Monthly Archives: June 2015

WHO IS THE GREATEST?

Please join me in looking at this passage in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 18).

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. Then he said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me. Mt 18:1-5

It is clear that the ‘little ones’ in this gospel are the disciples of Jesus, as indeed the term “these brothers of mine” also—his disciples. To ‘enter’ the kingdom they are to humble themselves like ‘this little child’. This makes them vulnerable as they proclaim the good news—sent as sheep among wolves, as harmless as doves. However, in this ‘no rights’ mission, the missionaries (the disciples) even have their own ‘guardian angel’ with immediate access to the Father (Mt 18:10-11). They have resources of enormous power behind them.

So, when He sent the disciples out he said:

if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” Mt 10:42

Now look with me at Matthew 11 and the status of John the Baptist:

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who is not offended at me …………. I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Mt 11:3—6, 11.

John, despite his greatness, a greatness underlined by no less than Jesus himself, could not see the true nature of the kingdom—it was withheld from him, God having another destiny/work for him. Otherwise he would have recognised Jesus’ works predicted by the Old Testament prophets, he would have ceased making his own disciples (see John 4:1—3) and he, John, would have followed Jesus as well. There is the strong implication in Mt 11:6 that John was offended by Jesus—he “stumbled over” Jesus. Perhaps he expected the anointed of God to be like the OT prophets or like himself—ascetic, politically outspoken, aggressive and bringing God’s epoch-making judgment which John so passionately proclaimed to the great crowds—all Jewish remember—who flocked to hear his astounding message.

Jesus had a different agenda and a totally separate manner and John must have been acutely aware of this.

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, whom I love, and in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will announce justice to the nations (Gentiles). He will not quarrel or shout, and no one will hear his voice in the streets. He will not break off a damaged cattail. He will not even put out a smoking wick until he has made justice victorious. The nations (Gentiles) will have hope because of him.”   Mt 12:18-21

Thus amazingly, John is seen by Jesus to be outside the kingdom of heaven! John will not live to see the kingdom come in power. He won’t be a witness to the dying and rising of Jesus or the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. So the ‘least’ in the kingdom of heaven is (surprisingly) ‘greater’ than even John. John knew nothing of the New Covenant.

Yet we must each ask “but have I entered this kingdom?

In Matthew 5 the verb is passive—it’s about how one is called least or great—not how one considers oneself to be ……

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least [i.e., by Jesus, by God!] in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Mt 5:19

‘These commandments’ means Jesus’ take—his yoke—on how God intends the Torah to be interpreted—not the Torah as spelled out by the Pharisees or their modern equivalents.

We must ask ourselves “am I living in his kingdom? Am I yoked to Jesus of Nazareth?”

 My God, how serious all this is for us—how we must desire to be, and turn around our lives to be, what looks to mere men, the least in a kingdom. This is so utterly different, and so painfully non-institutional. Such a reversal of everything we have assumed. Are we willing?

Here is a call to find ourselves only in Christ and to be intimately and totally immersed in Him and in His New Covenant which he has made with the Father.

SIN STOPPING HEALING?

 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 1 John 3:20–22

Our hearts can be misled—but God knows all! He is wonderfully greater, much greater, than our hearts! We must trust God regardless and not trust our feelings. He knows we are not perfect. If we are walking in the light, the blood of Christ continually cleanses us even though we may not feel perfect. Good news, eh?

Yet some preachers suggest that if our hearts condemn us, our prayers will not be answered and so we are not healed. But John is assuring us that God is greater than our feelings. He sees all where we see only in part and his love and grace are freely offered to us. And we are assured that our hearts need not condemn us, John making this plain for us who: believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

Again some writers will say that forgiveness and healing were “potentially” provided in Jesus’ sacrifice for us, but go on to suggest healing is somehow dependent on the sick one confessing their sins. But an examination of the Gospels shows that Jesus healed countless people without them having to confess their sins or repent.

There is no record of Jesus requiring anything from people whom he healed. For example he did not look at the epileptic boy and ask if there were any sins standing in the way. No, he spoke the word and the boy was healed after sharply scolding the disciples’ failure (Mat 17) of unbelief. At least the disciples didn’t blame the boy.

Neither is there any record of the spirit-led apostles demanding a clean slate from people before their healing.

One Australian writer on healing the sick asks the question with reference to James 5:15: “How did those praying know if the sick person had sin in his life?” He then claims the next verse “tells us”— as if James writes that this is so. But James is in no way here suggesting that the elders will know if the sick person had sin.

And who is without any sin anyway? If that was a pre-condition for our healing, no one would be healed or saved.

But in fact, James says “IF they have committed sins . . . . . .”. This makes it clear that James is not saying that the sickness is the result of sin. It is also clear that the healing of the sick one is described as preceding the forgiveness of sins, if any, and not as a condition for healing. Note also, that here James does not even mention repentance.

