20. Ascended?

Part 3: Ascended & Ruling:   3A. Theory

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 20. Ascended?

Eph 2:6,7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Third Phase: We are, you may remember, basing our studies on the idea that when Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) there were three applications or phases of his life that correspond to that: first, lifted up on the Cross, his death, then second, lifted up in the resurrection, empowered by God, and now lifted up into heaven, his ascension.  We will take this third Part in two sections, first the theory surrounding the two verses above, and then the practice, how it works out. But first, let’s lay down a basic foundation of understanding from the Bible in respect of his ascension.

The Fact of the Ascension:  In Acts 1:9-11 we see Jesus ascending, leaving the earth and leaving his disciples to continue his work after they have been filled with his Holy Spirit. In ascending in the manner he did, we see him sending the message, I am no longer here on earth, don’t go looking for me. It is also a message, I am ascending to heaven to my place beside my Father. There are in the New Testament 13 mentions of this: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 /   Phil 2:9 / Col 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22

His place in Heaven:  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven: He has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand, and is there as Prince and Saviour, and he pleads for us there, has been given a name above all others, and all angels and authorities bow before him. It is important to understand these things.

Jesus Ruling in Heaven:  Prophetically Psa 110:1,2 indicates there is a process whereby he is dealing with his enemies and he rules despite them, or in the midst of them. Eph 1:19-23 show Jesus is above every other rule or authority and every other great name, and everything has been put under his feet and he is head over everything for the sake of the church.  1 Cor 15:24-26 again shows the process of dealing with his enemies and he reigns in the midst of his enemies. 1 Thess 4:16,17 says we will eventually join him there, while our verses above, Eph 2:6,7 declare we are sharing NOW in his reign (by his Spirit) and we receive his grace and kindness.

Us in Heavenly Places? There is a most remarkable truth here apart from the wonder of Jesus ascending and ruling at his Father’s right hand – that we are linked to Jesus by His Spirit and thus in a measure at least, are joined to him to participate in the process of his rule from heaven.

Ruling in a Fallen World: Now many Christians, with limited understanding, question the practical reality of these truth when they focus their attention on the terrible things that go on in the world. There is still slavery in the world, they say, there are still ungodly nations who oppress their people, persecute and kill Christians, there is still injustice, and so on. How can you say Jesus is ruling? Ah, be careful, the Scriptures say Jesus is ruling in the midst of his enemies; he exercises his rule while the ungodly are still doing their thing.

Free Will Reigns: Having given us free will, God will not overrule it and so He has to allow the world to be ungodly if that is what they want. That doesn’t stop Him acting into the affairs of the world in a variety of ways, and we shall try and pick these up as we go along. This is why it is so important that we keep close to Jesus and listen to him and not jump to our own conclusions in the chaos and apparent confusion that is often there in the affairs of men. One of the ways He works into the world is through His people, but even here He limits Himself to what we will do, our responses to Him. Thus, He may yearn to bring good changes to the world, but we may be slow to hear Him and respond, and thus He waits for us.

Little Faith? It is not His lack of desire, it’s more our slowness, even as the New Testament people of God, to respond to both what we read in His word and the leading of His Holy Spirit. There are various times in the Gospels where we see Jesus chiding his disciples for their ‘little faith’ (e.g. Mt 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20). Now we may think these things are of little consequence but in reality, they may be the very things that prevent us growing and becoming the people God wants us to be.

Growth? And there we have just touched on the heart of these studies – things to be considered if we are to grow as the Lord wants us to grow. There is always a danger in the Christian life that we either become very passive or we limit our thinking about spirituality or spiritual things to certain parts of the week (Sundays?). Limiting our thinking in this way will definitely stunt our growth. We may achieve great things in the world, but in the kingdom of God we remain infants and if the writer to the Hebrews was our mentor he would be saying, “By now I would have expected…..” (Heb 5:12).

Personal Assessment: So, we might ask, how have we done so far? Have we taken on board and understood and applied all the teaching about having ‘died’?  Have we understood and taken on board the principles we have seen in the second Part in respect of the Spirit-empowered resurrection life? If we have not coped with these, it is unlikely we will handle the teaching about ‘the ascended life’ where our faith will be really challenged

Jesus’ Expectations: The passive Christian is happy to sit in the pews on a Sunday but that is where it stops. The real Christian is the one who hears Jesus words and does something with them: “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.” (Mt 7:24) and “go and make disciples of all nations…. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) and “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) So there is the challenge for the days ahead. As we obey and move into these things, so we grow. Let’s rise to it!

