48. Power – for living

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

48. Power – for living

1 Cor 4:20  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Rom 15:13   May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Power behind all else: There it is in the verse above, joy and peace come out of hope and that hope is fuelled by the power of the Holy Spirit who now indwells our lives as Christians. It would be wrong to say that it is only the power of the Holy Spirit that our lives are based upon, for it is also the finished work of Christ on the Cross, but as he has opened the door to heaven for us by his work on the Cross, so the Spirit now comes down from heaven and enables us to live out the life that God has on His heart for us. So far we have considered the subject of power in a more general way, but then how that power that was manifest through Jesus’ ministry is also available for us to walk the same path. But in doing that it is easy to miss the point that this power is the foundation (together with the Cross) of our everyday lives, as well as our service, and it is to that that I now want to turn.

Diametrically Opposite: The apostle Paul wrote, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor 1:18) and there he brought together the work of the Cross and the effect that it has on us. Yet this is something that is diametrically opposite to what the rest of the word thinks. A few verses on Paul expanded on that: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:22-24) Jews & Greeks (or Gentiles) the two summary symbols of mankind. The Jews had the Law and their prophecies and wanted to see signs to confirm those prophecies,  i.e. prove to us you are from God. Meanwhile the Gentiles want a nice neatly packaged form of logical and systematic self-help salvation that you so often see on the shelves of bookshops (do you remember bookshops????) But instead we have the Cross. God’s means of salvation is a man dying on a Cross! That is so not human thinking! And so when we come to living out our daily lives we are surprised (and sometimes uncomfortable) to find that we are not told to follow a set of rules, not to follow a carefully laid out programme (although so many church do love that), but instead to follow the daily prompting and inspiration and guidance of the powerful indwelling Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God. This is another totally different ballgame.

Unseen but seen?  Let’s pick up some more of the teaching we find in the New Testament letters. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” (1 Cor 6:14) The problem is – if it is a problem to you – that you cannot see this power, only the end result of it. If you had been there in that tomb when Jesus was brought back to this life, all you would have seen was the body start to move and start to unwrap the grave clothes off the body. There was power at work but you only see the end product. Consider this: “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7) Let’s expands that with the Message version: “It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.  If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”  i.e. the wonder of the presence of Christ, the glory of God, is now in us but all people see is ordinary clay pots, like the sort I grow plants in, in my greenhouse. They are rough-finished not the beautiful ceramic-finish pots. So the unseeing see rough pots, the seeing see the glory of Christ in us, his power present within us. Amazing. Now why  am I saying this? Because many of us just look on the outside forgetting that God told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

The Reality of Power: This same thing comes out in many ways. Consider Paul’s testimony at one point: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9) This was Paul who suffered a ‘thorn in the flesh’, something that made him feel weak, but the Lord told him not to worry about that because His power is best shown through our weakness.  This power is not the sort you find in Superman, or Mr. Universe, or even some local wrestler, who all have muscles that make the rest of us feel ten-stone weaklings by comparison.

No, this power is an energy source that flows in and through us, so when you feel like giving up, you don’t. It shows itself when you are challenged over your faith and you suddenly find yourself speaking words of grace and truth that confound your attackers. It is expressed when someone slaps you round the face and you simply turn the other cheek. It is shown when someone begs a shirt from you and you give them three. It is shown when the waitress has been having a bad day and the service has not been brilliant but you double her tip anyway. It is shown when someone turns up and says, “I need someone to talk to,” but you have sixteen things more you still have to do in the day, and yet you smile and welcome them in, give them coffee and listen for two hours. This is power. Note the difference from ‘self-control’ (Gal 5:23) because self-control is simply about restraint but power talks about going forward to, for example, loving enemies by action, and praying for those who oppose you (Mt 5:44) and the various other things we suggested above.  Power in these instances are expressions of grace.

More and More: Paul repeats these sorts of things again and again so, for instance somewhat similar to our opening verse Rom 15:13, he also said to the Ephesians, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,” (Eph 1:18-20) See the order: he prays for revelation for us, which is the realization of the hope – “what it is he is calling you to do” (Msg) – and within that we realize the wonder of our future empowered God’s Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. This moves this power from simply something internal that we considered in the previous paragraph, now to an externally observable strength.

