice of Satan and Adam listened to the voice of his wife (Gen 3:12ff.).

Ever since this fall we have all been seduced into thinking that we have authority to speak on our own behalf rather than uniting our voices with the voice of our Creator (2 Cor 11:3).

 Fallen people love to hear their own thoughts above the voice of God.

In western society in particular people glory in their ability to speak up for themselves, go deeper however and underneath this self-confidence is the knowledge that every voice will be silenced by death; this is the shame no one can avoid (Gen 3:7-8 cf. John 5:44).

Shame

What I sensed in the workshop last week is that shame is so ever-present that we often fail to recognise its power.

When the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 disciples at Pentecost they were all inspired to testify to Jesus with one mouth and voice (Acts 2:4). They all spoke out because they had experienced a “weight of glory” and like all creatures in the presence of God could not keep silence about his might and majesty (2 Cor 4:17; Eph 5:18-20; Isa 6:3; Rev 4-5 etc.).

Shame is the inner witness of our loss of the glory and beauty of God as sinners.

Passivity and silence about spiritual things is a sure sign of a weight/cloak of shame lying over a group.

In an age of church consultants, intense theological training and the professionalization of ministry most believers have given away to religious experts their glorious freedom to speak up for Jesus. Anyone who has the conscious or unconscious thought, “You know what I don’t know.” will feel uninspired and rendered mute.

When I was lecturing I would hear things from students like; “Is it alright to ask a question?” or “I know this is probably a stupid question…” I had to teach my students that whatever knowledge or wisdom I had from God existed for them and it was for their glory not for their embarrassment (cf. 2 Cor 1:6; 4:15; Eph 3:12).

When we speak of the Church finding its voice, which is another way of speaking about revival, we are speaking of the people of God being freed from the depths of a deception that has long strangled them.

But silence is not the only fruit of shame. Whilst some fall silent others cannot keep silence.  

Pride

 By its very nature shame always tries to cover itself up.

Adam and Eve began with fig leaves and human history is saturated with self-inspired ideas about life’s meaning.

If we can persuade ourselves and others that our ideas about spirituality and morality are true we feel important. Anyone who thinks, in the least way, “I know what you don’t know.” has an arrogant heart that God opposes (Mark 7:21-22; 1 Pet 5:5).

We find it so difficult to let go of our conviction that we can rightly judge right and wrong for ourselves because we are creatures of pride.

Underlying all inability to listen ONLY to the Lord is pride.

Leaving aside the empty utterances of the world which carry no weight of glory I sometimes think of the billions of words spoken by preachers who think they know what they are saying but whose testimony seems to have so little effect on their hearers (Eph 5:6-7).

Self-confidence concerning morality and spirituality manifest a spirit that is the exact opposite of Christ; this spirit is intensifying inside and outside the Church today and finds perfect expression in the speech of “the beast…given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words” (Rev 13:5; cf. Ezek 28:17; 1 Tim 3:6). We all suffer from pride and to deny this would be prideful.

Sometimes God embarrasses us when we least expect us.

We were visiting some of Donna’s relatives recently when someone remarked that we had been given a car as a gift; something moved me to say that in fact we had been given both our cars. All of a sudden I felt terribly convicted because I could sense I was suffering from spiritual pride; which would have to be the worst sort of pride of all.

Whether shame shows its fruit in silence or prideful speech such things go so deep and are so culturally a part of life that only one person can give us a pure heart and clean lips releasing our voices to testify of the mighty works of God. Only Jesus can deliver us from the impotency of Christian testimony in Australia today (Acts 2:11).

The Voice of the Son of God

While much of human life is an inner dialogue swinging between “You know what I don’t know.” and “I know what you don’t know.” Jesus never compared himself to others (2 Cor 10:12-13 cf. John 5:44).

He always spoke the words of God because he listened only for the voice of the Father (John 3:34).

Satan’s voice tried to tempt Jesus to be somebody in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11) but he was unashamed to testify “the Father is greater than I am” (John 14:28). “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10).

Great as his works were Christ humbly knew the limits of his earthly words. 

One of the greatest miracles of Jesus occurred when he stood at the tomb of Lazarus and “cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”” The man who had died came out” (John 11:43-44). But Lazarus would grow old and die again (cf. John 12:9-11).

Jesus however prophesied of a coming time when his voice would fully bear the weight of the glory of God; “v.28 for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice v.29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29).

Part of the mystery of Christ is that his voice could not attain the authority to issue in a new creation until his obedience was perfected through the suffering of the cross (Heb 2:10; 5:7-9). When Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus he intentionally spoke aloud free from all self-consciousness, “v.41Father, I thank you that you have heard me. v.42 …you always hear me,” (John 11:41-42), but on the cross however he must enter into a state of not being heard by God at all.

Whilst sinful voices were speaking so loudly against Jesus as he was dying in his heart he was listening only for the voice of the Father. But heaven was silent, sacrificed for our unwillingness to listen to God Christ is totally cut off from the Father’s words (2 Cor 5:21).

If muteness and pride are our sinful responses to shame Jesus will bear our sin in a spirit which is the exactly opposite way (1 Pet 2:24).

In contrast to our muteness he “cries out with a loud voice” and in contradiction to our know-all pride he testifies of ignorance, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). This is the perfection of the humility of the voice of the Son of God but it came at great cost.

Since for Jesus the source and substance of everything beautiful and glorious in the world is the word of his Father being cut off from God’s voice is an experience of untellable horror.

To all those who saw the crucifixion in the flesh; “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2). But in dying Jesus was in fact being glorified just as he had been promised by the Father.

v.27Now is my soul troubled…‘ v.28 …Father, glorify your name.Then a voice came from heaven:I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” v.29 ….Jesus answered, v.31…Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. v.32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.v.33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”. 

John 12:27-33

The silence of the Father at the cross seemed to human eyes conclusive evidence that Jesus was no true Son of God (Matt 27:40), but the witness of the true character of the crucified Christ is his resurrection from the dead “by the glory of the Father” Rom 6:4.

Now exalted to the right hand of God Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God…and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Acts 2:33; Heb 1:3).

Christ is the Word through whom the world was created, by which it is preserved and through which all things are moved to their appointed goal (John 1:1ff; 1 Cor 8:6).

Today the Word of Christ radiates the glory and beauty of God through everything.

This is why the holy angels who live close to the throne of God and of the Lamb in heaven cry out in unison;

““Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!””  (Isa 6:3; John 12:41; Rev 5:13).

 

 Since people on earth cannot hear the heavenly angelic witness it is the call of the Church to bring this testimony to the world (Rev 5:9-10).

The Glory of Christ’s Voice in the Church

To carry “the testimony of Jesus” is much more than to tell a few people that they need to be saved, it involves bringing utterances of the wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing and power of Christ to every dimension of society (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11).

That was the purpose of the conference I attended last week and why it was attended by politicians, lawyers, business people, medical and military personnel and so on (Rev 1:2, 9; 12:17; 19:10; 20:4).

Here is Paul’s vision of the Church’s service of Christ. In exhorting the Colossians;

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Col 3:16

he has a vision of a united voice that cannot be contained in the four walls of the Church but spills out into all the dimensions of life that were originally created for the Lordship of Jesus (Eph 2:10; Col 1:16). The voice of Jesus needs to be heard everywhere speaking to everyone from business leaders to barmaids; this is not happening across our culture because the voice of the Lord is being bottled up inside the walls of the church.  

 One of our problems is that a minority of Christians are asking expectantly to hear the voice of Jesus as we gather week by week.

This shows that few believe in practice that the voice of the Son of God is an exceedingly glorious beautiful sweet and safe voice (SoS 2:14; John 10:27).

Despite all appearances hope for our perishing depraved society consists in the glory and beauty of Christ’s life radiating through the gathered people of God into the world. As the Bride of Christ his Church should be radiant but we are rarely seen shining with such splendour (Eph 5:23 cf. Rev 20).

I listened attentively when a friend made a spontaneous comment about the leader of a church she was visiting, “Last time I visited here x looked radiant, now they look tired.” From the outside the Church looks tired and irrelevant; only 1 in 4 Australians believe the Church can help meet their spiritual needs.

To quote some recent research, ““The community is now able to meet spiritual needs through yoga, through listening to uplifting music, attending a motivational seminar, reading a book….That’s where Australians have moved to.1)http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/church-seen-irrelevant-australians-lives-new-survey

We need to confess we are in desperate need of “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20).

The shame, silence and pride which are paralysing the progress of the kingdom of God through the Church into the world is rooted in deep deception.

Most Christians have given away their glory; Eve gave false glory to the serpent by listening to his voice, Adam falsely honoured Eve by following her example and we behave as if the Church were a hierarchy with only the higher ranks given vision and authority to speak in the name of Christ.

