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YOU CALLING ME A SHEEP?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:1-5

But his hearers did not understand what Jesus was talking about. We saw how in the setting of this long metaphor, the shepherd led them, not drove them—there’s a very intimate and loving relationship between shepherd and sheep. The shepherd gave each a name and taught them to respond to his voice and instructions. At night, he would usually lead them into a safe enclosure, often lying across the entrance thus forming literally the door or gate. Rex beautifully pointed out how flocks from several shepherds might occupy the same place, and when the separation took place, each shepherd going his way, would call his own sheep to follow, and they would follow their own true shepherd knowing his voice, hearing their own name even. Such shepherds would risk their lives protecting them against thieves and robbers and wild animals.

We asked ourselves in our recent discovery meetup, do we also fail to grasp his meanings? So we hearers of the 21st Century set out to explore this and here’s what we found.

Just who were the hearers in this story? The last mentioned were ‘some of the Pharisees’. Here’s  yet another example of the continuous controversy raging between Jesus and the blind ruling church elite (the Jews John calls them!) a fury running right through the gospel story, without any abatement, ending temporarily on his death but continuing till Jesus’ judgment on them in AD70. Jesus had just charged these same blind Pharisees “since you say, ‘we see,’ your sin remains. (John 9:40-41)

So Jesus repeated to them with great emphasis what he had already said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the gate; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Here’s another sensational Messianic bombshell, right in line with the coming next age that was breaking in upon God’s people in Messiah Jesus. In the O.T. the Lord is often pictured as the shepherd (e.g., Psalms 23 & 79) so here Jesus claims to be the only legitimate shepherd, in fact, divine!  Now this is a most momentous change.

It means the end of the old age of Moses and the Law and its replacement by the new Messianic age of Jesus the king is coming! They are in the presence of the shepherd-king! They fall into the category of all who came before, thieves, robbers! The blind Pharisees were meant to be shepherds but were abject failures, maintaining control over the people, the blind leading the blind. The rot had all started back when they rejected God as king and chose their own (1 Samuel 8:7). They hated the idea of a spiritual kingdom and fought to retain their illegitimate position.

The time has come! The Kingdom of God is breaking in. Complete turnaround is demanded.

Are there parallels today? Yes undoubtedly—in the apostate churches where they have CEOs and not true apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers (in the N.T. these are always plural) who emulate the Good Shepherd, not domineering over the flock as Peter wrote but upbuilding and encouraging the flock.

Jesus replaces all these thieves and robbers. For all time! If anyone enters the sheepfold through the Jesus-gate, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. It’s Jesus saying again I am the way, the truth, the life. Our pasture in the friendship and under the Lordship of Jesus is spiritually glorious even in this life and eternally beyond. It is what we were designed for. It is abundant life now and forever! It is rivers of living water. It is unimagined freedom, if the Son shall set you free. It is participation in the Body of Christ by every member, full of the Holy Spirit.

The voice of strangers brings mere religion, speculations, deceit and systems of what to do. Only the voice of Jesus brings salvation. If you really want real salvation you will recognise human ideas, elitism, control, manipulation and pride, and run away from every voice except that of Jesus, like the blind man of the previous story in the gospel. Hear the voice of the good shepherd or be destroyed!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (10:10)  

Huge! I love what W. F. Howard wrote in The Interpreters’ Bible, 1952 about this abundance, or rather the lack of it:

those who fling their lives away in an avid questing for sensation, seeking to make a collection of experiences as others do of stamps, and esteeming every new experience of any kind an addition to their store, who will get drunk, simply for experience, and touch unholy things that they may taste the whole of life: – they do not realize, poor duped fools, misled by hobbledehoy thinkers, so called, who have cooked these immature ideas into a kind of messy philosophy – they do not realize that in life, as in arithmetic, there is a minus sign as surely as a plus; and that certain experiences do not add to, but subtract from, what we had and were before, each new indulgence in forbidden things leaving us poorer, leaner, emptier, and at length beggared.

Would you be happier in the service of the devil than in the service of God and His Redeemer—you poor, blind deceived fool! Leads to misery! No. You are created in His image and to enjoy life in his glorious abundance!

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.

Jesus is the true owner of his sheep. Those who follow him and no other, are not their own. We are not our own if we claim to follow him. There is no middle way. Either you are His, not your own, bought with a price or you are not of His flock. If you are owned by another you will be deceived, lied to, destroyed.  Awake!

 I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know Me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

Here is a most significant and tremendous statement. He knows us who follow him and we know him. How awful it would be to hear the words depart from me, I never knew you (Matthew 7:22). He knows you! All about you. Laid down his life for you and me—he knew you there on the cross.

But there’s even more here: He knows his own and we know him, just like the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father—with Jesus we have the same intimate relationship that exists between the Father and Jesus!

 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

Who are these other sheep? We could see Jesus was thinking of the Gentiles—the people who were not of this (Jewish) fold. He came here for the lost sheep of the house of Israel and we had read in our journey through the four gospels of those who were touched by him and desired to follow him—who else but Jesus? We have met many already in the Gospel of John. But after his death and resurrection the focus moves to the great ‘unwashed’.

