The Event of the Cross 2

The messianic prophecies and types of Christ in the Old Testament that apply to the cross are too numerous to exhaustively cover in this essay.

Briefly…Abraham says to Isaac: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8).

The blood of the Passover lamb was applied to the two sides and upper door lintel of the house, representing the human heart (Ex. 12:1-28).

The rock which Moses struck once with his rod in Horeb…to produce water out of the rock…is a type of Christ (Ex. 17:5-6; Jn. 4:14).

The bronze serpent on a pole is a preview of the cross (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14).  Psalms 22:16 says: “they pierced my hands and my feet.”

Psalms 22:17 foretells that the Romans did not break the legs of Jesus on the cross to hasten His death before sunset preceding the Sabbath, because He was already dead.

Psalms 22:18 says: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”

The 53rd chapter of Isaiah says that Christ will be despised and rejected of men (53:3), wounded for our transgressions (53:5), open not his mouth in his own defense (53:7), make his grave with the rich (53:9), and be executed alongside transgressors (53:12).

Within the hostile environment that Jesus operated throughout much of His ministry (Jn. 7:1), but especially during His final week in Jerusalem (Jn. 7:32; 8:59; 10:31), how is it that God the Father can orchestrate the timing of the crucifixion down to the precise day of the Passover, and the traditional hour of the day the Passover lamb is killed?

Jesus is betrayed by Judas after the Last Supper on Thursday evening, is hastily tried at the house of Caiaphas very late on Thursday night and early Friday morning, the sentence of death is ratified by the Sanhedrin at daybreak on Friday, the prisoner is placed before Pilate for formal sentencing early Friday morning, and Jesus is hanging on the cross around 9:00 in the morning of Friday the Passover.

Jesus dies around 3:00 or 4:00 that afternoon, the time that the Passover lambs are traditionally killed.

God the Father steps on the accelerator pedal to speed up events before and during that last week, first by creating a sense of urgency on the part of the religious leaders, through Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

God then alternately taps with His foot on the brakes and then touches the accelerator pedal again lightly…through the indecisiveness of the religious leaders on the one hand…and the information that Judas provides on the other.  This achieves just the right velocity to get Jesus crucified within the narrow time window between sundown Thursday and sundown Friday, according to all of the ancient Old Testament prophecies on the very day of the Passover.

This is an incredibly difficult thing to orchestrate over the span of a three-and-one-half-year long ministry, when the life of Jesus was in danger on several occasions, starting at the beginning of His ministry in His own hometown of Nazareth (Lk. 4:29).

This achievement is even more remarkable considering that the Pharisees, scribes, and religious leaders in Jerusalem were not prophets of God being led by His Spirit, but deadly adversaries in opposition to the ways of God.  God was using them for His purposes without their knowledge or awareness of this fact.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes could have arrested Jesus on any night of that final week on His way back from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives (Lk. 21:37).  They could have arrested Him any morning of that week on His way to teach in the Temple.

They did not need Judas to tell them the whereabouts of Jesus.[1]  His movements were so well known that “the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, to hear him” (Lk. 21:38).  A crowd of people was awaiting Him alongside the road during His triumphal entrance into the city (Jn. 12:12).

The gospels tell us that the religious leaders did fear the reaction of the people should they make a move against Jesus (Mk. 12:12; Lk. 19:47-48; 20:6).  That was certainly a restraining element in their calculations.  But the religious leaders also feared Jesus Himself.  Jesus was an unknown quantity.  They were not even sure if it was possible to arrest Him (Jn. 7:30; 7:45-46; 8:20; 8:59; 10:39).  They knew they wanted to eliminate Him, they just did not know exactly when and how they would do it.

God Himself provided the answer.

It took a member of the inner group of His closest disciples, Judas Iscariot, to change allegiance from Jesus over to the religious leaders, to become the means of propulsion that God used to govern and adjust the speed of the events that led to the midnight trial and the Passover crucifixion.  Being one of the twelve apostles, Judas naturally heard Jesus speaking to the group as they approached Jerusalem that final week, preparing them beforehand for His upcoming death and resurrection (Mt. 20:17-19; Mk. 10:32-34; Lk. 18:31-34).