20. Enemies

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 20. Enemies

Phil 3:18  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

The Cross is a cause of division in humanity. In verses 17 to 20 of this chapter in Philippians, Paul clearly uses the language of division, not in an unkind way but just in a realistic way, this is how it is.

He speaks first of the Christian community: “as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do,” (v.17) and the clear implication is that the Christian community live in a different way to the rest of the world. He doesn’t elaborate on that way here, but he will in a moment speak of the non-Christian world.

He speaks of the non-Christian world, “as enemies of the cross of Christ,” (v.18b) and he has clearly warned the church of them before: “For, as I have often told you before” and he is not indifferent to the unbelieving world as we see by the way he continues: “and now tell you again even with tears.” He doesn’t want people to be lost and his burden is that many are saved, and in that he echoes the heart of God as we see in Peter’s writings: “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

But he spells out their end and why: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (v.19) Their behaviour and their end is clearly very different from that of those in the Christian community. The non-Christian world, he says, work on personal pleasures, personal pride and on focusing on the world around them, and their end will be destruction. It is very clear.

But then he finalises what he is saying with the contrast of the Christian community: “But our citizenship is in heaven.” (v.20) And so, in a sense, he has built his case and it is quite clear. There are these two communities in the world, those who follow Christ and those who don’t. And in the midst of it all, is the heart of it, the cause of the division that we have been observing: the Cross.

Here he uses the phrase, “the cross of Christ,” almost as shorthand. It isn’t so much the fact of Jesus dying on a wooden cross outside Jerusalem, that separates these two groups, for many in the unbelieving group may acknowledge the historical event. No, the divide comes from the significance or meaning that the New Testament gives to that death outside Jerusalem, that so often is summarised in “the Cross”, meaning all that goes with the physical event. It includes the spiritual dynamics that go with it, the fact of Jesus dying for our sins so that justice might satisfied, the fact that it opens a door to a relationship with the living God. This is what divides.

5. Fanciful Forgiveness

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 5. Fanciful Forgiveness

Mt 6:14,15   For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

A Difficult Relational Aspect: In the previous study we started to consider how we have in the past viewed people and struggled with them, and how it is so easily transferred into the Christian life, and so it is another of those things  where ‘death to self’ has to apply if we are to grow. But we concluded that there is another really big area to do with personal relationships that can be a hindrance to growth that we need to consider and it is that oft-raised subject of forgiveness. Now don’t shy away because I may have something different to say than you’ve heard before.

Abuse = Hurt = Injustice: The subject arises when someone offends you or abuses you or worse, and when some well-meaning preacher, with little thought, preaches, “You must forgive them!” everything in you screams out, “But it isn’t fair! It is unjust! They hurt me, they harmed me and that is wrong!” and I have to completely agree with you. So how do we handle it?

Traditional but Inaccurate Approach: The traditional and, I suggest, somewhat thoughtless and cheap approach, is to simply say, “Yes, they hurt you but the Bible teaches that you are to forgive them.” I immediately think of two examples, one of a Christian girl who was raped in her home by an intruder, and the other a family who lost loved ones in a terrorist attack.  Both ‘hurt’ parties declared their simple forgiveness for the offenders. This then becomes a guilt laden area for the rest of us who struggle. (I also suggest their actions are unbiblical and diminish sin)

A Different Approach: The only trouble is that that is not what the Bible teaches. May I present an alternative to traditional thinking and simply ask that you check it out and see if it is reasonable. Put aside all emotions and consider what the Bible teaches. For instance at one point the apostle Paul wrote, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3:13) then there is apparently contradictory teaching: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7) and, “he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn 20:22,23). I have done a major study on this in the past, so may I present it as brief conclusions:

  • The harm done to you was sin, and God is not casual about it. It need punishing.
  • So important in God’s eyes is sin, that Jesus had to die on the Cross to take the punishment.
  • God only forgives when we have repented.
  • The forgiveness is available the moment we repent because Jesus died for those sins.
  • Where the sinner never repents and never comes to Christ, the forgiveness may have been there waiting for them when they repented, but in the absence of that repentance, they still go to hell.
  • Only God can in fact forgive, and it is a legal transaction based on the Cross, and so when we forgive it is simply ratifying what has already happened in heaven.
  • (It is the same as blessing and loosing or releasing or binding in prayer; it is only real and effective when we are led by the Spirit to declare the will of heaven).
  • True forgiveness can only be given when there has been repentance BUT while we are waiting for it – and it may take a long time to come or never come – we are to have a good attitude towards that person or persons, that desires the best for them
  • This means we pray for them and do all we can to help them to come to a place of repentance, because at the moment they are living with an issue with God which will hinder blessing in their life (unconfessed and unacknowledged sin) and only their repentance can change that.

An Offender? Now it may be that you suddenly realise that you are in reality an ‘offender’ and you have unconfessed sin which will stop you growing, a sin against another, and you need to ask their forgiveness. Well, the way is open, unless you have completely lost contact with them, and you simply need to seek God’s grace to be able to say sorry to them.

Offended: But I am more aware, at the moment, of those of us who struggle with the remaining pain and the scream against ‘forgiving’. This is going to sound hard, I’m sorry, but put all that aside for the moment. The bigger question is can you get God’s grace to desire God’s best for that person? Yes, it will be them coming to repentance but why is that so important? It is because without it they are in a place where  they are not receiving God’s best, they are not in a place of receiving His blessing and changing and feeling really good about life – because they still have an issue before Him that needs dealing with. Do you see this? In some ways this is harder that almost casually saying, ‘I forgive them,’ because we are dealing with spiritual realities here and the future of another person’s life.

Love for Enemies? Do you remember yesterday we considered Jesus’ teaching: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44)  It is probable that you still consider your ‘offender’ an enemy. Now on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Now so often I have heard that applied as ‘forgive everyone’ but the truth is that so often, if not mostly, your offender knew exactly what they were doing to you. In the Old Testament sacrificial law, in respect of sin or guilt offerings you read, “When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands….” (Lev 4:1 – also 4:13,22,27, 5:15,18 etc.) Intentional sin was much worse.  So yes, Jesus’ words fitted the occasion but most occasions don’t match! But it still brings us back to praying for our offender, wanting the best of them, because God wants the best for them and will do all He can to bring them back to a right place – which includes their repentance. Can we have the same attitude?

A Seeker of Forgiveness: But then there is the equally big issue of forgiving another when they come saying sorry. For some of us this will be just as big a struggle. “It’s all very well for you to say sorry, but do you know the effect what you did (said) had on me that I’ve had to live with all this time?” Yes, it is natural to feel like that but we aren’t called to be natural but supernatural, for we have the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Having been through this from all angles in the past, I have concluded that if I had been the offender and I had come to repentance, how would I desire others to respond to me?

Do unto others…. Many years ago it happened to me and I repented of an outburst (provoked, but that is not the issue) and two close ‘colleagues’ said, “We can’t work with you,” and utterly rejected me. What I wished they had done – and it would have saved so much anguish all round later – would have been to say, “Old friend, we’re so sorry, what has happened to you to get you to come out with that? How can we help you? How can we help you get back into a good and right place?” but they didn’t, they knifed me. A learning exercise, which is why, whatever your sin, whatever your failure, I want to put my arms around your sobbing shoulders and say, “How can I help, how can I stand with you. I am here for you.” Jesus collected the sinners around him because he had care and compassion and forgiveness. Dare we be anything less?

10. Ongoing Salvation

Meditations in Romans : 10:  Ongoing Salvation

Rom 5:9,10   Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Note again the order of what Paul has been saying in this chapter. First of all he spoke of what I have called the fruit of justification – peace with God and access to His grace (v.1-2) which enables us to rejoice in who we are and even in trying circumstances (v.2,3) which build perseverance, character and hope in us (v.4,5). But then, just to make sure we don’t get carried away with any ideas of self-effort or pride, he reminds us that we were powerless, ungodly sinners when God loved us and sent Jesus to die for us (v.6-8)

Now he seeks to reassure us about the ongoing nature of our salvation. The starting point was our justification when we came to Christ. At that moment we were born again and changed, and it was all because of Christ’s blood, because of what he had achieved on the Cross. We do need to come back to that basic truth again and again, that we are what we are because of what Jesus has achieved on the Cross. It is entirely because of what HE has done that we are justified.