Yes. He had us in mind. He thought of you and me. I must bring them also.

He will bring many, many more—there can be no doubt! I must bring them also! It’s his work and though he calls us to partner with him in his work, all the initiative lies not with us, neither the means, neither the results. To him alone be the honour and the praise and the glory.

Here is a strong message to us who earnestly desire the salvation of our neighbours, loved ones, and people we meet in the public sphere. This releases us from the thinking of failure and disappointment that we often have. I must bring them also! they will hear My voice! They will become one flock with all of us!

They will be one flock with one shepherd. This is a certainty because he has declared it. So stop your whinging and doubting and start rejoicing, believing. One flock—not many; one Shepherd, not many. The promise is sure and the result is certain. All else is fake. Do you get it? Oh Lord, help us all who read thus far to truly get it!

Now skipping to verse 27, where Jesus sums it all up: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

Not only that but My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

Being his we are exposed to the most unimaginable love and safety. Eternally. Oh the certainty!

What do you desire? Are you ready for all this everlasting abundance?

JESUS’ LITTLE ONES!

The other night we were reading and sharing from Matthew 18. We discovered some startling things that Jesus said to his disciples when they asked him about who would be the greatest in his kingdom.  They did not expect his response, having in mind a realm like the world. He set a little child before them and said,

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (18:3)

There you have it boys.

To ask such a question showed up their need for conversion from attitudes of importance, self-interest and vanity—attitudes totally at odds with the nature of this kingdom. Such a radical change! How could they possibly become like this child? Everyone in their culture knew that little ones were not worth very much, they were totally dependent on their parents for how they thought, what they said and where there would go. Surely he can’t be serious! Surely there must be some hidden meaning here!

They braced for his further explanation, as by this stage they had to expect to be rattled once more (why keep on following this man –is he a man, or what?). . . . well they hardly knew what! Bombshell #25 or was it 27 or 28 coming?

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  (18:4)

The kingdom that Jesus constantly spoke about was a kingdom in which the desire to be important cannot exist at all. Humility is the essential key to entering this kingdom. This is utterly different to all other kingdoms, all of which are destined to fail while Jesus’ kingdom will endure forever, replacing all others. To enter it meant a total reversal of their values, to a dependency clearly demonstrated in the vulnerability and helplessness of a little child, a kind of death and new birth.

 “And whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”  18:1-6

Just who are these ‘little ones’?

They heard that if they desired to follow Jesus into his kingdom they must be prepared to undergo a radical change and be childlike. Then in this new status—like a little child—they find a new identity: by being ‘little ones’ they would become his agents bringing his message—so amazing that whenever they act for him, then whoever they meet who receives them, it is as if they are receiving Jesus! And conversely, when people come against them, the little ones, Jesus ones who believe, and place stumbling blocks in their path as they carry the kingdom message, the judgment on these would be severe.

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!  (18:7)

Following Jesus they (and we) can expect many stumbling blocks—the original word is scandalizomai. Whose side do they want to be on? One will join the other side and betray him. Whose side do YOU who reads want to be on? The scandalized or the scandalizers?

This is another step in the training of his emissaries and though there be stumbling blocks to trip them up, impede their progress, Jesus wants them to know the out-of-this –world benefits, the glories, the exaltedness they could expect by humbling themselves under Jesus’ leadership, his easy yoke, his light burden.

And there’s more.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (10)

They must treat other little ones with honour because—think about it—they have angels in the heavenlies who never stop having face to face communication with Jesus’ Father. Wow. Imagine such guidance and protection.

Let’s say that again. You who have humbled yourselves under the Master’s command have the unfathomable privilege and continuous protection of God’s angelic hosts! So never despise any of the little ones!

There are the despisers and the despised. The scandalizers and the scandalized.

Then Jesus told a story of the 100 sheep and searches for the single straying one.  Then finding it, he rejoices over that single one more than over the others. He cares for every single one of us as if each were the only one!

So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. (14)

Only believe! Believe you are a little one. Accept your new status as a little one. And watch!

Discoveries in John 6

The other evening as we shared together from John chapter 6 we were rewarded once again as Jesus gave us some precious understandings. So we share some of these discoveries with you here.

Soon after Jesus wonderfully fed 5000 people who kept on following him on foot for extraordinary distances, he said to them, “you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” John 6:26-27

We had to ask ourselves:  Are we seeking Jesus and what is our motive in seeking him? What am I looking to get from him? Some miraculous provision?  Some special treatment? Why are we doing these in-depth studies? What are we really looking for? More knowledge?

He tells us emphatically what we truly need. There is the stuff we look for which will one day disappear, including spiritual stuff. But what will be left? What will last? What will satisfy? Only Jesus.

He promises to give us treasures—real food– that lasts and lasts, forever!

Jesus has this persistent message that will not go away: it is so, so long-term—it is about ETERNITY. We must try to think long-term and make firm decisions in the light of his words.

