In that day this song will be sung. (Isaiah 26:1)
That day is the day when…
The Lord of host will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow and refined aged wine. And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all the peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. And it will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)
We know there will be singing in that day, but what are we to sing on this one? What are we to sing if our hearts don’t feel like singing? How do we compose music in our hearts in the midst of trials, when we are lean on inspiration? Isaiah tells us:
The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace (shalom), because he trusts in Thee. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4)
Even with my aversion to crowds, I desire to attend this banquet. Mountains, choice marrow and aged wine? Sweet! That death has been vanquished and my tears will be wiped away? I’m all in! That my disappointments will give way to rejoicing? Beautiful! But, the greatest desire in my heart is to see Jesus, face to face.
There is something that causes me to tremble though. It’s the RSVP’s. Many invitations have been sent out. But most RSVP’s are indicating regrets, due to previous engagements. I tremble at the thought that some, en route to the party, run out of oil and are not permitted to enter. I shudder, knowing that in some cases, those delivering the invitations are even being killed by the ones being invited!
But they paid no attention (to the invitation) and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them… For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:5-6, 14)
We have no responsibility as to the RSVP’s. Man has been given the power to choose. However, since we ourselves are the invitations, we must compose our song carefully. It is relatively easy to compose music when our circumstances are good. But what do we do when they are not? Here is a great mystery. When we respond to Jesus in faith, while suffering, our songs ring especially true. Ears turn our way.
If we will keep our minds and hearts steadfast by casting our cares upon Him, rejecting bitterness and resentment, our sorrows can be transformed into lyrics of longing like those we find in this passage …
Indeed, while following the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, we have waited for Thee eagerly; Thy name, even Thy memory, is the desire of our souls. At night my soul longs for Thee, indeed my spirit within me seeks Thee diligently; for when the earth experiences Thy judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. (Isaiah 26: 8-9)
When the lights are brought up in the banqueting hall, there will be a dawning. We shall comprehend the intentions of God’s judgements. We will see that Love drove them all. We shall grasp that redemptive potential had always been present in the affairs of man—especially the painful ones. How blessed are those who stay in the race! They will live by faith, persevering until they find themselves at a banquet hosted by the Lord Himself. They will be accompanied by many who received them as God’s valid invitations. But for others.: “Oh Lord, Thy hand was lifted up yet they did not see it.” (Isaiah 26:11)
Father, help us to hear the music within us. Help us to see and edit the influences of this world, our flesh and the devil. May we persevere until our lyrics are saturated with wholeness. May we hear the harmony in your children’s voices. Thank You that right now we can rejoice and be glad in our salvation. Amen.
What kind of God would say “Peace be with you?”‘ and then say, “Do not think I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” My conclusion?
Ours is a God who has left us with some mysteries—which we must explore and about which we must make our own discoveries. However, our compasses must be calibrated with humility and trust in order to navigate the unfathomable dimensions of God’s heart. (Certainty is not the best orientation for those exploring mysteries.) My humility is strengthened by recalling I am a son of God by sole virtue of His initiative. I have been bought with a price and I am no longer my own. I now belong to Him.
Hebrews 4:12 comes to mind.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
While navigating within a mystery, it is also helpful to know where we have come from. My initial salvation was a watershed affair with several tangible miracles. One had to do with the Bible. It started to make sense! One of the first ideas it spawned in me was to honor God’s right to use this Hebrews 4:12 sword, the Spirit of Truth, in my heart. This process, in which its razor edge touches the untrue and darkened parts of my heart, is what I have come to think of as “the circumcision that is of the heart, by the Spirit of Truth,” which Paul mentions in Romans 2:29.
I see the Spirit and the Word as the rod and staff in Psalm 23, which the Shepherd uses to lead me from the valleys of the shadow of death into green pastures with quiet waters. What unnerves me is when He reverses this order! When this happens and the long shadows approach, if I am still, I hear Him still saying, “Peace be with you.” A heart at peace is free of one of the great plagues of our flesh – Wanting.
“I shall not want.” That is a large statement! If we were to write our “personal history of wanting,” it would tell us much about our spiritual journey. As I have been led from dark valley to green pasture and back, I have taken note of the sword’s role. It has had its effect on my wantings.