James seems to simply take it for granted that the person’s sins will be forgiven when the elders pray the prayer of faith. This sounds like the good news and is remarkably like Jesus’ declaration to the paralytic “Take courage, son your sins are forgiven” (Mat 9).

Sometimes in our desire to help people, to see them healed, we might think there is some unconfessed sin that prevents their healing, especially when our efforts seem powerless. We might even say to the sufferer “there’s sin in your life that stops your healing”. That of course usually adds substantially to their suffering and sends them on a futile quest to find what that sin could possibly be. That is very hurtful.

For us to make such an assumption, we are thinking it must be something in the sufferer that renders us disappointed with the outcome. Are we perhaps trying to hide our failure to heal and to shift the responsibility from ourselves? If sinlessness was a condition for healing, no one would be healed or saved. But this is not about us and “our ministry”! Jesus calls us to heal the sick person, whatever their condition—it is the love and grace of God, for not one of us deserves it. As disciples, we have the responsibility—he commands us to do it. We obey Jesus because he deserves it, not because the sick person deserves or the one ministering healing deserves the blessing. Still, love, patience and kindness for the sick is never out of God’s mind . . . . . .

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails . . . .

ON KEEPING THE SABBATH

There are some believers, and these are not just Seventh Day Adventists, laying on others an obligation to keep a Saturday Sabbath.

This is to forget or ignore the apostle Paul, who was firm about any kind of regression into Moses or any enslaving religion: “. . . But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and destitute elemental powers? Do you want to be slaves to them all over again?  You are observing days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid on your account that perhaps I have laboured for you in vain.” (Galatians 4, NASB). No. God loves us and saves us from enslaving religion.

And in Colossians 2: “Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or Sabbath.  These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.” (NASB)

The Letter to the Hebrews—written to believers who were formerly locked up in Judaism—shows how all has changed in the New Covenant and that the ordinances we read about in the Old Covenant were shadows of what was to come. Truly Jesus’ sacrifice for us and his resurrection has changed everything. The love of God for us all is now wonderfully portrayed!

Jesus took the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross affirms Paul (Colossians 2:14).  God’s amazing grace and love again!

The Sabbath was an ordinance given to the people of God in the Old Covenant under Moses. Exodus 31:12—18 shows us that the Sabbath was given as a gift to the people of Israel. It was a special sign of God’s covenant between Himself and Israel—there was a special relationship between national Israel and Sabbath keeping, as Exodus 31 shows (31:12—18), especially vss 16-17. The emphasis was on the whole nation keeping the seventh day holy, rather than merely a day of rest.

This issue was the major stumbling block for leaders of natural Israel because of the huge emphasis on Sabbath observance in their scriptures—an emphasis which is so noticeably absent from the New Testament. In the New Covenant we must follow Jesus and not Moses: “this is my beloved son—Listen to him” said the Father on the mountain.

By contrast, Abraham received no such special sign in the covenant which God made with him and which preceded the Law by 430 years! Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew of no Sabbath. Now Paul insists the covenant blessing of Abraham extends to Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we can receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Having begun in the Spirit do we finish in the flesh? No way. (Galatians 3)

The Sabbath ordinance like all the others, was nailed to the cross. Jesus has become our Sabbath, and in Him alone we rest in everything. We have been transported into the kingdom of Christ, the New Covenant made between Jesus and the Father, a covenant that can never be broken by us because we cannot break a covenant we did not make. Oh such love!

Jesus gave many commands to his disciples but not once did he mention the Sabbath to them. When he said “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” and “the the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” you will find the context was that of religious churchy leaders accusing Jesus of working on the Sabbath. They were out to get him even though he was doing the very works of the Father—working on the Sabbath! Loving everyone. He did not rest on the Sabbath but he certainly kept it holy.

In Acts 15, the apostolic leaders in Jerusalem appealed to Gentile believers merely to “avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals and blood.” Nothing else—nothing there about keeping the Sabbath. Now for Jews to say that could only come from the Holy Spirit!

There is nothing in Paul’s writings to support Sabbath-keeping, nor in any of the other apostolic writings. Examine Paul’s last letters, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy and you find several lists of sins predicted ‘in the last days’ and there’s nothing about expectation of the sin of neglect of the Sabbath! Neither is there any hint of Sabbath-neglect among the lists of faults of people contemporaneous with Paul’s letters. None.

The bottom line is the New Covenant we have in Jesus—our lives are hidden in Christ with God. All has changed in the New Covenant. We are not Israel after the flesh, but we are the Israel after the Spirit. We come to Jesus weary, heavy laden for his rest to our souls and to learn from him (Matthew 11:28-29). Oh, what love!