The truth is that you cannot dilute the true testimony of Jesus; in my language, “The quality of the testimony of Jesus is indivisible.” When Paul speaks of, “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” he means every Christian has as much a testimony to Christ’s glory, beauty and authority as any other believer (Col 1:27).

It is time we accepted with true humility that every tongue that speaks the name of Jesus in the presence of witnesses is glorious and beautiful in the sight of God (cf. Rom 10:15).

Let me use an illustration from the conference.

About 30 years ago one of the organisations that was formed to promote the rights of women to abort their children was called Emily’s List. This network has been highly successful in changing legislation in western nations.

Much more recently some Christians were moved by God to set up a media and support network dedicated to preserving the lives of unborn children.

Their organisation is called Emily’s Voice, a voice for the unborn. The Emily’s Voice videos we saw at the conference showed very ordinary working class people speaking out of how they decided against the odds to keep their babies.

They spoke what can only be described as beautiful words of deep spiritual authority. (https://www.emilysvoice.com/).

In a society whose conscience has become “seared” by so much godless propaganda (1 Tim 4:2) it is this sort of speaking with glory and beauty, rather than telling people they are “wrong” and we are “right” that can change hardened hearts.

Conclusion

When best-selling author Stephen Covey penned these words he struck a note that has resonated not only in the world but tragically also in the Church:

There is a deep, innate, almost inexpressible yearning within each of us to find our Voice (unique personal significance) in life….: When you engage in work  That taps your talent That fuels your passion That rises out of a great need in the world That you feel drawn by conscience to meet, Therein lies your Voice, your calling, your soul’s code.”

by Stephen Covey

At first hearing this sounds good, but the centre and substance of this quotation about humanity finding its voice is exactly the same as that proposed by Satan in the Garden, “It’s all about you.”!

This is a demonic version of finding our voice. (James 3:14-16).

The voice which we must seek today is not your voice or my voice, it is not the voice of a spiritual general or great apostle or reformer, in my opinion the Western nations can no longer be revived by figures such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Booth or Graham, the one voice, the only voice we must be seeking with our whole hearts is a crucified and risen voice (1 Cor 1:13).

This voice alone has the power of eternal life (John 6:68).

The good news is that since every believer has been spiritually crucified and raised with Christ the beauty and the glory of the voice of Jesus can be heard speaking through the whole Body of Christ (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20; 5:24; Eph 2:6; Col 3:1).

Not only speaking to one another inside the Church but radiating into every the spheres of arts, entertainment, media, politics, law, health, sport, business, education etc..

Only a vision of this magnitude is capable of turning the tide against the surge of evil that is flooding our nation.

One reason this is not happening is that the vision of many pastors involves maintaining their monopoly on speaking with authority amongst the people of God; most Christian leaders are afraid of losing control.

When the Spirit gives utterance to all the people of God Jesus alone is Lord of the Church (Acts 2:5; 1 Cor 12:3; Eph 5:18-20).

One great deficiency stands between the mess we are in and a grass roots renewal of Christ-centred spirituality in Australia; we need more humility.

In his self-emptying Jesus became the one place where the wrath of God was turned away from a shameful, proud and guilty humanity (2 Chron 32:26; Rom 3:25; Phil 2:5ff).

Repentance and deep humility will be provoked amongst God’s people in Australia not when we have a recognise our failures but when we have a revelation from heaven of the majesty of all our voices in Christ, that all we say for Jesus is already penetrated by his eternal glory and beauty (cf. Rom 2:4). 

Today the Spirit is seeking a people who have only one passion, to hear the voice of the Son of God in and through each other for the sake of the salvation of the world.

May we belong to such a people; “Lord, let us hear your Voice” (Luke 9:35).

References   [ + ]

Living Repentance

Personal Matters

Two people attending a shared prayer time recently had been independently drawn to the same passage during the week; “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess 2:13).

Despite the usual Christian experience the words of Jesus which are “spirit and life” cannot lay dormant in our lives (John 6:63).

The source of the disconnection between the continuing working of God’s Word in us and our feeling that the Lord is absent lies in the state of our hearts. Jesus described a sort of person who produces a hundred-fold fruitfulness, “those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:14-15).

This describes a mature heart filled with the Holy Spirit as a state of life (Deut 34:9; Luke 4:1; Acts 6:3, 5; 11:24).

The ongoing union between the Word and the Spirit is the Christian life as God intended it to be, however rare it may be amongst us.

A key to overcoming our spiritual poverty lies in considering how the Thessalonians received the Christian message, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (1 Thess 1:4). The fruit of the ongoing energy of the Word is that “you turned from idols to serve the living and true God” (1:10).

Central to consistent Christian growth is deep repentance; turning away from sin towards God (1 Ki 18:35; Isa 55:7; Luke 22:32; Acts 3:19; 14:15; 20:21). This seems clear enough, but to quote an exasperated pray-er, “The pastors today don’t preach repentance.

The current unpopularity of repentance is surely a sign that we have taken our eyes off Jesus as himself the ever active living Word of God.

At Work in Jesus

The unveiling of the deepest mystery of repentance comes when Jesus submits to John’s “baptism into repentance” in our place (Luke 3:3). From here on Christ was always turning away from our sin towards the Father on our behalf (Matt 4:1-11).

His first public message pivoted on repentance, ““The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.””, because he considered turning back to God an action full of goodness, excellence and wisdom (Mark 1:15). Unlike so many believers whose consciences are not clear, the Lord spoke of the need to repent without any sense of self-consciousness (Luke 5:32; 13:1; 24:47).

His very presence was powerful enough to provoke tears of repentance, but however profound such effects were they were limited in space and time (Luke 7:37-38; 22:61-62).

With complete insight Jesus taught that the scattering abroad of repentance depended upon his death; “v.23The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. v.24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24).

Jesus is the perfect penitent in our place and in his death the dynamic nature of godly repentance is fully revealed.

Hebrews explains that “through the eternal Spirit (Jesus) offered himself without blemish to God,” (Heb 9:14). This means that the Spirit was empowering Christ the Word through Gethsemane his trial and the cross.

This union of Spirit and Word is most intensely reflected in the most powerful utterances of Christ in prayer, “Abba, Father…Father, forgive…” uttered during the passion (Mark 14:36; Luke 23:34).

The Word was working powerfully in the suffering of Jesus even if no one believed it. (The cry of dereliction (Mark 15:34) is no exception, for this lament is exactly what sinful humanity should always have offered to God.) The action of the Spirit in the death-and-resurrection of Jesus means that a great work was happening even when it seemed God was absent.

Jesus is the perfection of “the honest and good heart” that “bear fruit with patience” in one hundred fold fruitfulness (Luke 8:14-15).  When repentance is viewed through the lens of the cross it is an alive, active, dynamic work of God.

At Work in Us

If you ever feel like there are dead partsof your life where God’s word is not working, in your marriage, family, finances, health, spirituality…then the therapy you need is repentance. There is nothing as living and active as the presence of the word of God in repentance because returning to God is a transition from death to life initiating the new creation through a share in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Heb 4:12-13).

Where popular Christianity treats repentance as if it were a dead work marginal to praise and prosperity it is actually “the secret of the joy-filled life” (Schlink). Many of today’s pastors avoid preaching repentance do so because they refuse to believe that God wants us to die. But, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer); not die alone, but die in fellowship with Jesus! (Phil 3:10; Col 2:20)

The current crisis in the Church over repentance has come because we have separated turning to God from the life of Christ. Repentance has a bad press because it is treated as if it were something we do whereas in scripture repentance is a gift of union with Jesus’ saving life-work (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2Tim 2:25).

The shunning of repentance in language and action across much of today’s Christianity reflects a fear that by acts of repentance we will somehow lose out, have a death experience, without experiencing gain, have a resurrection experience. Yet Jesus promised, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35). Fears associated with repentance reflect a deep and serious deception because underlying them is a denial that the gospel of Christ is always at work in us.

Conclusion

Hebrews lists “repentance from dead works” as an “elementary teaching” on the path to maturity (6:1).

This means that where repentance has become a stumbling block maturity in Christ- likeness impossible. This is exactly the state of Western Christianity as we know it. Deep down our hedonistic pleasure loving society has so corrupted the mainstream Christian conscience with the message of an easy life that we have lost faith that there is a “godly grief (that) produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,” (2 Cor 7:10).

We are lacking mature fathers/mothers with a deep experience of the faith who “rejoice” when their spiritual children are “grieved into repenting (2 Cor 7:9). Those places in our lives where we feel that our lives are dull and dead have a purpose, that we might individually and together ask for the gift of repentance (2 Tim 2:25).

