He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
Our verse is laden with mystery: a new name and secret nourishment are promised to him who overcomes. And it seems, from this verse, to overcome one must first hear. Much is said in scripture about ears that hear or ears that do not. Why is this? What is it that opens ears? What keeps them closed? Jesus tell us: “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17). C.S. Lewis put it like this:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” …Those who seek find. For those who knock it is opened. (The Great Divorce)
The first step in overcoming is to hear, and to hear we must present ourselves to God as those willing to do his will. Once a man has given himself to God, saying, “As far as it concerns me, Lord, Thy will be done,” the ears are opened. God now has someone on whom his words will not be wasted. Someone may still protest, saying, “But… I cannot do God’s will; it is beyond me.” This is both a true and a false statement. Let’s allow Lewis to continue.
To have faith in Christ, means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.
Now we cannot discover our failure to keep God’s law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say, there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time, we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.”
The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become—because He made us. He invented us. He invented the person that you and I were intended to be… It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. (from Mere Christianity)
I pray that we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to the church in our day. Our overcoming depends on it. Becoming the light of the world depends on it. The Bride of Christ, having her lamp full of oil, is dependent on it. Since hearing is pivotal to overcoming, surrendering to God is foundational.
In the abandonment both Jesus and Lewis preach, there is a process of discovery in which we encounter the cross—that place where we die to ourselves and can say with clear conscience, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who now lives in me. This is why C.S. Lewis also said, “Die before you die, there is no chance after.”
The life of God is hidden from us, in large part, until we die – but not completely. When Christ’s life becomes our life, we know it because it is accompanied by a new identity. We know we are God’s and God is ours. In this place, slaves who were laboring to please the Master, become sons and friends to God. They have, in essence, been renamed and their labors to please God cease. And yet they bear fruit and overcome out of the new nature within them.
To find our way home, we must first give ourselves to God who is both our origin and our destiny. We must hand the title back to him. Then, our hearing will be opened; then we will begin to learn the many lessons he has for us in his school of obedience, where we will learn that (as Lewis has aptly put it) “It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home.”
Father, truly you are our hidden manna. And, you are the Good Shepherd who is guiding us home. May our hearts grasp that you alone are our Way, our Truth, and our Life. Amen.
As I consider Paul’s words I feel a tension, and I know why. He is talking about life after death, and I want him to talk about life before death. More accurately, I want him to talk about Life while living. Our passage seems to say we really don’t start living until the worms start eating. I don’t believe this is what Paul is saying. This will be a good place to employ our Bible Study 101 skills and ask, “Who is speaking and why?” A complete reading of 1st and 2nd Corinthians reveals that Corinth not only had theological problems: they also had morality problems.
Lies from pagan culture still had traction in the young church. Between bad theology and bad morality, there wasn’t much left to distinguish the Corinthian saints from the Corinthian pagans. This was deeply troubling to Paul—their spiritual father. His plan was to wade right into the middle of it, “determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Fully committed to winning them, the great apostle starts with a question:
Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? (I Corinthians 15:12 The Message)
They were letting people say there was no such thing as a resurrection because various lies remained operative within their community. As Paul preached “nothing but Christ and Him crucified,” he was facing off with the principalities of Corinthian culture, which had reigned unchallenged for hundreds of years.
Paul was no stranger to these demons. At Mars Hill, most of the philosophers mocked him when he spoke of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Due to their philosophical strongholds, it was inconceivable to them a person’s earthly body could come back to life after it had died. The Epicurean philosophers were materialists, believing there was no existence beyond death. The Stoic philosophers taught that, at death, the soul was merged with Deity, precluding the need of a body. The Platonist philosophers taught the soul was immortal, but they denied the idea of a bodily resurrection.
The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means, “to stand up again.” Resurrection means that a person will “stand up again” after he dies—that he will come back to life in a new body. This was the sword Paul drew. Sound doctrine was his primary weapon in combating the doctrines of demons. While he was correcting the specific errors of the Corinthians, he did not see the need to share the things about the resurrection, which he had shared with the Romans.
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
While he did not teach this to the Corinthians directly in our passage, he had certainly implied it when he told them they were new creatures in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). In God’s kingdom, which has come and is coming, Life is not just reserved as a post trumpet blast, when-the-dead-shall-rise experience. We have been raised up already. Christ is now our Life!