I was born again into the sweetest place. It could not have been any greener of better watered. Consequently, I toddled into the kingdom with no wants (that I knew of). I was totally happy just knowing I belonged to God. However, over time, I got busier serving the Lord and I noticed wanting surfacing in my prayers: “Oh Lord, I want to please You. Oh Lord, I want a clean heart.” For many years wanting more of God (and a different me) characterized my spirituality.
In my mid-fifties the Lord reminded me of my beginnings, which were so free of want. Even now, I look across the page in my Bible and see one of the first prayers that ever formed in my heart. I’m sure I prayed this as an insurance clause in case my experience might somehow fade. The thought of losing what I had gained was unbearable.
One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)
Ironically, at the peak of my zealous wanting, I felt close to giving up. I was privately in despair, doubtful if I would ever enjoy intimacy with Christ again. Fortunately, He remembered my prayer. He is faithful when I am not. As the scalpel was withdrawn, I noticed my wanting had abated. In my heart, He had led me back to the nursery days I had known as a young believer. The blade had cut the zealous wanting away from my heart. My wanting was not pure longing for God. It was deeply tainted with disappointment with both God and myself. Something totally dead had been posing as life.
Unbalanced truths have a radical impact on our hearts. As an infant follower of Christ, I heard Father proclaim His love for me. Yet, I was simultaneously hearing from the establishment. By way of sermon, song, and testimony, I was being told that that my heart was impossibly wretched and destined to stray (something I expected to be true). As I experienced temptation, it was obvious my handlers knew what they were talking about. I participated in somber ceremonies of remembrance and I was taught to deeply introspect about my fallen and depraved nature. I arose from communion, redoubling my commitment to resist my flesh and live for God. I had created a perfect formula for spiritual despair and religion.
While it is true, in Adam, I am a fallen man; it is equally true that in Christ, I am a resurrected one. Today, when I’m tempted to think of my heart as primarily wretched, I hear the Lord say He is still delighted in me and that my heart is clean before Him. To many, entertaining the notion that a heart can be clean before God is preposterously arrogant. The dark heart advocates will tremble for my soul because they believe our sin, like David’s, must be ever before us. If it’s not, they know, God will take his Holy Spirit away. This orientation to Father assumes a descent into unrighteousness for all who lose sight of their depravity. This type of spirituality is zealous but it produces Pharisees and anxious saints who have not yet learned (or have forgotten) how to rest in the finished work of the cross.
Many saints are rediscovering their God given identities. They know, as well as any, the flesh can be aroused and is capable of sin. But they have also learned that focusing on their depravity and doubling down on commitment is a trap. Instead of succumbing to their fear of fallenness, they are learning that a deeper Truth resides within them. They are discovering that Christ, the resurrected One is in them. They are discovering that, within them, His kingdom has come and that Christ alone is the sole hope of their glory. They are celebrating the fact they are brand new creatures in Christ, a superior reality to personal depravity.
Father, as our hearts are awakened to the fullness of our salvation, may we cast off our sackcloth and ashes. May we fill our lamps with oil and dress ourselves for the celebration feast that is being set before us even now. As we make our way to the Marriage Supper, may our lamps be continually full of oil and grow brightly with the joyful radiance of new life. May it never escape our heart’s notice that we are not just guests at the feast; rather, we are your Bride. Consummate your love in our hearts that we may glow with a holy fire. May this dying world see our heads resting upon your breast. Amen.
A few years ago I became acquainted with a marvel called a carbon nanotube (CNT). This unbelievably strong, incredibly small molecule radically improves the properties of any material into which it is introduced. The challenge is making that introduction. Yet, there is a mystery. The industries that will one day be revolutionized by them demonstrate a peculiar indifference. “Yes,” they say, “We are aware of nanotubes, but no, we are not going to divert our resources to CNT’s until you demonstrate they can be scaled up. We are familiar with our current materials and we are tooled-up to use them.”
Peace is a lot like nanotubes. Peace comes from the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom is a much bigger word than its efficient English counterpart. Shalom is prosperity, tranquility, well-being, safety and security, according to Jim Branch, the Blue Book’s author. He notes that our word wholeness is the closest word in meaning to shalom.
