In this passage God identifies His audience as those who are busy worshipping Him and studying about Him; people who are right-living, law-abiding, God-honoring; those who ask Him what is the right thing to do and love having Him on their side. Given their apparent orientation to Him, we would anticipate the message would be one of warmth and commendation. It was not. Instead it was a condemnation of their motives. Here is a more complete version of what God had Isaiah say to His people:
Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet blast shout! Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives; confront them with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying about Me. To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people, law abiding, God honoring. They ask me, “What’s the right thing to do? And love having me on their side.” (Isaiah 58:1-3 MSG)
So…what’s wrong with the lives of His people? Why is God in such a lather toward such apparently good people? Here’s why:
The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like? (Isaiah 58:3-5 MSG)
Through Isaiah we can learn something huge about God; production and profitability are not the bottom line of His heart. For those who have managed businesses whose viability is secured by production rates and profitability, this is like a left-right combo. I am tempted to dodge these blows by fast forwarding to the New Testament where I can find a bit more grace. However, as I wait and listen with my new heart and my mind that is being renewed in the Spirit of grace, I hear more than just a wholesale condemnation of production and profitability. Let’s see what God is really after:
This is the kind of fast day that I am after; to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is; sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. (Isaiah 58:6-8 MSG)
In my attempt to hear God’s voice in an Old Testament prophet’s pronouncements, I do not hear it with a heart that is condemned, one that cowers beneath the weight of God’s disfavor, concluding that in order to have my prayers heard, I must sell the business or take a vow of poverty in order to please Him. (I have tried this form of piety and God seemed unimpressed.)
What I hear as a son and a friend of God is that, in our heart, if there is either a hidden or a declared primary motive that is economic in nature, we have totally missed it. As I read this passage with a new, grace-filtered heart, I hear no condemnation regarding production or profits. The complexity of this topic, I believe is, at least in part, due to our propensity to see things in a good–versus-bad frame of reference when, in reality, it is a good–versus-best framework. Let me try and explain.
As we seek the things above, we find an Eternal King who reigns over an invisible yet eternal government—a kingdom ever expanding. It will not be birthed in an institution. At some point it may find expression there, but His kingdom can only be birthed within the human heart. His Kingdom’s government is the central point of every matter, whether we see it yet or not. In world news, at this moment, the greatest crisis looming over us (the media informs us) is “economic” in nature. This is a fact and it must be addressed, but if we are praying and fasting primarily out of fear in order to preserve a more perfect union with the economic security it has historically provided, we have traded away “the best” for something that is “merely good.” I believe God is trying to deter us from investing in things that are temporal and merely good. He is inviting us to invest our hearts where moth and rust have no inflationary effect. He says:
Do this and if you do the lights will come on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer when you call out for help, “Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:9-11 MSG)
If you get rid of unfair practices, quit playing the victim, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness; your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones. You will be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make communities livable again. (Isaiah 58:9-12 MSG)
As a Christian, having overseen a for-profit entity, I am deeply troubled about our economic future and a host of other local, national, and global matters, any of which could be our undoing. I am a lover of freedom and a believer in free markets. These, to me, are good things. At the same time, I have no illusion that conservative (nor any other) ideology will usher in the kingdom of God. The Christ-in-me aspect of my identity requires that I give my ultimate allegiance to an eternal King and His ever expanding, eternal Kingdom. When there is a conflict (and they are inevitable) I must sacrifice what I perceive as my good conservative values to embrace His best eternal Kingdom ones.
My ultimate hope is not in a political party, an ideology, or philosophy, however good I may deem them. My only hope is that the kingdom of God is expanding to become my primary and superior good, displacing any allegiances I have to earthly kingdoms. I honor America the Beautiful. I wholeheartedly salute the Stars and Stripes. I am humbled by the sacrifices people have made that have established and sustained the freedoms I enjoy and desire for my progeny. At the same time I am a citizen of another realm with its own government and agenda that will one day eclipse the good our great nation has produced. So…
I dream of a day when citizens of God’s Kingdom have earned the right, by way of their wisdom and compassion, to be the moderators of public discourse and introduce a new level of civility into the body politic. I dream of a day when, because of our good works and stewardship, God will see fit to entrust us with more kingdom wisdom and resources. The world will then look upon the Church and say, “These people bring life into even the worst places; they bring much to the table. They fix and repair things, making our communities livable again.” I believe this is on God’s heart and why He taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven… For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Yesterday I talked about a group of people Jesus identified as “the least of these.” I was groping (and still am) for a better understanding of who “these” persons are. If you read Matthew 25:31-46, you will discover the stakes are high in getting this one right. Scripture is the best commentary on scripture, and I believe today’s passage may shed useful light on who these folks are.