The value of Judas’ information that week to the religious rulers was not so much the whereabouts of Jesus, which many people seemed to know about, but the fact that someone in His inner circle was telling them that Jesus was speaking mysteriously and unexplainably about His upcoming death.  That was the unexpected and welcome information that was worth thirty pieces of silver from Caiaphas the High Priest and the other rulers, not just where Jesus was at any particular moment.

Luke 18:34 tells us that the twelve apostles did not understand what Jesus meant when He told them, as they journeyed toward Jerusalem, that He would be put to death and rise the third day.  Even though Judas, like the other eleven apostles, would not have understood these words of Jesus, yet he could still pass along this critical information word-for-word to the religious leaders, having heard them first-hand from Jesus.

Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him (Jn. 6:64; 6:70-71; 13:11).  There seems to be a sort of understanding between Jesus and Judas that Jesus would be waiting in the Garden of Gethsemane that Thursday night, when Jesus says to Judas: “What thou doest, do quickly” (Jn 13:27).  It is this startling, confirming information, accurately perceived by Judas during the Last Supper, and hurriedly communicated by him to the rulers, that sets in motion the final decision by Caiaphas the High Priest to go forward with the destruction of Jesus (Mt. 26:3-5).

But all of the proper proceedings must now be started and consummated by sundown the following day, before the start of the Sabbath.  Criminals executed by crucifixion could not be left dead on their crosses after sunset at the start of the Friday night Sabbath.  That is why the legs of the two thieves crucified next to Jesus were broken that afternoon, to facilitate their death and removal that same afternoon.

Add to this the complication that the Passover was the first day of the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.

If Jesus could not be tried, executed, and disposed of that Friday, he would have had to be held over…under their custody…until after the festival week.  Any problem or glitch in the proceedings that did not result in a conviction and a crucifixion the following day, could have unforeseen and very unpleasant consequences regarding the reaction of the people, for these rulers.

The thing had to be carried out to its conclusion quickly, before public sentiment could galvanize one way or the other.

This explains why the party of Jesus lingers in the Garden of Gethsemane much later than usual, causing the disciples to fall asleep.  This is why Caiaphas himself probably went to Pilate late Thursday night (a reasonable inference, though not recorded in scripture) to get Pilate’s pre-arranged consent for the course of action the Jewish leaders proposed to take the following day.

This is why Pilate’s wife, becoming aware of the subject nature of the unusual late night visit of Caiaphas to speak with her husband, had bad dreams that very night about Jesus (Mt. 27:19), and sent a note forewarning Pilate at daybreak the next morning.

This is why Pilate seems to go back on his agreement with Caiaphas from the night before, to summarily go along with the Jew’s death sentence for Jesus, and instead attempts first…to set Jesus free.  This greatly upsets the already committed Jewish leaders (Jn. 18:30).  Pilate then proceeds to wash his hands of the whole affair (Mt. 27:24).

This is why Judas knows exactly where to take the hastily assembled group of armed men carrying lanterns and torches, when Jesus and the apostles should otherwise normally be asleep at that late hour elsewhere at the Mount of Olives.  This is why Jesus waits and stays where He is, even though He probably can see the procession of lanterns and torches a long way off as the crowd approaches (Mt. 26:46).  Jesus also knows that Judas is heading for the Garden of Gethsemane.

[1] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press) 30-42.  The reconstructions of the events of the final week in Jerusalem described in this chapter, are taken from this insightful book.

The Event of the Cross 1

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”                                                                                                                (Isa. 53:6)

When Jesus Christ confronted the religious leaders in Jerusalem, as recorded in the four gospels, at that time the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes were in possession of the worldly political seat of power.  They had the power to influence the opinion of the populace against Jesus, to throw out of the synagogue anyone who professed belief in Jesus, to slander His person, to marginalize His teachings, and eventually have Jesus crucified by the Romans as a political and societal enemy of the state (Jn. 19:12).

A small, exclusive club of spiritually blind and worldly self-centered men was in political control in Jerusalem during the ministry of Jesus.

Yet during this entire period, God is able to engineer and accomplish all of His plans and designs for the salvation of mankind, which He meticulously laid-out ahead of time in the Old Testament messianic prophecies and “types” of Christ…hundreds of years earlier.

