Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Table of Zion

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24 HCSB)
When we come to the Table of the Lord:
  • We have come to Mount Zion. This is in contrast to Mount Sinai, the place where the Law of Moses was given, the law that inevitably led to condemnation (see Romans 7 for Paul’s experience on that). Mount Zion, however, was the place where God chose to dwell and manifest His presence among His people. This is not natural geography but spiritual reality.
  • We have come to the city of the living God. In the natural, Mount Zion was the city of God, the place of His temple, His habitation. The spiritual reality is that which Abraham sought, “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews11:10). Indeed, of all the saints of the old covenant, it is said, “But now they desire a better, that is a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16). But now we have come to that city and Paul reminds us, “You are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
  • We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. Earthly Jerusalem, situated on Mount Zion, was a type, or shadow, of heavenly Jerusalem. Heavenly Jerusalem speaks of a higher realm and in the Jewish mind represented the hope of a future age. Now we have come to that city and the reality of heaven is breaking into the world. It is just as Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, keep coming! Will of God, keep being done on earth as it in heaven” (that is the sense of the Greek verbs). It is not a singular event but a continuous action, already begun, and will ultimately align earth with the reality of heaven.
  • We have come to myriads of angels in festive gathering. The angels of God are not gathered together to execute judgment on us but to celebrate Jesus, who endured God’s judgment in our place. It is a joyful convocation, a festival of praise, and Revelation 5:11-12 gives us a glimpse:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
  • We have come to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven. “Firstborn” shows that we have a Father, who is God. It speaks of the “double portion” we receive of Him, the very best of inheritances. Paul says that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). “Joint heirs” means that everything the Lord Jesus receives from the Father we receive also. As David declared, “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6). Not only are we heirs of God, our names are written on the citizen rolls of heaven. Paul says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”: (Ephesians 2:19). “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). This citizenship we have received gives us every blessing and benefit heaven has to offer. We can now live out of that higher reality.
  • We have come to God who is the judge of all. “Judge” speaks of God’s sovereign rule and authority over everyone. He is the one who sets all things right. His judgment on our sin was poured out on the Lord Jesus. As Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Isaiah 53:5).
  • We have come to the spirits of righteous people made perfect. This speaks of communion, connection stronger than death, with those who have gone before us and no longer walk this planet. While we are still in the process of reckoning ourselves dead to sin but alive to God, they are experiencing, thoroughly and completely, all the perfection we have in Christ. “Perfected at last!” is the sense of the text. It is a perfection that is received only in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him.
  • We have come to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant. Jesus is the reason for all our coming, and all the blessing is summed up in the new covenant, of which He is the mediator. “Now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). What could not be accomplished by the old covenant of law, and all our striving, is fulfilled by the Lord Jesus in the new and better covenant.
  • We have come to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. This is the heart of the covenant. In the Bible, no covenant was made without the shedding of blood, which demonstrated the surety of the promise. In this new covenant of grace, Jesus is the sacrifice — He gives us Himself. On the night before He was crucified, He took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). This covenant, and the blood by which in which it was cut, speaks incomparable things for us than any other blood ever could. The blood of Abel cried out for revenge. The blood of Jesus declares our redemption, reconciliation, restoration, freedom, victory, preservation and prosperity.
The Table of the Lord is the Table of Zion, city of the Living God, heavenly Jerusalem coming down with all its blessings.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Forty Days Opening Their Understanding

And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45)
Jesus had been with the disciples for three years, living with them, leading them, teaching them, ministering with them, even sending them out to do the work of the ministry. But for some reason, they still just did not get it. Even His death and resurrection came as a surprise to them, though Jesus had foretold them of these things more than once.
Now He suddenly appeared before them, inviting them to touch His hands and feet. This was no ghost they were dealing with. This was flesh and blood — Jesus in His resurrection. After eating some broiled fish and honeycomb, He said,
These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. (Luke 24:44)
Luke’s comment at this point is, “And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” The Greek word for “opened” means to open thoroughly. The word for “understanding” is the word for “mind.” Jesus thoroughly opened their minds. There were now no obstructions to impede their understanding of these things. It had been in the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms all along, they just never understood it before. To be fair, we should recognize the truth of what Paul said,
For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (2 Corinthians 2:11-12)
We have been conditioned by the world too much to recognize spiritual realities. The spirit of the world can never understand these things, they must be revealed to us by the Spirit of God. That is what happened with the disciples: Jesus caused them to “comprehend.” The Greek word means to “put together.” They were now able to add up all that Jesus had taught them and all the Scriptures had taught them and bring it all together into one magnificent picture. Jesus continued:
Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:46-49)
Now they got it. It was all making sense for them as it never had before. But there was more. They were about to receive the “Promise of the Father,” power from heaven. This was the promise of the Holy Spirit, who came upon them at Pentecost! Now they would be able to take this glorious portrait of Jesus and present it to the nations in a living and powerful way.