The setting is the upper room, an intimate private gathering where Jesus is sharing and demonstrating something that will be integral to everything His followers do until He returns: “serving.”
To demonstrate how this will look for His followers, He strips off His garment, picks up a basin of water, and proceeds to wash the feet of everyone one in the room, including a traitor. Jesus is acting like a slave, who has been assigned the lowliest of tasks: to wash the dirtiest part of the body—the feet. In an era of sandals, it was the feet, in constant communication with the ground, that trudged through the weeds and the dust and the muck. This demonstration took them by surprise. Their spokesman Peter was shocked and said, “Lord there is just no way I am going to let You carry out a lowly slave’s job for me. You are my master not my slave.” Jesus responded:
Do you know what I have just done? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. (John 13:12-16)
The sentence that leaps out at me this morning though is this:
Jesus, knowing His hour had come, that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
I have often said and heard others say, that at the completion of their race, they aspire to cross the finish line in full stride, having left nothing on the course. I think “having loved our own who were in the world,” right up until the end, is what “full stride” will look like. Just as God provided Jesus with a network of intimates, He has done the same with us. Each of us are uniquely connected to the world around us through very specific networks of people. God is calling us to recognize that we are stakeholders in their destinies. God is asking us to take ownership of the spiritual and material needs around us. The light of the world was never intended to just shine out of a stained glass window. It was intended to be visible, practical and accessible to our neighbors.
Just as the Master showed Himself willing to bow low and deliberately touch and be touched by the filthiest things on earth, He has called us to do the same. Many of the ways we assemble as Christians and relate to each other currently in the Body of Christ enable us to conceal the soiled and broken places in our lives. It is really easy to hide our bitterness, loneliness, fear, lust, ambition, and for that matter, any thing we want to hide, for a few hours within organized programs and rituals each week. However, if you do this enough times in a row, it can become a rigid, sanctified (yet lifeless) tradition and sadly, the norm. This is an old wineskin.
Regardless of our place in society, we have been placed uniquely into the Body of Christ. No two people are connected to the world in the same way. The sets of relationships we have are given to us by God to take ownership of. Only we, with our unique package of giftings and location can fulfill our particular kingdom mission: to love the people in these networks, who are in the world, right up until the end.
I picture a day when the children of God are liberated into their freedom, when we will discover who we really and fully are “in Christ.” Our deep rest and security in Him will allow us to cease with all pretenses and reveal who we really are (even the junk) to each other. We will not be afraid of the filth that is revealed in others and ourselves. We will act on the example and command of Jesus to associate with the defiled and putrid things around us. I believe that in essence we are washing each other’s feet when we gather transparently allowing the blood of His Son and His Word to wash over us.
In the Upper Room, Jesus created a safe space for His network of intimate friends. I think we, too, have the mandate and ability to create safe relational space for those around us through our willingness to truly listen and become involved with the hard messed up stuff in each other’s lives. If we will position ourselves to serve and defer to one another, we will one day find that, by way of our serving, we have become connected to each other with strands of love so strong that they cannot be torn apart. I could envision the Body of Christ, with all it’s newly discovered connections, as a great kingdom-sized net that God can sweep through the earth, producing a catch that will require help just to drag it to the shore.
This passage contributes to my understanding of who are “the least of these.” I believe we are already in close proximity to “them.” By all means, let’s do missions in other cultures, but let’s not fail to see that our neighbors—and we ourselves—qualify as “the least of these.” We must look and listen for the more subtle evidences of spiritual poverty: those identifying marks of loneliness, physical, and spiritual abuse, hunger, and fear, etc. Right now, right where we are, we can take ownership and begin to serve the least of these by creating new kingdom spaces where they feel safe. We must risk our lives outside our little “c” church in order to be the big “C” Church.
Father, help us to discover and create the new wine skins that are strong enough to contain the fullness of Your Spirit, flexible enough to allow for transparency and for the authentic give and take of interpersonal relationships. Help us to become, in ourselves, “safe spaces” for those around us. Help us to identify the ones You have given us and teach us how to wash their feet. And, as with Jesus, our example, let not one of them whom You have given us perish. Amen.