This is an important observation as we approach the last days.  God worked His complete agenda for mankind’s salvation within and through the political plans and schemes of evil men during the same time period these men thought they had the upper hand and were in control of events.

This gives us a foreglimpse of the scenario that may repeat itself again in the upcoming end-times.

An argument can be made that it is the violently lethal differences of opinion that form the basis for the martyrdom of Jesus of Nazareth as the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for our sins.  It is the heat of the conflict created within God’s resolution of the difference between right and wrong, and truth and error, which surprisingly generates the outcome of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the foundation of our salvation.

That God is creatively brilliant enough to mint a heavenly coin of salvation, having the exposure of error and falsehood on one side of the coin, and love-filled redemption from sin through the atonement of Christ on the cross…and resurrection from the dead…on the other side of the coin, is remarkable beyond all human reckoning.  This plainly tells us that God can move through real-life events and circumstances having the darkest outward appearance of adversity and opposition, to accomplish His plans with creative imagination and foresight to rival the best of modern fictional suspense novelists.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem had the political power, but God had control of all of the events, situations, and circumstances to achieve the outcome He wanted.

This is one of the most important revelations in the Bible, which is understood and acknowledged on a surface level in all of Christendom, yet is seldom explored very deeply.  Whoever can supernaturally shape events controls everything.

There is only one divine, all-powerful God in all of existence.  This is one of the things Jesus is trying to tell us about our choices, and the direction of our lives, in The Sermon on the Mount.  This is one of the foundations of faith in Jesus Christ.  This is why Christians walking in the Spirit surrender all to Jesus.  This is why people of faith in the Bible, in the midst of their calling, give up control of events to God.

God is so intelligent and resourceful that He can even take the evil actions of worldly people and turn them into good outcomes.

The action of crucifying the Son of God cannot get any more darkly evil, yet God turned it into the greatest blessing for good for all eternity.

If the worst that evil can do, unjustly condemning and executing Jesus the Son of God, ends up actually providing the means for the best outcome in human history…the salvation and deliverance of mankind from sin…then evil does not stand a chance when people choose God.  God is so intelligent and resourceful that He can take the very ammunition that evil shoots at spiritual righteousness, and turn it back around upon itself.

Although the human side of Jesus did not look forward joyfully toward the physical agony of the cross, Jesus was not afraid of evil.  Jesus knew that God the Father would take the deadly attack of evil upon Himself, as symbolized in the cross, turning this around into eternal salvation for mankind.

When we are safely “in Christ” through faith, and because “all things work together for good for them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), we do not have to be afraid of the appearance of evil coming against us in the situations and circumstances of life.

This includes the upcoming end-times.

The point here is to illustrate that it was the event of the cross of Christ, spread-out in time over many finely detailed circumstances, which not only divided spiritual light from darkness, but at the same time demonstrated God’s complete mastery over the affairs of men.  It did not matter that the religious leaders in Jerusalem had the political and social power.  God’s use of situations and circumstances is on a level that is way above the temporal political powers on earth.

Desperation Can Push Us into Reliance upon God 2

In every situation in the New Testament, when anyone approaches Jesus in faith with a need or a request, no matter how desperate or seemingly impossible, Jesus always succeeds.  When people approached Jesus in faith, I can think of no example where Jesus was not able to heal an illness, provide for a need, or solve a problem.

Only three occasions come to mind where Jesus actually failed in the New Testament.

Because of people’s unbelief, Jesus was not able to perform many miracles in His hometown of Nazareth (Mk. 6:5-6).  Because of people’s unbelief, Jesus was not able to persuade and win over the majority of the Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the Law, and was eventually crucified through their instigation.  Because of people’s unbelief, the city of Jerusalem was not able to receive the blessings and protection that God had in mind for it and suffered instead the wrath of the Roman Empire in A.D. 70 as the Roman general Titus destroyed the city.

The only time that God ever “fails,” is when people or nations push Him away.  In every situation where there is some measure of faith involved, Jesus is able to save a wedding feast by turning water into wine, heal lepers, restore sight to the blind, raise the dead, feed thousands of people in a desert, calm a storm at sea, and walk harmlessly through a crowd of people intent upon throwing Him off a cliff.  In these situations and circumstances, Jesus never fails.