Such things are always the first step in revival, and they come in only one way; ““And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zech 12:10; John 19:37; Rev 1:7).

If a vision of Christ crucified cannot induce in us repentance, all hope for resurrection joy is lost from this generation (Luke 24:41).

How ironic and terrible that we live in an age in Western history when the world is calling on the Church to repent of her sins. May Jesus have mercy on us all. And soon please!

The Way

On the Journey with Jesus 4:

Introduction

The popular approach to the theme of being On the Journey with Jesus emphasises Christ as a loving companion and guide to me on my life journey.

Jesus is someone who listens to my prayers and satisfies my deepest needs.

This approach reflects the self-centeredness of our age.

The biblical truth about the human journey is that it not my journey with a place for Christ but Christ’s journey with a place for me.

Jesus is someone who answers our prayers and satisfies our deepest needs because his prayers and needs were first of all met by the Father.

John says this about Christ; “Jesus, knowing…that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3).

Jesus own personal journey was a trip from being with the Father in heaven entering into our world and returning back to the Father (cf. John 1:1, 18; Phil 2:5-11).

On our journey with Christ:

HE IS LEADING US OUT OF TIME INTO ETERNITY.

Whereas today’s popular spirituality has more to say about the trip than its destination, Jesus was focussed on the goal of his life journey as returning to the eternal glory of his Father (John 17:5).

All the works of Jesus, his saving presence and healing and delivering power were designed to illuminate the character of the Father and motivate men and women to join him in his journey back to the fullness of the Father’s love in heaven (John 5:19-20; 10:38; 14:11)

The Way to the Father

In words which are unpopular today Christ said, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

ONLY JESUS IS:
“THE WAY TO THE FATHER”, “THE TRUTH OF THE FATHER” and “THE LIFE OF THE FATHER”.
The song we heard from Keith Green (“You Are The One”) is an authentic expression of his own life journey. Green, who came to Christ from a background that mingled Judaism, Christian Science and hippy love, authentically testifies that every human being has been totally lost, repeatedly lied to and spiritually dead (Eph 2:1).

It is only Jesus who brings us complete guidance, absolute truth and eternal life by being the Way back to God. I was walking in the park the other day and I struck up a conversation with one of the “dog people”. After a while of sharing her many painful needs she said, “I am dying inside”. This lady was once a church-goer and Bible reader, she had no problem talking about Jesus, but when she kept talking about “God”, “God”, “God” I knew her great need for comfort and strength would only come when she joined with Jesus in his return to the Father. She was lost because she was Fatherless. With his sole desire to obey the Father and lead others to the Father Jesus is the Way. The paradox of the gospel is that for Jesus to put us on the Way he must lose his way.

Christ said he had come “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

To save us all and set us on the path to the Father Jesus needed to do more than mighty miracles and marvellous words.

He needed to take upon himself all our lostness and disorientation; this is the work of the cross.

Jesus’ terrible cry; ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) is the crisis point of his human journey, and it is a crisis about where he is going.

Bearing all our sinful confusion Christ loses all consciousness of himself as the Son who is the Way to the Father, his life journey seems bereft of all purpose and identity (2 Cor 5:21).

But the climax of the cross is not lostness, when Jesus prays these words with his final breath we know he has recovered his place as the Way to the Father; ““Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

The following resurrection and ascension of the Son back to the Father completes the journey he came to make on our behalf (John 20:17; Rom 1:4).

The claim that Christ is the Way to the Father is fiercely opposed by non-Christian spiritualities.

   HOW MANY WAYS   

People today love stories about self-discovery because that’s what they long for themselves.

Eat,_Pray,_Love_–_Elizabeth_Gilbert,_2007After a painful divorce, in 2006 Elizabeth Gilbert1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Gilbert wrote her memoirs of a journey around the world called, “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia”2)http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/books/eat-pray-love/. It quickly sold 10 million copies was on New York Times best sellers list for nearly 4 years and became a motion picture. It was a great hit because it promised “the path to the vibrant, fulfilling life you’ve dreamed of.”

One-Way

As the word “Pray” in the title of her book indicates Gilbert is a very spiritual person, but her spirituality is an expression of the popular pluralism which says there are many ways to God.

John Yates

To illustrate this let me quote some words from an interview between Canon Frank Sheehan3)http://www.claremont.perth.anglican.org/community/clergy/canon-frank-sheehan/ the chaplain at Christ Church Grammar and a RC nun.

Sheehan cites her words with approval;

“There’s no one way (to spiritual realisation) as far as I am concerned. From the top of the mountain you can look down and see many paths (to the summit) it’s the journey that matters. I start with my own experience.”

Canon Frank Sheehan

This form of spirituality is totally back to front because it puts ‘ME’ rather than Jesus at the centre of everything.

The True journey of life is not my experience with a place for Jesus but Jesus’ experience with a place for me. Only as we share Jesus’ journey can he reveal to us our true identity.

What about this image of a spiritual mountain from whose summit we can see the many paths to God.

There is a spiritual mountain but only one person has ever reached its peak; only the resurrected Jesus could say, “‘I am ascending to my Father and…my God…’”” (John 20:17).

Founders of other religions point people to a “way”, perhaps in the Koran, or the noble eight fold path of the Buddha and so on; but only God’s only Son pronounced he was the Way to the Father (John 3:16).

The way to God is not an abstract theological discussion.

Debate has been raging recently in America where a lecturer in a Christian College (Wheaton) was stood down for stating that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God”. Christians and Muslims both believe that there is one Creator God who speaks through his prophets will raise the dead judge all people and send some to paradise and others to hell.

But do they worship the same God?

The Dome of Rock in Jerusalem (Al-Aqsa mosque) is the third holiest site in Islam, inscribed on its walls are words drawn from the Koran; “The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God….So believe in God and His messengers, and say not ‘Three’ – Cease!…God is only One God.

Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son.” It makes no sense to say that the followers of a religion which denies that God is Father and Jesus is his Son worship the same Lord as Christians.

Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Way to the Father is not on the same journey as we are.
I-Am-the-Way-Truth-Life

Jesus warned about the popular wide and easy way that leads to destruction and the unpopular hard and narrow way that leads to life (Matt 7:13-14).

The apostles took Christ at his word.

When preaching to the followers of other faiths in Athens Paul explained why we must believe in Jesus as the Way to heaven; v.30“God overlooked people’s ignorance…in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. v.31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”” (Acts 17:30-31).

The stamp of divine approval on every aspect of the human journey is on the life of only one person, Jesus of Nazareth, only Christ so totally pleased the Father as to be raised from the dead into everlasting life. So far this sermon sounds very individualistic, but there are community dimensions to being on a journey with Jesus.

   AGREED   

There is a scene in the TV series The Tudors4)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tudors where King Henry VIII is standing in the grounds of one of his palaces and says to a companion, “Walk with me.” When the king says “Walk with me” we would expect every one of his subjects to obey him and allow him to set the tune of conversation on the journey.

Our King is Jesus and we should expect that Christians on their journey together with Christ would function as a tight knit community. Churches however are often known for power plays, internal politics and personality clashes.

The prophet Amos says, “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3).

Moving in the same direction is not a matter of agreeing about every point of theology, morality, ministry or liturgy; the non-negotiable point of agreement is mutual submission to the will of Christ.

His words are clear, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matt 18:19).

If the members of a church are agreed in their submission to Christ his promise will be true in our experience, ““anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12).

If we are not seeing Christ’s works in our midst; healings, salvations, deliverance from demonic powers, it must be that we are not in close agreement in our journeying with Jesus.

I am reminded of a scene from a film where a group of warriors in scattered formation was approaching a rival troop and one by one the soldiers on the outside of the pack were being picked off by enemy arrows.

When the soldiers closed ranks and joined shields the arrows could not get through.

Spiritual warfare is like natural warfare. Paul exhorts the Church; “In all circumstances, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Eph 6:16).

It’s time to take the shield of faith for others and clump together on the journey with Jesus recognising that our enemy is never another Christian but always the devil (Eph 6:12).

Early this morning the Lord started to speak to me about these things with some clarity.

There are two father figures in the Bible, God the true Father and the false father who is the devil (John 8:44.)

In the presence of the true Father these words come true “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Col 3:13).

In the presence of the lying father (Satan) there is gossip, rumour, innuendo, accusation and condemnation which give birth to embarrassment, shame, fear, anxiety, a muted spirit, depression and confusion.

All these very earthly things paralyse the power of the presence of the kingdom of God (James 3:14-16).

Where the presence of the true Father is manifest from heaven there is always love, joy, peace, victory and boldness in the things of God (James 3:17-18; 1 John 5:4).

Week by week in our service we say together;

Send us, we pray, in the strength of this meal, to tell the Good News to neighbours and strangers with creative words and compassionate service, walking the way to Christ.