As the Lord has called out to many of us in our old wineskin thinking and structures, He has begun to lead us out into new and totally unfamiliar territory. While it is exciting, it can also be intimidating. I have included a portion of the lyrics to “White Owl” by Josh Garrels. Its message has been a super encouragement to me. A cool animated version can be watched at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMaXzRZw3Ok
When the night comes,
and you don’t know which way to go
through the shadowlands,
and forgotten paths,
you will find a road.
Like an owl you must fly
by moonlight with an open eye,
and use your instinct as a guide,
to navigate the ways that lay before you.
You were born to
take the greatest flight.
Jesus will one day return to this planet in the same manner as He departed, but it will be in a different capacity. His mission will be different. He came initially to reveal the Father and give men new hearts, ones that “by nature” had the capacity, as Adam had, to know God spirit to spirit. He did this by overthrowing sin and death, the enemy’s agents who had facilitated the original separation between God and man. The first time Jesus came as the Savior. This passage is referring to a time when time has run out and He has returned as the Judge. We have come to think of this time as the “great” and “terrible” day of the Lord.
To be honest, I have never dwelt long or hard on this passage. That is not because it is hard to understand. The problem is that, on the contrary, it is very straightforward and I am troubled by its content. As the Judge, Jesus will be separating the sheep from the goats. Here is the troubling part: the criteria, at least in this passage, will not be whether or not I have asked Jesus into my heart and attended church. The criteria will be how I related to a type of person that Jesus refers to as “the least of these,” people with whom Jesus is so closely identified that, however I treat them—that is exactly how I treat him.
I do not want to avoid this passage. I do not want to read it, searching for loopholes that might exempt me. The consequence of succeeding in that would only serve to make The Day of the Lord terrible for me and not great. No, I do not want to hear Him say, “Depart from Me, accursed one, into the fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Here are the identifying marks of the least of these. They are hungry and thirsty. They are imprisoned, naked and strange. Christ is one—we are told—with these people. He calls them His brothers. How we treat them is how we treat Him. It is not enough that we just feel compassion for these downtrodden ones. Our compassion must translate into action in order to avoid being a doomed goat. Will attending church and writing a few checks for their care suffice?
Most of the time, I can share how a biblical truth has intercepted my heart and effected some transformation. This morning, I’m not really trying to teach. I’m just making confession and asking God to search my heart for any deceit that may be there by virtue of living indifferently to or insulated from the least of these, and consequently, from Him.
Are the least of these the same as “the poor” that Jesus tells us will always be with us? If so, they represent to many of us (who have tried to show some compassion in Jesus’ name) a black hole whose core of gravity, with its insatiable appetite, would quickly consume us as well any practical compassion we might show. We know intuitively that there are not enough of us to make an appreciable difference. Peering down into the dark swirling nightmare of poverty is intimidating, so sufficiently so that most of us have determined to go nowhere even near the precipice, lest our compassion be awakened and we find ourselves being drawn in to something from which we cannot escape.
An acquaintance of mine is a former OKC prosecutor and chairman of the Committee overseeing Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services. He knows as well as anyone the effects of poverty and its insatiable appetite. He and every employee in that agency know that there are not enough dollars in the state budget to pour into the least of these to fix up their lives. Yet, God has left the least of these on his heart and given him a starting place in approaching the abyss. God gave him a simple plan and a simple prayer (about the size of mustard seeds).
The simple plan involves gathering the stakeholders together who have a vested interest in the least of these, leaders in government and the Church to assemble and explore together how partnerships can be formed and resources pooled in showing compassion for them. The simple prayer was “God, please break my heart with the things that break Your heart in regards to my city.” With this simple plan and prayer they intend to draw near to the edge and peer together into this intimidating black hole, asking God to provide His kingdom wisdom and resources.
Father, we do not want to walk past You when we encounter You as the needy stranger who is either spiritually or physically hungry and thirsty. Open our eyes and show us the least of these to whom we are to give ourselves. When we meet You face to face, we want it to be a “great” day. We desire to hear You say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” So we pray, break our hearts Lord with the things that break Yours. Amen.
How blessed is he who considers the helpless;
The Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble.
The Lord will protect him and keep him alive,
And he shall be called blessed upon the earth;
And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies.