By His Spirit, God opens our understanding to comprehend that the Scriptures, the witness of God’s eternal plan and redemptive purpose for all the nations of the world, all comes together in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Forty Days of Kingdom Revelation

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)
The forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension to His throne in heaven — what an unusual time for Him and His disciples — are full of world-changing significance. Like everything else in His ministry, they were about the kingdom of God. He began His ministry announcing that it was now at hand. He went about preaching it and teaching it by parables and discourse. He demonstrated it by healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons and raising the dead — and sent His disciples out to do the same. He taught them how to pray, “Kingdom of God, come! Will of God, be done!” He announced that the kingdom was within them.

After the resurrection, He declared that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him. Surely, that is about the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God coming to earth and the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. It was in that context that He commissioned His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all the things Jesus had commanded them. This is all about the kingdom of God.

Before He ascended to His throne in heaven, He told His disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Promise of the Father. They asked Him if He was restoring the kingdom to Israel at that time. He answered that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons which the Father placed in His own authority. Instead, He gave them this — and I believe it is where the answer to their question is really found: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This power and this witness are all about the kingdom of God, testifying and demonstrating that Jesus is King and His kingdom is now in the world — in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and extending to the ends of the earth. These forty days between Resurrection and Ascension were about preparing the disciples to receive His kingdom and manifest it by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The kingdom of God has come into the world. The resurrected Christ has ascended to His glory and the Holy Spirit has come upon His people. His purpose is to bring forth the evidence of who Jesus is and manifest His kingdom, heaven on earth, here and now.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Do You Believe This?

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26)
These are the words Jesus spoke to Martha. Her brother Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. Martha had said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (v. 21-22).

Jesus assured her, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23).

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” she said.

Then Jesus answered, “I am the resurrection and the life.” We often limit the resurrection to an event, or a time. But, first of all, it is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the resurrection; He is the life. The statement “I am” goes back to God’s answer when Moses asked Him, “What shall I say to the children of Israel when they ask who sent me and ‘What is His name?’” God said, “I AM WHO I AM … Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).

How do we receive this resurrection and this life? By faith in Him. “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” In both the body and the spirit, there is death and there is life. We come to Him spiritually dead, He gives us spiritual life. When we believe in Him, though the body may die, the spirit lives on and will never die.

On another occasion, Jesus said.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. (John 5:24-25)
It is a spiritual resurrection He speaks of here, but there is also a physical resurrection coming, for He adds, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 5:28-29). So Martha was correct, there will be a resurrection of the body in the future, at the “last day.” Jesus gave us a glimpse when He called forth Lazarus from the grave — and Lazarus came back to life. But it is seen most powerfully and enduringly in the resurrection of Jesus Himself after three days in the tomb. It is important to note that He rose bodily from the grave, for as the “firstborn from the dead,” He is the guarantee of our own bodies being raised, we who believe in Him.

So there are two resurrections in view: one spiritual, the other physical. We receive them both by faith, for Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Me.” This presents us, then, with the question He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?”

Now, faith is not passive but active. It is a verb as well as a noun. Though in English we have “faith” as the noun and “believe” as the verb, in Greek, they are both the same word. Faith is not just something we have but something we do. It is an action as well as a possession.

“Do you believe this?” Notice the tense. Jesus did not ask, “Did you believe this?” but “Do you believe this?” Faith is not about what you may have believed at some point in the past but about what you are believing now. That is the only question. Faith is always present tense — that is where the life is. God is eternal and the place where we meet Him is the present.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. For those who believe in Him, there is spiritual resurrection now and bodily resurrection in the future. Do you believe this? That is the question the season of Easter presents to us.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Sound of Marching

So they went up to Baal Perazim, and David defeated them there. Then David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand like a breakthrough of water.” Therefore they called the name of that place Baal Perazim. (1 Chronicles 14:11)
David had just been anointed king, and the Philistines did not like it, so they came looking for him. David heard of this and went out against them. The Philistines raided the valley of Rephaim. David asked the Lord whether he should go up after them. “Will You deliver them into my hand?” The Lord said, “Go up, for I will deliver them into your hand.” So David led them up to the place which would be called Baal Perazim, which means “Lord of Breakthroughs.” It was there that God broke through David’s enemies “like a breakthrough of water.”