We realised that so often we are working for things that will soon be gone. But what he has to give us will last forever. Surely we need such food. And he is the only one who makes this outrageous claim. There is no one else who can do it. 

He warns against ‘working for the food that perishes’ Working! So the crowd want to know “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” and the answer is stunning: The work of God is that you believe in Him whom He has sent (6:28). That’s the only work—just believe—it’s not a matter of doing but critically all about who you believe! Just believe in me, is the answer over and over right through the Gospel of John. We must not think for a second that what we do is unimportant, but that will not satisfy. That will not satisfy God and it will not satisfy us. Only Jesus.

Such an answer draws out the request for a sign—do something really spectacular like Moses did, like feed 600 thousand people from heaven for about 40 years.  Well, it wasn’t Moses at all but ‘My Father gives the true bread’. Now Jesus feeds millions forever with food that comes from the Father through the Son. He will satisfy us—we won’t ‘hunger’. We won’t thirst. We need not look elsewhere. All else will disappoint.

Then this bombshell:

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never,  most certainly not, ever cast out.” (37) he said this with tremendous energy and confidence and certainty. This is so good—for we have come to him and we are his and he is ours—forever! He has come down from heaven, not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him: “that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (38-39) We can see that we are no longer our own possession but we are God’s own people whom he knows and gives to the Son—we are given to the Son.

That should send excitement, even shivers, through our hearts. Right?

It is a matter of not ‘beholding’ him, but believing on Him to have eternal life. People saw him but turned away sadly grumbling about his claims. They knew the family—how could all this be true? The Bible tells it like it is with no window dressing—many could not believe, won’t believe even when the obvious is before them. No mighty miraculous sign will ever be enough. No rational explanation will suffice. More is required from above. Perhaps no one believes in your family or neighbourhood, or our circle of acquaintances.

As we want to share Jesus with others what did we learn from Jesus’ words?

We must start to look not to men, or to techniques or strategies, but to God who alone can save. So Jesus drops another nuclear bomb: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

And another pointed explosive: “It is written in the prophets, ‘and they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.” (45) It’s a sort of pre-evangelism—the Hound of Heaven is surely at work lovingly drawing people to Jesus. drawing them as beautiful music draws, as love draws us. As a gorgeous sunset evokes pleasure. As glimpses of the stars and handiwork draw us to the Creator.

As his messengers, we often worry about our failures in promoting the good news, our poverty of expression. We might give up—the people here are too hard-hearted, too in love with the world, too busy.  We learn from the Master that we are merely his agents. It’s all about the Father and his Son, not you and me.  We represent him, sometimes well enough, other times badly. We continue—just obey! He will do it.

Like the Jews we may wonder “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (53) but he does not explain! It is impossible. We were reminded of what he said to Nicodemus ‘you must be born again’. He speaks in mysteries but those who are taught of God recognise the truth when it comes. How good is that!

He presses deeper:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (53-58)

We attempted a few suggestions. Jesus speaks of the deepest close relationship with him in these sayings. There is an intimacy in the Holy Spirit with Christ that can be truly experienced and enjoyed. Today. Forever. We can see that this is spiritual eating, spiritual drinking. A literal approach is certainly out of the question. This is not about the ‘Lord’s Supper meal as that has yet to be introduced.  

Nothing can anywhere ever match this ‘in him-ness’ or ‘him-in-you-ness’. Abiding in Jesus.

Still, many of his disciples said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?  What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? There are even more fantastic things up ahead by which he may offend them—and us.

Here is the key:  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

 64 But there will be many we speak to who will not believe.” Don’t worry. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, (and who it was that would betray Him).  And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (64-65) Repetition underlines this precious truth.

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore, it says. Again we note the absolute frankness of the scriptures. Jesus faced so much rejection, failure—expect the same.

He then said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Of course he knew the answer and Peter shouted: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

We concur heartily. Where else but Jesus?

Nuff said.

On Mission to Israel in Matthew’s Gospel

In Mathew’s Gospel we have been tracing Jesus’s words and we have noticed his growing conflict with the Jewish leaders, heading towards the End of the (Mosaic) Age culminating in his coming visitation in judgment and vengeance on those who rejected him and killed him–their Messiah! A totally new covenant and age would then come–a time we now experience. Praise our mighty God and his Redeemer! There is an urgency in the mission to the Jewish people—the time is short.

In the long passage, Matthew 9:35 to 10:15, we read about Jesus’ words and actions in the lead-up to this important Jewish campaign. Jesus went about all the towns and villages, teaching in synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom. He was also healing every disease and every sickness among the people. We noted that the Kingdom of God does not consist merely in talk but in power. It is dynamic.

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. So then he turns to his disciples saying, the harvest indeed is plentiful, but the labourers are few.

Few indeed. It seems the only labourer is Jesus himself!

So he calls the disciples to pray that the “Lord of the harvest will send out labourers into his harvest.”  And who is this Lord of the harvest? Jesus the Lord of course! And he is the Sower! He sows the Word of God among four kinds of ground as we have seen in the Gospel stories. It seems God always invites people to share his desires by asking them to pray to him.