While it will not be the ultimate expression of resurrection life, Paul is keen that Jesus’ life be manifest in the lives of believers while still in their mortal bodies. He envisions the inner man standing up and expressing something eternal while still residing in the temporal. This happens as God is permitted to become the King of our hearts. As God succeeds as Lord in our innermost being, his kingdom expands.
Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
If Paul were preaching his straightforward Christ-and-Him-crucified message to the western evangelical church, he would get push back from another set of principalities who hold that the real, substantive resurrection life begins only after we die. Due to this philosophical stronghold it is inconceivable to many Christians that Jesus will make much of a stand in his Church: “How much resurrection life is realistic, restricted as it is by fallen human nature?” Overlooking the new nature, in Christ, this church-based stronghold breeds passivity and a tread-water-until-then outlook. Where this doctrine persists, the troops remain in the barracks, awaiting reveille, praying they will not be left behind.
Right now, in Christ, we are raised from the dead (in our spirits) and we will be raised from the dead (in our bodies) at the appointed time. Resurrection life is planted like a seed in our hearts. By God’s grace, it takes root. That seed is Christ himself. There is no life other than his. This must be why Paul is so determined to preach exclusively about the resurrection. This message is the one that sets the stage for the believer to personally discover that Jesus Christ is literally all they have and all they need. He is, himself, our sufficiency. For our good and the Kingdom’s, he intends to become our all-in-all.
Father, thank you that in Christ our toil is not in vain. Manifest your resurrection life within us. Give this unbelieving world something fresh to chew on. Let them see newness of life in your family. Transform us, as you have always intended, not just in that ultimate twinkling of an eye, rather, over time, as we walk with you in the Spirit. Let this world see the perishable putting on some imperishable, and mortality putting on some immortality. Let them puzzle as they see our liberty in the Spirit, asking themselves, “Where is the sting of death in these people?” Take your stand, Lord. Amen.
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:9-11)
How are we to respond to this? An angel, armed to the hilt, has invited John to see the Bride but then shows him a 1500 cubic mile structure. Its scale is overwhelming! The construction is jaw dropping! The universe must have been mined to acquire the building materials! But how is this the Bride? Weren’t we hoping to see a composite of persons (perhaps with a glimpse of ourselves included)? How is Revelation 21 supposed to motivate us? What should be our take away?
Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.
The phrase “was like” tells us John is using his limited and fragile vocabulary to depict something for which he has no words. Clearly, he has been swept up into the mystery. Symbolism is the best he can do. Unfortunately, mystery often leaves the western mind underwhelmed and perhaps even offended.
In the west, we love a concrete principle that fits neatly into our belief structure! Oh how desirable we believe another post-tensioning truth will be to our foundation! Yet John does not offer us a single stick of moralistic rebar. The logical religious mind may ask, “Then what is the point here?” Our pining for principles reveals our discomfort with mystery and I suspect, with God.
We think about God as if he lives up two or three flights of stairs from us when in reality the particulars of his realm are light years beyond our comprehension in every conceivable direction. Our minds, as it turns out, at least for now, are merciful buffers between us and God. We could not endure his glory for a moment. John’s words have been spoken that we may grapple with them. They are to have an instructive impact upon us. As we wrestle with God’s glory in this passage we find we are graciously pinned in the first round. Our loss then becomes our gain – and our glory.
Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
God saying, “My ways are higher than your ways” will no doubt be the understatement of all eternity. So much about God is a glorious mystery held in trust for his Bride. By merciful design we do not have exhaustive knowledge. Knowing all mysteries would undermine the need for faith – the only way we may please him while in these earthly bodies. Until that day (when we will know as we have been known) we have sufficient truth to live in. Even now, we have Jesus, the Light of the world – the exact representation of the Father, to illumine our path. We also have the Holy Spirit in us to teach and to guide.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
Sometimes God’s word is spoken to simply drive us to our knees that, from there, we may discover we live and move and have our being in Christ. We can then rest our exhausted heads upon his lap and hear him say …
Peace my child. Be still and know that I am God.