These are great words, but how many unchurched people are being drawn in to join us “walking the way to Christ”? 

As a total community we are struggling to walk closely together in spiritual fellowship because we have yet to learn the true meaning of “fellowship”.

The New Testament word for “fellowship” (koinonia) does not mean “sharing”, but “having a common share”.

The common share we have is not being of the same race, gender, social, educational or economic status, it is not being Australian or Anglican, it is not moral character, spiritual gifting or Bible knowledge, the one eternal thing we have in common is a joint share in the life of Christ (Rom 8:17).

The Christ in whom we share has travelled the human journey on our behalf and brought it to successful completion for us all by returning to the Father.

In Christ there are no spiritual superiors or inferiors.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Rom 14:4).

Only in the light of this revelation of a God-given equality in Christ can believers stay close together on the rough road that leads to eternal life. If the journey is so difficult and so opposite to all our self-centred desires how do we get others to join us on the journey?

   TESTIMONY   

We must have confidence that at the end of the journey we will share in the everlasting joy of the Father; Hebrews exhorts us, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2).

Every person knows that their earthly journey will end in death; but then what?

In the last week the topic of life beyond death has come up with people repeatedly so it must be something the Lord wants to speak to us about.

The apostle Paul approached death with boldness and excitement; “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord… v.8 Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:6, 8 cf. Phil 1:21-23).

It is not that Paul had a miserable life from which he wanted to escape, but the thrill of reaching the end of the journey by being with Jesus and his heavenly Father was overwhelming. This is our call too.

Our authority to speak about the journey of the Christian life to others, including going to heaven, flows from our own desire to depart from this life and be with Christ.

The goal of the spiritual journey is the key to every aspect of the journey.

But not everyone is on the same journey.

   CONCLUSION   

The Bible speaks of two eternal destinies at the end of life’s journey; the goats join the devil in hell and the sheep of Jesus share heaven with his Father

Matt 25:31-46.

Friends, when was the last time a neighbour, relative, workmate or friend said, “I want to go where you are going”?

At the level of our church, when was the last time a totally unchurched person asked to join with us on the Way?

To the degree that an individual or a congregation manifests the triumph of love over hostility, of Christ over Satan, of heaven over hell, to that degree people will join Jesus on the way to heaven and be added to the church (Acts 2:47; 1 John 3:8).

Tragically, Satan has successfully disabled the gifts and presence of God amongst us so we are not regularly seeing people turn to the Lord.

What then can we do?

It is time to take our eyes off earthly things/people and be united in pressing on “to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Phil 3:14).

No one can arrive at the destination where Christ is in heaven unless they have personally heard and responded to his call to receive him as Lord and obey him in whatever he says.

The human journey out of time into eternity is not about a personal path of self-discovery nor even about discovering who we are as St Mark’s/Church on the Rise; it is about the revelation of Jesus as the Way to the Father.

This must be our sole passion and this must be, for Christ’s sake, our united prayer.

Preached at St Mark’s 24th Jan 2016

References   [ + ]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Gilbert
2. http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/books/eat-pray-love/
3. http://www.claremont.perth.anglican.org/community/clergy/canon-frank-sheehan/
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tudors

Reformation, Sunday 

PERSONAL MATTERS

Recent encounters have challenged me to comment on the shape of Sunday church services i.e. liturgies1)The English word “liturgy” derives from a Greek word for public service and is generally used for a set order of congregational worship e.g. in Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches..

First, some observations at a church we visited last week, then a meeting with a devout Christian disturbed by the form of service in his own congregation.

Time changes us.

As a young Pentecostal Christian I would never have opted to attend services that were so unspiritual as to be scripted from a book. Soon however I was left without a choice; through living on campus at an Anglican theological college I was compelled by college rules to attend Sunday chapel.

A little reflection made me quickly realise that all churches are liturgical.

Contemporary congregations generally adopt an unwritten liturgy that looks something like:

  • welcome
  • opening prayer
  • songs
  • sermon
  • offering
  • songs
  • closing prayer.

Even in my original Pentecostal congregation the expression of the charismatic gifts was in a fixed place after the preacher. Even if all churches are liturgical the contemporary structure of services in our most influential (megachurches) raises some issues of deep concern.

We are witnessing a new generation of Christians who do not know the Lord’s Prayer by heart.

Whereas repeating the Creeds shaped the minds of generations about Trinitarian orthodoxy today younger converts in trendy congregations have no idea what “Three in One” means!

 
By pronouncing, “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name” ancient liturgies lift our minds from earth heavenwards, popular worship services are focussed on our emotionality (cf. Col 3:1-3).

My main concern is whether our Sunday meetings image the shape of the life of Christ.

WHERE IS JESUS?

What I found fascinating about the church we visited last Sunday was its centring on the Bible. After a single song and brief welcome the entire first chapter of Mark was read followed by an expository sermon on this passage.

Everything after that, the communion, prayers and singing was subordinated to the profile of Scripture.

Two observations sprung to mind as I attended that meeting, the primary witness to Christ is scripture but Jesus is not to be equated with the words Bible.

Conservative Bible-centred churches do have a problem, but the dominant pattern in most large churches is far more grievous.

Here the peak point of participation is likely at the climax of a long period of singing which sets the mood the congregation for the sermon.

The address will not be a structured exposition of scripture but a motivational story line in sync with the choruses that stirred the emotions of the people.

Biblical illustrations and texts are likely used to support the plausibility of the sermon rather than being its foundation.

In such churches the offering talk will be about the benefits of our “giving back to God” and when communion happens it will focus on our ability to “remember Jesus”.

Almost certainly there will be few public prayers; certainly none about matters of government, public justice and so on; this despite the scriptural injunction, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…” (1 Tim 2:1-2).

What ties this liturgical form together is not the shape of the life of Christ but

me-centredness
where
“ME”
is the moods and needs of the stressed individual Westerner.

Religion and culture are a powerful mix and one that can only be deconstructed by the power of the cross.

THE COMPASS OF THE CROSS

Paul exhorts “test everything” (1 Thess 5:21) and Luther pointedly remarked, “The cross is the test of all things.

Not that every sentence needs to use the word “cross” but the shape of our liturgies, oral or written, should reflect the cruciform (cross-shaped) character of God’s great saving plan.

The first step in God’s laying out his plan to bring creation to himself was the choice of Jesus to be the Lamb slain from before the world was made (Eph 1:9-10; 1 Pet 1:19-20; Rev 13:8).

This makes Christ’s death-and-resurrection the foundation of all salvation history.

In God’s dealings with lost humanity all of fallen space-time history has been laid on the cross, judged there and in Christ elevated as a new creation (John 19:30; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).

The scope of the revelation given us in the gospel unites heaven and earth (Rom 16:25-27).

Nothing we do in our public gatherings should diminish the extent of what God has accomplished in Christ; any stress on this-worldy peace and prosperity does exactly that, “Little children, keep yourself from idols.” (1 John 5:21; cf. 1 Cor 7:29-31).

The litmus test of every form of church service is the gospel; I delivered to you as of first importance…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

All questions about liturgies boil down to, does our singing, prayers, preaching, communion publicly portray the shape of the life of Christ (Gal 3:1)?

Here is a clear, if unpopular, example that embodies the shape of the gospel.

Corporate confession of sin followed by a declaration of forgiveness images the death-and-resurrection of Jesus who “was handed over to die because of our sins, and raised to life for our justification with God.” (Rom 4:25 cf. James 5:16).

Such gospel-centred actions continually remind us of our need for a Saviour and that Jesus has fully met this need. Run this litmus test at your own church next Sunday.

CONCLUSION

“THE CHURCH IS ALWAYS TO BE REFORMED” (Barth)2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesia_semper_reformanda_est.

This is as true now as it was during the Protestant Reformation or the Nazification of the German Church in Barth’s day.

Responding to the tangled shape of modern life where people are stretched by forces of family, finance, work and technology many orders of service have moulded ‘Jesus’ to meet our personal needs.

A mind set in complete contrast to what entertains us is called for.

Since creation is a platform for God’s glory (Calvin) we must inhabit a vision of our services as an encounter between heaven and earth where the Father beholds the Spirit-inspired worship of the standing-as-slain Lamb (Heb 12:18-24; Rev 1:10; 5:6-14; 13:6).

This is a God-centred vision of a new creation created through the gospel.

The gospel promise is that where the form of the death of Jesus is enacted his resurrection presence will be real (Rom 6:8; Phil 3:10).

“Reformation, Sunday”; two simple words, but through the lens of the cross they speak of a new spirit of seeing and enacting the cosmic drama of redemption.