He reiterates this later in the same letter: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:16-19) Note again the order: first that we will be empowered internally in our knowledge of Christ, second as we experience his love we will have power that brings revelation so that we may ‘grasp’ – actively take hold of – the wonder of his love, and to know it – in practical practice not mere head knowledge – to receive more and more of the expression of Christ through his Spirit. This comes out in his teaching again and again to bring forth, for example, power to endure and be patient (Col 1:9-11), fruitfulness (2 Thess 1:11), boldness (2 Tim 1:7), and the ability to cope with suffering (2 Tim 1:8).  It is also seen in the writings of other apostles, for example, power to pray with effect (Jas 5:16), to shield or protect us (1 Pet 1:4,5) and to enable us to live godly lives. (2 Pet 1:3)

And So?  The message comes over loud and clear: the life we live as a Christian IS empowered by the Holy Spirit, it IS a life of power. That may be seen when we are feeling very weak but it does not depend on our feelings; it is internal, it is there! It is available for us to draw on.  It is the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and it does equip us to persevere under trials, be a blessing to others around us, and bring glory to God. That is the wonder of all that we have been considering in these last three studies; this is one of the unique ingredients in the life of the Christian. This IS the truth; let’s believe it and live it.

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47. Power – for life service

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

47. Power – for life service

1 Cor 4:20  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Eph 3:14,16 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being

Jesus expresses Power: Power accompanies Jesus. It is a word that appears with him a number of times. For example, after his temptation, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” (Lk 4:14) So as he appeared on earth manifesting the power that IS God, so one day he will return: “they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (Mt 24:30). When he started teaching and healing, “All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” (Lk 4:36) Later Gospel writer Like observed, “And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.” (Lk 5:17) so much so that he goes on to record, “the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” (Lk 6:19)  Now this was so obvious and so specific that when a woman simply touched the hem of his garment in her belief that she would be healed, we see, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mk 5:30) At the end, after he was raised from the dead, the two men who met him on the road to Emmaus testified, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” (Lk 24:19)

And the apostles: Now many of those verses we have just cited come from Luke’s Gospel. Matthew uses power 5 times, Mark 6 times, John 4 times but Luke 14 times. Luke’s Gospel is the one, it is said, that portrays Jesus as the servant but clearly the thing that impacted Luke was the power that was expressed through Jesus. But look at what more Luke brings to us: the fact that this power is passed on to Jesus’ apostles: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,” (Lk 9:1) and “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you,” (Lk 10:19) and finally in that Gospel, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49)

Ongoing: This it is that Luke carries on this emphasis when he writes the book we call the Acts of the Apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) i.e. their witness to the world would be because they were empowered by the Spirit. Then, “When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:12) i.e. Peter knew that the miraculous healing had not been by his power but by Jesus’ power. So, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” (Acts 4:33) This became the ongoing important feature of his testimony about individuals, for example, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8) and “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 9:22) Interestingly, in that latter case the power was an intellectual-spiritual power declaring the gospel and overcoming detractors. Peter, testifying about Jesus spoke of, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38)

Paul’s Testimony: If we haven’t yet got hold of this truth, listen to Paul’s testimony: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile,” (Rom 1:16) and, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” (Rom 15:18,19) and, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power,(1 Cor 2:4,5) and, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.”  (Eph 3:7) It was the power that was the Holy Spirit that brought the Church into being. Grace, the ability to preach, the ability to persevere, call it what you will, was all an expression of the power of Jesus flowing in and through Paul.

And us today? How often do you see this power that we’ve seen in all these verses, expressed in and through the church today? It seems to me that so often we substitute social events and carefully preplanned services for the power of God. Let’s suggest some ways that we should see it if it is in the way of Jesus: transforming people when they come to Christ, delivering people from addictions, fears, doubts etc, bringing healing – mental, emotional and physical – bringing power to preaching & teaching, bringing revelation – words of knowledge, words of wisdom, words or prophecy – all expression of Jesus’ ministry. If “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever,” (Heb 13:8)  then surely we should be seeing these things in and through the life of the Church today. Do we have a power-full or powerless church today?

A Response: If our honest answer is a negative one, then I suggest we should be seeking the Lord in repentance, asking his forgiveness for having lived in unbelief, and crying out to him for a fresh outpouring of that power in our individual lives and ministries. May it be so.

