Monthly Archives: April 2014

Love’s Greatest Test

LOVE’S GREATEST TEST 

“‘You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens so that, when it does happen, you will believe.

“I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave,'” John 14:28-31 NIV.

Strange words for the bewildered disciples! How could they grasp what was foreign to their experience? But for the Holy Spirit who would make sense of it all as time went on, this entire interlude would be lost to them.

“Going away and coming back”? And yet He kept talking about dying! No one in their experience had ever died and came back again. As for being glad because He was going away! That did not make sense. If they loved Him how could they be glad because He was leaving them?

Ah, but they did not yet understand the implications of all these mysteries! This was not only about Him; it was also about them. Going to the Father had huge spin-offs for them.

Salvation accomplished, Jesus would return to the Father to present His blood as a perpetual sacrifice for sin. He would be exalted to the highest place and be given a name above every other name. He would take up His role in the presence of the Father, representing them to Him as High Priest and Mediator. He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever as His other self, to be in them, to teach them about Him and to transform them into His likeness.

Is it any wonder that He told them to be happy because He was going to the Father?

However, between the present moment and His return to the Father lay the biggest test of His love for the Father — the cross! Time was running out for Him. He had an appointment to keep that would be perfectly timed to coincide with the exact moment when the first Passover lamb would be slaughtered by the high priest. Time with His disciples was coming to an end. He had given them everything He could while He was with them. It was now over to the Holy Spirit to help them internalise what they had heard during His time with them.

The prince of this world was poised to strike; he thought he was gearing up for his greatest victory, not realising, even from experience that he could never take Jesus on and win. How many times had he already tried and come out of it with egg on his face!

He had his human cronies lined up; Judas the traitor, the religious hierarchy, Caiaphas the high priest, the temple guard and Roman soldiers, Pilate, Herod and the fickle mob — quite a formidable array from a human perspective! Who were Jesus’ supporters? No one because even His most loyal followers deserted Him! He took on the world and the evil spiritual forces behind it single-handed.

Jesus made a most interesting statement. What was He about to prove? Not that He loved the world but that He loved the Father and authenticated that love by being obedient to Him to the very dregs of the cross. Why not the world? He loved the world through His obedience to the Father.

What was the point of Adam’s test in the Garden of Eden? There was nothing morally wrong with eating fruit from a tree in the garden. It was not the tree but the instruction that counted. God set up a test to check the strength of Adam’s love for Him. Love sets boundaries within which the beloved can move freely without fear. The strength of love is demonstrated by the beloved’s willingness to live within those boundaries because he trusts the one who loves him. And he failed the test.

For Jesus, the test of His love for the Father was His willingness to obey Him to the death without resistance — even at the hands of the one who hated Him the most. His entire human life was a declaration that He loved the Father and that He loved Him through the bitterest suffering any human can endure. Period!

“When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. “He Himself bore our sins” in His body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness: “by His wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:23, 24 NIV.

Peace That Makes No Sense

PEACE THAT MAKES NO SENSE

“‘All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.'” John 14:25-27 NIV.

It’s no wonder Jesus did not give up on His disciples! He knew that the Holy Spirit would do the job when the time came.

Everything He taught them was in seed form. The Word of God is seed. When it is sown in the soil of the heart, it will grow when the conditions are right. There was so much Jesus had to teach them but it would be a progression of experiences and understanding through the Holy Spirit’s ministry that would bring them to maturity as time went on.

God is never in a hurry. It takes time for an oak tree to grow. It was His determined purpose to cultivate “oak trees”, people who were strong and stable so that they would be witnesses to Jesus, putting Him on display as their lives were progressively made whole through His grace at work in them.

“(He will) provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour.” Isaiah 61:3 NIV.

The word Jesus used for the Holy Spirit, translated Advocate or Helper is an interesting one — in the Greek, parakletos, meaning one who is called alongside. The Christian life is viewed in Scripture as a journey — hence it was originally called “The Way” (Acts 9:2). As one walks, the burdens of life cause one to totter and lean to one side or the other, making one’s walk unstable and often pushing one off the path.

The Holy Spirit is “called alongside” to help shoulder the burden so that one can walk upright instead of leaning over and losing one’s footing or leaving the path. A beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the believer! He does not judge or accuse — that is the Accuser’s disposition because that is all he knows. The Holy Spirit is the strength and support God has provided to enable us to walk a straight path of righteousness and truth as He gets under the burden with us and guides us along our journey.