Because of its cost the road of reform is a road less travelled; most will opt for a predictable Sunday routine that supplies a spiritual hit to get us through the week whilst leaving ME firmly in control.

Perhaps however a few readers of this article will desire to experience the great power of the gospel of Christ which left Paul breathless, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 2:16).

These few will no doubt suffer in seeking a reform of the religious systems of the day for the glory of God alone.

Such a cruciform life will certainly pass the test and bring great pleasure to our heavenly Father.

Is there anything else that matters?

References   [ + ]

1. The English word “liturgy” derives from a Greek word for public service and is generally used for a set order of congregational worship e.g. in Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches.
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesia_semper_reformanda_est

Celebrate Jesus

Personal Matters

I haven’t been in the most energised mood for the last couple of months, but I have learned that if I pray about how I feel a word will come to me which precisely describes my inner state.

In this case that word was “uninteresting”.

My listlessness over the last few weeks stems from an inner conviction that my life is without much interest to others, to myself or to God!

This may not be as trivial as it sounds, for whoever believes they are “uninteresting” will find themselves stripped of motivation and initiative in serving Christ.

Of course I know that being “interesting” is not a true spiritual value, but it points to much deeper currents at work within me that have something to say about Jesus and the Church.

Having just come through the festive period when worldly celebrations have been accentuated I can sense the Lord wanting to share something about true celebration.

If the essence of celebration is to highlight and intensify joyful appreciation of what is being celebrated then it is godly celebration of Jesus that will intensify our intimacy with him and release wellsprings of refreshment for the days ahead.

This teaching approaches the subject celebration from the foundation of coming to a greater revelation of Jesus’ own identity.

Celebrate Jesus

The famous prayer of St Brendan ends with, “Tune my spirit to the music of heaven, and somehow, make my obedience count for You.”1)https://www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/prayer-st-brendan-the-voyager/

For this article the act of obedience is celebration and the heart tuned to heaven beats in the rhythm of the simple but deep chorus, “Celebrate Jesus celebrate”.

Our eternity will be filled with celebrating the life of Christ; “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!”” (Rev 5:13). This is no new insight, but what is usually missed is that our never-ending praise will be a harmony with Jesus’ own celebration of his life as the incarnate Son of God.

The writer to the Hebrews shows profound understanding when he testifies of Jesus response to the Father; “God has anointed you (Jesus) with the oil of joy beyond your companions….I (Christ) will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation/church I will sing your praise.” (Heb 1:9; 2:12).

Jesus’ whole heart, soul, mind and strength are filled with a celebratory love for the Father.

This celebratory love is poured out in the Spirit on the Church. Sounds simple, but unless we strip away some of our cultural confusions we will misunderstand the character of Christ’s self-enjoyment.

Going into Koorong books recently Donna remarked that she didn’t want to get a grandson one of those “you are special” books but something which would of the great breadth of God’s love in creation (cf. Rom 11:33-36).

Today many churches are built on an individualistic self-oriented “you (singular) are special” message but this is not how Jesus saw himself.

Jesus never considered he was special in-himself but saw himself only in relation to the Father.

At this point I must become a little theological, for as a P/person Jesus possesses a divine-human consciousness that is absolutely unique.

In his mind Christ was simultaneously aware of two seemingly contradictory realities.

Firstly, that everything he experienced of the world, the sun, sky, people, food, drink etc. was there solely for him. Paul states this boldly about Jesus as God’s Son; “all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16).

Secondly, Jesus was aware that his own life belonged totally to the Father, “I live because of the Father” (John 6:57). As Son of God Christ is aware that creation has a place in him and as Jesus of Nazareth he knows he has a place in creation.

Christ’s unique identity is that he is fully present in this world (immanent)2)http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/immanent and fully beyond it (transcendent)3)http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/transcendent.

As both present and beyond he is the Mediator between the Almighty Father and a fallen world in desperate need of reconciliation with God (1 Tim 2:5; Mark 14:36).

In perfectly reconciling everything which was fallen back to God Jesus’ whole heart, soul mind and strength is filled with a celebratory love for the Father.

Overflowing with the pleasure of the Father Jesus’ overwhelming joy includes celebrating his saving life with us.  “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”” (John 16:24 cf. Heb 12:2).

This is why Jesus, whose life is both so unlike and so like ours, is the everlasting focus on our joyful worship.

What however might this mean in practice?

Fresh Revelation

Over the festive season I heard of a well known Christian killing himself, then last week I attended the very real funeral celebration of a believer.

The difference between these two modes of experiencing death is knowing who we are “in Christ”. 

Our understanding of our self-identity needs to follow Jesus’ sense of his identity.

As Jesus never considered he was special in-himself but saw himself only in relation to the Father our true identity is in Christ alone.

Every debilitating Christian experience of lowness, from the mood of uninteresting to suicide, flows from a miniaturised vision of the God-in-Christ to whom we belong.  A mini-Christ means a mini-Christian4)On this topic see; http://thecommonlife.com/files/books/Your_God_is_Too_Small.pdf.

This crisis of a severely reduced sense of Christian identity is the crisis we are facing.

Compare the petty visions for prosperity and churchianity that dominate the spirituality of our day with Paul’s cosmic vision of who we are in Christ; “all things are yours… the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor 3:21-23).

A proper vision of Jesus will super-stretch our spiritual appreciation of our own personal identity, v.9 “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him (Col 2:9-10).

The spontaneous result of a revelation of our identity in Christ will be….“Celebrate Jesus celebrate”; and in festively celebrating Jesus’ life we will enjoy all that he has done and made.

 
Such is “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).

Conclusion

Convicted by such insights I am seeking the Lord for new avenues for the godly celebration of Jesus. Not as some matter of mere personal piety but out of a deep need for new levels of energy to more freshly serve the Lord (Col 1:28-29).

The broader Church to which we all belong also needs to follow this path, for Christianity as we know it has plateaued in spiritual intensity and influence.

I believe the reason for this plateauing is that we have failed to come to terms with the deeper anguish of the cross.

As Jesus’ own ascension to joy came only through his “enduring the cross” as a P/person unaware of the full dimensions of his own identity, “My God…why have you forsaken me?””, so there are dimensions of the “fellowship of sufferings” that we have yet to embrace (Heb 12:2; Mark 15:34; Phil 3:10).

Certainly this includes a painful dying to all desire to be “interesting” or “special” in our own right.

Every Christ-ian is a remarkable person, but solely because we belong to Jesus.

As we choose day by day to “tune our spirits to the music of heaven” the power of Christ’s unique life will penetrate ever more deeply into our consciousness of who we are in him.

By faith alone I believe this will happen for many of us in the days of refreshment that lie ahead (Acts 3:20).

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/prayer-st-brendan-the-voyager/
2. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/immanent
3. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/transcendent
4. On this topic see; http://thecommonlife.com/files/books/Your_God_is_Too_Small.pdf

The End is Joy

Text: Mark 13.6.15 Zeph 3:14-20; Isa 12:2-6; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 21:25-28

Introduction

Preparing this sermon has stirred up a level of perplexity that takes my mind back to some events decades ago; more of that later. But when I first saw the lectionary readings for today I was excited because they are so tremendously uplifting; “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will rejoice over you with loud singing” (Zeph 3:17); v.3“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. v.4 And you will say on that day: Give thanks to the Lord…v.6 Shout aloud and sing for joy…for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Isa (12:3, 4, 6); v.4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. The Lord is near. v.6 Do not worry about anything (Phil 4:4-6); v.26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken….v.28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’ (Luke 21:26, 28).

All positive; but a famous theologian once said we should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The newspapers will tell you a depressing story about street crime, sex abuse, domestic violence, bushfires, sharks, economic woes, islands sinking through rising sea levels, and the constant threat of terrorism.

One of my emails this week asked:

WHAT MIGHT THE PERSECUTED HOPE FOR THIS CHRISTMAS?

“in Nigeria…Thousands of Christian families will be tearfully hoping for the return of their captive children and…hoping for a return to homes, churches and communities. Across Syria and Iraq, hundreds of thousands…displaced by Islamic jihad will be hoping for the same. Meanwhile, Christian prisoners…in Iran….on death row for alleged blasphemy in Pakistan and…in ‘black jails’ in China will…hope that they might be reunited with their families.” Finally the writer comments; “For the first time in my lifetime Christians in the largely post-Christian West may well be hoping their worship services and festivities will not be targeted by terrorists.

When people look at our lives which news source seems to be triumphing, the good news of the Bible or the bad news of the day?

Australians
Australians once were interested in being “good people” today

We mostly want to be “happy people”.

This is why more and more Australians see the services of the Church as irrelevant because how could Christianity possibly make life more pleasurable?