46. Power – for life transformation

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

46. Power – for life transformation

1 Cor 4:20  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Rom 8:9-11   You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Taken for Granted: I have a feeling that we take the word ‘power’ for granted in some parts of the church. As you may have gathered if you look back over the full sweep of this series, my mind ebbs and flows rather like the waves on the seashore and so there is a sense that some of the things that I suspect may emerge here, have already been touched upon when we talked about ‘life’ in an earlier study, but I feel that this subject is of vital importance in that it distinguishes Christian thought and experience from non-Christian, and nominal believer from real believer.  Rather that lay out a systematic, possibly soulless outline on the theme of ‘power’, I think we may be fed more from Scripture if we meander our way through verses in a more organic way, seeing where the thoughts lead us.

What is Power? I wonder what John the Baptist’s followers thought when they heard him telling the crowd, “after me comes one who is more powerful than I.” (Mt 3:11) Now John was a pretty powerful speaker. Having heard Billy Graham in the past, I would have said he also was a pretty powerful speaker. In fact the modern church has many ‘powerful speakers’, but was that what was meant about Jesus? I don’t think so. Why? Well, later on in his ministry we find people asking about Jesus, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” (Mt 13:54) which must refer back to, “Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.” (Mt 12:22) Prior to that Jesus told John’s disciples to tell him what they had seen: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.” (Mt 11:5) Later the apostle Peter was to sum up all this as: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Power, seen through Jesus’ ministry was God’s life force exercising authority to bring physical and spiritual changes to people.

More than Words: We have already pondered on the use of power in respect of preaching but there is a danger here that we can short-change the kingdom of God. Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) When Herod heard about Jesus, having known about John the Baptist – and having had him beheaded! – he knew that John was a powerful preacher, but he recognised that something was going on with Jesus that was more than what happened through John, hence he speculated, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mt 14:2) This is the primary thing that distinguished Jesus from John, the power of God. During his teaching, Jesus chided the Sadducees, “you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mt 22:29) I simply make that point because there he noted two distinct things: knowing the Scriptures and knowing the power of God. We (leaders) often pride ourselves on our knowledge of the Scriptures, but I wonder about the power of God?

Power of the Word for Salvation: Now I think ‘power’ is used in two ways in respect of how we come to Christ, how we are born again. First, there is a more general sense. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16) There is a process that is followed for elsewhere he wrote, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Rom 10:17) having earlier written, “a person is justified by faith,” (Rom 3:28) and went on to say, it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Rom 10:10)

So the process, which we have considered earlier in this series, is the word is preached to us, the Holy Spirit applies it to us and we are convicted by it in such a way that the power of unbelief in us is broken, and so we confess our sins and repent of them and receive the salvation that God offers us through Jesus’ finished work on the Cross. It is a combined work of applied Word AND Spirit, creating the power to release us to repent. (At one point Paul taught Timothy about, “the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Tim 2:25 suggesting the work and gift of God, the help of the Spirit, to bring about repentance.)

Power of the Spirit for Salvation: The second way ‘power’ is used in respect of our salvation is through the specific indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes about  at conversion. Jesus referred to this power when speaking to Nicodemus when he likened the coming of the Holy Spirit to wind – power.  To his disciples he said of the Spirit, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17) The apostle Paul was to refer again and again to the Spirit in our lives, for example, Do you not know that you[c] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Cor 6:19) It is foundational teaching through the New Testament, as we have seen in earlier studies, that we are ‘new creations’ (2 Cor 5:17) brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit who comes and indwells us.

Powerless?  What about us today? Paul warned Timothy about the ‘last days’, of people who would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:4,5) Do we have a form of Christianity, a form of church, that is embarrassed by such Biblical talk and simply reduces Christianity to ‘being nice’ or ‘being religious’? How many churches are there that deny the power of God that transforms lives when they surrender to Christ, not merely transforming them by giving them a new set of rules to live by, but by indwelling them with His Holy Spirit and bringing that transformation from inside-out?

Bible or…..? One of the battles that is being fought over the Church today is the veracity of the Bible. It always has been a battle and always will be, but when it comes to power in the Church, observe the churches that believe the Bible and make it the basis of their beliefs, and there you will see the power of transformed lives. See churches where it is just a background feature to faith, probably where tradition is more important, and you see lack of power. This matter of ‘power for transformation’ is the second of the four motivating forces that can set the church on fire in God’s hands so that it becomes that God-glorifying, life-transforming and community-impacting body I have referred to earlier.

