Tag Archives: rock

ON OR UNDER THE ROCK?

ON OR UNDER THE ROCK?

What, then, shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as a way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.

As it is written:

See I lay in Zion
a stone that causes people to stumble                                                                       

and a rock that makes them fall,                                            
and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”
Romans 9:30-33.                                                          

Isn’t the imagery of the Bible beautiful? Jesus…a rock? This statement conjures up all kinds of mental pictures about the one in whom we are called to put our trust.

Bedrock – strong, stable and immovable, a solid foundation upon which to build a life; cornerstone – holding the building together, giving strength to the structure; stumbling stone – causing people to trip and fall because they will not accept the truth of who He is; cleft rock out of whom flows living water like the water from the rock that satisfied the thirst of the children of Israel in the desert; crushing rock that destroys those who refuse to believe in Him; mighty rock in a barren land that gives shade and shelter to those who hide in its shadow.

Elizabeth Clephane – (1830-1869) – captured the spirit of these beautiful thoughts in her hymn:

“Beneath the cross of Jesus                                                                                       I I fain would take my stand,                                           
the shadow of a mighty rock                                           
within a weary land;                                                               
 a home within the wilderness,   
a rest upon the way,  
from the burning of the noontide heat,   
and the burden of the day.” http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh297.sht                                                                                                                                                                              

Why did the Jews stumble over Jesus? They thought they knew better. Isn’t that the reason why people still stumble over Him today? For whatever reason – religion; childhood traditions; beliefs they have accumulated through misunderstood life experiences – they choose to believe their own beliefs rather than the truth.

What is it about Jesus that causes people to stumble? The cross!

“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” 1 Corinthians 1:23.

Both Jews and Gentiles missed it. The Jews expected a warrior Messiah, disposing of the Romans with mighty acts as He did when He delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. A crucified Messiah was abhorrent to them! They missed the bigger picture – slavery to sin and death and the greater deliverance their Messiah came to bring. They tried so hard to gain acceptance with God through their puny efforts at righteousness, that they missed it because righteousness is a gift given to us at Jesus’ expense.

The Gentiles missed it because God’s wisdom made no sense. Their gods had to be magical and powerful, yet manageable… and visible and plural because one god couldn’t do everything. They needed to manipulate their gods to serve their own ends so they created them in their image. A God who was invisible and spiritual and loving was too much for their minds, so they also tripped over the rock.

The problem is that those who fall over the rock will one day fall under the rock. The only safe place is on the rock!

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Jesus Did Not Say That We Must Bind The Devil

JESUS DID NOT SAY THAT WE MUST BIND THE DEVIL

Oh what a mess we make when we assume that Jesus said what He did not say!

He was on a mission to teach His disciples a valuable lesson.  He took them to Caesarea Philippi – to us only a name on an ancient map. But what did it mean to Jesus and His disciples?

It was Israel’s “red light district”, a no-go place for respectable and orthodox Jews. It was both a city built in honour of Caesar which had in it a temple dedicated to the worship of Caesar, and a region where there was the site of pagan worship of the worst kind.

A huge rocky cliff had niches carved into the base in which the images of pagan gods were placed for worship, the most prominent being the goat-god Pan, and a pagan temple. There was a grotto at the base of the cliff from which a spring flowed, joining the snow melt from Mount Hermon to form the source of the Jordan River.

Pagan worshippers believed that evil spirits used the cave as their portal through which they retreated into the underworld in the winter and returned in the spring. Their worshippers would entice them out by having sexual intercourse with goats. This cave entrance was known as “the gate of hell”.

It was there, in sight of these depraved and disgusting goings-on that Jesus asked His disciples the question, “Who do you say that I am?” The disciples’ response was crucial. If they acknowledged Jesus only to a prophet or a great teacher, as did many others, they would have missed the significance of His identity, and would have had no clue about the purpose of His visit to the region.

Their mission as His disciples hung on their understanding of who He was. If they saw Him as no more than another rabbi, what He came to do would have evaporated like a vapour because He depended on them to continue His work when He left them, based on the conviction that He was indeed the Son of God.

Jesus was elated when Peter, as spokesman for the group, assured Him that they recognised Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, even though Peter did not understand the full implication of his confession at that moment. It was on the strength of his confession, and in the environment of the worst of human depravity that Jesus commissioned them to bind His yoke on those who were destroying themselves by their ungodly lives because of the yoke of paganism that they had embraced.

. . . On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matt. 16: 18-19)

We must interpret Jesus’ commission in the culture and religion of the Jews, not from our western imposition on the text. What did it mean to “bind and loose” in the context of Judaism in Jesus’ day?