Then, as if in answer to his call to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for workers, he then called and gave these twelve disciples sensational abilities: authority to throw out unclean spirits, and to heal every disease, every kind of sickness. They had seen him do these miracles now it was their turn. Heal every disease, every sickness, and throw out every oppression of evil.

They were to pray and then they were to act, obeying his direction, becoming themselves the answer to his prayer, equipped with the same awesome spiritual power and authority of the Spirit which they had observed in the Master. He gave them no techniques, no tools, no stuff, just his awesome authority and supply of their need.  

Jesus sent these twelve out, and commanded them for this mission, saying,Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give.’

Why were they forbidden to go to the Gentiles, or even the Samaritans?

There was a great urgency, first seen in Jesus at the beginning of his work and now here, to get the message of the kingdom to the lost sheep of Israel. Some seeds will fall on good ground, some will obey the call to repent, realizing that the Kingdom of God was imminent.

He continued to instruct them: Into whatever city or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy; and stay there until you go on. As you enter into the household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you.

Why? We saw that by staying there in that household before going on, they had opportunity to bless and demonstrate the Kingdom of God among the members of the household and leave behind these and others believers in Messiah Jesus to further his message of the Good News of the Kingdom.

He warned the 12 that urgency was critical: Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust from your feet. Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.

“That city!” The poor soil. Hard. Those prophetic words would soon become reality. Many towns and cities will crumble and be ravished in the terrible tribulation of 67-70AD, a day of judgment—the “end of the age”, a judgment far more dreadful than even that of Sodom and Gomorrah. History confirms this. The Son of Man would come in awesome judgment, not just upon Jerusalem, but also the towns and cities of Judea and Galilee using the hands of the Romans under Titus. Hence the great urgency of this mission—get the job done before it’s too late.

Thus the scope of this mission was to Israel only because judgment was soon to come. That Israel is in view is confirmed by Jesus’ warnings to the 12 to beware of being delivered up to councils, and being scourged in their synagogues.  And also by the typical hospitality expected to be shown by ‘worthy’ persons in the Jewish culture.

Jesus assures the disciples, You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come.

There is a time limit set and there will be a sudden end to this mission to Israel. The time is short.  Jesus later told his disciples that even he does not know the day or hour the end will come when the mission will conclude.

By “the end” Jesus was referring to the end he foretells more than once in the Olivet discourse (Mat 24)—the coming of the Son of Man. This is not the end of the world nor is it a visible coming of the Lord—the scripture makes that clear. He came in judgment on unrepentant Israel using the Romans, just as God used pagan rulers and armies in many events of judgment in the Old Testament as his agents, his ‘servants’.

Clearly, Jesus expected that the Son of Man would come before the disciples would be able to finish their mission to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’. History records that in 67AD Vespasian and Titus ravished the Galilean towns and finally destroyed the town Jodapatha, then under the command of the later Jewish historian Josephus, as well as subduing Tarichaea, which brought an end to the war in Galilee. Conquering town after town, Titus quickly advanced through the hill country of Judea and Jerusalem looting and destroying all resistance.  This mission of the 12 was urgent before the terrible times ahead.

“From one end of Galilee to the other there was an orgy of fire and bloodshed; no horror, no calamity was spared; the only safety for the fugitive inhabitants was in the towns which Josephus had fortified…. “                                             — Josephus, The Jewish War 3.59 (3.4.1

Is there any justification for insisting on seeking the ‘worthy person’ in other times and cultures? This practice was enjoined by Jesus for a specific time in history and has a practical early 1st Century Jewish context. In the NT book of Acts you can find no references to finding a ‘worthy person’. This disappears beyond the Jewish mission described in the three synoptic gospels.

Does anyone go on mission today take literally all the other instructions Jesus gave to the 12? Today we don’t ignore Jewish people do we? And are we disobeying the Lord by taking along things we deem necessary? Maybe we ought to take along less things because God always keeps his promise to provide for our needs, as Joan observed.

On the other hand, is Jesus’ promise to the 12 that they would be given the words of wisdom and of knowledge of to speak by the Holy Spirit when brought before courts no longer valid today?—of course not!  Yet how often do we see the spiritual gifts of First Corinthians and Romans etc being encouraged?

Attempts have been made to see the ‘worthy person’ principle operative in stories like Paul and Lydia but they are inconclusive and seem artificial. The Cornelius household story was precipitated by the vision Peter received in Joppa. Philip met the Ethiopian on the road and interrupted him without any attempt to find a ‘worthy’ person. The Philippian jailer encounter was the result of a supernatural earthquake! Certainly, these and others were key people to have met and to have received the Lord. That is something about which we should pray.

In fact, while we busily (and possibly legalistically) search for a ‘worthy person’ we may miss many opportunities God may provide.

More. Is God telling us today to ‘pray the Lord of the harvest to send . . . . .’? Again this has a context and should be seen in that setting—the urgent mission to Israel before the End when such work would no longer be possible as the people of Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee would be either killed or have escaped these areas. Of course, we still ought to pray for more workers to join in the harvest. Jesus is still the Sower, sowing and preparing soils and the many await the harvest. 

