The Desert Priest

I realized something the other day as I was listening to the gospel of Luke.

John the Baptist was born into the Levitical priest-hood. According to Luke 1:5 his father Zacharias was a priest of the order of Abijah, and as if that were not enough, his mother Elizabeth was also of the line of Aaron.

I find this seeming little detail groundbreaking. Not only was John born of parents both of the levitical priesthood, but he is their first and only child, a miracle in their old age. Can you just envision the implications of this? Let’s take a look at the story in Luke 1:5-25:

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

                     – Luke 1:5-25 [NKJV]

Don’t miss verse six; “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”

Zacharias (whose name means “remembered of Jehovah“) and Elizabeth (whose name means “oath of God“) represent the Law. They are righteous, blameless – they’ve kept all the commandments and ordinances of God–not to mention they have the very blood of Aaron’s sons and daughters in their veins.

And in its old age, the Law bears a son, and God calls Himself a gracious God, for John’s name means “Jehovah is a gracious giver“.

And John’s ministry? Preparing the way of the Lord in Israel:

14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”   

– Luke 1:14-17

John is the forerunner of the Christ, and this is why it is so important that John is a priest of the old covenant, because the Christ is the very personage of the new covenant, and it is only right that the lesser levitical priest herald in the greater Melchizedekian (Psalm 110:4) Priest–the High Priest of the order of the King of Righteousness!

I did a brief search to find out just who Abijah–Zacharias’ priestly predecessor–was. Abijah was the head of the eighth of twenty-four divisions made by King David in the priesthood (1 Chr. 24:10) and interestingly (though perhaps not prominent to us at this point), Abijah’s division didn’t return from the Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 2:36–39, Neh. 7:39–42).

Now let’s take a look at John’s birth:

57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.

59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.

– Luke 1:57-66

John’s coming was to mark a pivotal point for God’s people–the triumph of grace over law. Everyone wanted to call the new baby after his father, but finally in faith Zacharias declared the name which Gabriel had given – Jehovah is a gracious giver! His mouth was reopened and seeing the glory of God’s grace, the Law praised.

67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
74 To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

– Luke 1:67-80

I’m curious to know if anywhere before this the Spirit of God was said to fill someone rather than rest upon them; I recently heard that this was a difference between the old covenant and the new, that in the new covenant the Spirit of God dwells within rather than resting upon as is so often described of the Spirit in the Old Testament. The difference of a preposition–in instead of on. I haven’t verified that in any way to know how accurate it is, but if true it would seem that already there was a shift taking place as Zacharias became filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied over his son, the forerunner of the new covenant, whom Gabriel also declared would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even in the womb.

So John’s ministry was this: to prepare the ways of the Lord, to give Israel a knowledge of a new means of salvation, to give light to those in darkness, and to be a guide into the way of peace. In short, to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, the Messiah. And in John it is almost as though we see a mixture of old and new covenant, but John was no pseudo-covenant. He was the forerunner of the new covenant, preached the promise of salvation and baptized the people in water as a sign of faith and public act of repentance, and his lineage was of the levitical priesthood both by his mother and father, giving authority to his agreement with the coming of the Fulfillment of the old covenant, Jesus.

And in John’s (the disciple) gospel, when his disciples come questioning him about Jesus who has just begun a baptism ministry nearby, John the Baptist makes this declaration about Jesus:

27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

            – John 3:27-36

He says, “I’m not the Christ,” for the Christ could not bring about a change of priesthood and be of the levitical line of priests, and “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Because the old covenant was ready to be laid to rest. And finally John declares the new covenant: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life,” it’s always been that simple. And I don’t think that John’s desert-dwelling made him ignorant to the old way. He was the son of old-covenant priests! What do you suppose they taught him growing up? The Law. And his ministry was in part the same as that purpose of the law, to give knowledge of sin. But again his ministry was also “Jehovah is a gracious giver,” salvation and forgiveness through belief in Jesus.

To end, Jesus said this about John in Luke 7:

24 When the messengers of John had departed, He began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written:

‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’

28 For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

– Luke 7:24-28

Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. 

Jesus wasn’t downplaying John, he was saying “Hey, John is the greatest man–there’s no greater human prophet than John.” But he also denotes something important: the least of the citizens of the kingdom of God are greater than John, and we know that this is because they are born of God Himself. John is the final piece in the old-covenant puzzle, and his purpose is to prepare the way for the new covenant Himself, Jesus. John is the greatest man in old covenant terms, righteous and blameless, born of righteous and blameless parents, he has abstained from wine and all other alcoholic drinks his entire life and his diet consists of locust and honey.

But after John came something, foreshadowed by the old ways, yet completely different:

The kingdom of God.

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Grace Opportunities

Well this is the time of day when you ought to be getting excited–I know I am, it’s peak-thinking time! Alright, alright, most of you are probably off in the land of Nod by now and I can’t say I’ve had too many fantastic thoughts running through my mind any time of day for the last couple months. Yeah that’s right, the last couple months. I’ve been channeling most of my creative energy into drawing. I say ‘most’ but I haven’t had much energy to begin with–I guess I need to get back into the Word!

Alright, so enough with the prelude, something’s been tossing around my head today and it all came together when I went out for coffee with a friend. It’s roll-up-the-rim time at Tim Hortons and as we were getting ready to go we took a look to see what we’d got. He didn’t get anything, but I got a free coffee. And I shrugged and threw it out.

Now I’m going to stop my soul-thought right now, because in that moment and even as I reflect back now all my mind wants to do is make up excuses as to why I didn’t cash in on my free drink. “Well I never go to Tim Hortons anyway / I don’t play roll up the rim seriously (does that even make sense?) / I’ve never done this before, what the heck to I do with it?!” Those were the kinds of things running through my mind. But as I was reflecting back on it afterwards I had a thought. I don’t cash in on most of the opportunities God gives me–and my soul makes excuses for me to feel okay about it. How many of you can say “Amen” to that?

How many can but don’t want to admit they can say “Amen” to that?

That’s alright, because I’m not here to shame anyone about their shortcomings. They’re my shortcomings too. And this is so ridiculous! I mean, who doesn’t like free stuff? I know I do. So what is it that stops me from receiving from God? He’s there going “Hey, free coffee right here, I got your free coffee” and I’m like “Psh. I don’t drink coffee, dude.” And He says “Well alright, I’ve got a free hot chocolate right here (though I really think you should try the coffee!)” and I’m like “No thanks dude, I don’t need that.”

And I already know, deep down, why I don’t take opportunity. I’m afraid.

Fear is a fine paradox; it drives us. But it doesn’t take us anywhere. It might take you backwards, back to where you were last comfortable. But never forward. So my soul makes up all kinds of fine excuses as to why. “Oh, I don’t want to make a scene and look foolish / I’m not comfortable doing that / What if that’s just my own thoughts I’m hearing / I don’t want to intrude on anyone / What if I miss it!?”