In His extended explanation of the character and behaviour of kingdom citizens (called “the Sermon on the Mount”) Jesus made it clear that His purpose was not to set aside the Torah but to fulfil it by living it out according to God’s intention so that His disciples would understand and do as He did. The foundation of the Torah was the character of God, expressed in His mercy – the weightiest part of His character. It was His intention that, in all their dealings with one another as God’s covenant people, they would treat one another with mercy.

The ancient rabbis with sh’mikah, those who were acknowledged to have the authority to make pronouncements on God’s intention regarding the details of His instructions, i.e., the Torah, had missed the point and piled rules upon rules governing their behaviour until the people were burdened with impossible expectations on how to “keep” or live a Torah-compliant life.

Jesus declared that He had the authority to dispense with all the rigmarole of His predecessors and take His people back to God’s original intention – mercy and compassion because these were the weightiest or most important aspects of God’s nature (see Exodus 33: 18-34: 7).

It was this yoke – the mercy and compassion of the Father – that would set people free from all other yokes, including the yoke of both paganism and Pharisaism, that would change people from the inside. At the very spot where the disciples witnessed what pagan beliefs led to – “on this rock” – Jesus declared that He would build His church – the visible representative of His kingdom, and nothing, not even the false beliefs about demons and hades, would be able to resist.

At that very spot where the disciples were witnessing the behaviour of idol-worshippers, Jesus gave His commission and the authority to “bind” His yoke on people and “loose” them from all other yokes which ensnared and enslaved them. No amount of useless “binding” the devil or demons can do what Jesus does in the hearts of people when they embrace the truth of who He is and allow Him to rule in their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The city of Ephesus was a case in point. When Paul and his companions went to Ephesus, it was a city in the grip of Diana-worship, the many-breasted goddess of fertility who was worshipped by people interacting sexually with her temple prostitutes. After Paul had preached the gospel in that city, many Diana-devotees embraced the truth, brought their demonic paraphernalia and burnt it in the middle of the city.

So powerful was the yoke of Jesus that Diana lost her influence and had to be “defended” by the silversmiths led by Demetrius because they had lost their business making and selling “Diana”-relics. Their protest caused a riot in the city which almost cost Paul his life.

There is no evidence in Luke’s record of “Jericho” marches or prayer walks; of discerning of spirits or “pulling down” altars or strongholds; of “binding” demons and “loosing” the Holy Spirit or whatever people “loose” by their “spiritual warfare”! It was repentance (changing their minds), following Jesus and obeying the truth that set them free from the power of Satan.

Jesus died to defeat the devil.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2: 13-15)

We have only one response – to stand on the truth of what He had done.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armour of God so that, when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph. 6: 12-13)

God has not instructed us to wage war against the devil and his minions. Jesus did that and overcame him through the cross. We can add nothing to what He has done. He calls us to hold fast to the truth of the gospel and its effects in our lives (put on the whole armour of God), and to declare the good news of forgiveness and freedom in Christ to those who are ensnared by Satan’s yoke of lies in whatever form they are held captive.

Idolatry or even denominational yokes which have added to or removed anything from the yoke of Jesus, hold people in bondage. Only when we believe and embrace the truth of God’s mercy in Christ and the finished work of Jesus on the cross, can we be loosed from the yoke of bondage and set free to worship God in spirit and in truth without fear because perfect love drives out fear.

How much time is wasted in useless so-called “spiritual warfare” praying instead of preaching the gospel to those who have never heard because it is the power of the cross that is able to save and deliver men and women from the devil and his snares! True spiritual warfare is done by telling people the truth and allowing them the opportunity to respond in faith. It is the work of God to set them free.

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1: 13-14)

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (Copyright © 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

Available on www.amazon.com in paperback, e-book or kindle version or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

Watch this space. My second book, Learning to be a Disciple – The Way of the Master (Copyright © 2015, Partridge Publishing), companion volume to Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart, will soon be on the bookshelves.

Check out my Blog site – www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com

 

 

 

On This Rock

ON THIS ROCK

Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then He ordered His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah (Matt. 8: 17-20).

What a golden moment . . . and what a mess we westerners have made of it! 

Before Jesus’ words can make real sense to us, we need to put ourselves into His sandals and the sandals of His disciples, taking note of where they were and what His words meant in the language and culture of first-century Hebrews and not twenty-first-century western Greek-thinking so-called theologians.

Where were they? They were in the middle of the “red-light” district of northern Israel. There were sexual orgies going on of the most depraved kind – people co-habiting with goats to worship their god. This was not the place for Jews to get their entertainment. Jesus deliberately took His disciples there to give them a taste of what went on in the real world and then to ask them an in-you-face question, “Who do you say that I am?” If they thought He was just a human, albeit a mighty spiritual one like their prophets of old, then He would be powerless to make an impression on the godless world.