Believers being transformed is the first step in the power equation; power for service is the second step and that we will go on to consider in the next study. But may I conclude this one with one more comment: I have observed in some places in recent years, a tendency in the church to downplay this power transformation that takes place when a person is ‘born again’, and I believe we need to restate it loud and clear and expect to see it when there is a profession of faith being made. I leave it to the Living Bible to have the last say here: we Christians …. (are like) mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him.” (2 Cor 3:18) May it be so!

12. The Powerful Shepherd

Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.12. The Powerful Shepherd

Isa 40:10      See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.

We have just seen the call to shout the good news that God is coming. Now we have two pictures describing the coming Lord.  First it is the picture of an all-powerful God but then it is of God who comes as the Shepherd of Israel, so let’s look, first of all, at the picture of the all-powerful God. “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.” (v.10) Perhaps we should split that up so as to note exactly what it is saying.

“See”. Twice there is a call to observe. It is thus a call to really take note of what the prophet is saying. How we are often so casual when a prophetic word comes! If you have ever received a personal prophetic word, could you say exactly what it was a month later? Look and watch carefully, is the instruction.

“the Sovereign Lord comes”.  Many versions just put, “the Lord God” but the emphasis, we should see, is the same. It is God who is Lord of all, God who is sovereign. From verse 12 on the prophet is going to bring a word that emphasizes this, and we need to believe it and take it on board. God IS Lord of all things, Jesus IS ruling at his Father’s right hand. We may not understand why He gives such freedom to sinful mankind to do such awful things as history reveals, but I believe when we get to heaven, if He allows us to see every detail of history with His eyes, we will never be able to criticize Him for anything He did or didn’t do.

“with power”.  This God we are considering here is the Creator of the whole world, as we shall shortly be reminded and any Being who has that power is indeed mighty. When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, exercised his ministry we see in the gospels, example after example of him exercising the power of the Godhead as he deals with sickness, makes provision, walks on water, casts out demons and raises the dead. This is power!

“and he rules with a mighty arm”. This power is used for one end: to rule. To rule or reign means to be supreme over all peoples and circumstances so that His will is brought about. That is what God does and that is what He is coming to do. When Jesus comes back we see he will exercise this rule over all things (see Rev 19) We saw it in the previous study.

“See, his reward is with him”. Some versions use the word ‘recompense’ which really means a payment with a purpose.  The Bible is quite clear, the Lord rewards the righteous, e.g. Gen 15:1, 1 Sam 26:23,  1 Kings 8:32, Psa 58:11, Prov 11:18, 13:21, 22:4. When God comes He will judge between men and the righteous will be blessed or rewarded. In the New Testament we read, “a man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) for that is how God has made it to be.

“and his recompense accompanies him.” The two things go together – God and His reward. God’s character is to do good and so wherever He can He blesses His people. He will not bless evil, but He will bless His righteous people.

So here is the comfort for the downtrodden people of God: your God is coming, and His desire is to bless you. He will come to deal with evil (and he has the power to do that) and will reward and bless righteousness. Hallelujah!

But there is further reassurance, for this could be really scary and so we find this second picture in verse 11: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (v.11) Verse 10 could leave us feeling somewhat awed with talk of the Lord’s sovereignty and His power and His mighty arm and His acts of judgment, but now the prophet speaks to the faithful, to believers whose consciences may be over-sensitive. Hey, he says, for you who are His flock, He will come like a shepherd and a shepherd is known for caring for His flock – see Psa 23, and the following verses here: “He gathers the lambs in his arms, and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”  (v.11b) What words of tender care!

If you are a young believer, have no fear, don’t be over-awed by Him, for His desire is to lift you in those strong arms that can be used for war, but instead He will use them to protect you and give you a sense of loving security, He will hold you close to His heart. And those of you teachers and evangelists who feel responsible for the young ones in the faith, be reassured the He will so gently be there for you in your caring role and He will so gently guide you and lead you in it.

This last verse in this part helps balance the strength of the first part. Yes, God is coming, and He is coming in power and will deal with the ungodly, but those who are faithful, those whose hearts are turned towards Him, know He is coming with love and care and compassion. He is for you!  Hallelujah!

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I recognise that your heart is to come more fully into my heart, my life, my circumstances and I bow before you who are the Lord of all.