What if you miss a Godly opportunity?

Peter just about missed out on an opportunity. Grab your Bibles and take a look at John 13 (I’m going to be reading from the New King James tonight):

13 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Now let’s give Simon a break – he didn’t understand what was going on. Jesus knew that. But if Peter didn’t get it with Jesus kneeling right in front of him with nothing but a towel on ready to wash the filth from his feet (and I’ve heard feet weren’t a pretty sight back in those days), how much more can we expect to understand everything God is longing to do for or give us? Peter flat-out said no.

But oh, the grace of Jesus. He knew pebbles don’t move anywhere fast on their own.

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” John 13:8b

And then it clicked. Or maybe it didn’t – I don’t know if Peter immediately understood it all – but he trusted Jesus, and if Jesus says ‘you won’t have any part with Me unless…’ then you better believe Peter’s gonna make that ‘unless’ happen in a heartbeat a thousand times over if his body will handle the heat! Alright, so maybe I’m exaggerating, but I see Peter as a pretty radical guy, and it shows all so clearly in his response in verse 9:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”

Peter was all over that thing. I don’t know what made him say no–maybe he didn’t think Jesus ought to be doing that, maybe he was offended. He didn’t understand what was going on, but Jesus knew, and when Peter realized that his relationship with Jesus was jeopardized you better believe he changed his mind right quick and then some! And Jesus was like “Whoa, slow down dude, we’re still cool if I just get your feet from now on.” Man, Jesus and Peter were tight.

There’s something deeper I want to explore here, along the same lines as what I began with but a little bit deeper. See, I don’t believe Jesus was just telling Peter about physical cleanliness or servitude, I think Jesus had something more in mind, which he alluded to in verse 10:

“He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean … “

This is new covenant stuff right here, and it’s something that I’ve seen people have a hard time grasping as they’re transitioning from old to new covenant thinking. See, Peter had been with Jesus throughout His entire ministry. Luke’s account of their meeting has Jesus just striding up and saying, “Hey guy, let me get in your boat and push me out into the water so I can preach to all these people here,” and afterward, “Hey guy, take your boat out and throw the nets in the water.” And Peter’s response? “We worked hard all night and didn’t catch anything–but if you say so, I’ll do it.

What? Just like that? Yeah, really. Check it out in Luke 5, cause I’m just going to paraphrase this. And by the way, when Peter’s nets filled with so many fish he had to call for help to bring them all in, he repented right there. He said “Lord, leave me, I’m too great a sinner for you to be around!” And Jesus was just like “Don’t be afraid Dude, from now on you’re gonna be fishing for people!” and just like that, Peter was hooked; as soon as they landed he and James and John who were his fishing buddies left everything to follow Jesus:

 1 So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.        

                      – Luke 5:1-11

Faith in Jesus followed by repentance for sin. That’s how the new covenant works. That’s how sinners become saints, disciples, set apart. See, I think this moment is what Jesus was alluding to as he was preparing to wash Peter’s feet, because this is the moment when everything changed for Peter. This is the moment when he repented, and because of his faith in Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith – God counted him righteous from that moment on. He got his bath among the miracle catch. And because God considered him righteous, the only further cleansing Peter needed was his feet–the part of him that connects him with the world, that place in him where the flesh still has a foothold (I’m just laying the heat on the puns tonight oh boy!). Because the truth is, all Peter’s sins were forgiven by faith when he repented, and in deed at the cross when Jesus paid for everyone’s sins – past, present and future. His future sins were forgiven because he was going to sin in the future–until Jesus comes back to deal with the world there will still be sin trying to gain a foothold in your life. The only thing left for Peter was to remain in relationship with Jesus, and to let Jesus do whatever cleansing was needed. Notice, Jesus washed Peter’s feet for him. Peter didn’t even have to repent of his dirty feet, Jesus just did it, because Peter already repented that day in the boat. And Jesus didn’t give him a full re-baptism either, even at Peter’s request. It wasn’t needed!

How many of you believe your future sins are already forgiven? How many of you don’t think that could be right? In perspective, how many of you think that Jesus must suffer death again and again each time you sin, so that your sins can be forgiven? Does that seem right? See, when Jesus gave up his spirit he said, “It is finished.” Either he paid for all your sins, or he didn’t pay for any. Either he paid for the sins of the future, or your sins aren’t covered by his blood. Think about it; you are now 2000-some years into Jesus’ future; if Jesus’ sacrifice didn’t cover future sins, not even your past sins would be now covered by the blood of Jesus. But Jesus suffered for all your sins–past, present and future. I cannot emphasize this enough; all your sins are forgiven.

BAM.

But some will pass up such an opportunity of grace just as I threw out that free drink, or pass up the opportunities God brings me daily. They will make excuses, saying that they have to repent again before their sins will be forgiven. Brother let me tell you, after you repent the first time for your sins, repentance is no longer an issue. I’m not advocating a once-saved-always-saved attitude, don’t misunderstand, but like Peter, you don’t have to turn again from your sin – you already abhor sin! That’s why it’s on your conscience now! You don’t have to have your whole body washed because your spirit is now the Spirit of Christ. All that you now need is to accept and trust the active work of the Spirit of God in your life. Your body is already clean, it’s just your feet that are a little messy, and that’s okay because Jesus is ready and waiting, kneeling at your feet to wash the daily grime off. Keep saying you’re sorry; everyone needs to hear and say that more often. But know that your sins are already forgiven, and it’s not about what you do anymore, it’s about who you know, and who you know will change what you do. Who you know will change that soul-man to desire to do the things that please God instead of doing things against God.

So here’s your opportunity. Will you take it? It’s not about you anymore, it’s about Jesus.
Jesus will deal with the sin in your flesh – just let him wash your feet.

Grace for John de Stogumber

I might not have mentioned that I didn’t read the preface.

That’s right, I hadn’t forgotten Joan of Arc just yet! I’m not going to take any time giving you an overview of the story of Joan of Arc, you can find that on Wikipedia. I am going to share some of the profound things I took away, particularly from the character of John de Stogumber. But first, a small quotation from the Epilogue (not necessarily a spoiler, but you’ll appreciate it far more after having read the play yourself, which you can do here):

CAUCHON [kneeling to her(Joan)] The girls in the field praise thee; for thou hast raised their eyes; and they see that there is nothing between them and heaven.

DUNOIS. [kneeling to her] The dying soldiers praise thee, because thou art a shield of glory between them and the judgment.

THE ARCHBISHOP [kneeling to her] The princes of the Church praise thee, because thou hast redeemed the faith their worldlinesses have dragged through the mire.