Peter blurted it out. “You are the Messiah.” Well done, Peter! In a rare flash of insight, which Jesus acknowledged as from the Father, he recognised in Jesus something far more than just a man. Now the disciples were ready to receive the next part of their commission to continue the work that Jesus had begun.

No need to spiritualise here. The very environment provides the explanation of Jesus’ words.

“You are Peter – just a little stone, powerless in yourself to do anything. You cannot change what you see going on here. Look around you, Peter. What do you see? Terrible things happening because people have rejected the knowledge of the true God, and created their own gods as an excuse to indulge the lusts of their sinful natures? Yes, Peter, but right here, on this huge rock where the images of their gods are displayed, I will build my church. Nothing will be able to withstand the power of the truth, not even their stupid idea that the cave over there from which water flows is the gate of Hades.”

What will make the difference? Well-meaning but misinformed Christians have latched onto Jesus’ words and turned them into the fanciful doctrine about “spiritual warfare”. Binding the devil and loosing the Holy Spirit! Really? Yes, this is spiritual warfare but not the kind that is carried on in the name of truth.

It was every rabbi’s right, whose s’mikah – authority – was recognised and acknowledged, to teach his own yoke – his understanding of what the Torah permitted or did not permit as a way of life. A rabbi with authority taught his disciples his yoke and expected them in turn to continue to teach his yoke to their disciples without changing it in any way. They were given the authority to interpret the Torah in the disposition of their rabbi.

Jesus was a rabbi with authority to teach His yoke. Instead of interpreting the Torah in the tradition of the other rabbis with authority who had gone before Him, men like Gamaliel, Hillel and Shammai who added rules to rules, making their yoke impossibly enslaving because of their legalism, Jesus said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light (Matt. 11: 28-30) because He was gentle and humble in heart. He taught and practised the mercy and compassion of God in place of the rules of a demanding God who punished those who broke them.

Jesus clashed with the religious authorities who did not like the God He represented. But, His yoke of mercy would break down the hardest resistance, transforming the hearts and lives of people, and replacing their godless ways with loyalty and obedience to Him as His followers accurately represented Him and practised His yoke.

At that moment, when Peter confessed his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus conferred on His disciples the authority to interpret His yoke (the keys of the kingdom) and to teach His would-be followers what the Torah meant according to the disposition of Messiah. They were to “bind” on people the truth which had already been authorised in heaven and “loose” them from the lies which kept them in bondage to legalism which was not the true message of the Torah.

In this way, through the work of the Holy Spirit in them, not by praying “binding and loosing” prayers, people would be rescued from the dominion of Satan. Jesus said that it is the truth that sets people free. The Holy Spirit convinces people of the truth and brings life to their dead spirits.

Real “spiritual warfare” takes place through the truth. We do not fight by shouting at the devil or doing imaginary “binding and loosing”. Jesus waged war with error by speaking the truth and so must we. Our most powerful weapon, the sword of the Spirit, is the yoke of Jesus taught in the disposition of Jesus, gentle and humble in heart.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

Available on www.amazon.com in paperback, e-book or kindle version or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

Check out my Blog site – www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com

 

 

The Dilemma Deepens

THE DILEMMA DEEPENS

Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too holy to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Hab. 1: 12-13).

So, Habakkuk, you got your answer. God is going to sort out the mess in your country by sending the Babylonians against your people. They won’t stand a chance against the Babylonian army. They will be slaughtered or enslaved, and then where will their precious idols be that they so loved to worship? Where will the rulers be who loved to lord it over and oppress the people? What about the apostate priests and false prophets who lead the people astray?

Habakkuk was appalled! “God, is it possible that you who are eternal and indestructible because you have nothing to do with evil, will do a thing like this? How can you raise up a godless nation to correct your own people? How can you use these people against your covenant nation?” The Israelites, in spite of Habakkuk’s complaint against them, looked like saints compared with the Babylonians. If he thought his people were bad, what about these vicious killers?

If the prophet’s first dilemma was puzzling to him, God’s answer was even more difficult to understand. Instead of giving him something to hold on to, God had deepened his confusion. From his perspective, what God said He was doing was not solving the problem at all. He was only making it worse. Many of his people were already suffering cruelty and injustice at the hands of their rulers. Now the Babylonians were coming to wipe them out. What sort of a solution was that?

Let’s put their situation into a modern-day context. Who are God’s people? Two categories: Firstly, God’s ancient people, Israel, are still His covenant people. In spite of their rejection of His Messiah, God has never disowned or abandoned them. And in spite of the teaching of some that God has finished with His people, that is not what the Bible says. So why have they suffered so badly since the time of Jesus?