Rather than the many specific instructions Jesus gave the 12 for the unique Jewish mission, later disciples were given and led by the Holy Spirit. Are we not often neglecting, even ignoring through unbelief, the critical spiritual gifts of God promised in the NT and putting instead tools, methods and strategies not practised by the first Christians?

THE TRUE FORCE–WITH US

Last time together we looked at parts of Matthew  7 and John the baptiser. 2- We noted several important matters of great relevance to us today as we think more of the Kingdom of God and Jesus the king.

Now when John heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who comes, or should we look for another?”Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Blessed is he who finds no occasion for stumbling in me.  Mat 11:2-

We wondered ‘why did John seem confused, disillusioned?’ While in prison, he had heard of the amazing, compassionate works of Jesus. But yet doubts assailed him. Even him.

Yes, even John who had actually seen the Holy Spirit come and land on Jesus when he baptised him and it was John who declared God had sent him to prepare the way for the Messiah, and who exclaimed ‘Look there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. He had doubts! Also Jane reminded us that even after Jesus’ resurrection we read ‘some doubted’.

Is it any wonder that we sometimes have doubts?

To John and any observant Jew, Jesus seemed to be breaking all the religious rules. Like John, Jesus keeps picking fights with the Jewish leader elites, but not in the way John was expecting—Jesus does not seem to be on the same page. There locked up in a gloomy, uncomfortable prison—hadn’t Jesus said something about releasing the captives? Didn’t Jesus come to establish the Kingdom of God here in earthly Israel and thrash the foreign rulers? Do I look for another?

As the two disciples of John went their way, Jesus asked the crowds about John. What did you go out into the wilderness to see? He asked them why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written [in Malachi 3:1] ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

Then he stunned them by emphatically saying Most certainly I tell you, among those who are born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptizer; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.

Since the prophet Malachi, prophesying had ceased as the Jews acknowledged. Now John’s preaching had also ceased, and since then there had been no prophecies concerning the Messiah and his kingdom. The time for prophesying the coming Messiah has ended. He is here!

Christ has now come and he is proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. See what is happening—all the signs of the long-awaited, prophesied One are taking place now! And people then were—and now are in 2019—entering the Kingdom of Heaven. And now any one in Jesus’ kingdom, even the least, is ‘greater’, more influential, than John—they have the most glorious access to the King himself! They have entrance to the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit! They can see an open heaven, where anything is possible should they choose to believe! They are his inheritance, his holy nation!

Such blessed people find no occasion for stumbling in Jesus.

Since John, the last of the OT prophets like Elijah, a line has been drawn in the sand! The Old covenant has passed away and the New has come.

Jesus then said that since John-B the Kingdom of Heaven is being taken ‘by force’. It is now the new covenant under which we, poor, faulty, weak, mortals, despised by the world are yet a mighty force, commissioned to behave with a supernatural force to live out daily the power of God unto salvation, the wonderful Holy Spirit broadcasting to many souls. Now the people of God can be seen behind the scenes, secretly, powerfully, patiently and effectually, and yet not against the wills of others—instruments of Jesus’ love and power—lights in ever growing darkness.

60 YEARS

9 May 1959.

That night was the turning point of my life. Completely. I committed my life into the hands of Jesus. Suddenly everything changed.

I was a deeply committed Anglican faithfully attending church each Sunday both morning and evening and as an altar server on Wednesday mornings very early before school and later work.

But I had no need to be ‘saved’ as they put it. Pride ruled my young life. I was good enough. I was religious. But I was a hypocrite.

But I met these two East Africans visitors to Australia who were travelling around the country and speaking in churches of their amazing Lord and their personal saviour, the Lord Jesus. They also spoke of a great movement of the Holy Spirit in East Africa and the many sacrifices made unto death of many believers under severe persecution. I went and heard them.

As I listened, it seemed as if I was suddenly made aware of a totally different life and experience and world view available to me. This was something I had always wanted—expressed from my heart came a cry: I found myself praying something like ‘Lord I want to know you’.

I realised I was heading for an eternity without God. I felt naked and ashamed and totally vulnerable.

That night seated on a garden seat with the two Africans one on either side of me, I found myself wanting what these two men had. They  possessed Christ and he possessed them. They prayed for me and I prayed as I had never prayed before.

And it happened. I was different. Things were different.

The next day while in the bathroom preparing to go to work the Holy Spirit came into my life and I knew that I knew the Lord Jesus in a personal way. I knew I had a clear access to the Lord—my faulty life my sins, were dissolved. It was dynamic.

It was a rebirth. I knew I was now ‘born from above’. I now had purpose in my life. And I just wanted to tell everybody.

I told the young friend seated next to me about Jesus as we travelled in the bus to the city. I told my workmates at the office. I told the kids in my Sunday School class. I told every girl I danced with at the regular dance in the parish hall. I told all the boys and leaders in the local boys’ society. I told my fellow architectural students. Yes I told them about Jesus and how he had found me

That year I excelled in my third year architectural studies and won the top prize. I went on to start my own practice as an architect which eventually grew into one of the largest practices in Australia. We were known locally as ‘the God squad’. We held Bible Studies in the lunch hour in our office and were joined by many people from outside the office.