When we combine the fact that God never fails, and the concept as presented in this book that the plans of God for people maneuver them to a point of having to rely solely upon Him, above and beyond their own personal gifts and talents, we get a better picture of the direction the Christian life is supposed to be going.

This is why so many verses, stories, and parables in the Bible talk about placing our faith and trust in God as opposed to self-reliance (Isa. 53:6; Prov. 3:5-6).  The idea that God is still in control, even in situations and circumstances that are difficult is sometimes portrayed in the Bible just below the surface of a particular story.  Other times, this idea is clearly expressed.

For example, when Abraham receives his calling from God to leave the town of Haran and travel to the promised land of Canaan, it is implied in this story that he must thereby leave behind all of his Haran-based plans, designs, and schemes that are now displaced by the new Canaan-based plan of God for him.

Not only is Abraham heading off into new territory geographically, but also into new territory spiritually.  What lies just below the surface in this story is that once Abraham commits to following God into this new unconventional life-script, Abraham becomes completely and totally dependent upon God to bring about the successful completion of God’s promise to him.

Because Abraham does believe God, and because God never fails, God’s promise to Abraham does eventually come true.  But not before God is able to fashion Abraham, through a series of well-planned and orchestrated events, into the type of person that can rightly be called the “father of faith.”

1 Peter 4:12 reads “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial that is to test you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.”

This verse…and many similar verses in the Bible…expressly say that periods in our Christian lives will have situations and circumstances that are above and beyond our ability to handle.  If we can look back upon, or are currently in situations that require us to cry out to God “save me, I perish,” then we are learning lessons of faith and trust in God that match the experiences of people of faith in the Bible who reached similar points of desperation.

We are then being crafted into overcomers who can face any and all of life’s challenges with patient confidence through our personal relationship with a trustworthy and faithful God.

Desperation Can Push Us into Reliance upon God 1

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into various trials, Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.”                                                                                                   (Jas. 1:2-4)

In the Gospels and in the book of Acts of the New Testament…there are many examples of human crisis, desperation, and need.

Luke 8:22 through 8:56 presents four such examples of people who have reached the point of desperation in their lives, who turn to Jesus for help.

They were the disciples in jeopardy in the storm at sea…the man who had the legion of demons cast out…the woman who touched the border of Jesus’ garment…and Jairus the ruler of a synagogue.

In Luke 8:22-25, the disciples and Jesus are in a boat crossing a lake, when a strong wind creates a storm dangerous enough to place their lives at risk.  But Jesus fell asleep at the beginning of their journey across the lake and is still asleep as water from the waves are coming into and filling up the boat.

The disciples wake up Jesus, and excitedly say to Him “Master, master, we perish.”  Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, and there was calm where moments before there was a perilous storm.

Luke 8:25 then reads “And he said unto them, Where is your faith?  And they, being afraid, marveled, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! For he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.”

Because this story is so brief, and the happy ending comes so quickly, it is easy to gloss over the serious import of this story.

On board this boat were probably most of the apostles, although none of them are mentioned specifically by name.  John was probably on board, who wrote the fourth gospel, three letters to the churches, and the book of The Revelation.  Peter was probably on board, who by tradition provided the information for the writing of the gospel of Mark, wrote two letters to the churches, and figures prominently in the book of Acts and in the first century church.

Matthew was probably also on board the floundering boat, who wrote the first gospel.  A good portion of the entire New Testament, not to mention Jesus Himself, was riding in that boat on the lake.

For Peter and Andrew, and James and John, who were all fishermen by trade, to awaken Jesus and to say they were on the verge of perishing…meant that the storm was serious.  To the apostles the moment was desperate.

The solution that Jesus brings to this otherwise life-and-death situation is not on the list of normal responses to save a boat that is floundering at sea.  We do not know what the apostles had in mind for Jesus to do during this crisis, but it probably fell somewhere within the realm of solid advice on how to reach land while working together as a team bailing water out of the boat.  The idea that Jesus would stand up in the boat and rebuke the wind and the waves to produce an almost instant calm was a solution to the problem that was way above and beyond the possible options the apostles might have possibly imagined.