This common frame of mind reflects a:

THE JOY OF THE END

The famous theologian who told us to hold scripture in one hand and newspaper in the other also said; “the theologian who has no joy in his work is no theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thinking and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science.” (Barth). When the person on the street hears the word “theology”, “Christian” or “church” they usually don’t think “joy”, but the God of the Bible is essentially a God of joy.

When Paul tells the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Phil 4:4) he is exhorting us to share in the radiant joy of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s eternal plan is so radically different from the way people normally think about religion because it is a plan for pleasure; v.5 “God predestined to adopt us…by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This…gave him great pleasure….v.9 he has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfil his own good pleasure.” (Eph 1:5, 9). God created us in joy; v.30then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, v.31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” (Prov 8:30-31). When I think about my delightful grandchildren I have an insight into the infinite delight the Lord had in creating us to be his children. But how many grandparents make this connection?

Continuing this theme of God’s plan for joy, the Bible teaches the climax of history is a wedding celebration; “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:5); “Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honour to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself.” (Rev 19:7). We are the Bride and the Lord is preparing us to enjoy Messiah’s wedding banquet; v.6the Lord…will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. v.7 There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. v.8 He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.” (Isa 25:6-8 cf. 1 Cor 15:54).

Jesus said ““The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,” where all are called to join in the celebration (Mat 22:1-10 cf. 8:11). Followers of Jesus are to be big picture people. Sadness and sorrow might seem to reign in the world for a few thousand years but everything will end in joy. This was the experience of the early believers.

VITA, VITA, VITA.

In the catacombs under Rome is a Christian inscription; “Vita, Vita, Vita.” “Life, Life, Life”.

Whoever wrote this was bursting with the joy of the new creation in Christ (Neh 8:10; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).

Paul saw his ministry in terms of joy; he said to the Corinthians, “we don’t mean to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy” (2 Cor 1:24).

Everything the Church does must be directed towards God’s great End-goal, a universe full of joy. Yet when non-believers look at us they usually don’t think of Church as an extraordinarily happy place.

My favourite atheist philosopher challenged the Church of his time; “They would have to sing better songs for me to learn to have faith in their Redeemer; and his disciples would have to look more redeemed!” (Nietzsche).

To answer this challenge our lives need to be impacted by Jesus’ teaching in our Gospel reading for today.

The End through a Shaking

According to Christ things would get so bad “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world” (Luke 21:26).

The word for “fainting from fear” is the word for such a severe panic attack that a person literally stops breathing and thinks they are about to die; unfortunately the people I know who have had such attacks are Christians!

When circumstances are outwardly dire Christ prescribes;Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is drawing near.’” (21:28).

When things seem to be going bad in the world this should be a confidence booster for the people of God to go forward in confident hope that Jesus is coming back soon.

We are called to live in the spirit of the psalmist; “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” (v.7). As we lift our hearts towards Jesus in prayer and praise our heads will lift up too. Joy on the inside of a Christian, whatever the troubles on the outside, is a sign to a perishing world of the triumph of Christ’s life in us. 

James boldly says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (1:2) n.b not just persecution.

This joy is not ordinary circumstance-dependent human happiness, it is the supernatural joy of the approaching End.

It is sharing by faith in the joy which motivated Jesus to go to the cross; Hebrews says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:2).

Jesus knew that the more severe the shakings that were coming on his life the closer he was getting to returning to his Father.

At the End of the Day he knew that his final experience would be the joy of his heavenly Father’s perfect presence.

We are called to share in the shape of Jesus life experience.

A little later in the same chapter of Hebrews the writer says, v.26 “ (God) has promised,Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This v.27 …indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” (Heb 12:26-27).

Looked at through the lens of the cross the shaking of this world and its suffering are accelerating everything towards the End (cf. Rom 8:17-39).

Hardship is transformed into joy through mature faith.

I was talking to a returned missionary from Kazakhstan last Sunday, a nation where the church grew explosively in the 90’s, but then persecution came.

Those who thought following Jesus would increase ordinary earthly happiness fell away (Mark 4:16-17), but the mature believers in that country responded like the early apostles, who after being beaten “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name (of Jesus).” (Acts 5:40-41).

Donna and I were at a prayer meeting for the persecuted church earlier this year and there was a video clip of the congregation in Cave Church Cairo.

She spontaneously remarked, “You can see the depth of joy in the faces of the people.”

It’s not easy to follow Jesus in Egypt, you will experience discrimination at every level of society, Christian girls are kidnapped and at times churches are bombed.

However it is suffering for Christ that gives the believers there a sense of the joy of eternal things through the triumph of the cross and the Lord’s soon Return.

Paul’s exhortation, “Rejoice in the Lord always” is undergirded by his reminder “The Lord is near.”(Phil 4:4-5). Likewise, his words to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thess 5:16-18) reflect an end-time attitude that God’s triumph over evil in Christ is experienced most powerfully, not in the best of times, but in the worst of times.

Testimony

The sort of supernatural unconquerable joy in the midst of the shakings and terrors of this world is a powerful testimony to lost people whose only hope is in this perishing world (Eph 2:12). Zephaniah’s prophetic words in our first reading today; “The LORD your God…will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17) are true for us because the Father’s heart sings over Christ living in us.

Our meetings in Jesus’ name need to overflow with delight. The word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving”; something happy people do. The Lord’s Supper is the fulfilment of the Last Supper which was a prophetic pointer to the banquet of Messiah.

The grace of the Supper is meant to joyfully empower us as we travel to the eternal feast of the kingdom of God. Australians love parties, let’s invite them to the party that never ends.

I remember talking with someone who was involved in setting up men’s sheds in aged care facilities. He told me about meeting this old man who seemed to have nothing left living for.

But when he “invited him to the banquet” he became a Christian (Matt 22:9). One crucial reason why Alpha has been so successful is that it is accompanied by a free meal; which is a prophetic sign of the joy-filled banquet of the Messiah.

In the increasingly dark and scary days that lie ahead for our world (terrorism, water crises, refugees from Pacific islands) churches baptised in End-time joy will have increasing power to lead people to Christ.

Where is the Joy?

Mockers in Isaiah’s day  offered a taunt that could be spoken by many sceptics of Christianity today, “‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy’.”(66:5). I remember radical R.C. theologian Matthew Fox speaking to a packed audience in Christ Church Grammar chapel.

When he quipped, “The worst thing you can do to people is to invite them to church and bore them.” the whole place spontaneously broke into applause and shouts of approval because so many present felt that this was their own experience.

I am not asking whether you and I find church boring, but why mainstream society, and young people in particular, think this way!

The people of God are often fossilised, not primarily because our music is antiquated our liturgies incomprehensible and our preachers passionless, all of which is sometimes true, but because we lack Christ’s gift of End-time joy.

The Body of Christ lacks the joy that cannot be conquered by any evil circumstances because we are too attached to the things of this perishing world. (This can include religious forms cf. 2 Tim 3:5.)

Jesus speaks bluntly, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” (John 12:25 cf. 2 Pet 1:4).

Let me use on illustration.

When Donna was first diagnosed with her cancer I said to her, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to you? The worst that can happen to you is that you die and go and be with Jesus.

No doubt at that time Donna was thinking of her loving hopes and attachments to children, grandchildren and even to me!

Faced with death Paul is more spiritual than any of us, “I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me…But for your sakes I will remain alive for your progress and joy in the faith” (Phil 1:23, 25).

Even Islamic State has something to say about here and hereafter. In a decree published after the Paris bombings they said, ISIS ‘loves death like you love life’.

Their point was that those who truly seek God turn away from idols and are willing to sacrifice their present lives to get to the pleasures of Paradise (Sura 3:14; 14:3; 75:20; 76:27).

Christ’s way to convert the world is not through violence, but by manifesting a holy End-time joy that shows to people that there is something far more valuable than the passing affairs of this life.

Conclusion

The perplexity induced by preparing this sermon took my mind back to my reluctance to minister in the Spirit’s power in a traditional Anglican Church 30 years ago.

In the end I did however obey the Lord and that church experienced tremendous spiritual renewal and salvation.

Today the Lord is calling us all to a major change of mind.

We need to think about Christ’s Commission to bring the gospel to everyone from a new angle.

Before Nehemiah told assembled Israel, , “the joy of the LORD is your strength.”” he commanded them ““Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing.” (Neh 8:10).

Only if our hearts are overflowing with End-time joy can we persuasively communicate good news to a world full of bad news (Ps 23:5; Isa 66:10-11).

This is a great challenge to me personally.

I remember times of being in Church as a young Christian when my experience of the presence of Jesus made my heart feel like it was going to burst through joy and I would find myself in heaven.

Since then too much of life, especially too much of church life, has gotten on top of me.