Before Jesus ascended He said, “Peace (or wholeness) I leave with you; My wholeness I give to you… So do not be troubled or fearful.” Wholeness of the type that Jesus left is like a CNT in that it too is both incredibly powerful and overlooked. Christians know wholeness exists because the Bible tells us it does. We believe it will radically alter our lives and society if and when it is introduced. But until we see it on a larger scale, we are not going to divert our attention to something that seems to exist mostly in theory. The world has conditioned us to function without wholeness. We aren’t going to divert our attention to some pie in the sky Bible promise when we have figured out how to make our lives work without it. We are tooled up with our means of coping and we congratulate ourselves that we are getting by.
However, just as there are pioneers in the realm of industry, there are also innovators and early adopters within the body of Christ. They are those who have not only read the Bible, they have determined that its promises were meant to be experienced and are giving themselves to that enterprise. In the same way the stock of the CNT companies is currently overlooked, the Kingdom of God, with its righteousness, wholeness, and joy is also overlooked and dramatically undervalued.
We know that His kingdom is an eternal realm. We know that it has come and is within us. We know that its government will increase. But still, in spite of these things, many believe the kingdom is out of reach for man in his depraved condition. They pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” totally convinced “Thy kingdom” is a then rather than a now proposition. This large segment of Christendom is so preoccupied with its fallen nature, it is certain the flesh will prevail over the Spirit—that this present evil age cannot be retaken by the Church. This kingdom of God is therefore a future thing that can only be advanced by men in glorified bodies.
I am not a theologian or a scholar. I am an investor, entrusted with some talents. I am currently investing them in a Jesus who is from age to age the same and must win the battle. Even though this world is filled with devils who threaten to undo us, I am investing in him who hath willed His truth to triumph through us. (Thank you Martin Luther for the vision you helped implant into my heart.)
I see Jesus as that One Word destined to obliterate Satan. I cannot help but see Jesus as a benevolent, determined Monarch who will triumph over his enemies. I am investing in the idea that Jesus Christ, through His Bride—the Church will be glorified in this earth. Even though it has not been scaled up, I am investing in the proposition the Church will reclaim her identity in Christ (beyond buildings and denominations) and fulfill her calling as the light of this world. I am investing in the idea that Father wants the world to see the wholeness of His Son in us. I have come to believe God wants to scale up the reality of Christ in us, the hope of glory.
Whether, we are a kingdom now, kingdom then or a kingdom now-and-then sort of Christian, we can have wholeness because “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)
Father, may those of us who have buried our talents dig them back up and reinvest them by faith into your now-kingdom. Help us to realize Christ in us, the hope of glory. Help us to discover the resurrected life of Christ in us today. Help us to see ourselves as the new creations in Christ that we are. Raise up a new generation of kingdom innovators and early adopters who will scale-up the righteousness, wholeness, and joy of your kingdom so that the majesty of Your name would be acknowledged. Let this be.
Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” ( John 20:17-18)
Mary did as she was told but she was just one person telling a frightened huddle of men that the consequence of a crucifixion had just been reversed. Crucifixion was Rome, getting in the final word. Death, in brutal form, was final proof that the emperor’s power was supreme. But what about Mary’s report? Perhaps she was overcome by emotions and wishful thinking?
Jesus had taught them, a disciple is not greater than his teacher. They had good cause to anticipate their own eminent deaths. While they were worrying and wondering what they had got themselves into, Jesus just materializes before their eyes! While amazement was competing with terror in their hearts, Jesus is audacious enough to say, “Peace be with you.”
While Jesus may be big on peace He is also a major disrupter. Peace that masquerades as the status quo flees before Him! It is a given; things do not remain the same where Jesus is involved. Our passage highlights this reality.
The disciples had been gainfully employed only a short time ago. Like all Jews, they hoped for a Messiah; they hoped for the redemption of Israel but each day unfolded pretty much like the previous one. However, for the past three years, each new day had been an adventure. They were daily privileged, with Jesus, to see what God was like and how He related to men. Like Adam and Eve, they were again walking in unhindered view and relationship with God. Unfortunately, their eyes could not yet see. While in the immediate presence of God, they were pining for something else – a new golden age of Judaism which Jesus would usher in – with their assistance.
Visions of a royal court had evaporated though. They were now fugitives because their imagined Messiah had just been murdered. They had lost their best friend. Their dreams were now crushed because the so-called Son of Man was not powerful enough to overcome the regime of Rome and the blindness of Israel. They were stark barren of peace. The system, as usual, had won. In the unseen realm, Death too, was gloating over his most recent conquest. And to make matters worse (if that were possible), their lives were endangered because of their association with a man, who claimed greater authority than Caesar himself.