The Lord will sustain him upon his sickbed;
In his illness, Thou dost restore him to health. (Psalm 41:1-3)
I was recently caught in a fairly intense crossfire that broke out in the midst of an adult Sunday school class. The issue in contention just happened to be “the helpless.” More accurately, it had to do with what the government’s role should be in caring for them.
I will try and reconstruct the scene of this shootout. One group (actually just one person) was advocating that the government should increase funding on the merits of the Bible’s mandate to care for this group, whom he saw primarily as a socio-economic class. This drew fire from the other side that advocated a reduction of funding because, in their view, the government’s involvement was actually creating and sustaining the illusion of helplessness, thus creating a growing culture of socio-economic dependents.
The armed-majority, desiring a very limited role for the government proposed that it is the Church’s job to care for the helpless. The armed-minority agreed, and with the most accurate salvo fired in this skirmish, he said, “You are right. But the Church is not doing it!” It occurred to me that both sides were pretty good shots and their bullets were finding their marks.
For the record, I was recruited by a worried party to attend this class to serve as peacemaker should the need arise. So, as I attempted to stand in the middle and listen, It seemed obvious that both sides had merit to their cases but it also seemed, realistically, that the Church, regardless of her convictions, will have to partner with the government to meet the needs of the helpless at least until it is willing and able to shoulder this burden. Since Jesus tells us the helpless will always be with us, it will be good to keep this subject on the table before us in the halls of government and the Church.
The timing of today’s verse was amazing because I was attending a meeting on this day that was being hosted by a prominent believer who occupies one of the highest posts in Oklahoma’s Department of Human Resources, who had some things to say about this unlikely church-government partnership. I will be all ears and heart. (FYI: This post was written in 2012.)
While I am grateful that God promises some super fringe benefits to me if I will consider the helpless, I honestly believe there is a higher road than the divine, quid pro quo motivation our passage lays out. I think Jesus came to the downtrodden, not because of what He would get from God by doing it, but rather because He simply loved them. Something about their needs attracts His heart, and He identifies as one of them.
I don’t believe that the helpless and downtrodden are just a socio-economic class. When Jesus saw the helpless, I don’t think His view was limited to the slums of Jerusalem: His vision took in the full spectrum of humanity who are helpless to save themselves from their inward or outward poverty, regardless of how hard they try. The downtrodden range from the old and impoverished to rich young rulers. This is an arena the government cannot address—the heart of man, from which all the issues of life flow.
The dialogue that determines how the government will relate to the poor often breaks down due to the polarization of partisan politics. My hope is to one day see a Church, who by virtue of proving herself faithful with “little,” is entrusted with the “much” of this need. My hope is that on this day all men may see her good works and glorify the Father in heaven as this arena of care is entrusted into her increasingly willing and capable hands.
Father, may Your Church arise and earn the right to stand, in Your Spirit, in the middle of opposing factions and facilitate this dialogue from the perspective of Your Kingdom. Let them be free of the motivation to receive anything in return for her service; let us merely want the privilege of seeing that Your majestic Name has been duly honored. May Your Church fulfill her destiny, bringing Your Kingdom’s righteousness, peace, joy, and wisdom into this arena that most see as a hopeless battle that cannot be won. Come Lord and give this mocking and unbelieving world evidence that You are a God for whom nothing is impossible. Amen.
Jesus walks into His local synagogue and boldly announces that He was the one the great Isaiah had spoken of when he said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are downtrodden,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus came to proclaim and live out, as the first born of a new race, a comprehensive gospel that touched the spirits, souls, and bodies of all those who had been trodden down by the Fall.
My 40 years as a follower of this same Jesus have been lived in either a cease-fire or crossfire between camps who are divided on just how comprehensive this salvation Jesus proclaimed is. Both camps believe that Jesus is still in the business of restoring life to stillborn spirits, that if they will repent, He will set these prisoners free from the power of sin, making them God’s children and giving them eternal life. The bullets fly and the family separates, however, on whether Jesus still heals people physically and delivers them from demonic torment (or if, for that matter, demonic torment even exists).
In my sojourn, I am traveling alongside tribes who are on both sides of this divide. And as much as we may hunger for the certainty one camp’s theology might provide, no one seems to offer a certified (preferably seminary-derived) patented truth that will bring peace in the family. I am just going to tell my story (in super-condensed form) as it has evolved so far and describe what I have peace about in my heart. (Without a certificate, what else can I do?)