Of course there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that we should not meet on Saturdays! Or any other day of the week. Or how often, for that matter. There is such freedom for the people of God.

It does say that our being together should be frequent. We see this in Acts 2:46  . . .  “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.    . . . . . . And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

And Hebrews 3:13 reminds us to constantly encourage one another daily while it is still “today,” so that none grow hardened by the deceit of sin.

Every day is the Lord’s Day in the New Covenant, “now is the accepted time—this is the day of salvation”. That’s because Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath—we follow him and not Moses who promised the coming of “that prophet” who turns out to be our Lord Jesus. So unexpected!

This is just another issue that we should not need to tackle–we who are partakers of the divine nature and upon whom the end of the ages–the new covenant in Jesus–has come! The devil loves to sideline the people of God into these sorts of things while people are dying around us and we trifle with doctrines which have long been rendered obselete. Let’s get on with making Jesus known, making disciples, healing the sick, proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God.

ABOUT PERSONAL PROPHECY

Joel’s amazing prophecy in the Old Testament (Joel 2:28) was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and prophetic words became the experience of the many in the New Covenant, not just the special few as in the Old. The apostle Paul urged all in the Corinthian assembly to eagerly desire to prophesy (1 Cor 14:1—5). There’s no scriptural reason to believe prophecy has ceased and will continue when there is no longer any need for prophecy, that is, when the perfect comes, as Paul wrote . . .

“. . . . . we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. . . . . . . At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. 1 Cor 13:9—12 (NASB)

Because we see indistinctly, our prophesies need to be judged against God’s Word (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:29; 1 John 4:1). Always ask : is what is being said consistent with the scriptures? The Holy Spirit, who inspired the scriptures, will never say anything in contradiction to them. The apostle Paul wrote, Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully. (1 Thes 5:20-22, NASB). And his words in 1 Cor 14:30-32 (NASB) are both encouraging and cautionary . . .

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted . . .

Most instances of prophecy in the New Testament are found in the context of the assembly of Jesus’ people. Prophecy is distinctly different in the New Covenant compared to the Old. A prophecy just from one to another can be a great encouragement to a person. But there must be checks and balances. There are many voices in Christendom which are not holy. We are commanded to test the spirits.

It’s fine to desire giving a prophetic word or to receive one, but it is not healthy to chase after personal prophecy. That’s because the scriptures are our main guidance. We have great understanding and revelation by simply reading the scriptures with eager minds to know God’s will, the mind of Christ. Already we have inexhaustible riches given us in our new birth, God lavishing upon us his wisdom in abundance. Just read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians! Hey, mostly we don’t know what we already have in God’s promises. We must be passionate about renewing our minds and becoming conformed to Christ.

Knowing the scriptures, committing passages to memory, the words spoken by Jesus and the apostles, will protect us against deception and manipulation. When someone offers to give you ‘personal’ prophecy, take care. How can this be tested when this is offered as a service in the public arena? And care must be taken that it does not look like a Christian version of New Age guidance, even if offered by genuine believers. New Age practitioners regularly offer this and theirs are counterfeits of the true manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Not only that, but we are a New Covenant people! Just read again what the apostle John wrote, warning against deception . . .

Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.  And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.  I write you these things about those who would deceive you.  As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him. 1 John 2:24—27.

Genuine prophecy arises as the Holy Spirit ‘distributes . . . . according to his will’ (1 Cor 12:11). It is empowered by the Holy Spirit, no less. To declare a revelation from God is a serious and a fearful thing. Many people have been hurt by attempts to give private personal prophecy, so caution is needed.

Giving a prophecy carries with it enormous responsibility from us all—speaker, listeners and recipient— to be confident that the words are from God and not the speaker’s own ideas or doctrinal biases. On the other hand, people can be wonderfully encouraged by a brother or sister whether by an inspired word of encouragement from the scriptures or through the spiritual gifts of prophecy, a word of wisdom and a word of knowledge (see 1 Cor 12:8–10).

The apostle Peter warned that that no prophecy of Scripture is of one’s own interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). If we are solemnly warned not to interpret scripture privately, then it follows we must avoid any opportunity for private prophecy which escapes the scrutiny of others in the Body of Christ. At the very least, the recipient should be advised by the one communicating to seek confirmation of what was said with other mature believers.

Remember, if the Holy Spirit is the author, he will always point us to Jesus (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13—15) . . . For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Rev 19:10, NASB).

Finally, we must love one another as Jesus loves us. That means in our prophesying and in all services to others we pursue love, we make love our aim and not to please ourselves. It’s not about you or me. . . .

Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to human beings but to God, for no one listens; he utters mysteries in spirit. On the other hand, one who prophesies does speak to human beings, for their building up, encouragement, and solace. 1 Cor 14:1—3, NASB.