I believe all followers of Christ, at some point, will wonder, as they inventory their disrupted lives, “What have I got myself into! What kind of God would lead me into circumstances so heartbreaking and dangerous then say, “Peace be with you?” Are you kidding! Those who take Jesus’ words seriously have a deep mystery to contend with concerning peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and He says, “Peace be with you” but he also said, “Do not think I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword“. He also said,
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24)
How many people have invited Jesus into their hearts on the premise that He had a wonderful plan for their lives only to come to a place of total bewilderment as they took stock of the not-so-wonderful ways this plan was working itself out? In the midst of the disciple’s current wonderful circumstances, Jesus shows up and says,
Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you. Receive the Holy Spirit…Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed…These things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
All regimes covet the final word but Jesus is that Word to His brethren. He reserves the right to ask us to trust in His presence and receive His peace even when it seems ludicrous. As it was with the original 12, our views of what He is actually doing are often flawed. The Prince of Peace must come and disrupt any shallow peace anchored in our own delusions. He reserves the right to even break our hearts if necessary to liberate us and disentangle us from this world. He knows and wants us to also know …
Make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)
As I reflect on God’s words, and the experiences of the saints, I hear Him saying …
Peace be with you. As you work out your salvation in the midst of various trials, go in My authority as heralds of abundant life. Be the good news! Let your light shine before men by trusting in My presence, acknowledging that earthly regimes will not have the final word. Announce that neither they nor death shall prevail. You My Bride, are My final words to this earth. I intend that your story of peace, that transcends all understanding, be written in the presence of this unbelieving world. I intend that your lives be read so that others may see and believe that I am the Christ, that they too will find peace and life in My name.
Father, do what You must to adjust our vision. Give us eyes to see Your kingdom. In the midst of our circumstances, whatever they may be, may we glorify You by living in supernatural peace, joy and love. For Your name’s sake, let it be.
Great persons arrive with much ceremony. Their advance people come, making preparation. Security is heightened. Heralds report as the VIP nears. Fans, hangers-on and wannabe’s buzz around the event like flies. Yet God Himself chooses to arrive as an infant born into a common family. However much He seems to shun pomp and circumstance, Jesus does know how to make an entrance. Just before His ascension, He simply materializes, no doubt scaring the wits out of his closest friends. While they were re-hinging their jaws, Jesus asks them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
I’m sure they thought, “Are you kidding! You nearly gave us a heart attack! In the future, please knock!”
But Jesus isn’t searching for missing information when He asks questions. He already knows what’s in our hearts—yet He asks. Jesus is always asking us questions—trying to jump-start our heart-reasoning. He knows His are important questions and that we need to answer them for ourselves.
To assure them He was not a specter, He permits them to examine him—whom they had abandoned in Gethsemane only to be nailed to a cross. By touching His scars, they verified it was in fact Jesus. The body that had just popped into the room was made of flesh and bone just like theirs were. If they had been on their heels before, they were now completely floored, possessed by the wonder standing before them. God was now alive and present! Over the years hope and joy were no doubt rekindled as they learned, first hand (in the working out of their own salvations) the implications of Jesus’ resurrection.
In our passage, we see another way Jesus can sustain and rekindle our inner fire. He can open our minds to understand the scriptures. God had arranged that men would record their experience with Him and one day give those accounts to us in the format of a book—the Bible. Inspired by the Spirit, the scriptures are God’s words to us. They are God-breathed and are therefore related to the new life He breathed into His sons and daughters—making them into sanctuaries of God’s Spirit on earth.
The scriptures contain inspired words of God, but they do not contain the Word, who is God. So many evangelicals, including myself, have viewed the Bible as the Word of God—essentially everything He would ever have to say to man. We have been told that by mastering the holy texts we are following the Master. This is not completely true. Pharisees and scribes had accomplished this much. The disciples (like most of us) were not scholars, but they turned the world upside down within a few generations. How could this be? They had no Bible (nor a few dozen other things we understand as essential to doing Church and fulfilling the Great Commission).
They did it by being filled with God’s Spirit and advocating repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We reason with our minds, “Their passion and success is understandable. They saw and even touched Jesus. Of course they believed.” But we must ask, what has sustained the millions of others who have embraced the gospel, who would not get to see or touch the resurrected body? Has it been our growing and refined intellectual grasp of God? No, there is another explanation.