The story of the man who had the legion of demons cast out can certainly be described as desperate.  He lived as a naked madman amongst rocks and caves, and when the demons were cast out of him by Jesus they entered into a herd of swine that ran headlong over a cliff into the sea and drowned.

This situation is so far beyond the human ability to resolve in terms of counseling or psychology, that even today we must marvel at the outcome of this man sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind.  This story seems commonplace for Jesus, only because it is mixed in among so many other miracles, healings, and deliverances Jesus performed.

The woman who was healed by touching the border of Jesus’ garment had an issue of blood for twelve years, and had spent all of her finances on physicians without being cured.  She was desperate to the point of thinking within herself that, although she could not gain personal access to Jesus amongst all of the people who crowded around Him, if she could just reach out and touch His garment as He walked by she might be healed.  In this brief but wonderful story, Jesus is the last hope for this woman.

Jairus, the ruler of a synagogue, reaches the point of desperation on account of the deadly illness of his twelve year old daughter, his only child.  Jairus falls at the feet of Jesus, asking Him to come to his house and heal his daughter.  The situation becomes hopeless when the house servant arrives to tell Jairus that his daughter has died.  But Jairus has already committed himself to include Jesus in his personal crisis, and Jesus does not abandon the situation.  Jesus has the power to resolve this impossible problem, even to the point of being able to bring a young woman back from the dead.

The Spiritual Vision of John the Baptist 2

One of the basic lessons of the life of John the Baptist that applies to all Christians…is that the godly life may not always appear to be successful, at times, in the eyes of the world.

No one had any idea what John the Baptist was doing, quietly allowing God to prepare him in the desert for his spectacular upcoming ministry.  No one in Canaan knew at the time Abraham showed up that the future “father of faith” had arrived.  Joseph appears to be a complete failure in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s prison.

Conventional wisdom would say that Moses was committing suicide by going to Egypt and demanding from Pharaoh that he let the children of Israel go.

As King Saul is pursuing David on several occasions to kill him, David is only separated from him by a hilltop.  Considering the potential that David showed at the beginning of his career, in slaying Goliath and in his early military victories against the Philistines, some people at the time might conclude that David in his middle to late twenties had become a huge disappointment.

Everything about Jesus…what He says, teaches, and does is unconventional.

When we accept Jesus into our lives, we become new people with improved characters and attitudes, but we also have a new faith in Christ that can bring the unconventional, supernatural aspect of Jesus into our own set of life events and circumstances.

Christians who want to follow God’s plan for their lives must confront and overcome the negative pull of worldly conventional thinking.

God is not for…or against…wealth or poverty, nor is He for or against the appearance of success or failure.  These things are totally beside the point in a biblical journey of faith applied to our lives.  God is not assisted by wealth and success or limited by poverty and the appearance of failure.

We are supposed to surrender all to Jesus right where we find ourselves…to listen for His voice to become a light and a blessing to ourselves and to those around us…and to be open and accessible to God’s leading wherever that takes us.

This is one of the lessons we can learn from the enormously powerful and world-shaking ministry of John the Baptist.

God knows that some people have the God-given abilities to become an outward success in this world.  God knows how to reach these types of people and call them by His Spirit to respond to His love, and to surrender their lives to His plans and purposes.

God also knows how to reach people who have gifts and talents that are not likely to produce great worldly acclaim or wealth, and to craft lives for them that are more fulfilling and meaningful than anything they could have imagined for themselves.

If faith in God is described in the Bible as comparable to fine gold (1 Pet. 1:7), then even the most average Christian can aspire to and experience a world-class life following Jesus Christ.

Finally, if we find truth like John the Baptist (Jn. 16:13)…we will also find divine love (1 Cor. 13).  The two go together…truth and love.

The power and the conviction of the words of John the Baptist…that captured the heart of the nation of Israel as the forerunner in preparation for the coming of the ministry of Jesus Christ (Mal. 4:5-6)…contained genuine compassion, caring, and the love of God…which are co-equal and inseparable components of truth.

The Spiritual Vision of John the Baptist 1

“If ye, then, be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.  For ye are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”                                             (Col. 3:1-3)

John the Baptist, through the Holy Spirit, was able to spiritually see the multitudes of people in Israel who needed repentance, salvation, and reform.