WARWICK [kneeling to her] The cunning counsellors praise thee, because thou hast cut the knots in which they have tied their own souls.

DE STOGUMBER [kneeling to her] The foolish old men on their deathbeds praise thee, because their sins against thee are turned into blessings.

THE INQUISITOR [kneeling to her] The judges in the blindness and bondage of the law praise thee, because thou hast vindicated the vision and the freedom of the living soul.

THE SOLDIER [kneeling to her] The wicked out of hell praise thee, because thou hast shewn them that the fire that is not quenched is a holy fire.

THE EXECUTIONER [kneeling to her] The tormentors and executioners praise thee, because thou hast shewn that their hands are guiltless of the death of the soul.

CHARLES [kneeling to her] The unpretending praise thee, because thou hast taken upon thyself the heroic burdens that are too heavy for them.

Now, none of those statements won’t be half as profound if you haven’t read the rest of the book to understand everything behind the characters making them (so go read the book!) but I’m just going to focus in on a few of these characters and shed some light on why I found their stories so profound.

Let’s take a look at this John de Stogumber character. Stogumber was zealous for his English blood, for the church and, as he supposed, for God–but mostly for his English blood:

“We were not fairly beaten, my lord. No Englishman is ever fairly beaten.” [p89]

“Englishmen heretics!!! My lord: must we endure this? His lordship is beside himself. How can what an Englishman believes be heresy? It is a contradiction in terms.” [p96]

Scene IV is where we first meet John de Stogumber in a conversation between himself, the Earl of Warwick and Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. The Earl of Warwick comes with a purely political perspective: Joan must be burned. Still, he pities her and claims to hate the severity of burning. He will spare her if he can. Peter Cauchon is of a similar mind but comes with the perspective of The Church; he will strive for Joan’s salvation–but only to save his own soul. Stogumber, on the other hand is adamant; Joan is a sorceress and must die:

“Certainly England for the English goes without saying: it is the simple law of nature. But this woman denies to England her legitimate conquests, given her by God because of her peculiar fitness to rule over less civilized races for their own good. I do not understand what your lordship means by Protestant and Nationalist (terms used in reference to Joan): you are too learned and subtle for a poor clerk like myself. But I know as a matter of plain commonsense that the woman is a rebel; and that is enough for me. She rebels against Nature by wearing man’s clothes, and fighting. She rebels against The Church by usurping the divine authority of the Pope. She rebels against God by her damnable league with Satan and his evil spirits against our army. And all these rebellions are only excuses for her great rebellion against England. That is not to be endured. Let her perish. Let her burn. Let her not infect the whole flock. It is expedient that one woman die for the people. … I would burn her with my own hands.”

Although the motives of Warwick and Cauchon are far from pure themselves, John de Stogumber will have nothing short of a burning. But although even up to her trial and execution poor old John holds to his belief vehemently, something happens when he witnesses the execution of Joan. He gets a hard reality check:

WARWICK. Hallo: some attendance here! [Silence]. Hallo, there! [Silence]. Hallo! Brian, you young blackguard, where are you? [Silence]. Guard! [Silence]. They have all gone to see the burning: even that child.

The silence is broken by someone frantically howling and sobbing.

WARWICK. What in the devil’s name–?

The Chaplain staggers in from the courtyard like a demented creature, his face streaming with tears, making the piteous sounds that Warwick has heard. He stumbles to the prisoner’s stool, and throws himself upon it with heartrending sobs.

WARWICK [going to him and patting him on the shoulder] What is it, Master John? What is the matter?

THE CHAPLAIN [clutching at his hand] My lord, my lord: for Christ’s sake pray for my wretched guilty soul.

WARWICK [soothing him] Yes, yes: of course I will. Calmly, gently–

THE CHAPLAIN [blubbering miserably] I am not a bad man, my lord.

WARWICK. No, no: not at all.

THE CHAPLAIN. I meant no harm. I did not know what it would be like.

WARWICK [hardening] Oh! You saw it, then?

THE CHAPLAIN. I did not know what I was doing. I am a hotheaded fool; and I shall be damned to all eternity for it.

WARWICK. Nonsense! Very distressing, no doubt; but it was not your doing.

THE CHAPLAIN [lamentably] I let them do it. If I had known, I would have torn her from their hands. You don’t know: you havnt seen: it is so easy to talk when you dont know. You madden yourself with words: you damn yourself because it feels grand to throw oil on the flaming hell of your own temper. But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done; when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then–then–[Falling on his knees] O God, take away this sight from me! O Christ, deliver me from this fire that is consuming me! She cried to Thee in the midst of it: Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! She is in Thy bosom; and I am in hell for evermore.

WARWICK [summarily hauling him to his feet] Come come, man! you must pull yourself together. We shall have the whole town talking of this. [He throws him not too gently into a chair at the table] If you have not the nerve to see these things, why do you not do as I do, and stay away?

THE CHAPLAIN [bewildered and submissive] She asked for a cross. A soldier gave her two sticks tied together. Thank God he was an Englishman! I might have done it; but I did not: I am a coward, a mad dog, a fool. But he was an Englishman too.

WARWICK. The fool! they will burn him too if the priests get hold of him.

THE CHAPLAIN [shaken with a convulsion] Some of the people laughed at her. They would have laughed at Christ. They were French people, my lord: I know they were French.

WARWICK. Hush! someone is coming. Control yourself.

– Scene VI, p141-142

De Stogumber had become so wrapped up in his own self-righteousness that he fairly went mad when Joan was nearly acquitted entirely, neither had he been happy to learn that the customary torture was not to be performed on Joan. But when he stood in the crowd as she was burning, his house of cards came collapsing in on him and he saw everything as it was. He saw the Law staring him down and knew he was fit for hell.

And it changed him.
John de Stogumber, chaplain to the cardinal, came to the end of himself, and received a revelation of grace. We find him in the epilogue, a much different man:

The door opens; and an old priest, white-haired, bent, with a silly but benevolent smile, comes in and trots over to Joan.

THE NEWCOMER. Excuse me, gentle lords and ladies. Do not let me disturb you. Only a poor old harmless English rector. Formerly chaplain to the cardinal: to my lord of Winchester. John de Stogumber, at your service. [He looks at them inquiringly] Did you say anything? I am a little deaf, unfortunately. Also a little–well, not always in my right mind, perhaps; but still, it is a small village with a few simple people. I suffice: I suffice: they love me there; and I am able to do a little good. I am well connected, you see; and they indulge me.

JOAN. Poor old John! What brought thee to this state?

DE STOGUMBER. I tell my folks they must be very careful. I say to them, ‘If you only saw what you think about you would think quite differently about it. It would give you a great shock. Oh, a great shock.’ And they all say ‘Yes, Parson: we all know you are a kind man, and would not harm a fly.’ That is a great comfort to me. For I am not cruel by nature, you know.