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
There is no foul in studying the scriptures as long as we don’t err by missing the Spirit who authored them. The great evangelical error has been making our understanding of God—god. If we are depending on our knowledge, we have made a golden calf of our learning. We are then in trouble because we were commanded to have no other God’s before Him.
Jesus’ first followers did not have seminaries or Bible study reference materials. All they had was the Holy Spirit. When Jesus opens a disciple’s mind to understand the scriptures, it’s not to add to their base of knowledge. It’s to bridge the chasm between their minds and their hearts, between their knowledge and their wills. This is how He jump-starts our heart-reasoning. When this gap is bridged (courtesy of God’s Spirit), the Word becomes flesh again. Life then finds new expression. This is the normal Christian life.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)
It has never been scholarship that caused the gospel to take root. It has always been the kingdom’s righteousness, peace and joy on display in a new race of men. New creations in Christ give essential credibility to the gospel. Changed hearts and lives, not knowledge, are the evidence of His resurrection. Without transformation, the claims of the gospel are static, hollow, and unbelievable. The gospel is validated when the Body of Christ is actually living out of God’s resurrection life, in Christ. This is a great mystery, but it the one we live in.
Unfortunately, the kingdom gospel is too often rebranded and marketed as a “get-out-of-hell & into-heaven” (so you better be good) proposition. This is a massively truncated gospel. While forgiveness and eternal security are great news, they are still only partial news. Being saved in a moment from hell was never meant to be an end-in-itself. It was intended as the port-of-entry into the kingdom of God. The kingdom is a now-domain, bringing with it now opportunities and now-responsibilities. These are overlooked when “getting-out-of-hell-&-into-heaven” (and being good) are the main points.
When Christians see through the kingdom-lens, many dots get reconnected. His eternal life finds new and now expressions in the lives of His offspring. Great preaching in itself does not give ultimate credibility to the gospel. Transformed lives alone validate Christ’s resurrection. There is no other hope for the world outside of Jesus’ prayer being answered: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Father, allow us to encounter your Spirit afresh—He who is Your promise, who clothes us with power from on high, He who will heal our troubled and doubtful hearts. Open our hearts fully that we may understand Your kingdom and the now implications it has for us. Make your entrance into this world, as You intended, through our new hearts. In the here and now, may the world witness Thy kingdom coming and Thy will being done, in us. Amen.
A large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him. (from John 5:24)
We know God so loved the world; no doubt He loved this crowd; no doubt He loved the nation of Israel. Yet the New Testament reveals His penchant for demonstrating it one life at a time.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Our passage reveals God, in Christ, walking among the many, traveling in the company of a few, yet eventually dealing with just one.
For many are called but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)
Many were following Jesus for the sake of their nation. A major prophet was in their midst. They hoped He had come to restore their nation to God. Their nationalistic zeal was being stirred. The unclean Romans would be evicted; Jews would rule their own affairs. Then there were the curious—nothing this interesting had ever been heard of. They weren’t about to miss the show. I suspect these motives accounted for the many.
A few on the other hand were practically stalking Jesus. These people were motivated by debilitating physical conditions. The woman in our story had exhausted her resources in pursuit of healing yet she was getting worse: “What happens when I die? What will become of my dependents?” She was desperate. She simply needed Jesus. It didn’t matter to her if He was a great prophet or the Messiah. She just wanted to be whole.
The tiny seed of an idea had been planted when she had “heard about Him.” The soil condition in her heart allowed that seed to geminate and take root. It’s expression, as it blossomed, was: “If I just touch His garments, I shall get well.” Had this woman been chosen, receiving the gift of faith and consequently her healing? Or, was there something she contributed that distinguished her from the many, making her the latest from the crowd to join the few?
Jesus points to her faith. Faith is the smallest of seeds. The Sower sows it liberally that many will see its fruit, yet few respond. In the subtlest of thoughts and whispers, it can be overlooked. Some salvage that live-or-die moment when their hearts say “yes” to the seed. Our story provides a front row seat where we get to see what happens when a person’s “yes” separates them from the many and they become whole.
Lord, may our hunger for You grow. Grant us acute awareness of our need. May it merge with our “Yes.” May faith arise. May You be glorified and honored. Amen.