42. Areas of Rule

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 42. Areas of Rule 

Dan 7:13,14 “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power;

In a previous series, “Focus on Christ” in Study No.56, we noted the following about Christ and because it is so pertinent to our present series, we repeat it here. It flowed out of the prophetic picture that Daniel had about the Son of God referred to in our starting verses above, of Christ the ruler, and we will see the areas of his rule:

Reign’ is about exercising sovereignty, about being in control, not merely coping, not merely surviving, but being in control. When we come to the ruler over the Kingdom of God, the ruler is a benign controller who controls for the benefit of his subjects. That is the big difference between the kingdoms of the earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, let’s see ‘Christ in Control’. It is so obvious we have probably never thought about it

Control over the material world: This is the most obvious thing in Jesus’ earthly ministry, and many of us struggle to believe that this is still true of his body today when we allow him to lead. In the pages of the Gospels we see Jesus in control of the elements – calming a storm, walking on water, turning water into wine, expanding bread and fishes to feed thousands; these are all examples of Jesus being in absolute control of material elements. If I had more space I could give modern day examples of the same sorts of thing.

Control over health and life itself: When we see Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and even raising the dead, we see this power and authority over the material world being applied into flesh and blood human bodies. This is Jesus reigning in the most obvious ways. Again we could give many testimonies of the same things happening today.

Control over himself: Now here is an area we don’t tend to think about but when it is paralleled into our lives as part of his body today it becomes very pertinent. Let’s consider various ways we see this.

 i) In respect of Satan: The Gospels record Satan coming with three temptations before Jesus starts his ministry, seeking to bring him down, but in each case, Jesus remains firmly in control of his mind and his behaviour and gives right responses. This is significant because Satan questioned his very identity, but Jesus remained firmly in control of his own thinking about himself and so did not succumb to the enemy’s negatives; he knew who he was and what he was to do, right up to and including the Cross and never deviated from that, even in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was confronted with the awfulness of what was just about to happen

 ii) In respect of human prejudices: Jesus not succumb to prejudices or false religious expectations which we see in the way he met with and spoke to the Samaritan woman, the adulterous woman, the Greek woman, a leper who he touched, tax collectors etc. who he dined with, all of whom would have been rejected by respectable Judaism.

iii) In respect of his speech: But it goes beyond meeting with the unclean, the sinners and so on; it includes how he encountered and responded to the leaders and religious elite; he did not speak out of turn, he was in complete control of his tongue. He did not waver before ‘great people’; he knew who he was and therefore never felt defensive, as we so often do. He never felt uncomfortable in any situation because he knew who he was and knew the power and authority that he had.

 iv) In respect of his emotions: This is an area where we are so often stunted and so our emotions are oppressed by expectations or hardened and calloused by the hard knocks of life or the hard words of parents or teachers or other people of influence that shut us down. No, he was clearly saddened by the fact of his disciples’ little belief sometimes, he was saddened by the grief that he saw in those he loved (at Lazarus’s tomb), and he anguished over the thought of being separated from his Father on the Cross.

In each of these ways Jesus was in complete control. He knew people (Mt 12:25, 27:18, Jn 2:24) and was not fazed by them, whether they were the great and good and influential or whether they were prostitutes, demon possessed, sinners and crooks. In one sense we might say he was above them all and was therefore not controlled by what they thought, either of themselves or about him.

Application: Now that was what I wrote in that series about Christ, but now we have to take and apply this to all we have been saying about being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, ruling with him. He, we said, is the head of the body and so if that is how he exercised his rule, seen in the Gospels in one single body, it must also be how he reigns through us, his body today. So, let’s apply those things.

When we are led and empowered by his Holy Spirit, in the light of these things, we should expect the body to, at times:

  • have control over the elements, the material world,
  • have control over health and life itself, bringing healing
  • have control over ourselves with His enabling, so that
    • we do not let Satan put us down
    • we do not tolerate prejudice
    • we control our speech
    • we are not fazed by ‘big people’, the good, the bad, anyone.

Now our tendency may be to duck and dive and make excuses and say well, these things will only happen through ‘big ministries’, apostles etc., but Jesus did say, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12). Admittedly the miraculous, whether in respect of the elements or in respect of human sickness, will only occur when needed, i.e. when we make ourselves available to Christ on the frontline, but why should that not include you and me?  This IS the way Christ ruled and still rules, so if we are seated with him exercising this rule……? Some areas for serious thought and prayer, and maybe reassessing of our ‘belief’.   “Whoever believes”?