THE SOLDIER. Who said you were?

DE STOGUMBER. Well, you see, I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.

CAUCHON. Were not the sufferings of our Lord Christ enough for you?

DE STOGUMBER. No. Oh no: not at all. I had seen them in pictures, and read of them in books, and been greatly moved by them, as I thought. But it was no use: it was not our Lord that redeemed me, but a young woman whom I saw actually burned to death. It was dreadful: oh, most dreadful. But it saved me. I have been a different man ever since, though a little astray in my wits sometimes.

-Epilogue, p153-154

“Well, you see, I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.”

Isn’t that so GRACE for you, to say nothing of the purpose of the Law! Stogumber puts it like no other; he did not know what cruelty was until he saw it. Neither do we see sin until the Law reveals it in our lives. And you must see it, and then you are redeemed and saved–grace. And he was. How I wonder what would be the response of the disillusioned could they but receive a revelation like Stogumber’s. Salvation would come to every house.

And then there is his final blessing over Joan: “The foolish old men on their deathbeds praise thee, because their sins against thee are turned into blessings.” And that’s just how incredible our God is, that He could transform all our mistakes to blessing.

And I love this character, because out of all of them, his is the most felt transformation. He stands out to me as the one who was the most changed, and in the end more righteous than all the rest because of his allowance to the grace of God. The man with the greater sin loves that much more after he has received forgiveness, but also the man who is more than passive in his repentance. Many others such as the Earl of Warwick felt justified enough in that The Church made Joan a saint, but not John de Stogumber; he may have become only a gentle, white-haired and possible slightly senile old man, but on the day the fire was lit to burn Joan of Arc, a Holy fire was kindled to consume him also, spirit and soul for a God of unending grace.

Reunited With I AM (The New-Covenant Sinner)

One question in various forms I’ve heard over and over again is, “So you’ve done away with the law – now you can freely do whatever you want without consequence because grace means tolerance?” The thought is that discontinuing observance of the Law is the same as being without moral and free to do every wrong.

I respond to this testing question with a resounding “No. No. No!” I am not preaching freedom to do anything you like! If you’ve ever read James, you’ll see that grace does not now allow us to live in sin and still inherit life. Paul did not preach this belief that grace licenses us to live in sin and lawlessness either.

A regularly-quoted scripture showing this is Romans 3:31 which says, “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” Now, many people jump in with this verse alone to prove that the old covenant Law is still in effect, but they miss the rest of the chapter in which Paul declares that the purpose of the law is to show sinners how sinful they are, and that they need Jesus Christ’s free gift of righteousness to be righteous before God. The Law was never intended to make us righteous but to show us our unrighteousness. Does Romans 3 prove that the Law is done away with to those who keep the new covenant? Not necessarily, but I’ve covered scriptures that do in previous posts so I won’t go into detail on it here–that’s not where I want to focus today. Suffice it to say, the Law was meant for those still outside of the new covenant, to guide them to the new covenant.

So now we’re getting in on the new covenant, Jesus has saved us, cut away our sinful nature and we find rest abiding in Him. Do we now do whatever we wish? Certainly not! Then are we still living in accordance with the Law? Some may see it that way, but no; we live in accordance not with the Law of the old system, but rather with the Spirit of God.

Let me take you back a while – a long while – to understand this. We’ll look right back to the garden of Eden when God placed Adam and Eve on the earth and directed them to rule and reign. This is something I’ve had on my mind for a few days, and shared briefly the other day. I’ll go a little more in-depth here.

In Genesis 2:15-17 we find God’s commission and command to Adam: 15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

God gave Adam charge of the garden and gave him a command: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat … “

Genesis 3 tells the saddest tragedy we all know – the fall of man, the moment of sin’s entrance into a perfect world. We’ll take a look at verses 1-13.

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

                                                  –  Genesis 3:1-13

Here’s my first question: where is the sin in this picture? I’ll tell you this, the problem was a lot bigger than Adam’s wife eating a bit of fruit. We see the real root of it in the serpent’s first words: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”He brought into question God’s knowledge and understanding. And when Eve confirmed that God had, indeed, said this, the serpent came back with “You will not surely die.For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And that certainly was what the tree would give Eve – a concept of right and wrong. But we see the sin in the next verse, the rebellion and separation from God’s instruction in the next verse:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

So when the woman saw. What did she see? That the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. This is, I believe, where it all took place. Eve chose to disregard the instruction of God (based, might I add, on His understanding of His own creation) and trust her own understanding of how things were. She disregarded God’s understanding and chose her own understanding, which seems to have been rather limited. She deviated from God’s direct instruction and took her own perspective from what the serpent had said; that the tree was good food, pretty, and desirable to make her wise. And so, having chosen to rely on her own understanding rather than the understanding of the Creator, Eve at the fruit–and then gave some to Adam who was right beside her, and he ate some too.

And did the tree work? You bet. Suddenly they realized they were naked–and afraid–and they made clothes out of fig leaves to cover themselves.

Suddenly they realized something was wrong–something was missing. And they happened to notice they were naked – that must be it! Let’s fix up some fig leaves, maybe that will help our situation. But then God came along, and they hid from him. Alright, what? They hid from God.

I laugh a little at this – Adam and Eve were so innocent. First they hid from God, and then when God called for him, Adam goes “Hey, I’m right here… hiding from you…” The wave of knowledge and emotions that must have hit them that they had no idea about…

Verse 10 says Adam heard God’s voice in the garden and he hid, because he was naked and afraid. What has happened here? Adam and Eve are in the garden, they’ve realized they’re naked. They’ve probably realized a lot more than that but don’t have any idea what all these other things they’re experiencing even are, they’re practically children. Adam knows two things: he is naked and he is afraid. Why afraid? Probably because now he has a concept of right, wrong, and consequence, and that the wrong he’s done will be followed by consequence – death. (whatever that is?) And not only is there a sense of right and wrong but there is a sense of inadequacy, the real problem behind the nakedness. Why inadequacy? Because they chose separation from their Beginning and End. Choosing to step away from God meant choosing to step away from their completeness in Him. It may have only been a small thing–the choice to disregard one instruction–but the sense of separation it brought them, having never before felt any amount of separation from God, must have seemed massive. Oh, to be so innocent, so sensitive to such separation!

So to finish out verses 10-13,

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

There’s one more effect of the tree; neither Adam nor Eve could give God a straight answer.

God: “Adam, where are you?”
Adam: (doesn’t really answer the question;) “I heard you coming; I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
God: “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree I told you not to?”
Adam: (still avoiding the question) “The woman that you put here with me gave me the fruit and I ate.”
God: (now to Eve) “What have you done?”
Eve: (definitely avoiding the question;) “It was the serpent’s fault, he tricked me into eating it.”

