Friday, 17 July 2015

Following Jesus ~ Ganeida

What I want to talk to you about today is something that
I think we in the West find very difficult, very off~putting, even offensive.  That is partly because we think of it in negative terms yet Jesus Himself said it ~ & He was pretty blunt about it.  Partly we find it difficult because we have muddly ideas about what it means to love someone, what it means to love God, & what it means to love our family. It is only when we allow the Word of God to wash our spirits & renew our minds that we can honestly come to grips, not with what Jesus is saying, but with what He actually means.  We need to be Bereans: students of the Word & that means we need to be wise.

Proverbs 9:10 tells us

 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.
    Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.

Proverbs is full of pithy little comments like this one but it says something about God that we have excluded from our Western church thinking: the fear of the Lord & what it really means to follow Jesus.  We talk about His love, His grace, His mercy but we don’t talk about fearing Him.  We talk about entering His throne room boldly, our authority in Christ, our salvation & redemption; we spend time in *praise & worship*, but not in fear.

Now we have been taught that fear in this context does not denote terror.  This is not strictly correct. The word in Hebrew is Yare. It is usually translated as fear, to be afraid or worship ~ depending on context. However it is the same word used in Jonah where the sailors’ terror [yare] is turned into worship [yare]. It is the 2 sides of a single coin.

You see this same duality in the Greek in Matthew 10:28 where Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Both times the Greek word phobeomai is used.  It carries the meaning of both terror & awe.

It is important we get this right because Hebrews 10:29 says Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God's mercy to us.

You see there is such a thing as the Holiness of God, that is He is separate & apart from the common things of man & we are not to bring Him down to our level & thus make Him *common*. For this not to happen we must start with a right view of who God is & Proverbs tells us that it begins with our fearing Him. We should tremble in terror at the one who has the power to caste into hell but it is bigger even than that.
Consider Isaiah 40:12
Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?

Job 38:4~6

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?… "On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?…
Have you stood under the stars at night & considered that God knows them each by name?

Or Proverbs 30:4

Who has gathered the wind in His fists

Think of a cyclone bearing down on the coast, a typhoon, or hurricane, force five, winds of 252ks an hour, yet all God has to do is close His fists & all that fury is contained.

When we consider our God like this ~ & we are meant to ~ we won’t come barging into His presence in an irreverent way. Deuteronomy

10:12-13 King James Version (KJV)
12 And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,
13 To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?

The first thing God requires of us is our reverence, our fear. It is part of what it means to love the Lord your God.  Does that surprise you?  This is why Jesus tells us to count the cost.  There is a progression.  A person who fears the Lord will do their best to walk in His ways ~ in the Hebrew it means to trample as you would trample down the grapes in a wine press.  Only then does love come into it.

God is a God of order & He will always put things in order before His presence manifests.  Think how Solomon was instructed to build the temple.  God was very exact, very specific.  Only when everything was ready according to God’s instructions did His presence manifest.  Obedience to God’s word, His instructions, & how careful we are about obeying them is proof of our love ~ not out of obligation or duty, which are dead & have no life in them, but out of ahab, liking. Out of hesed, steadfast love.   You will see in hesed that God’s love is obedient to His faithfulness, His steadfastness.  He requires nothing of us that He does not first require of Himself.  We are made in His image to reflect His nature.

It comes to full fruition in Jesus Christ.  See there was no salvation until all the terms had been fulfilled exactly.  Christ’s love was exhibited in obedience even unto death.  The Father’s lovingkindness, His faithfulness, remained unto death & beyond.

As we begin to grasp the magnitude of who God is & what He has done for us something radically alters within us.

We were given a most amazing gift when we were saved.  The Father & the Son gifted us with the living, ever abiding presence of their Spirit & nothing delights the Spirit’s heart so much as to see God’s children walk in Truth.  He desires so much to reveal Jesus more & more to us & we can hinder His work so much by not reverencing Christ as we should.
Now part of the problem in dealing with a subject like this is that is can come across as hard, legalistic, & maybe even *unloving* so I want to return to definitions & deal with the word love as it is used in the bible. 
We are very familiar with the Greek word agape, which we have redefined to mean love as God loves, which is fascinating because that is not what it originally meant.  I suspect the New Testament writers chose it because it was a bland, neutral word, lacking nuance & so they could usefully use it to replace the Hebrew idea of Hesed.  Hesed has no equivalent in English & so translators have used a variety of different words to convey different aspects of the meaning of Hesed. The closest Greek equivalent is *grace* ~ charis.
Now bear with me because we have to look at several different things to arrive at an understanding of hesed.

The first thing we need to grasp is that hesed is a covenant term, thus a legal term.  It encompasses many different aspects of God’s character in the same way that the Hebrew word shalom means a great deal more than simply peace & it also implies a mutual relationship because a covenant, by its very nature, requires 2 parties.

Thus its first & primary meaning is of God’s faithful steadfastness, often in juxtaposition to Israel’s spiritual adultery. It includes, but is not limited to:
mercy, goodness, great kindness, favour, reliability, steadiness.  As a covenant word it implies the unbreakability of the covenant bond.  It is a word that transcends the demands of God’s law, of obligation & duty.

Though the mountains be shaken & the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love [hesed] for you will not be shaken. Isaiah 54:10

Or think about all the goodness [hesed] of God passing before Moses. Thus it is the fullness of God towards those He has made in His image, primarily towards His covenant people.

This fits neatly with the New Testament Greek use of Charis:

Quote: “Against a still common view it must be stated that in Paul χαρις does not mean primarily a divine attribute (Wobbe, Charis-Gedanke, 32). It does not mean, in good Greek fashion, God’s graciousness, nor concretely his free love (Taylor). It almost always means the power of salvation which finds expression in specific gifts, acts, and spheres and which is even individualized in the charismata.” —Ernst Käsemann,Commentary on Romans, trans. G. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 14

In the Greek Charis [grace] is closely linked to Chara [joy], which Tyndale & others render as awareness of God’s grace & favour.

Now we need to understand our God is still a covenant God. Hebrews 8:6 But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.

God’s plan was always to dwell with man & Paul is very clear about this in Hebrews 10:16 where he quotes Jeremiah 31:31: "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 do not want to sidetrack too much but I will quickly point out there are three sorts of Law covered biblically: civil law, ceremonial law & moral law. The ceremonial law has been done away with, the civil law does not apply outside Israel, the moral law remains eternal. The moral law deals with just 2 things: our relationship with God & our relationship with each other.

The wonderful part of all this is Philippians 2:13
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Now, I have not  forgotten what we are really talking about: the fear of the Lord & how that works out in walking with Him! I have laid a foundation because God is a God of order & this is true of our Christian walk. There is an order that leads unto salvation but once saved there is also an order to the way things are to be done.  God’s Holy Spirit is there to help us get things in order so that God can move mightily through us.

The first Christians were often called followers of the Way & that tells us something immediately.  There is a correct way, a right path, & we are to walk in it. 
God’s love towards us does not change.  He views us in Christ as sanctified, redeemed, sinless.  His purposes towards us are abundance, mercy, kindness but how much of Himself He can share with us is in direct proportion to how closely we choose to walk with Him.  Sadly many of us choose less than all we could have.  We are content with a little; content with compromise; content with something rather than following the Holy Spirit’s lead into the fullness of life in Christ.  We hold onto things we should let go of.  We put things & people above Christ.  Often we don’t even mean to, don’t realise we’ve done it ~ but we do & settle for a life that in no real way reflects the life of Christ.

In conclusion I want to share 2 stories.  The first is mine & is the reason I know that fear & reverence are 2 sides of the same coin, why I know the priests couldn’t stand in the presence of the Lord.
At one point in my life the Lord chose to share a part of His heart with me that was very hard to bear.  The issue is not important & it was not about me but it was something that grieved the Holy Spirit.  I learnt something about God’s capacity for love & grief over His chosen people that I have never forgotten & that the only thing that keeps any of us from living in abject terror of the King of the Universe is our relationship with Him, & more importantly, His relationship with us.  It turns our fear into awe but we should never take that favour for granted.

The 2nd story is a Smith Wigglesworth story.  If you don’t know, Smith was a blue collar worker, a plumber, with almost no education yet he raised the dead to life on at least 17 recorded occasions through the power of the Holy Spirit. Smith was not special.  Really, he wasn’t.  He was a very, very ordinary man but he was serious about putting God first in his life, serious about revering the Lord, serious about his obedience.  He got a bit of a reputation as a miracle worker & eventually a certain young man came to visit him wanting to know his secret to such a successful walk with the Lord.

Smith agreed to tutor him.  To the young man’s horror & abject mortification he was to meet Smith at his house at 5am every morning when the day began with prayer & bible study ~ for 3 hours!!! They then broke for breakfast.  Breakfast was followed by bible study until lunch.  After lunch they had a walk then more prayer & bible study until tea time.  This was the pattern of Smith’s life.  It was also the pattern of Jesus life.  We read in scripture of Jesus that a long while before dawn he rose & went off alone to pray.  When there was a need to be met they had power ready & available because they we so closely attuned to the heart of the one whose power they called upon.
This is what it means to pick up our cross, to crucify our flesh.  The more we do those 2 things the more we will come to know the heart of the Father, the more we will stand in awe of His wonder & majesty, & the more able we are to do even the *greater works* ~ not because we are wonderful in & of ourselves but because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.

None of this is easy.  It is radical. It puts us out there in the *fanatical* category.  Even other Christians become uncomfortable because we are not used to living our lives this way.  Jesus is right.  There is a cost.  We need to count it because it would be better for us to never have begun, than having begun to turn back.  It may cost us everything. I think of the mother in China with its *One Child* policy who was arrested for her faith.  Her child was removed & placed in state custody to be raised as a good communist.  She has never seen her again. All because Christ was more to her than even her own flesh & blood. Is He more to us than anything else?

We need to understand that we are not singing pretty words when we sing:

I have decided to follow Jesus,
no turning back, no turning back…

I want to encourage each & every one of us to examine ourselves in the Light of the Holy Spirit & see if there is anything in our lives that needs to go.  And really, is it so very much that God asks of us?  After all, he gave up everything for us.

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