Since that night 60 years ago, God has been faithful to me and endued me with his everlasting love. He has kept me from harm and taught me so many things.

Reading the Bible is still my constant desire and to this day my hunger to hear the Lord’s voice continues. And to share with others.

Tonight I am celebrating and remembering with a thankful heart.

Discovering Matthew 7 continued

OK. I just have to tell you a bit more we found from our personal discoveries in the rest of chapter 7.  As we said, the Word of God came to us as we sort of ‘traveled back 2000 years’ and heard Jesus’ words that would never be out of date, would never pass away.

The Lord expects us to order our behaviour today living in his kingdom, his gracious Good News rule, his new covenant in his blood—which replaced the old covenant under the Mosaic age system.

We saw how Jesus warned the disciples about fake prophets and to recognise them by their results (fruits) not by their words or their attire. Do they point people to Jesus alone as Lord and Saviour?

Then he warns them/us again (7:22-23): Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ That’s chilling.

Jesus talks again here about entering the Kingdom of Heaven. There will be some who appear to be sincere and spiritually endowed will not necessarily enter in. Only Jesus sees into the heart. No it’s all about doing the will of his heavenly Father. In John 6:56 Jesus answers their question, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” by declaring This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. And as we are discovering in our studies Matthew chapters 5 to 7, believing in Jesus carries certain obligations in relation to the will of the Father.

At the last judgment, there will be some who appeared to be well qualified with lots of stories to plead of their various mighty works. They will be told in that day ‘I never knew you’. How we act certainly counts but what we do doesn’t necessarily lead to friendship with Jesus. Miracles however important and wonderfully given by Christ, can draw great crowds of people who can ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ and be led astray by evil spirits, into evil practices and iniquity. Our enemy can mimic spiritual gifts, assemble a web of deceit . Fake spiritual leaders and gurus will suffer terrible judgment and separation from Jesus: ‘Depart from me, you who work iniquity—I never knew you.’

Hey, wait a minute: Does Jesus know you?

We talk a lot about us knowing Jesus. But does he know you? In the End, we will know fully, even as I was also fully known (1 Cor 13:12). Will he recognise you?

Good question. To answer, there are a couple of clues here in this passage.  

First, it’s not about what we decide to do. It’s about doing the will of my Father. We can’t assume that by doing religious or ‘spiritual’ things or following a system or tradition that we are doing the will of Jesus’ Father. Right?

We can’t decide what are the best things to do for the Kingdom. Unless we enter the Kingdom, see the Kingdom, we will not turn and be obedient to his will. We will just kinda hope what we do is what he wants.

That’s dangerous.

Is it the will of the Father that we have congregations going through the motions Sunday by Sunday in religious services under the control of a priest or pastor who is paid to maintain certain doctrines and provide expected services? Is it the will of the Father that we persist with this clergy/laity divide? Is it the will of the Father that the congregants have no opportunity to express their spiritual gifting? Is it the will of the Father that they don’t even know about the manifestations of the Holy Spirit promised by the Lord? Is it the will of the Father that financial matters run the organisation? Well?

Is it what the Father wants that we copy (love) the world, trying to compete with the culture, make gatherings ‘seeker friendly’ and comfortable and avoid any talk about sin or judgment that will come? Is that what it’s all about?

Second. Jesus emphatically warns them—and us who are eager to hear his voice today—that there are many who will hear these awful words: Depart from me, you who work iniquity.

Instead of being a good tree which bears good fruit, producing lovely results, people finding life and truth in Jesus alone, there are those who are secretly working iniquity. They will be ordered Depart from me!

So it’s not so much whether we think we know Jesus—and yes we must!—but whether he knows us. And we know he knows us because we bear good fruit for him, and we live a life free of sin and carnality. We must not be deceived and think we can do just as we think is right. We must be ‘perfect’ like the Father as we saw at Matthew 5:48! We will be constantly asking ‘your will be done in me as it in heaven.’ Making progress, being transformed.

So how do we know what is right, what the Father’s will is?

Well the answer is very conveniently given us in verses 24-27 in this highly visual story:

“Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock.The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand.The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

Here are two types of hearers. Yes hearers. Which one are you? Both hear these words of mine. But only the ‘wise one’ hears these words of Jesus AND DOES THEM.

There are many voices we hear, but Jesus’ words are the words of God and the express will of God. That is perfectly clear from the gospel texts.  Yet we may hear his words, treasure them, memorise them, study and meditate on them, proclaim them—and fail to actually do them.

If you are not going to DO the words of Jesus, you might be better off eternally by not even hearing them.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching,for he taught them with authority, and not like the scribes (7:28-29). There could be no doubt –the multitudes were clearly given the way, the truth and the life! A total lifestyle and a completely different world view by the One who is anointed to speak with true authority.