So look, says Paul, if at the moment of conversion we have been justified by what HE has done, doesn’t that mean even more that we will be saved from God’s wrath that is due to sinners, as we go on in this new Christian life? The whole point of Him justifying us is so that we no longer have to come under God’s judgment because our sin and its guilt have been dealt with. Justice has been appeased and no longer cries out for the things we have done or will do, to be judged, because Jesus has completely dealt with all that. The future, as God’s children, is judgment free!

Then to make the point even more forcibly, it’s as if he goes on, look, stop and think about this a bit more. We saw just now (and agreed) that we were powerless, ungodly sinners when Christ died for us.  In other words we were still clearly his enemies when he died for us. We had nothing to commend us, nothing beyond HIS love to warrant him doing what he did. So if he died for us when we were still his enemies, how much more will he think and feel about us now that we have been reconciled to him and brought into relationship with him and made His sons?

Christ’s death was the thing that enabled us to be reconciled to God – and that has now happened. Because his love for us was so obvious by his going to the Cross for us, how much more must he feel now we have been made part of his family, children of God? If it was good before we came to know him, how much more wonderful must it be not that we have come to know him. Remember, we didn’t contribute to any of that; it was all the free gift of God. We didn’t earn it then and we can’t earn His blessing now.

This is a very simple and straight forward argument and it is simply Paul reassuring us about our future. Some of the Jews in Rome might have been wondering about God’s feelings towards them and, indeed, some of us might wonder similarly thinking, “Oh my goodness, what have I done? What is God going to demand of me know? Have I just opened the door to receive God’s ongoing corrective anger?”

No, the truth is that when we were justified, God dealt with all of His anger against sin, because our sin and guilt had been transferred to Jesus so there was nothing left for Him to be angry about. And if He loved us while He was making that provision, how much more will He express His love towards us now that all that sin and guilt have been taken away and we’ve been made His sons.

Imagine a modern prodigal son type of picture. A son goes away and ends up in the mud of the pigsty, a total mess. In this story the loving Father comes along and says, “Do you want me to help you?” The Son replies, “Yes,” and so the Father hauls him out of the pigsty, hoses him down and then takes him to a spa clinic where he is further washed and cleansed and treated with oils. Now that is the equivalent of our being justified.  Do you think the son in this story is worrying about what is yet to come? Maybe, in our thinking at least, he worries that he is going to get a thorough telling off for having got himself in such a predicament and be put through harsh training to ensure he never goes back to the pigsty. But if he wondered that, he is ignoring the wonder of what his Father has just done. If the Father has so graciously saved him, washed and cleansed him, he’s not going to beat up on him now. No, every sign in what has happened says his Father is just very glad his son has been able to be rescued and the future can now be spent in just entering into being a proper son again and enjoying all the benefits of being part of this family. This is what Paul is saying in these verses. Rejoice, for God has saved us for good days ahead! Hallelujah!

God who leads

God in the Psalms No.9 

Psa 5:8 Lead me, O LORD , in your righteousness because of my enemies – make straight your way before me

There is one particular truth in Scripture that many people have never taken hold of: God is an initiator. Yes, God knows the future, God knows what He wants to do, God knows the plans He has (Eph 2:10) and they are firm and sure (Psa 33:11) and He has an end in mind (Prov 16:4). We can plan and strategise, but it is HIS purposes that will succeed (Prov 19:21) and the good news is that they are for our blessing (Jer 29:11, Eph 1:4-11). It is with this understanding that we should always approach the subject of guidance. Guidance is all about bringing our lives in line with God’s plan for our lives. [You may need to copy this meditation and look up the verses later]

Thus we find David asking the Lord to “lead me”, but this comes some way into this psalm that we’ve already considered twice. He’s called the Lord his King – recognizing the Lord’s right to rule over him. He’s recognized that the Lord hates evil and blesses good. He’s clear in his mind about the nature of the One he is asking to lead him. He comes to the Lord, morning and evening (v.3), to talk to Him. He recognizes that it is only by God’s mercy that he can come to worship God (v.7). He’s got a problem with enemies (v.8) who speak badly of him (v.9) and he’s aware he needs the Lord’s help.