When John the Baptist captures God’s love-filled vision of repentance for Israel, and begins to preach the message that God gave him in the wilderness, the New Testament says: “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about the Jordan” (Mt. 3:5).

Paul, in the midst of his evangelical ministry to the Mediterranean world, says that God has set forth the apostles as being last (1 Cor. 4:9).

Only from the low vantage point of humility can the leaders of the early Christian church spiritually see the vast field of lost people ready for repentance and harvesting into the kingdom of God.  A large number of people were ready to turn to God in first-century Israel and in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world, but the Pharisees, scribes, and other religious leaders in Jerusalem were unable to see, much less minister to this need.

Self-centeredness and self-importance blocks our spiritual vision of the needs of other people.

The Pharisees and scribes unwittingly revealed their true character by criticizing Jesus for associating with damaged, needy, and broken people, when they ask the disciples: “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” (Mt. 9:11).

Jesus said that He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10).  The narrowly exclusive outreach of the Pharisees and scribes does not include the outcasts and undesirables of society, because the Pharisees are sitting in self-righteous pride, high atop the thrones of their lives.

Lucifer certainly has no intention of seeking and saving the lost sheep of Israel.  Jesus says of the Pharisees and scribes, at the height of their power and influence, and while the Temple in Jerusalem is fully functioning as a religious institution, that these men are as the blind leading the blind (Mt. 15:14).

The Pharisees and scribes are spiritually blind because they cannot see the multitudes of people in Israel, ready and willing to come to John, hear his message at the river Jordan, and to confess their sins and be water baptized.

The Pharisees and scribes are blind because they cannot see, from their high perch atop the thrones of their hearts, those people in Israel who are spiritually sick and in need of God the Great Physician (Mt. 9:12).

John the Baptist, Jesus, and the early church Christians in Jerusalem have to do the work that the Pharisees and scribes were supposed to be doing, but were not, because it takes a life genuinely lived according to the cross of Christ to be able to spiritually see, empathize with, and commit ourselves to meeting the needs of lost and broken people.

The Pharisees and chief priests revealed their true heart condition when they said: “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him; and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (Jn. 11:48).

If we are called, if we are prepared for ministry through the experience of the cross, if we have God’s vision of the needs of the lost in this world…then no one can take away our place except by the express will of God Almighty (1 Pet. 3:13).  By saying that the Romans can come and take away their place, these religious leaders are unknowingly admitting that their worldly-based authority does not derive from a divine, unshakable godly calling to minister to the lost people of this world.

Even though multitudes of people were ready to come to the Jordan River to repent and be baptized, God could not enlist the Pharisees and scribes to this great work, because they could not even see the need.  If Christians today want to go forth into their Christian ministries with their spiritual eyes fully open to be able to see the needs of others, the road of preparation that leads there is the lowly way of the cross.

Spiritual Pride Needs a Context 3

We Are Emissaries of the King         

It might be well to pause for a moment of reflection here.

The apostles were in the inner circle of being disciples of the Creator of the Universe, the eternal Word of God.  Yet none of these men showed signs in their subsequent early church ministries of trying to cash-in on their relationship with Jesus Christ to make something of themselves.

The same can be said of the prophets in the Old Testament.  The price-tag of being in the confidence of the Almighty God is having the high character trait of selflessness, of being willing to be trustworthy and dependable agents of the king…of not seeking our own interests.

Imagine the privilege and responsibility of being called to be even a “minor” prophet in the Old Testament by God Himself…to be trusted with God’s message and mission to take to other people.

This requires the highest character in conformity to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  Serving God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is traveling in the highest company.

To aspire to this requires the most sober humility in a human being.  Being entrusted to take God’s redemptive message of life out into a broken world is a serious endeavor, allowing no room for self-adulation or personal acclaim.  This is the lesson in placing a small, innocent child in the midst of the disciples, as an example of the correct selfless spirit in serving God faithfully in any capacity.

People will try to push people up in Christendom (Jn. 6:15).

If I am “somebody” this does absolutely nothing for you.  Only if Jesus is somebody important in our lives does something happen for the good.  The right approach is to lift up Jesus, not people.  Being a selfless servant of God is what produces eternally beneficial results.