They couldn’t outrightly admit to God that they had eaten from the tree. Adam even completely overlooked God’s question of who had told him he was naked. Now as a brief aside, who did tell Adam he was naked? Was it the serpent? If so, it’s not recorded, but I’m sure the serpent didn’t need to tell Adam that. It was the tree that opened their eyes to their own nakedness, and this is the nature of the old covenant Law also, that it opens our eyes to our inadequacies. Keep that in mind for later. Now, I don’t know how things were back in the garden, but I can guarantee Adam and Eve’s circumstance would have turned out a lot different if they had come right back to God to say “God, we ate from the tree and now something’s terribly wrong and we don’t know what to do, we’re scared, please help us.”

But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, they continued to rely on their own understanding of what was happening to them, rather than going back to the Creator to get His assessment of the situation. At this point perhaps we can derive a basic definition of sin; since God is, in essence, life, and sin leads to death (the wages of sin is death) then the core of sin in action must be willful separation from God, from life. This was the root of Adam and Eve’s problem when they chose to go by their own understanding rather than God’s instruction.

To say more I would have to begin repeating myself. So going back to Adam’s nakedness and the Law, the purpose of the Law was to show us our sin, as Paul teaches in Romans 3:19, 7:7-10 for example. The law’s purpose was to give us knowledge of sin versus the perfection of God, just as the tree’s purpose was to give knowledge of good and evil–the difference between ‘sinful‘ and ‘sinless’. So we see that the Law and the tree had the same purpose. The law was given to show the people of Israel that sin was still an issue, otherwise they wouldn’t later understand the need for Jesus to come.

But the Law wasn’t given as the solution. God did not give the Law as the solution to the sin problem! He gave His only son to do that. When Jesus died, He restored our right–which Adam lost–to approach God freely and blamelessly. Because our original position with God is now restored, we live in a similar state to that which Adam and Eve held in the garden. No, the world still is not perfect – yes, there still is sin and satan’s judgement has not been passed. But God has called us righteous and blameless through the blood of Jesus Christ, and if we believe in the name of Jesus then that is what we are. On our acceptance of Jesus’ free gift for us, we receive the Spirit of God who dwells in us, and we abide in Christ through God’s spirit. The Spirit of God produces good fruit in our lives–the works which James declares keep our faith alive–and we live once again complete in our Creator.

Now here’s the crunch: Jesus removed the sin separation problem and invited us back to God; this is the new covenant. The tree of Life–the other tree in the garden that we so easily forget about–was there to provide eternal unification with God. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and brought in the new – essentially uprooting the tree of knowledge and replanting the tree of Life for all to eat from. And it isn’t that the tree of knowledge wasn’t good–God declared everything he had made to be good. It was that the tree of Life was so much better, and of so much more importance. The Law is of no purpose to the one who believes in Jesus. It is and has always been about our reunification to I Am through Christ, and since Christ’s death, we are united with God in Christ through His blood.

So what does sin look like in the new covenant? Choosing again our own knowledge, as Adam and Eve did in the beginning, and stepping out of unity with Christ. That doesn’t mean stealing, killing, committing adultery and all the rest are now justifiably right, it means that we get to the root of the problem now, while all those things were only ever the after-effects–mere evidences–of the original sin separation problem begun by Adam and Eve in the garden 6,000 some years ago.

The final question is, where then does that leave our morals? At the root of the tree of knowledge. All Adam and Eve had to know about right and wrong was that God knew and would do what was best for them. In essence, by stepping into the new covenant we put the knowledge of what’s right and wrong back at the throne of God where it belongs, and put our entire trust in God to direct us step by step in what is best for us.

I think part of what makes this so difficult for others to understand is that I live this in theory; this is the goal I aim for, and while the work of the Spirit leading me to perfection is not yet complete, and I can’t honestly say I live moment-by-moment with 100% of my trust in God’s knowledge of right and wrong for me, I’ve come a long way, and at the end of the beginning of the story, I’ll be right back where I belong. But this IS the good news, that the focus is no longer on my knowledge of right and wrong but on God’s knowledge of what is best for me, since Christ made it possible for me to be once again completed in my Alpha and Omega, Creator God.

Covenants: Revisiting Jesus

There is one point that those teaching old-covenant Law with new-covenant faith (or pseudo-covenant as I like to call it) always come back to, and one which has been the near-forced subject of several discussions I’ve been watching. Sabbath-keeping. Does New Covenant belief continue to observe nine commandments and toss out the sabbath law? Or are all New-Covenant believers liars, cheats, murderers, adulterers, idolaters, rebellious, etc. etc… The sabbath is under attack as they say; not from us, but from their poor understanding of the Word of God.

I’ve heard some argue for the sabbath day by saying that God instituted it at creation, so even if the other nine are done away with as Paul continually preached, the sabbath must still be in effect. Alternatively I’ve heard it argued (and often from the same lips that said the Sabbath was separate from the law) that God gave Adam and Eve the Law–the ten commandments–at the Fall. I haven’t read that anywhere in my Bible and till I do I won’t uphold that belief. At the Fall Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong because they had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In essence, the tree had the same purpose as the Law, but God didn’t hand the ten commandments over to them when He evicted them from the garden. So here’s the question to jump-start our conversation today:

When did Sabbath begin?

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts and to individuals on occasion, the Hebrew word translated as “Sabbath” doesn’t show up in the Old Testament till the Israelites are picking manna in the wilderness. But that’s not a good enough starting point. We have to go back to the beginning, 6 days after God said “Let there be light.” Everyone knows that God rested on the seventh day, and He made it holy. That’s in Genesis 2:2-3:

[2] And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. [3] Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.  – Genesis 2:3 [NKJV]

But notice something: God didn’t call the seventh day “Sabbath,” the only thing He did was blessed the day and sanctified it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discrediting or undermining what God did here. But this wasn’t an institution of the sabbath day–Adam and Eve didn’t need a sabbath day anyway; God was readily available to them at any moment of any day before the Fall; He created them to live in communion with Him and that is what they had available to them.

So where did this sabbath thing get started? If you’ll remember my previous post, Jesus Christ, Our Sabbath Rest, the Bible first mentions Sabbath in Exodus 16:23-29. You may want to return to that post to refresh on the earliest mentions of the sabbath in the Bible. The second place the sabbath is mentioned is in Exodus 20 when God dishes out the Old Covenant to the Children of Israel (that’s the guy that used to be Jacob).

