Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jesus' Ministry & Our Great Need

I'm considering Jesus' ministry this morning:
* Jesus pronounces "woe" over the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, & Capernaum for failing to repent in the face of His miracle-working: " will descend to the day of judgment..."
* Jesus praises His Father, supreme authority over all, not just for revealing truth to some, but also for hiding it from others! "Yes, Father, for this way was pleasing in Your sight." He then shares this praise as a teaching to those with Him: "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." Far from simple repetition of simple observations about what God has done for us, Jesus' praise is emotionally challenging (praising God for what we would consider ministerial failure) and leads to a teaching about the deep things of God's sovereignty and salvation. Utterly surrendered praise for all things leads to teaching about the absolutely sovereign plan of God for salvation through the second Person of the Trinity.
* Jesus tenderly invites those listening (the "crowds" of 11:7) to discipleship: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:20-30). "Rest" comes not just through coming to Jesus, but taking His "yoke" and learning from Him - discipleship! This is not a one-time "decision," but a following of Christ that takes on His burden and shows progress in learning from Him. I would further observe that this cannot happen apart from joining our lives to His Church, where He teaches through other disciples in His Word by His Spirit.

Pronouncing judgment for failure to repent, praising the all-ruling Father for everything in ministry - even for those from whom salvation is hidden - and gently extending an invitation to come to Him for rest & learning...Lord Jesus, work through Your Spirit in us that we can minister in such a way that doesn't waver from Your truth, praises the Father for everything, & never ceases to call people to rest in & learn from You. This is emotionally challenging (praising as we see folks walk away), stands in the face of our desire to be liked ("woe to you"), and maintains a continual standard of learning, imitative discipleship for ourselves and those to whom we extend the invitation. Apart from You, Christ, we freely confess this is impossible, for we prefer to praise You for the good things You give us, build ministry too often on the desire to be liked, and try to reduce following You to a simple - an unbiblical - "sinner's prayer."

We lift up this ministry to You and plead for Your gracious working through Your Spirit this day and every day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Should Be Glad of Another Death

Every Advent I am blissfully haunted by the story of the magi (Matthew 2:1-12). "Westward leading, still proceeding..." Prior to being met by the Christ, I myself was nothing more than a wandering pagan mystic. I love their story, and I love the testimony Eliot puts on their lips in this poem:

Journey of the Magi (1927)
"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey;
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbert.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation,
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky.
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

- T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

* * * * * * *

The 8th century B.C. prophet Micah of Moresheth is one of the first to prophesy the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Micah 3:12; Jeremiah 26:18).

"Therefore, on account of you
Zion will be plowed as a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,
And the mountain of the house will become high places of a forest."

The matchless Temple of Solomon had ceased to be the "house of Yahweh" and was now just "the house" because of how God's covenant people treated each other with gross injustice and regarded Him as little more than a tool for their own power. So they were to be destroyed along with their idol, "the house." But Micah never pronounces judgment without also speaking hope.

"And it will come about in the last days
That the mountain of the house of the LORD
will be established as the chief of the mountains.
It will be raised above the hills,
And the peoples will stream into it.
Many nations will come and say,
'Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.'
For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem"

The "peoples" and the "nations," previously godless, will journey to die to their old lives and to find true life in the Word of the LORD. They return home, by the way, to "an alien people clutching their gods." They are never at home again "in the old dispensation," for they have been born again to the new dispensation, the new covenant sealed with the blood of the baby of Advent, the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Though all the peoples walk
Each in the name of his god,
as for us, we will walk
in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever"

They came as aliens to be "born again...through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). They returned home as aliens, "not of the world," even as their Lord is "not of the world" (John 17:16). Their "citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). But is this death, the death Eliot's magi found in the Advent birth?

"Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God...therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead..." (Colossians 3:1-5). There is a longing after that journey to see the Word of the LORD incarnate, a nagging sense that leads the born-again magi to stare beyond the stars, knowing that real life is a step beyond the veil. It drives us powerfully and unstoppably, this "promise of life in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:1). In a land of people clutching their gods, it makes us glad of another death, a death that makes the leaving behind of everything in this world infinite gain compared to the inheritance of the Word of the LORD.

"For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake" (Philippians 1:21-24). The attitude of the world-wanderer: my life is elsewhere, and it is everything - so while I here I live completely for the benefit of your faith in Christ. In the midst of "an alien people clutching their gods," may we "be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith," and may we "rejoice and share [our] joy" with each other (Philippians 2:17,18). May we be glad of a death unto a new birth, and sojourn unto a death filled with gladness for the joy set before us (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Don't Just Remember: Live.

The Spirit’s work at Advent:
Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother: “...filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed...blessed...blessed’” (Luke 1:41,42,45).
Zecharias, John the Baptist’s father: “...filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: ‘Blessed’” (Luke 1:67,68).
Simeon: “...the Holy Spirit was upon him...he...blessed God...and Simeon blessed [Mary and Joseph] (Luke 2:25,28,34).

The Spirit’s work at Pentecost:
“I will pour forth of My Spirit on...My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17,18).

May I suggest, Church, that the Spirit Who blessed through the saints at Advent and the Spirit poured out on all saints since Pentecost is the same? May I also suggest that same Spirit in us today seeks to bless, bless, bless others through our words just as He did at Advent? Bless today by prophesying the truth and glorious reality of salvation, of our adoption as sons and daughters of God in Christ, of the radiant and unmatched beauty of Christ’s Bride, of all the priceless gems found in our covenant with God in Christ...bless, Holy Spirit, through us today as You did 2,000 years ago!

* * * * * * *

Let me elaborate on the Spirit's filling of Elizabeth, the result, and the parallel in Paul's command to us as believers:
"...Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed...blessed...blessed...'
And Mary said: 'My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.'"
(Luke 1:41-47).
The Spirit fills, Elizabeth blesses Mary, and Mary praises God from the core of her being. This is what we see in Ephesians 5:18-20!
" filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father..."
The Spirit fills, we speak to one another, and we respond to one another with rejoicing in God from the core of our being.

What the Spirit did at Advent, He does today in the Church. Let us not only remember Advent, but live it in the power of the Spirit today.