22. About the Kingdom

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 22. About the Kingdom

Mt 3:1,2  In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Mt 4:17   From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The focus of the kingdom: We concluded the previous study saying that the ‘kingdom of God’ is an all-important concept when we are considering Jesus’ activity now at the right hand of God in heaven. It is, and we need to understand it, because our lives are to be in alignment with Jesus and if his life is focused on bringing the will of God to earth, we need to understand that in respect of our own lives and what he wants of us. Many Christians seem to focus on their own ‘rule’ or their own desires and goals in life, with little thought to the bigger picture. This means that our lives may be out of kilter with Jesus’ heart as he works to bring God’s will through the kingdom. Heaven forbid!

As we see from our verses above, it was the focus of both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ preaching when they started their ministries. A few verses on we read, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23) We might suggest that healing was a demonstration of the power, authority and thus the expression of the rule of God through Jesus, heaven’s will being expressed and seen on earth and shown through the Gospels.

Kingdom of ‘Heaven’: Matthew, writing for the Jews, uses the expression ‘kingdom of heaven’, while the other three Gospel writers use the expression, ’kingdom of God’. Perhaps it is that because the Jews did not appear to have a very clear picture of life after death, Matthew was seeking to emphasize to them that there is an existence in the presence of God – heaven – that they can look forward to. In his ‘theology’, if we can call it that, Matthew has in mind a place where God’s presence exists and His rule is expressed, hence we find the use of the word ‘enter’ in respect of the kingdom, suggesting a location (e.g. Mt 5:20, 7:21, 18:3, 19:23,24,  21:31, 23:13).

Basics of a Kingdom: There are various facts about a kingdom of which we should be aware:

  • First, the big thing about a ‘kingdom’ is that it has a king (or a monarch) who rules over it.
  • Second, it is actually all about a place or existence where the reign of a ruler presides over the citizens of the kingdom.
  • Third, another thing about such a rule is that there are clear rules for life in that kingdom. In modern democracies the citizen knows that life within the country is determined by agreed rules or ‘laws’.
  • Fourth, because we live in a fallen world where Sin prevails, there are likely to be many people who resist the rule of the king.

 Dealing with Enemies: That is what is behind that teaching of Paul we noted yesterday: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) i.e. there are enemies of the king and part of Jesus’ activity is to destroy or subdue them. Because he goes on, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” (v.26) it is clear that his ‘enemies’ are not necessarily people. In Rev 21 we read of the new heaven and new earth, “There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,” (Rev 21:4) and so we may assume that death, sickness and anything that detracts from God’s original perfect creation where total peace and harmony reigns, will be removed – including sin in any form.

God’s Goal: Now do you see the enormity of this? THIS is what God is aiming for and what Jesus is working for NOW. Now you may look at the world and your experience of it so far and ask, how can you say Jesus is working for that perfect goal now, in our present existence? I have two answers.

The Goal declared: First, because of what we have just recently read: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”  i.e. he is reigning NOW and will only stop and hand it all back to the Father when he has accomplished all his objectives – to get rid of those things that prevent perfect people and harmony. THAT is his PRESENT objective and it is an ongoing process. This is what all the talk of ‘kingdom’ is about

Second, because Paul’s verses simply confirm David’s prophetic verses from Psa 110: “The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Psa 110:1,2) It was on God’s heart from the beginning!  I have commented a number of times that there are at least seven verses in the New Testament that indicate that the plan to send Jesus to redeem us and work on this kingdom, was formulated before the Creation of the world.

The Need: The Godhead knew that mankind would sin, would exercise their free will to rebel against God and His design for mankind, with all the consequences that would follow. All of this, Jesus came to work against. The big, and hardest thing, would be to die on the Cross and all that that entailed, but after that, having established a new people, he would then work into the world and through his people – and that is where you and I come in.

Present Activity: Yes, there will come a time when Jesus will come a second time to the earth, a time of power, exercising the sovereignty of God, but in the meantime Jesus presides over this age and seeks to draw men and women to himself so that this peace and harmony can rule in their lives and they can work to bring it more and more in the earth. Now you may be gasping at the enormity of this (or maybe not taking in the enormity of it) and so we will pause up here and continue tomorrow in the next study.

Homework: Pray and ask the Lord to enlarge your understanding: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength.” (Eph 1:17-19) Increased understanding is a sign of growth.