The thing is, God didn’t make the seventh day at creation to point forward to the sabbath law, He gave the Israelites the sabbath to point back to His rest after creation. I’ll say that again: God’s day of rest after creation didn’t point forward to a sabbath law, the sabbath law pointed back to God’s day of rest–initially, as God declared to Moses in Exodus 31:17:

” ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ” [NKJV]

Further, the sabbath was a testament to God’s ability to sanctify not only a day, but an entire people, as declared in verse 13 of Exodus 31:

” ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.’ ” [NKJV]

Also notice that keeping the sabbath day was a sign between God and the Israelites – a sign of what? A sign that they continued to observe this covenant. God tied observance of the sabbath day right into the core of the Old Covenant, as He also did the ten commandments, which were not just Law, but these were the terms of the covenant.

All this should be merely overview by now if you’ve been studying and believing New Covenant.

I’ll answer the question now: I don’t keep any of the ten commandments, including the fourth one regarding the sabbath day. The Law was not meant for me–or for you.

Before you sharpen your moral pitchforks, no, that doesn’t mean I approve of killing, stealing, lying, covetousness, idolatry, adultery, disrespecting my parents, being rebellious, or any other thing you want to throw in there. Living without the Law does not mean we live lawlessly. Living under the New Covenant rather than the old simply means this: I leave the knowledge of what is good and what is evil up to God, just as Adam and Eve should have done in the garden. I don’t live under the Old Covenant Law because I have the spirit of Jesus Christ in occupation of my life, and He satisfied the requirements of that Law so that all I have to do is believe in Him. It’s as simple as the gospel which Paul and Silas shared with the jailer in Acts 16:29-31; “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved–you and your whole household!” I no longer live up to a Law system, but Christ lives in me, and His spirit produces good works in my life – this is what James was talking about when he preached faith+works, because real faith in Jesus leads to an indwelling of the Spirit of God and it is the Spirit of God which causes good works.

But what about the commands of God we see all throughout the new testament, and in the New Covenant? Again this should be review. The Old Covenant “Law” is not the same as the “commands” or “commandments” of God that we see in the New Covenant. Adam and Eve had a command from God: “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, though they did not have the ten commandments (and they were not even in a fallen state at that time). Similarly, we have commandments from God still, and we find the core of God’s commandments in the entirety of 1 John (I recommend reading this book in its entirety), and John brings it down to this:

” [22] And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. [23] And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. [24] Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. ” – 1 John 3:22-24

Golly, that’s all we need! Believe and love. And when we believe, Christ lives in and loves through us. And by the way, Jesus showed in his own life that love was the essence of everything in the Law – not that by loving we live under or keep the Law, but there is no contradiction in the New Covenant with the Old, nor is there contradiction in love with the justice of the Law; I may appear to keep the Law because the Spirit of God produces good things through my life, but I do not keep it nor do I live under it anymore.

So where does that leave the Law? Completely unnecessary. And look at it this way, if you will: the Old Covenant was given specifically to the Israelites–to Jacob’s descendants. It was given exclusively to Jacob’s descendants. God didn’t give the Old Covenant to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, or even Jacob himself, for that matter. God gave it to the Israelites camped around mount Sinai. God gave this covenant to the people who had just come out of a pagan land (Egypt) to show them how sinful they were and to show them that He alone could sanctify them; He had chosen them as a special people, and this covenant He made with them was to show them what perfect righteousness looked like – not to give them a way to enter into perfect righteousness. The whole system pointed towards Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice–Jesus’ sacrifice to sanctify them and be their perfect righteousness. But what about everyone else? Jesus made it clear that everyone could have a piece of the promise when He ministered to a gentile woman–a non-Jew. (You can find that story in Matthew 15:21-28). But the Old Covenant system was exclusive to the Jews; God only signed this contract with the leaders of Israel on mount Sinai back in Exodus 24:9-11. A new covenant had had to be made; not a change in the old system, but a brand new covenant, the agreement between God and Man that every piece of previous history pointed toward. This New Covenant included not only the Israelite people, but everyone! 

So now we get back to the New Covenant. The good news is that Jesus is and has provided everything in and of himself. He was our perfect sacrifice to fulfill the terms of the Old Covenant so that a new covenant could be made. He shed his blood and provided eternal remission of sin. He became our high priest – not under the Levitical priesthood which the Old Covenant operated by, but under the priesthood of Melchizedek – and He guarantees this New Covenant with God (Hebrews 7:15-22).

And getting back to the issue of the sabbath, remember that we learned that to the Israelites, keeping the sabbath represented sanctification by God. But in the New Covenant, Jesus represents our sanctification, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 1:3,

“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” [NKJV]

Wisdom from God. Remember what the tree in the garden of Eden was? Knowledge of good and evil. Now Jesus is not only knowledge for us but wisdom as well! That means if we have Christ in us, we can trust him to be our understanding of right and wrong, and to direct each of us accordingly. Really, it comes down to trust; do you trust Jesus enough to lead you into paths of righteousness?

And further, we find our rest in Jesus as well, as He himself declares in Matthew 11:28-29:

” [28] Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [NKJV]

Life in Christ is abiding–resting–in Christ. That’s what New Covenant is all about, because HE does it all for us.

A Second Helping of Grace

I’ve given up on trying to paraphrase a letter I wrote today regarding some of what I’ve been learning, so I’m just going to put it down like I said it the first time and revise from there. This is what I have been learning today.

Romans 3:31 was brought to my attention today:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”

We know that Paul declares that the law is good; it is just and right. But what about righteousness by faith? Where does law fit with a new covenant that does away with the ten commandments?

God showed the Israelites his character through teaching them the ten commandments. The law is good, and perfect – it is God’s character, after all, and James shows us the importance of the law, but reminds us that keeping God’s law (works) is a result of faith, (James 2:14-26) and that you can’t see faith in action without the action. John, too, declared the importance of the law, but explained that all the law and character of God culminates into one commandment for us – belief in the name of Jesus Christ, and love to others (1 John 3:23).

Under the old covenant we were in bondage to the law; the ten commandments were the very terms of the old covenant. Paul, however, declares that under the new covenant our salvation is not based on obeying the law we’ll get to that now, as well as Romans 3:31.

Take a look at Romans 3:27 and read on down to verse 31 to get a little more context here:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 31 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

– Romans 3:27-31

Notice as an aside that in the New King James (the above is from the NLT) Paul notes two laws, the law of works which we cannot boast in for our salvation, and the law of faith, which we can boast in (boasting in the saving power of Jesus). And how is the law established by faith? Faith working through love (Galatians 5:6b – … What is important is faith expressing itself in love”). Then could we not say that the law of faith is, as John put God’s command, “That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23)

God’s character hasn’t changed, and that is why Paul declares that the law is good. But let’s go back to Galatians 5:16-26 briefly.