Today I sense the Lord calling me/us to make a faith decision about the triumph of the cross; has Jesus really conquered all those dark and depressing things of the world which would rob us of his joy (Gal 4:15).

SINCE HE HAS CONQUERED WE ARE LEFT WITH BUT ONE CHOICE.

To seek a new awareness of Jesus that will concentrate, surpass and sustain all our past experiences of his presence so that we might become his triumphant joy-givers to a world that has no other hope.

This is his clear call today. Will We Obey Him?

The Greatest Terror

Introduction

Fear has become a part of our everyday life.

This time last year I was in a meeting with some older people in our area whose primary concern was street crime. One had recently been bashed by a young refugee outside the neighbourhood shops.

If you live in the bush you will have fears of fires, if you enjoy a swim you will be on the lookout for sharks.

Domestic violence is in all the news.

Parents won’t allow their kids to ride/walk to school for fear of sexual predators.

Many Christians are alarmed that the push for same-sex marriage will rob us of our religious freedoms.

Thousands marched in the last week to demand action at the UN Climate Change conference in Paris.

The fear of global warming touches people at all levels.

Here is a story told by a friend; “Hi John, The incident you mention was about 2007 when Alannah McTiernan was a Minister in the labour government. Whilst at a large pastoralist conference she walked up to the Department of Agriculture Climatologist and I and asked without any introduction “Are you afraid?” I assumed she had been reading a climate change book by Tim Flannery…. This reminded me of the words of Jesus that in the last days men’s hearts will fail them for fear of those things that are coming on the earth (Luke 21v26).”

Finally there is the terror of Islamic State.

The sheer ruthlessness of this group and its intense publicity machine seems to have left people feeling very uneasy.

Schools now have “lock down” drills to prepare for terrorist attacks. In the wake of the Paris attacks our own Prime Minister was exceptionally blunt; “protecting freedom….. is a global struggle …against those who seek…seek to assert some form of religious tyranny; a threat in the name of God but is truthfully the work of the devil”.

I expect most Christians responded to Malcolm Turnbull’s theological commentary positively because our thinking has not been sufficiently radicalised by the Holy Spirit in the way of the cross.

The word “radical” simply means “from the root”, a Christian who thinks things through from the roots recognises that “the devil is God’s devil” (Luther) and every theologian of the cross knows that it is the Lamb standing as slain who opens the scroll of heaven releasing the full range of physical and spiritual forces which terrify the inhabitants of the earth (Rev 5:6; 6; 13:7).

Today’s climate of fear provides a unique opportunity for the Western Church to renew her witness to this Jesus; but this will require a radicalisation of our spirituality by death and resurrection far deeper than that which can be achieved by any human power (Rom 12:1-2).

The Origin of Terror

Generally people treat fear as a bad experience, but Man was meant to fear God from the beginning.

When the Lord warned Adam, ““In the day that you eat of (the tree of knowledge) it you shall surely die”” his tone indicated the punishment of death was inconceivably horrible (Gen 2:17).

So when after their sin Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden…the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD” (3:8) they subsequently reported to God, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”” (3:9-10).

God’s presence was no longer delightful but excruciatingly painful.

Every awareness of the lost glory of God fills sinners with a deep sense of shame (Rom 3:23).

We can best understand what was lost through sin by looking at some scriptures which speak of the recreation of Paradise.

One such prophecy is in Isaiah, “[2] In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious….[5] the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. [6] There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” (Isa 4:2, 5-6 cf. Rev 7:15-17).

At the End God’s own glorious presence will protect his people from all possible harm.

The restoration of insight into “the beauty of the Lord” fills the people of God with safety and security (Ps 27:4; 90:1). This is the exact opposite of what was lost in Eden.

When God sentenced Adam and Eve for their sin he proclaimed a future of hard work, extreme pain in childbirth, conflict with wild creatures and finally the futility of death; “dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:15-19).

In our comfortable Western countries shielded by the benefits of the welfare state, with access to excellent health care and having lived in one of the most peaceful periods of world history we have forgotten our urgent need to be covered by God’s presence from the material and spiritual terrors of this world.

The radicalisation of my thinking about how God uses terror began with my conversion.

As a 20 year old I was suffering such severe paranoia that I could not walk down a public street so great was my fear of people.

Then the Lord sent a Bible into the house and I started to read it endlessly.

Soon I came under the most terrifying fear of hell; the words of Jesus became incredibly real to me; “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28).

Every day I would wake up thinking that if I was to die I would deservedly go to hell; it was terrible. But worse was to come. One day I was in such desperation I tried to enter a Christian meeting on the university campus, suddenly it was like there was a paralysing wall of terror between me and the meeting. I had to turn back.

The next week came around and the same demonically inspired wall of terror was there but the sheer terror of the Lord’s retribution and my need for urgent forgiveness got me through, and the rest is history.

There is a final/Apocalyptic terror from the Lord to end all finite terrors; it was the terror of not finding forgiveness that scared the hell out of me.

When Jesus prophesied of ““people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”” he meant the intensity of their fears would be so overwhelming that could see no purpose in the state of the world (Luke 21:26). This is the condition of our media and much of the Church today.

Evil’s Purpose

Secular commentators find radical Islam almost impossible to understand.

After the Sydney siege people rushed to redefine the terrorist as mentally ill.

After the Paris attacks media described the killers as members of an unintelligible insane death cult.

But scripture tells us, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12).

Only from our position seated in the heavenly places in Christ can we see that both militant Islam and aggressive Western atheism/secular humanism are in fact equally controlled by the same evil power which hates the glory and beauty God has destined for humanity in Christ (Ps 8; Eph 2:6, 9; Col 1:15; Heb 2:5-9).

To destroy the image of this glory and beauty is evil’s purpose.

When the Muslim armies conquered the Middle East and turned churches into mosques they first tore down the crosses then whitewashed all the images Jesus.

Islam most hates the notion that God the Word became a real flesh and blood human being and died on the cross (John 1:14).

This is the work of the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:1-3).

In the spiritual realm the power behind Islam that veils the beauty of the face of a woman is not simply patriarchal/misogynistic but understands that since “the woman is the glory of man” her beauty as a sign of the Bride of Christ must be covered (1 Cor 11:7; Eph 5:32).

Understanding Islamic terrorism as a means to deface the image of divine beauty in the world is straightforward; but how does satanic power work to destroy God’s glory and beauty in our Western world?

Abortion in our nations is defended on the grounds of a woman’s right to choose, but in the spiritual realm it represents a satanic desire to end development of the glory of a human life in the likeness of God. (Lev 18:21; Deut 32:17; 1 Cor 10:21).

The most effective way to oppose terror is through the true revelation of beauty.

In sponsoring TV ads showing the wonder of the emergence of the unborn child in the womb the Church in Toowoomba has had considerable success in bringing down the abortion rate in their city.

Light casts out darkness.

Same sex marriage activists portray Christians as “homophobic” terrorists opposed to the rights of gay people.

This campaign however is really about an attack on a deep spiritual mystery.

The author of Proverbs says, “[18] Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: [19] the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.” (30:18-19).

The mysterious sexual relationship between men and women implanted from the beginning of creation uniquely images something of the glory and beauty of the eternal marriage of Christ to the Church.

This is the spiritual beauty being attacked by the devilish forces promoting gay marriage.

The depth of spiritual crisis in Western culture first came across to me walking along the streets of Lausanne Switzerland some years ago.

The shops were full of such beautiful things but spiritually I felt as if I was surrounded by “beasthood” i.e. in the presence of the spirit of the antichrist (Rev 11:7; 13:1ff).

I was in great grief of heart as I could sense the destruction of souls all around me blinded by the material blessings of God apart from the saving knowledge of Christ the Blessed One (Mark 14:61; Acts 17:16; Rom 9:5).

Finally I saw something that nearly sent me out of my mind; I came across a fashion store called “Christ”.

I wrote in my prayer journal, “They have taken all that belongs to you, all your glory and beauty, even your name, FOR THEMSELVES. Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

This is Jesus’ great prayer from the cross; and it is to the cross we must go if our minds are to be radicalised concerning God’s purposes for terror in this world and the next.

Terror of the Cross

Since “fear has to do with punishment” as a sinless person Jesus had no earthly fears (Heb 4:15; 1 John 4:18). He went about destroying the works of the devil that inspire terror (Acts 10:38; 1 John 3:8).

Sickness, demonic powers and death itself were abolished (Matt 4:24; Mark 5:10; Luke 8:50) in his glorious covering presence where the weakest found shelter (Matt 11:28; John 1:14; 11:4, 40).

When men tried to kill him he walked unperturbed through their midst for his hour had not yet come (Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59; 10:31, 39).

Everything however changes in the shadow of the cross.