19. Recap 2

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 19. Recap 2

Phil 3:10    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection

Death before Power Resurrection: Before we move on into the third Part, we will remind ourselves of the things we have covered in Part 2.  It has been all about the power that God has released in our lives by the presence of His indwelling Holy Spirit which, when we consider it in the light of our previous lives that were dead to God, we have referred to as ‘resurrection lives’. We considered that for the resurrection life to come into being, death has first to take place, death to self, death to the old life, death seen in the form of surrender to the sovereignty of God, a new reliance on Jesus for the rest of life.

Righteousness the New Goal: From there we went on to consider that the goal of the new empowered life is righteousness, conforming to the will of God, and we reminded ourselves that that comes in two forms. First, it is our righteousness that is seen through God’s eyes as a result of the work of Jesus on the Cross.  Second, it is practical day to day righteousness that is being lived out as we conform to the teaching of the Bible and aided by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Fruit of that righteousness is peace and security.

Prayer, a New Way of Looking: We followed on by thinking about this new empowered life also been seen as a life of prayer, of becoming aware of the presence of God in a new way and responding to that presence, realising it is all about what He wants, Him knowing all of our needs already, and so entering into a new life of learning to listen to Him. In the corporate dimension, prayer within the church grouping, there is released a new dimension of revelation and direction.

God’s Provision: Because prayer is so often seen as asking for our own needs, we went on to consider the Lord’s provision for us, His grace, which comes in the form of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We saw that His resources as witnessed in two different ways: first, sometimes He delivers us out of the situation and, second, He sometimes delivers us in the situation by allowing it to continue but providing for us in the midst of it.

God’s Word – Transforming Revelation: One of God’s ‘provisions’ we considered was His word that we see both in the form of the Bible AND of the communication of His indwelling Holy Spirit, directed by Jesus, ruling at the right hand of his Father. This ‘revelation’, we said, should always bring life transformation. We examined this in the light of the examples in the Scripture of individuals being told to ‘eat’ God’s words and eating, we went on to consider, brings change to the body.

The World of Possibilities: Stepping aside from what we call the spiritual disciplines, we considered the bigger subject of how this power of God in us opens up a world of possibilities. Observing various Biblical characters, we realised that so often when God comes to bring revelation and direction, our personal sense of inadequacy has to be overcome before we can move into the fullness of His will for us.

Sacrifice & Transformation: To conclude this Part we looked at two aspects of Paul’s teaching, both of which are vital to this resurrection life.  In the first we saw Paul’s call to lay down or sacrifice our lives for God’s use. Underpinning everything about the resurrection life is this primary call to be available to God. Power flows in His children when we are seeking His presence and His will, and to do that means a laying down of our own wishes, our own ambitions and our own way of doing things. It is only within this context that the power of God is experienced.

But then, second, came the question of mind transformation, changing our way of thinking to conform to His – His overall will and goals, and His way of doing things. We realize that our life is a combination of His leading and our responding and when we respond to His leading we find a power resource available that we had not known before.

Summarizing? How can we summarize these things? Well, strangely you might think, there is very little about specific doing. These things are big ways of working, if I may put it like that, and that is on purpose. Our intent has been to focus on the reality of the resurrection life, the life empowered by the Spirit. It will only be as we move into the third Part that we will see specific things that we can DO as expressions of the kingdom of God. This Part, we might say, has been about principles.

So, yes, first, there is the principle that death must precede resurrection. For the resurrection power life to happen there has to be death to the old life and surrender to God.  Then, second, there is the realization that this is power is to enable righteousness. Third, it is a new of “God first” looking at life, especially experienced in prayer, which opens the door to the realization that, fourth, it is a life of power resources made available to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, available for every situation and circumstance. Fifth, we see it is also a life of transformation as the power of the Spirit opens our eyes and our hearts to ‘hear’ His word, the revelation of His will for our lives. Sixth, we see that this opens a whole new world of possibilities, only limited by our self-unbelief, but never His power.  Seventh, there has to be the balance of seeing it as a life of sacrifice whereby we give our entire lives over to Him for His use and disposal. Eighth, there is also the recognition that to fully enter into these things our minds need renewing to enable the transformation to take place.

Now that is interesting because I hadn’t planned it like that (I hadn’t planned it!!!) but eight in scripture is the number of resurrection. So here are a number of principles that we will take into the final Parts to see how these things are expressions of how Jesus works in and through us to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. Before we do that, let’s just remind ourselves that this is all about us growing up in Christ. As we understand and take on board all these things, so we grow. As we move into the third Part we will seek to get a third perspective on the Christian life which will enable us to grow in Him.