Father, even if we were to understand all mysteries, Jesus, not our knowledge, would be our foundation. Oh Lord, that you might convey to us your sufficiency and your presence independent of our substantial data base about you. Amen.
Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43)
In approaching our passage, I find myself praying, “Lord, please do not let me just read this and move on to my toast and orange juice. This content cannot remain just an idea or a historical fact to me. My hope and the hope of all men hinge upon this scene. Open my heart. Breathe into me its inspiration, its instruction, its rebuke.”
My mind, as it often does, connects with other passages of scripture or, more often than not, with an experience from scripture, which I have to look up. I am thinking of Paul, who was absent from both the Colossians and the Corinthians, yet claimed to be there with them in spirit. Had Paul’s understanding about time and space been altered in Christ? In asking this, I feel as innocent as a child with his imagination intact. I sense God’s approval.
Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
I am rejecting the idea that Paul had time-travel powers that I don’t. I am also rejecting the idea that in the spirit means something like: in a particular attitude. No, I believe Paul was with the believers in those two cities in an actual yet mysterious way. He knew the Body of Christ was an eternal living thing with many parts. What is time to eternity anyway? I believe Paul’s revelations had loosened the bonds of materialistic logic on his reasoning. He had grasped the spiritual nature of his being and ours. This is why I am free to ask, “Where am I in this Crucifixion scene?”
Am I the criminal on the left or the one on the right? Am I the soldier with the hammer and pin? The one casting lots? Am I an onlooker, come for the show? Did I yell, “Crucify him?” I am recalling the teaching of scripture: men are either in Adam or in Christ. I can claim my innocence based upon my absence but, in Adam, I was possessed by every evil motive playing out at Golgotha. So, I acknowledge:
“Lord, I would like to think that, with Peter, I would have been prepared to die with you, but I know better. I am made of the same stuff as him. I denied you too. I was also the thief, in pain, insanely hurling abuse at you: “Are you not God? Will you not do something!” (In my own whitewashed way, I have done this even recently.) I was also there casting lots—hoping to gain a little something out of this Christianity thing. I was also there looking on, at a safe distance so as not be confused as one of your disciples. And, in my heart I have both mocked you and sneered at you. I, as much as any human monster, need you.”
The mystery gets even deeper…
I was also the thief on the cross, whose insanity was overtaken by grace, enabling him to acknowledge divine justice, to see Jesus’ righteousness and his divinity. I was there, hearing myself take ownership of my sin and, having no one else who can save me, asking, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”
Jesus, heard my cry and not only promised to remember me in Paradise, but he folded me into himself—the redemptive Mystery of the ages. He transferred me into the kingdom of his beloved Son. He gave me the right to become his child. He grafted me into the Vine, who is Jesus, and promised me that nothing will ever, ever, ever, separate me from his love. Death (in its truest spiritual sense) has been abolished. When did he do this? He did it before time. He’s doing it now and will be doing it forevermore. Truly, “It is finished!” I was in Adam; I am now in Christ.
Father, how can it be that such wonderful providence has overtaken me? I have been caught up (with you) into the middle of a blessed Mystery. Amen.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3:17)
The New Covenant is a better covenant. It has been enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:6) This verse reminds me why the glory of the new exceeds that of the old. Its the promise of a new heart …
And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. (Ezekiel 11:19)
Here is how God fulfilled it…
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)
Christ living in us changes everything or, at least it should. We could modify our old testament promise in light of the new …
The Lord your God is in you, a victorious warrior. He exults within you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice within you with shouts of joy. (My paraphrase)
However, because we inflate the value of our feelings, we think, “OK. Christ is in me – the Bible tells me so, but I’m not feeling it. So we try (and fail) to hear his voice in the clamor of our fickle emotions and busy lives. I can testify, this road has many unnecessary ups and downs and some very un-scenic turnouts.