The Lord’s prayer in the Garden, ““if possible take this cup from me”” and his terrible cry,““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 14:36; 15:34) have only one explanation, the cross is the terror of God (Gen 35:5; Ex 15:16; Deut 4:34; Ps 53:5; Jer 49:5; Ezek 32:32 cf. Gen 18:12).

The cross is the place where the gloom and darkness of the Day of the Lord, the great End time/Apocalyptic judgement of God on the wicked, descends upon Jesus dying in our place separated from the all-covering presence of his Father’s glory (Amos 5:20; Mark 15:33).

All the terrors of hell are concentrated in the sacrifice of the Son of God.

As Isaiah prophesied, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isa 53:10).

This is a grief beyond measure.

The terror of terror is not suffering, it is suffering without a good or noble purpose, the terror of hell is not suffering forever, but suffering forever without a purpose. Cut off from the presence of his Father’s good, pleasing and perfect will this is the terror Christ must endure for us (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 5:21).

Jesus however was never passive, the deeper he entered into the terror’s humanity deserves at the hands of God the more powerfully he prays; ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” (Luke 23:34 cf. Luke 6:28).

Before mortal eyes, citing Isaiah again, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2); before mortal eyes the great satanic ambition of destroying the beauty and glory of God in his image in man seems finally accomplished.

But in the eyes of the Father this love so pure and beautiful that it is indestructible, immortal and triumphant. The death of Jesus issues in the beginning of the End of the world.

The soldiers who crucified Jesus were state terrorists commissioned to flog, mock, abuse and prolong the sufferings of their victims, but Jesus is no victim (Matt 27:26, 30-31).

When “Jesus…breathed his last… The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many …who had died were raised… 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Matt 27:50 ff.).

The terrorists have become believers in Jesus (Matt 14:33; 1 John 4:15) as the one through whom God has commenced the beginning of the End of the world by raising the dead.

This fear from heaven comes with the discovery of Christ’s empty tomb; “And they (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them…” (Mark 16:8; cf. Matt 17:6; Luke 24:5; 37).

The resurrection of the crucified Christ induces an awesome holy fear whose dimensions leave no space for any earth inspired terror.

I believe this explains the response of the crowd to Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost; “[23] this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. [24] God raised him up… [36] God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.[37] Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,”” (Acts 2:23-24; 36-37).

When the covering presence of God in Christ crucified-and-risen becomes real to sinners their greatest terror is that they might fail to find forgiveness in him.

Every other thought in the minds of the crowd, whether they would be rejected by their countrymen, as Jesus was, persecuted by the Romans, as Jesus was, went out of their heads.

Their preview of the End (cf. Joel 2:31 = Acts 2:19-20), their experience of God’s Apocalyptic terror, scared the hell out of them. What a glorious day!

The Terror of the Coming King

Spoiled by centuries of occupying a privilege the Western Church has lost sight of how radically threatening to the powers that be the Kingship of Jesus truly is.

Psalm 2, says this about Christ; “[1] Why do the nations rage…. [2] and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, [4] …the Lord holds them in derision. [5] Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, [6]…I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. [7] …The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. [8] Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession….[12] Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:1-2, 4-8, 12 ESV).

Jesus ruling presence naturally terrifies the rulers of the earth (Matt 3:17; Acts 13:33; Rom 1:4; Heb 1:2 cf. Rev 11:18).

This is his presence in the gospel; when the apostles entered Thessalonica the city was in uproar, ““These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”” (Acts 17:6-7).

The readers of the New Testament understood that the spiritual and material worlds could not be separated.

They understood that the blind rage of Herod in slaughtering the little boys of Bethlehem was supernaturally inspired over who was king of the Jews (Matt 2:1-8; 16-18; cf. Acts 4:25-26).

The early Christians knew that by refusing to bow the knee to Caesar they would stir up the demonic powers behind Roman rule who would work to annihilate them (John 19:12, 15; Acts 17:7; Rev 12 – 13).

The demonic forces driving Islamic State have no fear of the secular forces running the nations of the West.

Their great ambition is to drive the Christian witness from the Middle East forever and move on from there. Likewise the persecution of Christians in Europe and America over gay rights issues has one goal, to diminish witness to the glory of God in Christ. Where however the Church is faithful persecution empowers the testimony of Jesus.

Unafraid

After Islamic State drove many Christians from their homes in northern Iraq a reporter asked 11-year-old refugee Maryam: “What are your feelings towards those who drove you out of your home and caused you hardships?” She replied: “I won’t do anything to them, I will only ask God to forgive them.” She said: “In the Bible Jesus said to us, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am with you.’ And also, He said forgive others no matter who they are hating you. You have to forgive them.” “Jesus is my father, and He is my creator. I have no one else better than him. When ISIS drove us out of our home, His hand was on us and He saved us.” “The Holy Spirit gave me these words to tell you.” “The only story in the Bible is the story of the resurrection of Christ Jesus the Lord because through that story, we can have hope.” “When I pray, I pray that God might help us to go back home. And also that the peace of God might come all over Iraq and also, may God forgive ISIS.

For the Church, times of terror should be times of great illumination.

Terror brings a message from heaven that only the beauties and glories of another world can last. When the city of Rome fell to the barbarians in 410 A.D. many Christians were traumatised. (“If Rome can perish, what can be safe?” (Jerome)).

But as St. Augustine aged, he increasingly thought of the world, its politics, culture, and institutions, as a tottering old man whose days were numbered: “You are surprised that the world is losing its grip? That the world is grown old? Don’t hold onto the old man, the world; don’t refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you: ‘The world is passing away; the world is losing its grip; the world is short of breath. Don’t fear, your youth shall be renewed as an eagle.‘” (Sermon 81, 8. Citing Ps 103:5).

Let me pick up this scripture; “your youth shall be renewed as an eagle.”

The Western Church does not show the beauty of spiritual youthfulness.

Everyone thinks the traditional denominations are headed for the grave; but the more contemporary trendy churches are so tied to prosperity in this passing world (cf. Your Best Life Now) that they cannot reflect “the unfading/imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Pet 3:4).

Whatever the chronological distribution, our churches lack the awe-filled apocalyptic presence of God that always threatens the status quo and cannot be intimidated by any earthly concern (Acts 5:11; 1 Cor 7:31; 14:25; 1 John 2:17).

Once no terror kept the Western Church from sending missionaries across the globe many who would never return.

But like the church in Ephesus we have lost our youthful spiritual passion for Jesus; “you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Rev 2:4).

The fountain of eternal youth is the gospel; “v.2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, v.3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, v.4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, v.5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Ps 103:2-5).

A Church that walks in the continual cleansing of the forgiving word will always feel young and beautiful; “a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. (Eph 5:27). The beauty and glory of such a church is her refusal to compromise the cause of Christ.

Peter counsels the wives of unbelieving husband with words that fit the Church today; “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” (1 Pet 3:6). “do not fear anything that is frightening.” alludes to be Proverbs 3:25 “Do not be afraid of sudden terror”.

If you are walking in forgiveness you have passed through the Apocalyptic terror of the great trial of divine judgement, free from the fallen fear that something will suddenly overtake you as a punishment by God, the promise is yours in Christ.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…. will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at noonday.” (Ps 91:1, 5-6).

With lives “hid with Christ in God” what can we fear (Col 3:3 cf. Heb 13:6)?

As a believing wife was to refuse to be intimated by anything her husband might say or do to her on account of her faith in Christ so the Church who obeys the Lord at whatever cost radiates the hidden spiritual beauty of her crucified Lord.

Later Peter puts the point more broadly, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Pet 3:14; 4:14).

Conclusion

The world as we know it is changing and no natural power can deliver the post-Christian Western nations from the terrors that confront them; and this is God’s good purpose (cf. Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11).

The right to a world enjoying climatic stability is passing away, the right to live free from the threat of religious terrorism is over and for Christians the right to religious freedom is slipping away.

In such an atmosphere the Church may perhaps be shocked into realising that our idolatries have blinded us to the real spiritual wars around us (Pss 29:2; 96:9; 1 Chron 16:29); we may perhaps recognise that the great holy fear that should grip us is that men and women daily perish without experiencing that Apocalyptic terror that can scare the hell out of them.

The ways of the Lord are radical beyond measure because they are the ways of Christ crucified.


God has always had one purpose for evil and its terror; to bring forth a beautiful and glorious Bride for his Son walking in the power of the cross and living in the forgiveness of sin which keeps her forever young.

The Lamb conquers terror by the testimony of a Bride whose unfailing witness to his gospel is her beauty (Rev 12:1, 11).

It is such a Church continually renewed in spiritual beauty and fearlessness in her suffering for Christ that will really have something to offer to a world that has no answers to the threats that confront it.