Apart from the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ greatest gift to His people is the gift of His peace. The disciples had watched Him through the years when He was insulted, maligned and falsely accused by His opponents, without ever seeing in Him a glimmer of revenge or retaliation. He spoke the truth to them and allowed the truth to be their judge. They had seen Him live a life of serenity and peace in the midst of every kind of storm. And now He was assuring them that they would experience His peace — not the kind of “peace” offered by the world.

What kind of peace does the world give? The best that comes from the world is the “peace” that happens when there is a temporary lull in our unpredictable circumstances. We enjoy it while we can because we know it will not last. We know that our circumstances can change at the drop of a hat, plunging us once again into worry, anxiety, fear and frustration.

Jesus’ peace is not dependent on circumstances but rather on our standing in God. His death for us removes the reason for our alienation from the Father and we are now able to rest in His love for us, knowing that we are completely in His care. His peace provides sure footing for us because it stands on two feet: peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1) and the peace of God that surpassed understanding as we commit our circumstances to Him (Philippians 4:6, 7). It is the peace of one who knows he is not an orphan but a son.

In the midst of the turmoil they were about to be plunged into, His disciples had His promise that His peace would be their strength and support no matter what happened. Whether they experienced it right then or not is uncertain but the days were coming when they would face their own “Calvary”. By that time they would have made their acquaintance with the Holy Spirit and learned to rest in Him in the storms and experience the unearthly peace that makes no sense outside of Jesus but is real anyway.

And how much they needed it, and so do we!

The Keys To Real Life

THE KEYS TO REAL LIFE 

“‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.’

Then Judas (not Iscariot) said, ‘But Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come and make our home with him. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.'” John 14:18-24 NIV.

We are dealing with a fairly long passage of Scripture today, but it is important that we look at the whole piece because there are some very important teachings in it.

It was difficult for the disciples to make the transition from the seen to the unseen. As Jews they understood abstract ideas through action. Take, for example, the word “holy” meaning items that are set aside for a special purpose. The Hebrew verb is qadash and the nouns derived from it are qodesh and qadosh.

“‘Do not come any closer,’ God said.’Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing in holy (qodesh) ground (ground set aside for a special purpose). Exodus 3:5.

“When these words are translated as “holy”, the original Hebraic meaning is removed and replaced with an abstract word that conveys the idea of pious, perfect or sinless. But the Hebraic concept of these words is about the position of a person or object and does not necessarily have to be a “holy” position.” The Living Words Volume 1, Jeff A Benner, Virtualbookworm.com Publishing Inc, 2007, page 84, article “Holy”.

One can understand why it puzzled them that Jesus was talking about “going away” and “showing Himself” to them but not to the world. They did not realise that He was speaking about living in another realm in which they could be “in the world but not of the world.”

This realm into which, from Jesus’ perspective, they had already entered although they did not yet fully understand it, was entered through recognizing who He was and entered into by faith in Him. Hence Jesus’ insistence that they believe in Him, without which faith they could never experience what He was talking about.

But faith in and of itself was not enough to embrace the fullness of the life Jesus had come to give them. Without a passionate love for Him, faith was sterile and would not issue in the kind of obedience that was more than mere compliance with what Jesus “commanded”. He spoke of a union with Himself and with the Father that was so close that it produced a spontaneous obedience out of submission to Him and the Father that did not question or resist but simply flowed with the will of God in perfect harmony.

What I find significant in this passage is that Jesus spoke of this union and obedience as though it were already a reality in their lives. They were still to enter into greater measures of its fullness but they already had the life of God in them because they believed in Him, and their love for Him was real and growing. They had developed a dependence upon Him that would be shaken by the whole cross event but would be rekindled as they learned to relate to the Holy Spirit as Jesus’ “other self”.

It was important that they realise that they were to see themselves as sons of God and not as orphans! How important this is in the life of every believer because the “orphan heart” robs us of everything we have in Christ and neutralises our effectiveness as His representatives of the kingdom of God. As orphans we have no sense of belonging, no inheritance and we live like slaves in the fear of punishment.

Only as we recognise and embrace our sonship can we live in the power, authority and resources of our position, and experience the perfect love of God that drives out fear and can respond with faith and love that enable us to appropriate all that we are and have “in Christ”..

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a NIV.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18 NIV.

Friendship with God

FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD

“‘If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.'” John 14:15-17 NIV.