Perhaps we have not known his presence within simply because we were not taught that we could or we were not taught how. Perhaps the full import of having a new heart has not been realized because we have not learned to be quiet long enough to encounter him. Perhaps the place of our tryst frightens us because of its unfamiliar stillness and quiet. Yet, we are told, that is where we shall come to know him …
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Perhaps if we made peace with the quiet, we would experience the promise …
Indeed, I will give you renown and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord. (from Zephaniah 3:20)
The Blue Book has served thousands of Christians by inviting them to slow down and discover their God who lives within them. Those who develop this habit ultimately find it was Christ himself they longed for and that he resides within them. The process of coming to know our God is an experiential mystery, a blessed one, which awaits all persevering saints. Our simple calling is to …
Watch over our hearts with all diligence for from them flow all the issues of our lives. (from Proverbs 3:24)
May God succeed in his ambushes and may we succeed in our perserverance. Amen.
Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times. (John 13:36-38)
When Jesus tells him he was going somewhere and that he could not go with him, Peter is thrown for a loop. He’s not on track with this at all. He’s been Jesus’ shadow for three years! Peter protests, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.”
Jesus’ response: Really?
In the years following his denial, Peter must have looked back and said, “I sincerely believed I was the type of man who would lay his life down for Jesus. Wow, was that ever an essential lesson for me. Following a risen but unseen Savior—walking by the Spirit—is another thing altogether.” And he no doubt mused: “Had the Spirit not taken up residence in me, if Christ were not in me, I would still be thinking absurd thoughts about myself and believing everything is supposed to happen right now.”
The Father disciplines each child he receives. Peter’s lesson is essential for us as well. None of us are the people we believe ourselves to be, at least initially. We are all driven by our false selves. (“I am this or that sort of person.”) And Jesus says: “Really?” We each grow up, figuring out a way to make life work with the least pain. We all learn to protect, at all costs, our fragile spirits born into a dog eat dog world. When we’re children, our spirits protect themselves as instinctively as a falling cat landing upon its feet. As teens and young adults, the soul’s habits of survival became more deliberate. As grown ups (what a misnomer), our personalities have become conditioned to see themselves in a particular way. Ergo, falsity is embedded in our identities.
This is a problem when the self-made person (and we all are) is nothing like the person God created it to be. When we erect walls around our hearts to protect ourselves, we construct barricades between ourselves and love, which was (and is) to be our chief vocation: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
These instinctive and deliberate acts of self-protection also create a barricade between reality and us. Our walls wreck our capacity to see and hear things without distortion. We all have specific blind-spots. We would be fated as the last to know if it were not for God’s discipline. However, since God is making all things new, we do not have to remain in the dark. That which has been lost or stolen in the way of our personhood can be restored. That is what Paul is getting at when he says:
We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:18)
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
We foreknown ones are invited to share the sufferings of Christ (in minuscule ways) through various trials and tests so that we might experience the full kingdom gospel—the gospel that not only saves souls from hell, but also transforms them along the way. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are inviting God to transform us into the image of his Son and to teach us to live as Jesus did. Jesus was not just our Savior. He is our Life! The Spirit’s mission is to see that the children ultimately resemble their Father.
If we are to press on as disciples, we can anticipate God exposing our false selves. The old things have passed away, behold new things have come! Like Peter, we will discover that we were not who we thought we were. If we will persevere, we will discover that we are in fact something far different, far greater. In Christ we will eventually find that our old false selves were but a sad parody of the self that God is making anew. And, we will learn with Peter that things don’t often happen right now. God is big on process. It is in the ebb and the flow, in the living and the dying of everyday life, that we come to truly know Jesus as our all in all.
A contemporary of Jesus’, a man who became known as Pliny the Elder, is credited for saying, “Home is where the heart is.” Not too shabby for a pagan, but Jesus is credited for saying:
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” (John 14:1-14)
Our home is where Christ is, and he is in us. Our hearts are Christ’s home. In truth, we are inseparably intertwined in him. Together, we foreknown ones comprise Christ’s Body on earth. We individually and collectively have become, in our new and better covenant in Christ, what the Temple was in the Old Covenant—the dwelling place of God. It was expedient that Jesus ascend to our Father so that we could become the temples of the Holy Spirit—a community of souls destined to become expressions of resurrection life, the light of the world, revealing the Way.
Blessed King, my heart extolls your beauty and your wisdom. That I am your son is my chief delight. May my vision be forever restored that I might behold you with even greater clarity. In the midst of whatever unfolds, may you continually be the chief treasure of my heart. I love you Father, Thank you so so much.