He needs the Lord to lead him, to make straight the way before him. Why? Because when you have enemies coming against you, your emotions go all over the place, your vision can get blurred, worry or even fear can take a hold of you, and even confusion can upset you. When all of those things happen we need to come and make the way clear, to clarify the path we should be walking with Him.

There is one little word in that last phrase that is so important: make straight your way before me. This brings us right back to everything we considered in the first paragraph above; it is God’s plan for our lives that we want, it is HIS way ahead that we want to walk in. He is righteous, His ways are right and because they are right they are good. The way ahead? We want His way, not a way that is dominated by the enemy, a way that distorts us, that is confusing, and worrying. No, His way is good, His way is right, and His way brings peace and blessing. But His way might be different to the way of our natural inclinations.

Our natural inclinations may be defensive in the face of an enemy, in the face of unkind, harsh, untruthful words about us. And when we are defensive we respond in like manner; we attack and that is not God’s way. Thus we find ourselves in a place of real need, of being led, of being guided into God’s way of doing things, God’s way of leading us through the days ahead. Oh yes, there’s the problem! Tomorrow and all the days ahead! We’ve got to live through these days in the sight of the enemy. Somehow we need God’s grace to walk in His way.

That’s why, so often, the apostle Paul would start his letters with grace and peace to you.” Grace is God’s ability there for us, to help us cope, to help us overcome, and to help us triumph in the situation – in His way. Peace is the ability to be at rest in the knowledge that the Lord IS Lord, that He reigns and He has a plan that he is working out. Perhaps this word comes to you like the word through Isaiah, Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isa 30:21). Is your tendency to veer off God’s path? Then the quiet word comes from behind you, still on the path, “THIS is the way!” Wondering how to proceed? Needing guidance? The answer is God’s way, God’s plan carried out in God’s way!

God, a Shield

God in the Psalms No.3

Psa 3:3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD ; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head

We have seen previously that God sees and God acts. God reigns from heaven through His anointed on the earth. He is the Lord. Now all of that could remain purely academic, purely remaining in our mind and leaving the rest of us untouched, but not so for David. The God who is ‘out there’ is also ‘down here’ with us and therefore has effect upon us.

For David, as he flees from his rebellious son, as he fears for his life, he sees the Lord as a shield. Remember what a shield is? Something you hold out in front of you to protect you. We have windshields in our cars to protect us from the wind as we drive. We have shields around x-ray machines in hospitals to protect us from the x-rays. We have shields in nuclear reactors to protect us from harmful radioactivity. We have sunshield creams to protect us from too much sunshine. A shield keeps something away, stops something from harming us. Thus for David, he is able to say that the Lord stands between him and his enemies to keep them from harming him.

But more than this; he says that the Lord is a shield around me. In other words, the Lord’s protection completely surrounds him. There is nothing half-hearted about this protection. It is complete.

When others come against us with words, with unkindness, or with harmful intentions, do we know the security that comes from experiencing the Lord standing between us and them? That’s what it is – a sense of Him standing between us and them, and therefore we can be sure that they cannot harm us. That knowledge means that we can therefore stand there without fear, stand there in the grace of God, knowing that we are God’s children, loved and protected. This means we can smile at our enemies. This means we can pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44). As we stand there, confronted by our enemies, we can know peace and security, because He is there and He surrounds us with His protection.

But there is more in this verse. Sometimes when others seem to be against us, it has the effect of wearing us down. We feel we are in a place of blackness, a place of isolation and loneliness. So what does David go on to say? “You bestow glory on me. The light of God’s presence seems to shine in our darkness and two things follow. First, we know that we are not alone; He is here. Second, the darkness, the heaviness, falls away as His light shines and suddenly we are no longer cast down. Suddenly we find we are walking with our head held high. As David said, the Lord came to lift up my head.

Yes, this is what this psalm tells us: our God is not just the all-powerful, all-mighty, all-knowing God ‘out there’, but He is personal, here for me. I can experience His presence, here and now. I can know security because He is here and now, to guard me and protect me, to stand between me and those who are against me.

Can we learn to have that sense, that God IS here with us and that He is here FOR us, to love us (for He is love – 1 Jn 4:8), and to protect us, as He stands all-powerfully between us and the people or things that would seek to harm us? He is there to ensure that we are not harmed by them, and He wants us to learn to know Him, know His presence, know His power, know His protection, and in ‘knowing’ we shall be changed.