This was not like a few drips and drops. It was not a smattering of sprays and spurts. It was not a leak. It was a flood, a dam break! It devastated the Philistines. They retreated, leaving their idols behind, which David then burned. However, the Philistines made one more attempt on the valley. Again, David asked the Lord what to do. God said,
You shall not go up after them; circle around them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when you hear a sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall go out to battle, for God has gone out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines. (1 Chronicles 14:14-15)
God was going to go before David and strike the Philistine army. The sign for this would be the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees. Then David would go out to battle and finish them off, which David did, driving them back all the way back to Philistia. “Then the fame of David went out into all lands, and the LORD brought the fear of him upon all nations” (v. 17). The Philistines were never a problem for David anymore after that.

Today, I am thinking of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday in terms of this narrative, which chronicles the final victory of David over the Philistines. It came in two parts. There was the breaking forth of many waters and then the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees.

On Good Friday, there was the breakthrough of many waters as Jesus dealt the death blow to His enemies, and ours. For He came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) as well as him who had the power of death, the devil himself (Hebrews 2:14). On Resurrection Sunday, this victory became apparent as God raised Jesus from the dead. Sin, death and the devil no longer have any power over us. The Lord of Breakthroughs has prevailed.

The day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday has traditionally been called Holy Saturday. It is a time of reflecting on the breakthrough that has been made for us, the great victory Jesus won for us on the Cross. But it is also a time of listening for the “sound of marching” as that victory manifests in resurrection life.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Let God Arise and His Enemies Be Scattered

Let God arise,
Let His enemies be scattered;
Let those also who hate Him flee before Him.
As smoke is driven away,
So drive them away;
As wax melts before the fire,
So let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
But let the righteous be glad;
Let them rejoice before God;
Yes, let them rejoiced exceedingly.
(Psalm 68:1-3)

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Good Friday was our victory day, the day God arose to scatter His enemies. Jesus, the Word of God, became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through death, he Lord Jesus destroyed the evil one, who had the power of death, and released us from bondage. Indeed, He came for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil.

On this day, God arose to scatter His enemies and destroy the works of the devil. Jesus shed His blood to establish a new covenant between God and us (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:6). This means that His enemies are our enemies and our enemies are His.
Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
Fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and buckler;
Arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.
Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”
(Psalm 35:1-3 NIV)
The Hebrew word for “salvation” in that passage is yeshuah. As a proper name, it is Yeshua, which is Hebrew for “Jesus.” Jesus is our salvation, our victory, and through faith in Him, we are made victorious.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us form the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-36, 37-39).
In Jesus Christ, Good Friday has become your victory day. God has destroyed the works of the devil on your behalf and scattered your enemies. Their bondage is broken and they no longer have any power over you. It is a cause for great rejoicing in the presence of the Lord.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Table of Testimony

And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you. (Exodus 25:16)

Do this in remembrance of Me. (Luke 22:19)
The essence of testimony is remembrance. The Hebrew word for “testimony” means to duplicate or repeat. Its purpose is to bring something back to mind, to represent (re-present) an experience, to stir up a heart of faith.

Testimony is a powerful thing. It can not only bring something back to your mind but also back to your heart. It can recreate the emotions, the sense of the experience of that to which it testifies. For example, have you ever heard an old song on the radio that reminded you of the days when you first heard that song? It can make you think of old friends and places and the way you felt back then. It is amazing how a song can bring them again to you in such an emotionally powerful way. When a song triggers a memory like that, people even say, “Oh, that takes me back.” And in a way, it does take them back to that time and place, and those old friends. That song has become a testimony to them, a witness of things past but which still have great significance for the present.

That is what the Ark of the Testimony did. It was a witness that spoke of the covenant God made with Israel. Everything about it testified to something in their experience with Him. It showed His presence among them. On top was the mercy-seat, the place of atonement, divine forgiveness. The Testimony that was placed inside was threefold: The Ten Commandments, a jar of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded (Hebrews 9:4).

The testimony of these things was always before them to remind them, not only of who God had been to them in the past, but also who He would continue to be to them in the future. It was a continual witness of God’s saving act on behalf of His people, a sign of His ever present covenant love and mercy.

In the New Testament, Jesus has provided us a testimony that continually speaks to us of His saving act on our behalf. It is the sign of the new covenant God has made with us in Christ. This testimony is the Table of the Lord. The bread and the wine testify to the body and blood of Jesus. They speak of what has been given for us and to us. They represent Jesus Christ to us. In them, we experience anew the reality of His body and blood, and our participation in Him as the body of Christ.

The Table of the Lord is an ark of testimony. It is the witness of what Jesus Christ has done for us at the Cross, the sign of the covenant we have with God today and the promise that He is with us now and forever.