I surrendered my life to Christ in 1976 in a very missions-oriented church, but (please promise to not shoot me) this was a church that spoke in tongues. As I gave Christ permission to move in and rule, He brought some immediate and dramatic changes to my life. And I too (please don’t run away) received a prayer language early into my new life in Christ. For the record this was not, as far as I know, the Acts 2 kind of speaking in tongues, intended for interpretation. Mine has been what I think of as private prayer language.
I just assumed that Jesus was the same as Isaiah had introduced Him and the New Testament had presented Him. I reasoned in childlike innocence that if He could transform my life and save my soul, He must be able and willing to heal our bodies as well. Surely He had not just given the New Testament as a teaser! Surely Isaiah had not gilded the lily!
At that time, I didn’t realize how much fun I was going to have and how many new friends I was going to make, proclaiming that I now prayed in an unknown language and that Jesus was still healing folks. However, I am certain that my family and friends completely agreed I was now speaking in an entirely different language (sarcasm intended).
God, what have You gotten me in to? The reception I received with these proclamations made this shy, reclusive young man quickly aware that he was either going to need a life boat or a bullet proof vest on this journey. (A bullhorn might not be necessary, as I had initially thought). To my grand disappointment, I had been born again into a house divided!
What transpired on my trail as I put miles behind me, was a forfeiture of the childlike innocence I had first known. My heart made some adjustments for the tension created by believing in things that don’t come true in the timing and in the sense I had anticipated. However, because of my own miraculous origins, and how I read the New Testament, I was still unable to adopt the readily available doctrine that relegated miracles to the first century only as sign-gifts needed at that unique moment to launch the Church. (Did the Church need power then that it doesn’t need today?)
It is crushing to watch disease take its toll, especially when you have believed and proclaimed that God is good, powerful, and willing to heal. It would be much easier to join a cessationist camp and relieve myself of the deferred hope that has often made my heart sick in regards to healing. At least there I would be free from the temptation to raise questions (or even make a case in my heart) about the goodness, power, and willingness of God. As one who takes a fair amount of medicine and who has a fair amount of aches and pains that he would like to be free of, I still cannot adopt, in good conscience (as convenient as it would be), a gospel that is limited to salvation (sozo in the original greek) as the forgiveness of sins and a get-out-hell free pass. (Have cessationsists done a word study to see how comprehensive this Greek word sozo actually is?)
I have decided that, even in the presence of apparent evidence to the contrary, I am going to continue thinking of Jesus as the one who heals bodies and restores men to righteous sanity and wholeness. He is my Savior, Teacher and as the first-born of a new race (of which I am a member), He is also my Example. I confess that I still live in a crossfire of arguments on this topic. Sometimes the debate even ricochets around within my own heart. However, I am determined, by God’s grace, to hold on to the God I first met when I was 23. Again, I am no scholar, but this Jesus, with His comprehensive good news, lines up with the whole counsel of scripture better than the other partial-sozo Jesuses I have been offered.
If I am in error, I figure the worst scenario I will face is having to explain, when I stand before Him, that I had believed and proclaimed that He was more willing with the supernatural than He actually was. I am willing to take that risk. I prefer giving this account than trying to explain why I had buried my talents and brought Him no return on His (Christ-in me) investment. I also feel that (in light of Hebrew 11) I am not alone living with the tension experienced between the believing and the coming true.
I hope your gun is not drawn when we meet or that you won’t withdraw the right hand of fellowship (or offer me the limp one). For the record, I no longer carry a gun and I assure you my hand will be extended to you wherever you are in your trek with the Lord. Oh, and by the way, when we meet, I also pledge to speak in English (my native tongue) and not in a foreign one.
Father, may you teach us in Your fragmented body to be at peace with all men, especially our eternal family, as much as it is possible. May we realize as a family what the full extent of Your Kingdom’s good news is. May we live it and proclaim it from the rooftops. Amen.
With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)
“With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high?” I wonder, in this sentence, if Micah was not asking the question that has been present in some form, at some time, in the heart of all men? If we all descended from Adam, beings created in God’s likeness, banished from Eden, where we had once known (in our natures), intimacy with God, what manner of catastrophe occurred in Adam’s (our) heart at the Fall? I also wonder what manner of trauma did God experience as this first born son brought separation between Him and His would be, and now mutated, family?