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

– Galatians 5:16-26

We’re called to allow the Spirit of God to work in us, and it is the Spirit of God which aligns our lives with the character of God (of course, because the Spirit of God is God, after all). In verse 16 Paul calls us to walk in the Spirit, explaining in verse 17 that the sinful nature and the Spirit of God are complete opposites, and unless we walk in the Spirit of God, we won’t ever be able to live the good ways that we wish to. But then Paul makes this statement in verse 18 – that if we walk in the Spirit, we are no longer under the law. So as important as the law is, it is ONLY important because it is the character of God. When the Spirit of God lives in us, the written law is no longer necessary, because all the lusts of the flesh that kept us from entering God’s kingdom before (verse 19-21) are the fruits of our sinful spirit, but the Spirit of God living in us produces fruits (verse 22-23) in alignment with the nature and character of God. And we know that the fruits of the Spirit do not go against the character of God, because Paul tells us there is no law against them.

Going back the 1 John 3, we find that John confirms this in verses 4-6:

Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.

This is from the NLT, but I prefer the language in the New King James:

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

Sin is lawlessness, and the law is God’s character. But the way out of sin isn’t by keeping the law of works (e.g.: keeping the ten commandments perfectly), as Paul said; the way out of sin is an indwelling of the Spirit of God, as John stated in verse 6, “Whoever abides in Him [Jesus] does not sin.” It isn’t that we stop sinning in order to abide in Jesus, in order to live by the Spirit and have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but we abide in Jesus (believe in His name and love others 1 John 3:23) and live by and walk in the Spirit so that we can be sinless. It’s Jesus, after all, that cuts away our sinful nature. And recalling that sin is lawlessness, abiding in Jesus and living/walking in the Spirit fulfills the law without our having to keep it. Lawlessness is the natural result of sin (separation from God); lawfulness is the natural result of abiding in Jesus.

Spirit of God does not live in us to merely enable us to keep the law and produce the fruit; the fruit we produce is no good! But Paul is talking about something much greater, he’s talking about the Spirit of God doing it all; it is the Holy Spirit alone who brings the change in our life from sinful, lawless nature to Godly nature, and that is how the law – God’s character, really – fits into grace.

Still Striving?

I had a bit of a revelation last night.

I have invested an incredible amount of my lifetime into trying to perfect myself. Now, I’m not even talking about all I did when I was younger to impress everyone with my knowledge and ‘spirituality’, that was just a drop in the bucket. No, I’m talking about every moment since then. Even today I’m still investing an incredible amount of time into becoming perfect under my own strength.

And all I can ask myself is, why?

If I really believe everything I’ve been thinking, studying, writing and talking about, and if I really expect anyone to look at me and see evidence of the truth in my life, why am I still working to earn God’s favor? My automatic response is, of course, “Well I guess I better try harder to get this grace-lifestyle-thing down…”

I think Paul knew how I feel…

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

– Romans 7:21-25

I don’t know how to stop striving. But like Paul, I can say, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!” by grace I am made right with God, and He cuts away my sinful nature (Colossians 2:11-13). It is him that works to perfect me for his own glory. And I don’t have to work and worry to sustain anything.

 

And so, the only standard I need to hold myself to is grace. Belief and love. I don’t need to worry about all the other stuff. And so my prayer is this: “Father God, teach me your ways; I accept the work of the Holy Spirit in my life to do Your will.”

 

The Ministry of Death

“The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?”

                         – 2 Corinthians 3:7-8 NLT

If you want to know about law in regards to the new covenant, Paul is your man. Romans and Galatians especially are just full of grace and new covenant. And this guy was no amateur, either; he told the Galatian church that he had been far ahead of his Jewish peers in zeal for their ancestral traditions (Galatians 1:14) and we all know the story, Paul was raised up and trained carefully in the Jewish laws and traditions, as he testified to at the beginning of his defense in Acts 22:1-3. I think we can all agree; Paul knew his stuff when it came to the old covenant. He was young and zealous, and God got a hold of him and turned that zeal right over to Christ. And so this is where we turn to first, in his second letter to the Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 3 – Take a few minutes and read through the chapter (don’t worry, it’s only 18 verses).

Now that I have begun learning to live under the new covenant, it seems absurd that people still in the Adventist church–or any old covenant based system of religion–cannot see the new covenant as I do. Why couldn’t the Pharisees and teachers of the law see Jesus for what He is? Paul gives us the answer in this chapter; “Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.” (Verse 15) Focus on the old covenant blinds our hearts to the new covenant. To truly see the new covenant in all the glory that Paul was talking about in verses 7-11, we must begin to let the old covenant be…the old covenant. Dead. Gone and done with. And, Paul goes on to say in verses 16-18, “But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (Amen?!) So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

It is important to notice that in verse 7 Paul tells us that the “old way,” the old covenant, had “laws etched in stone”. The ten commandments are not only part of the old covenant, Paul places them at the core of what the King James Bible calls here the “ministration (ministry) of death”, the old covenant. (Grab a King James bible and take a look at the language in these verses)

What does that mean? That means that when Paul says the law was fulfilled and done away with, he’s talking about the whole law. Not just the “ceremonial” law, but the ten commandments. And we see in examples such as Romans 7:6-7 that Paul makes no distinction between the “ceremonial” laws and the ten commandments. Let’s take a brief look:

“But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” “

                         – Romans 7:6-7 NLT

These two verses are absolutely packed. If you have some time, read through the whole chapter, but for now I just want to emphasize these two things: 1) Paul says that we are released from the law, and 2) refers to the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17)  in his example. Neither did the Pharisees and teachers of the law (who taught Paul everything he knew about the law) distinguish between the ten commandments and the rest of the laws God gave to Moses.

So to recap:

1) Focus on the old covenant blinds our hearts to the new covenant. (2 Corinthians 3:15)

2) The ten commandments are an inseparable part–the core–of the old covenant.

So now the law is abolished and we just do whatever we want? If you’ve ever read James you’ll know that’s not the way the new covenant works. Living under the new covenant means rather than the old covenant’s ten commandments, written on stone, we now have the commands of God written on our minds and in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). It’s the core of the new covenant–God teaching His people His ways personally. And we know from Jesus’ ministry here on the earth that God’s command is to believe in the name of Jesus, love God and love our neighbors–essentially, to love as He loves us. (1 John 3:23)

At this point it may be very helpful and clarifying for you to read 1st John. That’s right, the whole thing. John just lathered the love of God on his church in this letter; a holy, sinless love.

And God’s command to love isn’t new; John says as much in 1 John 2:7-8. Love has been God’s character for as long as God has been God! The ten commandments were a spittin’ image of the just character of God, but they also summed up to love in two commandments (Matthew 22:34-40). So it really shouldn’t be any big deal that the listed ten got thrown out with all the ceremonial stuff, because God is still God; it isn’t that God’s justice was abolished with the law, but:

“now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

                                   – Romans 3:21-22

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”

                                    – Romans 8:1-4

But you know what? Why don’t you close down my blog now, and go check it out for yourself?

Living Under Grace – Realtime

This week I have been continually reminded how legalistic and pseudo-covenant my thought process and way of going about things is and has been. That’s right; I haven’t even arrived.

I began talking with an old friend again recently. It has been a number of years since we last talked, and because of a regrettable end with her, for the last several years I’d been rather afraid to speak to her. However, circumstances brought us back into contact recently, and it all came to the surface in me again. And I realized something. For the last six years I’ve been holding on to a guilty conscience. What’s more, for no reason other than my own shame. And it held me back considerably, so that when I began talking with her again, I held a fear complex, feeling as though I needed to make something of myself to be acceptable.

Of course, upon bringing all this up, she was quick to put me at ease, and I was able to put that six-year-old ghost to rest. But it really made me think; if I am under grace, why do I hold on to all these feelings of guilt over things in the past? Even things that shouldn’t be that major, that have likely long-since been forgotten by everyone else involved? The nature of grace says I don’t have to carry feelings of guilt any further than the cross and that “I forgive you, Son.”

But I do. I was brought up in such a way that I do. I learned it, though I never would have known it for what it was. Praise Jesus I am coming out of pseudo-covenant.

I was reminded this morning about something that happened a couple of years ago now. I had just failed big time and I was crying out to God. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went down, but it was something like this:

Me: “God, I need your purity, mine’s no good…”

God: “Of course you do. It isn’t about your purity, it’s about mine.”

Whatever the discourse, God made it clear to me then and there that all I could ever do to be pure wasn’t going to be nearly enough, I needed to put on His purity.

“Wait a minute!” I wanted to say, “That can’t be right!” And although I embraced His words that day, I never really understood what He was directing me to. That’s why it was such a huge revelation to me this morning when this came to mind; because now I get it.

All I can ever do to be pure, to be righteous, to live rightly, isn’t nearly enough. I can’t do it. But that’s okay. Because when Jesus Christ died on the cross to settle my debt with God’s perfect justice, He offered me His robe of righteousness. Now He calls me righteous, and pure, because of His holy righteousness and purity.

Now, does that mean I’m licensed to do whatever I like because I’m covered with the blood of Jesus and all my sins are forgiven and forgotten? Of course not! Because under the new covenant, God has written His laws in my heart and mind. Grace is no permit to live in sin and still be called righteous; but it is the omnipotent enabler that says “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more!”

An Everlasting Covenant

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: – Jeremiah 31:31

My Grace Journey began with a revelation of grace–and what better way? I remember when I was 10 or 11, reading Paul–Galatians in particular–and getting so hung up on his doing away with the law. The law had been so central to what I had been taught to that point It just didn’t make any sense to me that Christians could live apart from the law.

Let’s go back to the beginning briefly. Not quite to the very beginning where my safe, warm world was intruded upon by a doctor performing a caesarean section, but to my days growing up in the Seventh Day Adventist belief system.

I have to hand it to my parents – by the time I came along they were getting a lot more liberal with their Adventist faith, so I was saved some confusion and Ellen G. White quotes. But that’s another story.

I was brought up into the Adventist church, and although I was baptized outside of the church, allowing me to make even further liberal choices aside from Adventism, I was not spared being taught primarily an old-covenant based belief system. That’s not to say Adventists don’t teach salvation through Jesus at the cross, but I was taught that I had to work to be good enough before I could go to Jesus. The old way of being blameless before God through the blood of sacrifices mixed with the grace of Jesus to become a faith which uses the grace of Jesus as an enabler to make one perfect through keeping the law. I call it pseudo-covenant.

I was so well-fed on this belief system that I began to do all I could to be better. It was during this period that I read the New Testament all the way through once. I competed religiously with my peers almost vehemently. At Sabbath school we often played a game in which we put all the books of the Bible in order; one day the teacher decided to stack me against the rest of the class to see who could do it fastest–one boy versus seven girls. I can’t remember now whether I was given the New or the Old Testament to do, but you better believe that I beat those girls, and I was proud.

But sin finds us all no matter how perfectly we try to perform. What would become a 9+ year addiction to pornography began. No matter how I tried to believe what I’d read in the Gospels, Romans, Hebrews and other books, that it didn’t matter anymore what I’d done, I couldn’t get it out of my mind that if I didn’t stop this, I would follow it straight into hell. I continually cried out repentance after repentance, asking for God’s mercy. I chose to be baptized out of fear in order to secure my salvation.

I had never heard the quotes from Ellen White saying that no one could be sure of salvation, and that no one should ever say they were saved. I fell in between the cracks of grace and the Adventist pseudo-covenant and embraced that I was now saved, and that perhaps now I could finally leave the chains of pornography behind me. But I was only weighted down with more–chains of fear.

All that in mind, when I finally started to “get” grace, I was overjoyed. Like David in Psalm 32:1-2 I was saying, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!”

Take a look at the first 18 verses of Hebrews 10. It is a wonderfully clear picture of the new covenant God made with us. Actually, first go back and read Hebrews 8 and 9 as well.

Hebrews 8:8-12 outlines God’s plan for a new covenant:

[8] But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. [9] This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the LORD. [10] But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. [11] And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. [12] And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

 And because God has made a new covenant, the old is done away with:

[13] When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

But the justice of God is perfect. The law demands death; therefore Jesus came to fulfill the law in his death in order that he could cancel the first covenant, and put the second covenant into effect (Hebrews 10:5-9).

And that was all that was needed. Hebrews 10:10 goes on to say that “God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” Christ offered himself as “a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time.” (verse 12) When Christ died on the cross, sin was paid for. He knew that his work was done and he cried out “It is finished!” (John 19:28,30) and he died. And when he died that perfect death of sacrifice, once for all, he put the second covenant into effect, and this is that new covenant declared by the very mouth of God: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people! And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.

The writer of Hebrews sums it up in chapter 10, verses 16 and 17 saying “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds … I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”

And suddenly everything Paul had to say makes sense! The Sinai law as part of the old covenant is fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the cross. Grace has made us righteous by faith alone, not so that we can go on sinning (see Hebrews 10:19-39), because now God’s perfect laws are written on our hearts and minds and his command to us now is to love as he loved us. Jesus calls us to go above and beyond what Moses’ law demanded, but He has empowered us to live above and beyond Moses’ law.

And so no longer do we have to make ourselves right before we may approach God, no! Since Christ’s death on the cross, we have been made right by the blood of His perfect, eternal sacrifice, to approach the throne of God and cry out “Abba, Father!” Because Christ did not only cover our sins forever, but He covered us with His son-ship, that we might be called sons and daughters of God. Amen.