Talk about intimacy! Jesus described the potential of a relationship with the Trinity that could not possible get more intimate.

What is intimacy? Our minds immediately link intimacy with some kind of physical relationship, don’t they? Cuddling, kissing, even intercourse! But that is not necessarily being intimate. Intimacy simply means fully knowing and being fully known. This is the relationship that exists in the Trinity — no secrets, nothing hidden, no dishonesty, being absolutely open and transparent.

Intimacy in the human sense involves both risk and trust; risk because it means opening up to the other person and risking betrayal; and trust because it believes that, no matter what it reveals, the other person will treasure and hold sacred whatever you reveal of yourself.

Jesus offered His disciples and He offers us a relationship like that with us, but it has a condition attached — fulfilling our side of what cements unity — obedience.

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:14 NIV.

However, this is not the subservient kind of obedience that does what it is told because, if not, there are consequences. This kind of obedience is built on the love that wants to protect the oneness between us and the Master by not doing anything that would go against what He values.

He offers us, mere humans, the highest form of friendship with Him — friendship with God, mind you, the God who created and rules the universe through the power of His Word; this God said that He would call us friends, just like Abraham was His friend, and like David was a man after His heart — on one condition

“The Lord is friend to those who fear Him. He teaches them His covenant.” Psalm 25:14 NLT.

“Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:11-14 NIV.

Jesus promised the priceless gift of the Holy Spirit to those whose love for Him is strong enough to do whatever He requires so that we will not break His heart, not to those who “receive Him so that they can go to heaven when they die!” Like the intimacy He had with His Father, He offers us an intimacy that understands His heart and co-operates with Him to carry out His will on earth through prayer.

“I will ask the Father…” Was this something that Jesus decided on the spur of the moment? I don’t think so. This was part of the plan from the beginning. The first pair lost the intimacy of the Holy Spirit when they disobeyed. Jesus bought back that honour for us by paying the price for our sin, but He still had to co-operate with the Father by asking Him to do what He had already planned to do.

This is the essence of true prayer; not bringing our “grocery lists” of requests to God and wanting “delivery” of the items by next Tuesday, but by getting to know the heart of the Father through intimacy with Him, and expressing our oneness with Him through prayer as we learn what He has already planned to do and then asking Him to do it.

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 13:13 NIV. This is not a blank cheque that will get you anything your heart may desire. This is an invitation to share in the glorious work of rebuilding God’s kingdom on earth by hearing the heart of the Father and asking according to the name (the nature and will) of the Son.

Greater Works

GREATER WORKS 

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask anything in my name and I will do it.” John 14:12-14 NIV.

At face value there was nothing unusual about Jesus’ statement that His disciples would do greater things than He was doing. This was what was expected of the disciples of rabbis who had authority. They would take their disciples beyond where they were.

But there was something more than what was expected of the ordinary disciples of a rabbi with authority. This was Jesus speaking, not just any rabbi. “Going to the Father” had greater implications than just dying and was the key to the “greater things”.

1. Going to the Father meant that He was returning to the one who sent Him. Jesus was on a mission to the earth. He did not come into existence at His conception.

“He was with God in the beginning” John 1:2 NIV.

2. He had come from the Father to accomplish something and He was returning to the Father because He had completed what He had come to do.

“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burn offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am — it is written about me in the scroll — I have come to do your will, my God'” Hebrews 10:5-7 NIV.

3. The Father had sent Him to the earth to reveal Him to His people. He had become distorted in the minds of His people through centuries of rabbinic study and interpretation which had overlaid their ancient Scriptures with layers and layers of rules and additions until He was no longer recognizable as the God who revealed Himself to His people through the prophets.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being…” Hebrews 1:1-3a NIV.

4. He came to restore what was broken at the Fall. Adam and Eve broke the unity between themselves and God through their disobedience, and brought the whole universe into disrepair. They incurred an unpayable debt which Jesus came to pay to restore them to unity and fellowship with the Father so that they could fulfil the Father’s will.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 NIV.

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20, 21 NIV.

5. He came to create a body (the church) of which He is the head, to reproduce Himself on the earth and to bring heaven to earth by the way they live. Through His death which provides forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to the Father, He is building a family of sons and daughters who are just like Him to represent Him to the world and to do the works He did and much more.

How can we do greater things than He did? Perhaps not greater in nature but greater in volume because, wherever His children are, He is by His Spirit in them and He is able to spread His message of God’s kingdom by multiplying Himself through them across the entire globe.