Hear Jesus’ words and do what he says. It will be worth the turnings, the dying within us of following another, the suffering and the trials we may endure. Read his words. Listen to him. Then just act on them.

Then on that Day we will not be ashamed and hear him say well done good and faithful servant. Come!

Discovering Matthew 7

Once again we were enriched by the insights of one another which our gracious Lord had opened up for us. We were imagining we were part of the audience among the circle of Jesus’ disciples in his discourse given for us in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 7. Yes. The Word of God came to us as we travelled back 2000 years to listen to words that would never be out of date, would never pass away.

We met together eager to learn more of how the Lord expects us to order our behaviour today living in his kingdom, his gracious Good News rule, which totally and finally replaced the old Mosaic age system. Here are just a few of the gracious and helpful instructions we noticed.

First. Another serious warning against hypocrisy which can easily overtake us:  Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged . .  Over and again, for Jesus, hypocrisy is the pits. And let’s face it: we are totally incompetent in judging others.

Much more important to judge ourselves—yes?

So, avoid being judged by not judging others. Just stop the plague! Close your mouth before that negative attitude in your heart towards the other gets a chance to spill. You are not the Judge! The real Judge who judges righteously and without fear of favour is the same One who judges you! Leave it to the real Judge.

It’s so easy to see the speck that is in someone else’s eye, while there’s still that beam in your own eye. You simply cannot help anyone if there’s a beam is in your own eye.  What a hilarious comparison—we laughed with the crowd.

Don’t forget: with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you. Reminded us of that bit where we pray . . . forgive us in the same way we forgive others. Self-assessment is called for.

Only God can see that person’s heart, what motivates behaviour. Jesus is attacking the insane idea that we know better. We can easily see the faults in others because we are so familiar with them in ourselves.

But then Jesus warns us that we must also be discerning as we move among people: Don’t give that which is holy to the ‘dogs’, neither throw your pearls before the ‘pigs’, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.  What! Isn’t this judging others?

Well, ah, no. it’s being discerning. Take care—not everyone will appreciate what you say. Many will not be ready. We need discernment and wisdom—two promised spiritual gifts actually—see Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12.

When in doubt stop talking and pronouncing your solution—or worse, condemnation.

Instead, do more talking to the One who listens! To the One who commands: Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. He only wants blessing for us. Why do we hesitate to adopt this lifestyle? Yes, lifestyle—keep on, don’t stop, be a God-botherer. Daily. This is what he wants. He is much more willing to give to us than we are to our kids: how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!

Now there’s more about discernment (not judging).Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them.  The test is in the fruit—what does their prophetic work produce in the hearers?

There are many who seem to want the title of ‘prophet’. Surely that is unnecessary and titles are even hateful to the Lord. It will be obvious, Jesus says by looking at the results. We are warned—they look harmless but are dangerous. The internet/YouTube is full of them. Be satisfied with earnestly seeking the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Many today are prophets of doom and gloom. That simply produces fear, giving up and the nurturing of an escape mentality. All that nonsense about being ‘raptured’ to escape the tribulation—let’s believe that happened as Jesus predicted at the end of the Jewish age? Now we live under the awesome rule of the Son of God, seated at the right hand of ultimate power and authority—reigning until all his enemies are under his feet, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom! Confident that the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea!   To be continued

DO IT MY WAY

We read in 2-Samuel 6:9-15 (WEB) in the story of the Ark of the Covenant’s return to Israel from the Philistines . . . .  

David was afraid of Yahweh that day; and he said, “How could Yahweh’s ark come to me?” So David would not move Yahweh’s ark to be with him in David’s city; but David carried it aside into Obed-Edom the Gittite’s house. Yahweh’s ark remained in Obed-Edom the Gittite’s house three months; and Yahweh blessed Obed-Edom and all his house. King David was told, “Yahweh has blessed the house of Obed-Edom, and all that belongs to him, because of God’s ark.”

So David went and brought up God’s ark from the house of Obed-Edom into David’s city with joy. When those who bore Yahweh’s ark had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf.  David danced before Yahweh with all his might; and David was clothed in a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel brought up Yahweh’s ark with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

God designed the Ark of the Covenant to have two staves for bearing it on the shoulders of four priests. There were 4 positions for 4 priests to bear it. They knew fearful consequences would follow if they did not do exactly as Yahweh commanded. This was the way the Ark must be carried every time it was moved from one place to another. Do as he says!

The house of Obed-Edom had been greatly blessed by the presence of the Ark—the presence of the Living God. The presence of God always brings joy and peace and spiritual prosperity. For us under the New Covenant, we have the assurance of the wonderful presence of the Lord and the remarkable indwelling of the Holy Spirit—if we do it God’s way.

The understanding of his awesome presence must have been an encouragement to those priests entrusted with bringing the holy box into David’s city—if they did it God’s way.

Imagine how carefully and fearfully the new bearers would have acted now since the death of Uzzah when the Philistine oxen stumbled and Uzzah tried to steady it. No doubt they took up the Ark of God in fear and trembling, upon their shoulders. We notice they took only six steps. Would they survive?  They surely trusted in God’s orders and no one would die.