Secondly, the church belongs to God. It is the body of Jesus of which He is the head. He loves His church and is passionate about her because she is His betrothed bride and His representative on earth until He comes. He has entrusted His Spirit to His church to lead her into all truth and to empower her to represent Him and do His works on earth. It is imperative that the church remain pure so that He can reveal Himself to the unbelieving world through her. Why is the church in many parts of the world suffering at the hands of cruel and ruthless killers?

When His people veer off course, God does not force them back to His way. He has to corral them by hedging up their way so that they return to His word and follow His leading because He is the only way to eternal life. Every other path leads to destruction.

So what does He do? He allows and orchestrates circumstances that are painful and difficult enough to draw us back to Him. Isn’t it true that people often treat God like a celestial 911? They can do without Him until crises come and emergencies arise. Then they begin to shout and scream for His help. Is that the kind of father He wants to be to us?

When we look at the global church today, in many ways it is no better than God’s people were in Habakkuk’s day. Power struggles go on in the individual congregations; money and wealth preoccupy the teaching of many; the church is continually being fragmented because people cannot get on with each other or they are divided by their pet doctrines; church leaders fall into sin and live no better lives than the people in the world; many of the churches are no more than business enterprises or social clubs.

What is God going to do about it? He is raising up the “Babylonians.” What kind of an answer is that? Suffering divides the men from the boys. It either turns people into apostates or sons. People either turn against God when they suffer or they learn obedience as Jesus did.

Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Heb. 5: 8).

God is smart. He knows that suffering forces us to choose what we value most and hold on to it. More of that tomorrow . . .

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

 

Available on www.amazon.com or www.kalahari.com in paperback, e-book or kindle format, or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

 

Check out my blogsite at www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com

 

A Time of Testing

THE TIME OF TESTING

“‘Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.'” Luke 22:31-32 (The Message).

Jesus’ words are packed with insight into God’s ways. It would pay us to understand and heed what He said to Peter.

Firstly, there is great significance in a name. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter and yet on this occasion He addressed him as “Simon.” To the Hebrew people a name was a prophetic utterance of character. “Simon” means “listener” or “hearing”, but Jesus prophesied that he would become a “rock”. Why did Jesus revert to his old name? It seems that He did this when Peter reverted to behaving like his old self. He was “hearing” but was he heeding the words of Jesus. Jesus was warning him that he was in grave danger of behaving like the old Simon.

Secondly, how strange that Jesus did not pray for Simon to be prevented from being tested! It seems that every time we are tested, both God and Satan have an agenda. Satan’s design was to drive a wedge between Him and His disciples so that their fellowship would be disrupted. God’s agenda was to expose their vulnerability so that they would get to know themselves and put their trust in Him in their weakness.

If we were protected from temptation, we would be as spineless as jelly fish. Even if we give in to temptation, as Peter did, it does not mean that we are disqualified from being Jesus’ disciples. It is a necessary part of our journey to true sonship. How can we grow in our dependence on God if we have no idea of how really weak we are?

Thirdly, temptation is not about strengthening our will power. There would be no benefit in that because God’s purpose is to train us to trust Him, not ourselves. The Apostle Paul tried to wriggle out of his trial which he called his “thorn in the flesh”. He pleaded with God to take it away. Instead, God explained its purpose.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…For when I am weak then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV).

Paul’s experience and his explanation help to put our trials in perspective. Where Satan’s agenda is to arouse suspicion and alienate us from God, God’s agenda is to strengthen our reliance on him. Temptation is never from God. James makes that clear. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.” James 1:13 (NIV). But God is never caught off guard. He gives us the option to give in or trust Him for strength to resist the devil by submitting to Him.

Fourthly, Jesus did not pray Simon out of the test. He prayed that he would come through it without giving up so that he would be able to lift his fellow disciples up when they fell because of his own experience. Gentleness and humility cannot be learned any other way and these are the hallmarks of a disciple, as imitators of Jesus.

Jesus prayed particularly for Simon because he was the natural leader. He was a ‘hearer’ but he needed to be honed into a ‘rock’ so that others could learn from and depend on him in their time of testing.

We can draw great encouragement from Jesus’ words to Peter. From His perspective, Peter’s fall did not spell disaster but growth – getting to know himself and God’s grace. Satan’s agenda is to destroy but if we handle our failures with understanding, they will serve as valuable learning experiences, exposing our vulnerability and strengthening our faith in God.

The same Peter who failed his Master so badly, said this, “In this (his readers’ hope of resurrection) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV).