Through the Lens of Passover: part 8

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23)

Jesus’ discourse in John 10:1-14 concerning the shepherd and the sheep is his answer to the question posed by the Pharisees, “Are we also blind?” The eye that is turned toward the light is the eye that sees. The ear that is turned toward the shepherd is the ear that hears. The heart that is inclined toward the shepherd is the sheep that follows.

The pastures are not a safe grazing place. The lion and the wolf are present. Safety does not come from the watchful eye of the sheep nor from being together as a flock. Safety lies only in the presence of the shepherd. The lion and wolf have no power sufficient to pluck sheep out of the shepherd’s hand.

In George Fox’s letter addressed to “All the Kings, Princes, and Governors in the Whole World…” he lays out what following Christ looks like.

So now Christ is come, and you that are called christians will confess him; but how does he exercise his offices in you, or amongst you?

His office, as he is a counsellor; do you hear his voice from heaven, concerning your heavenly state: his office, as he is a leader to lead you out of sin and evil, and to rule in your hearts by faith, as a commander: his office, as he is a shepherd, are you his sheep? and do ye hear his voice? for Christ saith, “I am the good shepherd, and give my life for the sheep:” and again, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and I am known of mine.”

“And he calleth his sheep by name, and leadeth them out; and when he hath put forth his sheep, he goeth before them; and his sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (Works, Vol. V, 319)

Isaiah, in chapter 53, described The iniquity of us all that caused the suffering of the servant. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Jesus’ statement, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” is an acknowledgment of being that suffering servant. His accomplishment is to draw the wandering sheep back to their rightful place as followers of the shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd, and give my life for the sheep” (verse 11) is often misunderstood. Instead of reading that as “I die for the sheep,” we need to look at that verse in light of verse 10: “The thief comes to kill and destroy. I am come that you might have life, and that more abundantly.” If the shepherd dies for the sheep, the sheep have only his death, not life. “I have power to lay … [down my life]. I have power to take it up again.” (John 10:18) If the sheep have abundant life, they have a living shepherd who, by all he does (present tense) as shepherd, gives his life to the flock. This is the passage from death to life. It comes by receiving the instructions that open our eyes to the eternal light, open our ears to hear the voice of the shepherd, and incline our hearts to follow.

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. (John 10:37-38)

What are these works that should cause us to know and understand that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father”? Some will tell you that it was the miracles he performed. It was impressive that a man born blind could be made to see and that his brain would have been reordered to make sense of this new sensory input. But the real work of the Father is making those who hear and respond to the voice of the shepherd into living beings. Life will not fit into the man-made “Christian” religion any better than the man who received his sight could be accepted by the Jewish authorities.

This is why I have stated there are consequences to hearing and following the voice of the shepherd. Life cannot be hidden. You can’t follow the old fleecers of the flock and follow the shepherd. You are faced with an either/or decision. It is not a difficult decision when one realizes that it is a choice between sheepfold or thieves and robbers, between pastures of life or feeding lions and wolves, and between the hireling who flees at the sight of the wolf or the shepherd who can keep the flock through all dangers.

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Through the Lens of Passover: part 7

…for that eye that is turned from the light is the blind, and leads into the ditch. (Works, Vol. IV, p.25)

In this study, I have been looking at the book of John through the lens of the Jewish Passover. Therefore I am attempting to see what the text has to say about our passage from death to life, our passage from slaves of Satan to becoming sons of God.

It is not clear from the text that the events of chapter nine and all of chapter ten are linked to the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights. I am treating them as though they were joined in theme; an approach you may disagree with.

Chapter nine contains the story of the man born blind, how Jesus gave him sight, the astonishment of all who had known the blind man as a poor beggar, and the Jewish authorities rejection of the once blind man. This chapter sets the background for Jesus’ discourse about the good shepherd, the sheep, and the sheepfold. We then get to the subject of the Feast of Dedication and a discussion between Jesus and the Jews concerning who he is.

What does all this have to do with the Feast of Dedication? How does the history of that feast give us a different understanding of the events of this portion of John? And how does this fit with our theme of passing from death to life?

The Feast of Dedication is centered around the history of the overthrow of the Seleucid (Greek) control of Israel. The Greeks had conquered Palestine, they disrupted temple worship, they put out the light that God had commanded should always be burning in the temple, but when they offered swine on the altar, the Jews rose up in revolt. They threw out the Greeks, cleansed the temple, and rekindled the flame. Thus the second name: Festival of Lights.

Lets look at the events of chapter nine with this in mind. A blind man is a man without light. He was considered defiled, unfit for service in the temple, and thought to be cursed by God. (“Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind.”) It is significant that the man was born blind, it was not a temporary loss of sight, it was not a consequence of something he did.

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” said Jesus. And he spat on the ground, made clay from the spittle, smeared this clay on the man’s eyes, and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam.

Let’s pause the script. We are witnessing the cleansing of the temple and the kindling of the eternal flame that lights our way to the presence of God. This is taking place within this blind man. Jesus gives the man instruction, the man obeys, he receives sight, and he receives insight sufficient to counter the Jewish authorities. All this takes place on the basis of hearing and following Jesus’ teaching. “If you would be my disciples, abide in my word, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” [from the blindness of following Satan], Jesus stated in John 8:31. Here is our theme of passing out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God, from death to life.

The man, no longer blind, is immediately put to the test. Will he stand by his newly found sight or will he repudiate it to stay in the “comfortable curse” of the religious elite? He stands, he is thrown out of the synagogue as a total outcast. Jesus finds him and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” This is a “believe” that has had consequences and will have further consequences. This is a “believe” that defines the rest of life.

This man has put his life on the line in response to a brief encounter with Jesus. Jesus does not abandon him but seeks him out.

Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” asked the man. Jesus openly identified himself to this no-longer-blind man, who then worshiped Jesus.

One question is “What does it take to believe?” You could argue that the blind man believed because of the miracle. The miracle was substantiated by two or more witnesses (the legal requirement for a fact admissible in court) before the Jewish authorities, who wouldn’t believe.

Jesus’ statement gives us a clue:

For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

Even though the event of this chapter concerns physical sight, Jesus’ statement is about that “seeing” within ourselves that shows us our standing before our Creator. In order to believe, we must accept this sight and live by it. The eye that claims to “see” by some other source than the light of Christ must be made blind before the person is convinced of their true blindness. When we come to know that our temple is foul and desecrated, that our “seeing” has been only deception, we can cry out like blind Bartimaeus saying, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.”

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. (John 9:39-10:5)

In the first chapter, the author of the book of John introduces the Word (i.e. the Voice) in whom is the life that is the light of mankind. This voice, this light, this Word, is Christ the teacher that gives us sight to find our way to God. This voice is both our haven of safety (the sheepfold) and the shepherd who reveals to his sheep the pastures of life. In the following two quotes, an epistle addressed, “A WORD FROM THE LORD TO ALL THE WORLD…” and from a letter to Priest Lampitt [“a deceiver, surfeited and drunk with the earthly spirit” (Vol.1, p.167)], George Fox spells out this process of cleansing and enlightening the temple.

And this light is your teacher, which teacheth you holiness, and teacheth you the fear of the Lord; and this light hating of it will be your condemnation, and then you stumble…the earth must be removed, and the earth must be shaken when the glory of the Lord ariseth. This is witnessed…And if you take heed to that light which will exercise your consciences, it will let you see yourselves…and this light will let you see God; but if your minds go forth, the God of this world cometh in and takes the dominion, and so your minds are blinded, and your understandings darkened…mind the pure light of God within, which will teach every one to know God, (Vol. IV, pp. 28-29)

And this light will teach thee, if thou lovest it, it will teach thee holiness and righteousness, without which none shall see God;…The Lord is coming to teach his people himself…The Lord is opening the eyes of foolish people that they shall see such as bear rule over them…Therefore to the light in you I speak…Your teacher is within you; look not forth; it will teach you lying in bed, going abroad, to shun all occasion of sin and evil. (Journal of George Fox, Nickalls Edition, p. 143)

I will look at the rest of Chapter 10 in the next post.

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Through the Lens of Passover: part 6

A short recap of where we have been so far. This study is an endeavor to look at the book of John through the lens of the Jewish Passover. John the Baptist’s proclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” is primarily seen, in today’s theology, as an announcement of a guilt offering. It is primarily taken as a premonition of Jesus’ death on the cross. But this is not the prevailing message of the text. Repeatedly the writer is talking about life, God’s-life-breathed-into-man sort of life, but the source of this life is not related to the cross. What the writer had to say is tied to various Jewish ceremonies, predominantly Passover. The consistent message has been that this life comes by hearing and obeying the voice of the Son. In hearing the Son’s voice, by walking in obedience to the Son’s voice, we are caused to passover from death to life.

In the original incident, Israelite families were protected from the Angel of Death by painting the lamb’s life (or blood) on their door post. Any families who did not paint, lost their first-born to the Angel of Death.

After 60 some years of knowing this story, it has finally occurred to me to ask, “Why the first-born?” The answer to my question, as given below, heightens my sense of urgency that this message needs to be made known.

Throughout man’s recorded history, the first born is seen as the initial blessing of God upon a marriage. Let’s take that concept a little deeper. God’s first blessing on mankind was not offspring, but something else. “And God breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living being.” This is the first blessing that is at risk here. Those who fill themselves with the Lamb’s life, as I have discussed in previous posts, do not lose their first born. Those who turn away from the reproof and guidance of the light that enlightens everyone that comes into the world, these lose the breath of life and are no longer living beings. They have lost their first born. There is a lot at stake here, things that can’t be fixed by a sacrificial lamb theology.

This, in the briefest possible form is the outcome, so far, of looking at this text through the lens of Passover. Let us now look at chapters 7 and 8.

To understand the book of John, one must read the teachings on two levels. First there is the text as explicitly stated. But beyond that there is the relationship between the words and the context against which those words are set. The context of chapters 7 and 8 is the festival of Tabernacles, which plays a significant role in grasping the central message of this portion of the book. During this festival, the Jews were to build themselves temporary houses, i.e. booths or tabernacles, in which to live. These booths represented, in part, the temporary shelters of the exodus when the Israelites had no permanent abode. Hold onto this while I set the stage, so to speak.

Chapter seven opens with a discussion between Jesus and his brothers about going to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles. Jesus says he is not going, but later goes in “private”. The mood of the crowd at Jerusalem was one of debate, the events of Jesus’ healing and teaching being the subject.

In the middle of the week, Jesus entered the temple and began teaching the people, which added to the confusion of the public. “Is this the Christ?” “Is this the prophet?” “How are we to know?” these were the questions running through the crowd. You will recall the Deuteronomy 18 passage about God raising a prophet like Moses, into whose mouth He would put His words. This prophet would then speak these words to the people. This is “the prophet” the people were asking about. Look at Jesus’ statements in this portion:

So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (7:16-17)

…he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him. (8:26)

…I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. (8:28)

Jesus’ statements are a direct claim to be that prophet promised by Moses. The promise was that the people of God are to live by the words of this prophet. By the end of this festival, many of the Jews believed in Jesus. His remarks from verse 8:31 to the end of chapter 8 are addressed to this group of believers. This brings us to the pivotal passage of these two chapters:

Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to any one; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (8:31-36)

I am going to ignore many things of importance in these chapters and concentrate on those things that pertain to the theme of the Passover, i.e. that which brings life.

First, let’s look at what Jesus has to say about the efficacy of belief. Christendom, as commonly practiced today, is a belief-centered religion. Now, I will grant you that believing that Jesus has something vital to impart that is not to be had from any other source is an important step. But it is only a first step, as it were, not the entire process. Remember the quote from the Evangelical pastor from part two of this series?

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

Does belief make us a disciple? Does belief make us free? Does belief make us any less sons of the devil? The answer is “No,” on all counts.

Second is this word “abide.” Jesus is calling would-be-disciples to take up their habitation in His teaching. He is not talking about a multi-volume set containing the sayings and teachings of some great master. On the contrary, “Abide in My word” is a call to an ongoing relationship between master and pupil. It is to be a permanent dwelling rather than the ephemeral dwellings of this festival.

The third thing is this statement? “…you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

Free from what? Death. The truth shall make you passover from death to life. How did death come upon us? By taking up our habitation in the serpent’s teaching. How do we get this truth? By abandoning our habitation in the serpent’s teaching and taking up our habitation in Jesus’ teaching. This festival is a recreation of and a reminder of the experience of enslavement in Egypt — the old dwelling — and the exodus and life as nomads — the temporary dwelling. Taking up our abode in Jesus’ teaching is the permanent dwelling — the land of promise. Thus Jesus is the fulfillment of this festival.

By making the claim to be the prophet foretold by Moses, Jesus is not laying down his role as Messiah. Moses was many things to the Israelites, and from the standpoint of Deuteronomy looking forward, we can say that God’s chosen spokesman will be like Moses. However, looking back from the standpoint of Jesus, we can say that Moses was somewhat like Jesus, who is Messiah, Prophet, Shepherd, Counselor, King, Priest, and more. His messianic character is not divorced from the character of the one who brings to us the word of God. Our salvation is inseparable from hearing and abiding in the teaching of the one who is the Word. This, I state again, is our permanent dwelling, and in this dwelling we are free from the bondage endured in the old dwelling, we are delivered from the continual work of the temporary dwelling, and we are made sons of God who remain in the house forever.

Let me say again, the central message of this portion of scripture is that belief is not enough to make you a disciple of Jesus, to make you free from being a slave of sin, or to make you a son of God who remains in God’s house forever. Taking up our habitation in Jesus’ teaching, “abide in my word…” brings us into the truth that makes us free from slavery to sin, taking up our habitation makes us disciples and makes us sons. (Look again at John 1:12-13.) This abode in Jesus’ teaching is our permanent dwelling place rather than a makeshift booth designed to last the week of the festival. It is by this teaching that the Son makes you free from the slavery of death.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 5

This is part five of a series of posts that is endeavoring to look at the statements made in the book of John in light of the Jewish Passover. The rationale for this approach arises because so many of the incidents recorded in this book take place at Passover. Do we come away with a different understanding of this book if we take this approach? I say yes.

John 6 builds on the events that take place in chapter 5, so we are starting from the understanding laid down there and continuing through this post.

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee…And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up into the hills, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him Jesus said to Philip, “how are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:1-6)

The opening narrative introduces the the subject of bread, which is the theme of this chapter. How are you going to feed 5,000 men plus the accompanying women and children with a boy’s snack of five loaves of bread and two fish?

The bread required at Passover is unleavened bread, dead bread, because there are no organisms in the dough to produce gas bubbles and cause the bread to rise. A loaf of bread that rises, live bread, produces perhaps twice the volume of bread as compared to the same amount of yeastless dough. But Jesus did something that not even yeast could have done. He took these five loaves, intended for one boy, and fed some number of thousands of people with 12 baskets of food left over. This is the contrast he makes later on in the chapter when he declares, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall never hunger…” The people have gotten this idea for they go looking for Jesus the next day. Jesus tells them:

Do not labor for the food which perishes. but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal. Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the work of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?’ (vv 27-30)

Now comes one of the most profound portions of the whole Bible. The sign, the authenticating work, that we must see in order to believe Jesus, is that he alone can produce the life of God within. This is the Passover as defined in chapter 5. Jesus picks up the theme from Ezekiel:

And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves…I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live,…then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:13-14)

You will know when you are brought up out of your grave a living being! So, this is what is going to happen at the end of the world, right?

No, this is what happens when we hear the voice of the Son, the Pascal Lamb that takes away the death of the world.

Jesus told the Jews:

[T]he bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. (vv 33-35)

Remember Moses’ statement, I quoted at the end of part four: “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” In this portion of John 6, The Word made flesh is stating that he is that “word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD” by which man shall live. Keep in mind as you read through this chapter that it is this Word that is speaking, it is the word that, if we will hear it, raises us up from our graves and then we know that the LORD has spoken.

Look again at chapter 5, verses 39-40, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” If you have been around Christendom very much at all, you will have run into people who earnestly contend that the Bible is the Word of God. Many even go so far as to call it “The Word.” The implication of those words, “The Word,” is that you are identifying the source of life. “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life…”

Lets look at some of the key passages in this chapter:

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world. (v 33)

I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. (v. 35)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me, and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. (vv 38-40)

It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. (v. 45)

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bead which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. (vv. 47-51)

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. (vv. 53-56)

It is the spirit [breath] that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken (am speaking) to you are spirit and life. (v. 63)

Now we come to the Deut. 18 passage I promised would be covered in this section.

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deut 18:15-19)

“If you do not believe Moses,” said Jesus in chapter 5, “how will you believe my words?” Moses spoke of one whom God would raise up to be his spokesman, A prophet, not prophets, plural, but prophet, singular. In John 6, Jesus is stating that he is that prophet whom all are to hear.

Do you believe Moses? Is it your primary occupation to hear the voice of this prophet? “The words I am speaking to you, these are breath, these are life.” The time of the Passover is at hand. Are you ready to feast on life? Are you listening to the words that are breath and are life? or Do you take offense and wish to withdraw from following Jesus? When Jesus asked these questions of the 12 disciples, Peter answered, “Lord to whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Moses stated, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” There is a lot at stake here, everything is at stake here. Those who hear the Word, the spokesman God has raised up, are raised to life because the Word has the words of life. Those who will not hear are not raised from their grave, which is an abomination. The call, the command of the living God, is to come to life. Those who refuse, “I will require it of him.”

The message of the book of John, and very eloquently stated in chapter 6, is that Jesus is the Word, the source of life. Jesus is the Pascal Lamb who causes us to pass over from death to life by the word he speaks within us. This prescription for life precedes Jesus’ death on the cross, the event most theologies credit with bringing mankind to life.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 4

John, Chapter Five

Now, lest I should lose my way, I want to recap what this study is about. Conventional theology looks at John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as pertaining to Jesus being a guilt offering enabling God to forgive errant humanity. Mankind’s salvation, therefore, lay in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross to pay mankind’s debt, to appease God’s anger, or to do whatever is demanded by the theology currently in vogue. But, as I have discovered, if I take the understanding that John the Baptist is announcing the Pascal Lamb rather than a guilt offering, a different picture emerges. Since most of the major events throughout the book of John are ascribed to the time of celebrating the Passover, I feel such a look is not only justified, but demanded.

The “different picture” begins with John setting the stage for the Baptist’s revelation. We are introduced to one named the Word in whom is the life that is the light of men. We are given a glimpse of the Word’s power and purpose. John then brings his prologue to a sharp focus, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

I have stated that the effective agent, causing the angel of death to pass over the households of the Israelites, was the life of the lamb, i.e. its blood, painted on the door post. This is entirely consistent with what the writer has been portraying so far in the book of John. In parts one, two, and three I have looked at material from chapters one, three, and four. Chapter five continues in this same vein, which I am taking up here.

The text opens with the statement, “After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The marginal note in my New American Standard Bible states, “Many good manuscripts read, the feast, i.e. the Passover.” OK, so we can say that it is possible, perhaps probable, that the following events take place during Passover. The ideas presented here are very much in line with what I have been discussing to date. However, this time around, the writer brings in something new to the discussion, or at least if not new, now explicitly stated. Lets follow the narrative.

Jesus is in Jerusalem on the Sabbath, where he encounters a man who has been sick for 38 years. Jesus heals the man and bids him to take up his pallet and walk. Because it was the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities raised a fuss about this healed man carrying his pallet. When they found out that it was Jesus who had healed the man and bidden him to carry away his pallet, they felt they had reason to persecute Jesus. Jesus answered them saying, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

This forms the background for Jesus’ lecture, if you will, that follows (see verses 19 through 47). He begins with the assertion that the son can do nothing of himself unless it is something he sees the father doing: a basic precept of education and growth. “For whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (verse 19)

We now come again to the Passover theme, but this time with an added dimension. In the historical account, the angel of death was caused to pass over the house with the lamb’s life painted on the door post. Here, Jesus states, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes…Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life…an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.(verses 21, 24, 25) No longer is it a matter of deflecting the angel of death, but now we are caused to pass from death death to life by hearing the voice of the Son and believing to the point of acting in accordance with what the Son tells us. Whereas all those who were involved in that first Passover died, whoever participates in this Passover has eternal life.

What, then, does this do to our understanding of man’s salvation? Look again at the statement from the Evangelical Pastor I quoted in part two of this series:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

By looking at the book of John through the lens of Passover, we see that the writer’s consistent message is that life, not death, is the agent of salvation. We receive that life by hearing the Word through his light within ourselves.

For those who would attempt to gain salvation through their own efforts, the message from the book of John is that such is impossible. We can appropriate the Lamb’s clothing by killing the Lamb, but we cannot create the Lamb’s life for ourselves. The Serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden was, “You can live in your own image, you don’t need the image and life of God.” That recipe is just as false today as it was then. Life comes only by hearing and following the word of Christ spoken within us by his light. Following the light, we come to be clothed by the life.

The writer is quite explicit and unequivocal “The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” as the Revised Standard Version renders it. This runs counter to much of modern practice as it did of the Jewish practice. Jesus told the Jews, and it applies just as much to today as it did then,

You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (see verses 39-40) How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (verses 44-47)

What is it that Moses wrote, to which Jesus is referring?

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deut. 8:2-3)

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deut 18:15-19)

These two passages we will take up in the next section.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 3

The Samaritan woman at the well: the fountain of living water.

The fourth chapter of John has a lot of good material, but I want to focus my remarks on the events surrounding the Samaritan woman at the well. My first thought was to skip this chapter because there was nothing there about the effects of Passover, as I have been discussing it in the preceding sections of this study. However, on second consideration, I see now that there are some pivotal points in this passage: what does life do to the recipient? Let’s follow the narrative.

The chapter opens with a journey that caused Jesus and his disciples to pass through Samaria. Now, on the whole, the Jews despised the Samaritans. They were racially and religiously impure. Their sacred writings consisted of only the five books of Moses. Jesus, weary from the journey, stopped to rest at Jacob’s well near Sychar, a city in Samaria, while the disciples went to purchase food. While they were gone a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink.

Thus began a conversation ranging from (a) the merits of the water in Jacob’s well to (b) the greater benefits of the living water Jesus is willing to give, to (c) what constitutes true worship.

The unifying thread that holds this conversation together is Jesus’ focus on life. “Whoever drinks of the water from Jacob’s well shall thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (My paraphrase of John 4:13-14)

Here is our theme of life being the agent that causes death to pass over. Whoever drinks the water of this world remains unsatisfied. Yes for a time you are not thirsty but the water does not endure, the processes of biology drain this water and the life it provides out of your body. You thirst again.

Not so with the fountain of living water. Look again at Jesus’ words, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

This woman, being somewhat practical, asked Jesus for this water. Who wouldn’t? Well, not everyone is willing to endure the effects of a well of living water springing up within them. You can’t hold onto death and the power of manipulation derived from death at the same time you embrace the living water. You must choose one or the other. God stated through Jeremiah: “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:11-13)

All the religious systems devised by mankind are nothing more than broken cisterns; they can’t hold the water of life.

Doesn’t it count for something that we have made an effort to please God?

Hewing cisterns out of rock requires a prodigious amount of effort, but the effort does not make us living beings. It is living beings that please God. We are made living beings by yielding to the reproofs and guidance of the light that comes from the life that is in the Word. This cannot be stored up against a season of drought. We must walk in it continually. We must know the living water to spring up within us. There is no valve to regulate the flow. The life is abundant, dependable, and constant. It is a more fundamental constant than Planck’s.

Go call your husband

This racially and religiously impure, this scripturally impoverished Samaritan woman did something the “enlightened” Jew would not. She asked for and received living water. She embraced the work of that water within her. To the enlightened Jew, Jesus would say in chapter five, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have life. They testify of me. And you will not come to me that you might have life.”

“Go call your husband,” said Jesus to the Samaritan woman. This is the first consequence of her asking for and receiving life. Jesus began to expose the covering of darkness and death of her former manner of living. Her lifestyle must now change to be aligned with the life and purpose of God.

In this portion of the conversation, Jesus explains to the woman that she has had five husbands and the man she now has is not her husband. The woman asks if Jesus is a prophet and launches into one of the major controversies between Jew and Samaritan: Is God to be worshiped in Jerusalem or in the mountain in Samaria? Jesus answered neither in Jerusalem nor in the mountain will you worship the Father. For those who worship him must be alive and worship in that life.

Here we come to the second consequence of the woman asking for and receiving life: the life within us recognizes its source. This woman is given to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, the one who “will tell us all things.” (See Deut. 18:15-19) Jesus confirmed the revelation, and the woman departed and brought back many of the people of Sychar. These people were made curious enough by the woman’s report that they came to see for themselves. Could this be the Messiah as she testified? They, in turn, came to believe, not only because of the testimony of the woman, but because they had heard for themselves. They drank of the living water.

The writer of the book of John began with the announcement that the companions of death are deflected, caused to pass over, by clinging to the light that brings us into the life that is in the Word. Misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness can neither comprehend nor overcome the life that is the light of mankind. The proof of these claims, as illustrated by this narrative, is to drink of the living water and experience first hand the effects of the life of God within.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 2

Introduction From part 1:

Of the four books narrating the life of Jesus up to his crucifixion, only John makes much use of the Passover. Many of the events recorded there are centered around this celebration. What would happen, I asked myself, if I tried to understand John’s entire account through the lens of the Passover?

John, Chapter 3

The third chapter of John contains some of the most quoted passages of the Christian Scriptures. And it, therefore, likely has the most entrenched theology surrounding those passages. Lay aside those theologies and look at this chapter with new eyes.

Since John the Baptist’s proclamation concerning the Passover lamb in chapter 1, John has taken the reader through Jesus gathering disciples, the wedding feast at Cana, and the cleansing of the temple. Now, during the Passover, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night.

In the discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus states, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” A human is brought from non-existence into this world by the process of being born. But the kingdom of God, the rightful habitation of human kind, is not to be seen from this birth. In the creation story, told in Genesis, man becomes a living being when God breathes into him the breath of life. In the first chapter of John, the agent of life is the Word. The “breath” of Genesis has become an intelligible Word that we must receive and by which we must live. Before we can see the kingdom of God, we must know the breath of life to be breathed into us by the Word that was in the beginning. Edward Burrough put it this way, “But of that birth are we which hath no crown, no glory, nor rest under the sun: a birth is brought forth amongst us which is heir of another kingdom, and possessor of another crown, whose glorying is in the Lord all the day long…” (Works of Fox, Vol.III, p.6) This is the birth that can see and dwell in the kingdom of God. This is a birth that comes at the expense of that birth that has its crown, glory, and rest under this sun.

Jesus continued, explaining God’s love and concern for His creation, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Even though the familiar quotation stops here, the passage continues.

For God sent the son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-20)

The light is come that dispels the darkness (misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness). The Passover lamb has come and been recognized. The love of God has been set forth in pointing out the way to enter the kingdom of God. But men loved darkness, and all the associated connotations noted earlier, rather than the light that leads to life. When your deeds are evil, you seek out the darkness and shun the light.

“But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” When the angel of death visited Egypt, those whom death passed over escaped because of their deeds. They were instructed what to do and their deliverance was in accordance to their obedience. Notice Jesus’ insistence on deeds. If your deeds are evil you hate and shun the light. If you do the truth, you come to the light and you love the light; your deeds, one way or the other, are made manifest. “Doing truth” is not according to some formula or prescription of actions. “Doing truth” is hearing the voice of God and acting accordingly. Your deliverance from darkness is in accordance to your obedience.

John follows this discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus with another conversation between John the Baptist and various, unspecified, Jews. During this conversation, John the Baptist states, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

All the sermons I ever heard that dealt with salvation and used John three, pick up on Jesus’ statement about being born again and pull John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Furthermore, those preaching these sermons have had a focus on Jesus’ death on the cross. Here, at this point, this study parts company with those theologies. It was not the death of the pascal lamb that caused the angel of death to pass over your dwelling. It was painting “the lambs life” on your doorpost that was effective.

Let us jump forward a little. In chapter six Jesus tells the Jews, “Except you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the son of man, you have no life in you.” He later explained to the disciples, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit that gives life. The words I am speaking to you, these are spirit, these are life.”

If Jesus’ words that he is speaking to us are spirit and are life, then lets rework John the Baptist’s closing statement of chapter three:

For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He [speaks to us] without measure…He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

Now, what does this do to our understanding of the message of this chapter? This is telling us something different than that proclaimed by those preachers-of-sermons I mentioned earlier. They would likely have agreed with this statement taken from an Evangelical pastor:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

Look again at John’s progression in this chapter.

  • He introduces the concept of a birth that can see the kingdom of God and a birth that cannot see the kingdom.
  • He has portrayed God as being concerned enough for His creation that He has sent His Son so that any who believe in him can have everlasting life; the life man had in the beginning.
  • He has given us the ‘field marks’ to distinguish those who live in the kingdom from those who do not. Those who do evil hate the light, while those who act in God love the light. Unlike identifying birds, for example, we can choose which field mark identifies us.
  • He has explained that to “believe in” cannot be divorced from hearing and obeying the voice of the Son.

What does this have to say about the new birth and salvation? To as many as receive Him (i.e. the Word who was in the beginning in whom is the life that is the light of mankind), even to those who believe in his authority, to them he gives the power to become children of God, who are born, not of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” (See John 1:12-13) The new birth comes when we receive the light, accept and love the reproof and guidance of the light that shines in our darkness, and enter into the life that comes only from the Word. Thus are we recreated in the image of God — living beings. This is salvation for it takes us out of the darkness, out of death, and brings us into the light, the life, and the relationship with the Father we were created to enjoy. Here we experience death to pass over, leaving us untouched.

Our participation in this Passover is a continual relationship with the Lamb of God who takes away the death of the world. Our Lamb obstructs death by instructing us in the path of life. After all, his name is The Word of God! Instead of a theology purporting to thwart death by death, we are brought to a constant infusion of life into our very being. It is life that causes death to pass away. Jesus’ words that he is speaking are this life that we receive by hearing and walking accordingly. Are we listening? Are we hearing? Are we walking?

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Through the Lens of Passover

John, Chapter 1

Of the four books narrating the life of Jesus up to his crucifixion, only John makes much use of the Passover. Many of the events recorded there are centered around this celebration. What would happen, I asked myself, if I tried to understand John’s entire account through the lens of the Passover?
The Passover celebrates the end of slavery, the end of death, and the passage into life. It began when the Jewish people were delivered from Egypt and embarked on their journey to the promised land. Nine plagues had been visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian people, each designed to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves leave. Nine times, God relented when Pharaoh stated he would let them go. Nine times Pharaoh recanted. The 10th plague would kill every firstborn Egyptian and firstborn of their livestock. Like the other plagues, this would not touch the Israelites. They were instructed to kill a lamb, paint the lamb’s blood — reckoned as the life of the lamb — on their doorpost. They were then to consume the flesh of the lamb and be ready to march. This blood would signal the angel of death to pass over that dwelling. Those dwelling behind the lamb’s life were untouched by that whirlwind of death that swept through the land.

John’s account opens with the very essence of the Passover:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehended/overpower it.

The Hebrew word used by the prophet Isaiah to describe the Messiah’s work of bringing people out of darkness has the connotations of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. Thus when he wrote:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

he is writing about those who have walked in misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. The “great light” is that light that will bring them out of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. And again Isaiah wrote:

…we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness…we are in desolate places as dead men. (Isaiah 59:9-10)

Jesus answered this passage saying:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)

The light that comes from the life that is in the Word is the antidote to the misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. This is the sense of this opening portion: the Pascal Lamb is come into the world. We are to follow his light and come to dwell in his life. Thus are we given power to become sons of God.

Then comes that turning point in John’s narative:

And the [Passover] became flesh and tabernacles among us full of grace and truth.

The law came by Moses. But efficacy to bring us out of darkness, out of misery, out of destruction, out of death, out of ignorance, out of sorrow, and out of wickedness; and to bring to us all that is trustworthy, all that is certain, all that is filled with faithfulness, all that is righteousness, all sureness, all firmness, all security, all fidelity, all stability — God’s very covenant — all this comes by this Passover!

Having now set the stage, John then begins his narrative with a brief account of John the Baptist. The Baptist’s pronouncement at the end of chapter 1, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is usually viewed as an announcement concerning Christ being the sin offering so that God can pardon us for all our mis-deeds.

However, consider: man’s sin is that where God expects to find life, we are dead. This death is not passed on through genetic make up anymore than is the life. John wrote, “In him was the life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) The life comes by hearing and following the light. Death comes by turning away from that light. We can now look at the Baptist’s pronouncement in light of the Passover.

Behold the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the death of the world.” Having established this theme in the abstract at the beginning of his book, John now, using two iterations, ties it to the narrative of Jesus’ ministry. How does it fit with the theme of Passover? We will start looking at this in the next post.

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The Church In God Is Not In Imitation Gathered: Lessons from a Successful Garden

The seeds planted in our gardens are our hope of harvest.

And the church in God, is not in imitation, gathered from the letter, nor is a high-flown people in their imaginations, but are they who are born again of the immortal seed, by the word of God, which lives and endures for ever, which the world knows not;…

There is a lot of work involved in planting. It begins in early winter with the arrival of seed catalogs. That is when we begin to get visions of what our harvest will be. So first comes the vision, the inspiration, that sustains us through all the hard work of preparing the soil and starting plants in pots that need an early start. All this is preparation for that brief period when the season and the weather coincide making it “time to plant.” Then, if we have done our work of preparing the soil, everything is put aside and we give our full attention to putting out plants and planting seeds directly into the soil.

This is God’s work within and among us preparing the soil for the time when He alone can sow the immortal seed. Though it is God’s work, we have a hand in how it proceeds. We can stubbornly hold onto the rocks and clods that hinder the preparation of a good seed bed, or we can yield to the work of reproof of the light of Christ within (plowing up the ground).

Not every plant that sprouts is desireable.

…for the word cuts asunder, hews down all wickedness, corruption, pride, and honour of men, that all the honour and glory may be given alone to God; he hews down the first birth, that he may establish the second, and raise up the second; and the word of the Lord is a fire, burns up all the corruptions, burns up all that is hewn down, and as an hammer to beat down, that nothing can stand it; and this is the word by which the saints are born again; you are born again by the immortal word, which lives and endures for ever, and feeding upon the milk of the word, which word is God, which word became flesh, and dwelt among us; so he (Christ) is the head of the church, and they are lively stones:…

Planting is only the beginning. This is a time of excitement and increasing anticipation. It also is a time of revelation of the job we did when planting. Seeds grow in the place we put them and don’t grow where we didn’t put them. If we planted sparingly, they will only emerge sparingly. If we planted thickly, there will be too many plants crowding into the allotted space. We may have to do some replanting and it is almost certain we will have to thin out some of the sprouted plants.

Again we have a role in this part of the process — yield to the light of Christ that enlightens you. In his epistle # 4 George Fox admonishes his readers to “mind that which is pure in you to guide you to God,” “mind the light of God…which will show you all deceit,” “mind your gift,” and “mind your calling.” (Works, Vol. VII, p. 18) These are not rules to live by, but admonitions to turn our attention to that work where the immortal seed of the kingdom of God is nourished and nurtured.

…but all you now who put the letter for the word, and have got it in your minds, and gather assemblies by it; this you cannot witness, and it is ignorance for you to say, the letter is the word; when the letter saith, God is the word; and it is a lie to speak and say, the steeple-house is the church; or to say, they that are gathered by the form of the letter, is the church of God; for the church is the pillar and ground of truth, gathered by the eternal power that was before letter was; and all who are in this church, as it is called of the world, and live in the comprehension of the letter, and the earthly part yet standing, there is devilishness in your minds, and earthliness, and pride, and filth; do but hearken to that light in thy conscience, and it will let thee see so: and while those are standing, such sacrifice God accepts not, and praises (while nature is standing) God accepts not, which is Cain’s, to which God has no respect, but to Abel’s. (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p.18)

If you expect to have a good harvest, you must maintain an attitude of ruthless extermination against the weeds that would compete with or choke out the plants you planted. You can’t have an egalitarian sentiment such that “all plants are of equal value.”

These are the weeds that Fox has described. Now, the parable of the tares among the wheat is often cited (See Matt. 13:14-43) to say that we must put up with this mix of weeds and desirable plants as long as this world exists. After all Jesus explained the parable saying: “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:40-42) But that word we so literally take as meaning the destruction of the world has more to do with the completion and fulfilment of the world. Thus Christ is the end of the world, the completion and fulfilment of all God began to do.

However, neither the hoe nor the sickle is in our hands. We can’t purge our own hearts nor that of others. As we wait in the light of Christ within us, we experience the end of the world come upon us: the reaper gathering and burning the tares, the threshing of the wheat out of the head, the winnowing of the grain from the chaff, and the joy and celebration of the grain placed in safe storage. We experience this personally and corporately.

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The Power That Transcends Cultural Forces

I am a member of culture A, which has practice X. While traveling to a foreign country I meet you, a member of culture B. I am shocked to find that you have practice Y. I convince you that practice X is much better than practice Y and then return home. You now want to participate in practice X, but all the forces of culture B are against you. I have given you no power to forsake the practices of your culture to take up the practices of mine.

This scenario portrays much of what has passed for Christianity down through the ages. And, in as much as this describes its character, Christianity has become nothing more than cultural religion. It has become the epitome of the experience Paul described in Romans:

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:21-24)

The “normal” message of Christianity offers no answer to the question. Sure, we can repeat Paul’s answer, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (verse 25) But we are still wondering, “Where do I find the power to overcome evil within me now and to live a life pleasing to God today?” Group dynamics (culture) can curb outward expression of certain evils, but that power does not touch the root cause within the heart of man. Preaching Jesus’ power to pardon the sins of those who accept him as personal savior has not produced a church that stands victorious over the gates of Hell. If we are to overcome the world, there must be more to Christianity than what we see portrayed today.

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee…(Gen. 12:1)

Two significant things happened here.

  1. God spoke to Abram.
  2. Abram was called out of his culture to follow the voice of God.

When we act in response to the voice of God, there is power to obey that is greater than cultural expectations. Abraham (Abram) is called the father of the faithful, and our faith is called the faith of Abraham, because we, like him, must hear the voice of God calling us out of our culture of darkness and deception.

Our culture is the death and darkness of following the voice of the serpent, that deceiver and adversary of our souls. And that includes much of what has been passed off as Christianity. Human effort can’t restore us to the light of life and to peace with God. Something greater than ourselves is needed. Isaiah described the work of the Messiah as:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them… (Isaiah 42:16)

I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)

Isaac Penington detailed how this is accomplished:

[Question]. But show more particularly how faith, or believing in
the light, worketh out the salvation.

[Answer].

  1. First, it causeth a fear and trembling to seize upon the sinner. …

    All that used to empower our lives is shaken.

  2. In this fear and trembling the work of true repentance and conversion is begun and carried on…

    This is a time of deep distress, the whole life is turned upside down. All that had been one’s rock and foundation is discovered to be only mire and must be discarded.

  3. In the belief of the light, and in the fear placed in the heart, there springs up a hope, a living hope, in the living principle, which hath manifested itself, and begun to work…

    Here the power of God is experienced to hold your soul in all the troubles, storms, and tempests of life. As we experience this anchor at work within, our faith grows.

  4. Faith, through the hope, works righteousness, and teaches the true wisdom; and now the benefit of all the former trouble, anguish, and misery begins to be felt, and the work goes on sweetly…

    This faith produces within us the righteousness and wisdom of God, which are available from no other source.

  5. In the righteousness, and in the true wisdom which is received in the light, there springs up a love, and a unity, and fellowship with God, the Father of lights, and with all who are children of the light…

    This is the source of our willingness and the source of the power to spend and to be spent in obedience to Christ’s command. This power transcends cultural forces.

  6. Belief in the light works patience, meekness, gentleness, tenderness, and long-suffering. It will bear any thing for God, any thing for men’s souls’ sake. It will wait quietly and stilly for the carrying on of the work of God in its own soul, and for the manifestation of God’s love and mercy to others…

  7. It brings peace, joy, and glory. Faith in the light breaks down the wall of darkness, the wall of partition, that which separates from the peace, that which causeth the anguish and trouble upon the soul, and so brings into peace…

    One of the manifestations of the human malady is our lack of peace with God within ourselves.Christ is the good physician. Through his light he removes the cause of our dis-ease.

Now finding the clods of earth removed, the enemy, the disturber, the peace-breaker trodden down, the sin taken away, the life and power present, the soul brought into the peace; here is joy, unspeakable joy! joy which the world cannot see or touch, nor the powers of darkness come near to interrupt. Here is now no more crying out, O wretched man! and who shall deliver! &c., but a rejoicing in him who hath given victory, and made the soul a conqueror; yea, more than a conqueror. Wait to feel that, thou who art now groaning, and oppressed by the merciless powers of darkness.

And this joy is full of glory; which glory increaseth daily more and more, by the daily sight and feeling of the living virtue and power in Christ the light; whereby the soul is continually transformed, and changed more and more, out of the corruptible into the incorruptible; out of the uncircumcision, the shame, the reproach, into the circumcision, the life, the glory.

Q. Doth the light do all this?

A. Yea, in them that turn towards it, give up to it, and abide in it. In them it cleanseth out the thickness and darkness, and daily transformeth them into the image, purity, and perfection of the light. And this nothing can do but the light alone. (The Scattered Sheep Sought After)

Now you have something beyond Christendom, the culture of the Christian religion, which you, like Abram, must forsake. Penington has described how to enter into Christ-ianity, i.e. Christ-likeness.

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