And then they rested, no doubt in great relief. How they praised and thanked God, and offered sacrifices with great joy. Maybe they proceeded in this manner, six steps at a time, for the entire journey. Maybe not.

So do we think we can help God out, extend his kingdom and plans by doing what seems more up-to-date or what tradition demands? We do so at great cost when we ignore God’s plans for his people.

Apparently we do. We do it our way so often. We ignore the model—Jesus.

 We think we can worship God and minister and meet together a better or quicker way than the example passed by Jesus to the apostles and recorded in the scriptures.  

How foolish this is. Dumb. Clueless. Ignorant. If we are to think we know better than Jesus.  

God is a lot wiser than we. God always knows best and by obeying him we are shielded us from disaster, disunity, powerlessness, authority-challenged, peddling misinformed doctrines and witnessing waek, miserable outcomes.

We must God’s commands and his example in his Son, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge reside. We must follow his word. Do it his way.

The order we find laid out in God’s word for us seems so . . .  yesteryear, impractical.

They did not dare think ‘why carry ‘the Ark’ on our shoulders when we can put it on wheels?’ That is what the pagans did and it was OK. So efficient! Much quicker!

Many trusted, respected teachers are teaching not what our heavenly Father has taught them in the scriptures, but useless, empty, corrupt tradition. Well-meaning ‘I’m in charge here’ pastors and fake priests simply chant out the age-long mantras for the faithful to hear and remain dormant and subject to misinformation, keeping them from rising up with faith and joy in their redemption and enjoyment of what God has done in Christ.

Why is it that no one hears sermons on 1 Corinthians 12—14. For example, (12:11) But the one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing to each one in the (local ekklesia) separately as he desires. To each one! And (12:19-20) For the body is not one member, but many. (12:14)  If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now they are many members, but one body’.

So where is THIS BODY to be found?

I cannot find even one—what I see is one-man ministry, clergy-laity divide, numerous programs instead of equipping the people, money and business models.

Why is there is only infrequent teaching on healing the sick—there’s plenty on ‘praying for the sick’. Who is training young men to go out into the marketplace with spiritual weaponry downloaded by the Lord and learning how to heal the sick?

This is rank disobedience or abject unbelief—or both.

We must all change our way of doing God’s will. Surely his patience with us is amazing.

Do it his way.

A bit more on being perfect

The Word of the Lord came to us again as we met together a few days ago—once again we were kind-a joining the circle of Jesus’ disciples in his discourse given for us in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 6.

The Lord told us so many ways how he expected us to order our behaviour living in his kingdom, his gracious Good News rule,  which since 66-70AD replaced the old Mosaic age system. He calls us to come and live in his new age of the Messiah, the New Covenant! Yes, we were discovering dynamic, motivating stuff.

He warned us severely to take care how we present ourselves to the world.

In chapter 5 we were given an extraordinary vision:  you’re the light of the world—you’re a city on a hill that cannot be hidden away! You’re a lamp that’s not put under something—wasted energy! No, you put it where everyone can see it! Our faith is a public affair. It isn’t to be hidden away in a religious ghetto.

But now he warns us that we must us beware of showing off our righteousness, like hypocrites who want to be noticed and admired and put on a pedestal. Motives are everything, hey? Our role is to present to others only HIS righteousness, the only way by which anyone may be accounted righteous before him.

The unrighteous, who Jesus has in his sights here, are in the streets and religious boxes, displaying their emptiness, their hollow-men, role-playing insincerities. Three favourite Jewish practices and three warnings are given: Truly I say to you, they have their reward, in full. Here—earthbound, adulation, audiences, control of others, pride, position, elite. No, that’s all they will get.

We must aim to hide not our light—the word of God—but we hide our giving, our prayings, our self-discipline and self-denying, and do these in secret and the Father, who sees in secret will reward.  He sees us! He sees our inward hearts, our hidden motives! Beware!

We learned together and shared that the power of our prayers lies not in big words, religious words, or many words, but in the confidence that he knows what we need already! So we begin to realise that everything lies in him and his grace and like any loving earthly dad he desires our friendship, our oneness with him and his desire for our love and his plans—so for God’s sake only, ask, seek, get knocking.

He showed us all the seven prayer points most important for us to use—the basis of all asking, seeking and knocking which has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. Actually, it’s the disciples’ prayer.

We learned where true treasure lies—not in what we possess, but what we give up, place in his hands. That’s where will be our heart as well.

And then this bombshell: You cant serve two masters. You will end up hating one and loving the other. He is emphatic: You can’t serve God and mammon (riches, things, this world). Fence sitting’s uncomfortable.

You really have to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS and all you really want will be yours. . . so there is no need to be anxious. If God so arrays the flowers and herbs of the field which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace as fast fuel, wont he do MUCH MORE for you, you little-faiths?

Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own! We often waste a lot of time and energy over issues that are yet to occur, or may never happen. 

Let’s accept it: he said stop hoping for trouble free days in this life. That is a stupid hope.

Do you know if you will be around tomorrow?

Trust me, He says.