I suspect as Adam looked back over his shoulder at Eden and ahead at the ground he was about to plow, he was certainly shocked at the change in scenery. But that was nothing compared to the devastation of having lost the treasure of relating intimately, moment by moment, to God. The separation was not just geographic. Original sin had destroyed the communion between the spirits of God and man.
I believe the perfect harmony that God had crafted between Adam’s spirit, soul and body was also lost at the Fall. As the toxins that derived from the Tree of Knowledge were being absorbed into Adam’s being, I imagine they went directly to his spirit, which had been originally animated by the breath of God, and put it to sleep. Then like a computer virus, the invasive code moved into Adam’s soul, corrupting it with a program that was never intended to operate in a human. In the vacuum created by a lifeless spirit, the self expanded to become the primary operating system. The body too would succumb to a finite existence.
Operating now by his wits alone, Adam no longer had the spiritual capacity of simply and instinctively knowing God. All his fallen nature can now do, with its fading memory of God and Eden, is attempt to manage things with his still agile mind. As many answers as that mind was destined to generate in the manipulation of his physical world, it remains tragically incapable, by itself, in answering the fundamental questions of; “Who am I?”, “Where did I come from?” and “What is my purpose?” Adam left the Garden and God’s presence with a cosmic-sized rejection complex. Consequently, his legacy to us is a misshapen and insecure identity that perpetually wonders what will be required of it to please God and return to His presence. I believe this is behind Micah’s inquiry.
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sins of my soul? (from Micah 6:6-7)
These are the questions asked by our enlarged souls, still reeling from the Fall, running on a corrupt program that suggests to us that we have the ability within us to do something that will save us and restore us to what we instinctively know is missing and are still groping to find. The name of that program running in us can be thought of as religion. The lie embedded in this program code is that we can do something that will atone for our sin and win God’s favor. As noble as this might sound, and as impressive as it might look, it is a satanically inspired idea designed to distract man from the only real solution he has ever had – the acquisition of a new heart.
Micah’s answer to his own question in 6:8 is true, poetic, yet incomplete. Ezekiel, I propose, has a better answer to the separation problem created by sin.
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
An even more complete answer is found in a conversation Jesus had with a pharisee named Nicodemus.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. ( John 3:5-6.)
The New Testament is the surprising and mysterious revelation of God’s Fatherly heart. It is absolutely true that man is a fallen being who has inherited a nature estranged from God, disabled in fulfilling its created function which is communing with God spirit to spirit. It is also true that God is a holy being that despises this satanic code running in His beloved creation because it has robbed them and Himself of the joy of fellowship. God has wrath and anger toward sin. The great news is that the portion of it that was due man was absorbed on the cross in Jesus Christ who was the only sacrifice (as an unblemished sinless lamb) who could atone for the catastrophe inherited by our hearts.
So, the biggest headline about God’s heart is not His anger and wrath. The Father’s heart is not inclined exclusively with anger and wrath toward men. The deepest truth about God’s heart is that it is inclined toward man in compassion. In Christ, we have become the apple of His eye, the dream in His heart, the love of His life. He was predisposed toward us in kindness even before we surrendered to Him. This is the heart of the gospel and the New Testament. Jesus Himself is the essential anti-religion revelation that, alone, destroys the toxic code that operates within our hearts and, unfortunately, has driven so much of what the world has seen as Christianity.
When we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, His Spirit comes into us, restoring the spirit-to-spirit connection Adam had enjoyed. In Christ, God has once again breathed His life into us and we are born from above. We have new hearts (natures, if you will) that are formatted and compatible with both the Word and the Spirit of God. To be sure, we have old natures that have grown accustomed to living out of our enlarged souls but the transformation God intends for His children is awakened and nurtured by His Word and Spirit. His life, now within us, can take precedence over the spiritual virus that has been the rule of our hearts.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Father, animate Your life within us. May Your Spirit burn so bright and hot that it consumes the remaining effects of religion in us and in this world. In the freedom of our rest, may we learn what it is to live and move and have our beings in You. May You receive the reward of Your suffering and Your sacrifice as we avail ourselves of the spirit-to-spirit union that has been restored to us in Your Son. May the world see Your Bride who has rediscovered and claimed her rightful treasure of intimacy with You. Amen.