Every Christian should be on guard and aware of spiritual pride.  In everything we do, but especially in our Christian service, we should remember the insightfully classic words of the Greek Gentiles seeking an audience with Jesus by approaching Philip during the Passover feast in Jerusalem: “Sir, we would see Jesus” (Jn. 12:21).

As professing Christians, we should always be pointing people’s vision toward Jesus and away from ourselves.

Spiritual Pride Needs a Context 2

The Pride of Life is Not of the Father (1 John 2:16)

What gets people into trouble in terms of pride is that they want more than Jesus.  Human nature wants Jesus plus worldly recognition and acceptance.  We want Jesus plus the moniker of outwardly visible success.

The problem with a genuine biblical walk of faith with God is that there isn’t anything honorable, pure, holy, or commendable beyond Jesus.  Wanting more leads to the dispute of the apostles as they journeyed toward Jerusalem as to who should be the greatest.

At that precise moment in time, the apostles possessed Jesus in the form of an intimate, accessible, physical person more than anyone has enjoyed in history.  Yet they wanted more according to their fallen human natures.  This character flaw had to be corrected if the new Christian church was to survive, flourish, and grow.

Paul honestly admitted that there was a part of him that “would desire to glory” (2 Cor. 12:6).  In Romans 7:15-25, Paul talks about the conflict of his two natures, the one that delights in the law of God after the inward man, and the other that attempts to bring him into captivity to the law of sin in his members.

Also in Romans 12:3, Paul warns “every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

John 7:17-18 reads “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.  He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh His glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.”

For every Christian who is serving God in some capacity, there is a daily decision or bent of the heart to seek His glory and/or our own glory.  The Holy Spirit reveals to us the spiritual pride that would tempt us to take what God has provided to us in terms of wisdom and light to use for our own glory.

How do we rid ourselves of this tendency to seek recognition, attention, and acclaim for ourselves?  The answer is to constantly remind ourselves to ask God to give us the strength and wisdom to “seek His glory that sent us”…to stay within the parameters of our mission as agents of the King…to stay within our calling as servant-leaders.

The context within which we live and work has a lot to do with how well we can resist the urge to dispute along the road who should be the greatest, and conversely how well we can focus instead upon being a “servant to all.”  Being caught up within the center of God’s life-script mission for us provides the protective context that wards off destructive spiritual pride.

Being focused and dependent upon God’s leading…takes our eyes off ourselves.

Every person has to examine his/her own motives.  When the Holy Spirit puts a person forward as a preacher, evangelist, prophet, scholar, teacher, Christian movie-maker, or writer, then God is present to provide the measure of humility that is needed.  This is what He did for the apostles after they disputed who would be the greatest.  The last thing that God wants is for a Christian to reach the level of being able to serve and then fall to the temptation of spiritual pride that brought down Lucifer.

Entering in at the narrow gate (Mt. 7:13-14) does not allow for Jesus plus worldly validation, acceptance, or acclaim.  Our mission is to allow Jesus to glorify Himself in and through us in whatever we do.  The correct spiritual equation of a walk of faith…is Jesus minus the need or desire for worldly recognition, validation, or acclaim.  Unappreciated, unnoticed, thankless, humble, under-the-radar-screen service to God, when possible, is the safest spiritual place to be in Christian ministry.

Did Peter or Paul have to deal with the “advanced billing” of an exalted reputation that preceded them when they traveled to a new city to teach and preach?  Of course they did.  That is the reality of human nature.  The secular city at large may not have heard of Peter or Paul, but the local Christian church looked forward with anticipation and “pride” that a great apostle (someone who had personally seen and heard Jesus Christ) was coming to speak to them.

Paul tells us how he stayed focused with the correct attitude.  He told the Corinthians: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

Paul told the Galatians: “But God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Paul actually says in 1 Corinthians 4:9 that God “hath set forth us, the apostles, last”…in order to establish and maintain a humble context for evangelical outreach…starting with the apostles at the bottom floor of the social scale…allowing for the broadest possible sweep of lost sinners into the kingdom of God.

Nearly every Christian at some time or another has heard the phrase or the concept “empty vessel for God’s use,” meaning that a person has been prepared by God for some type of ministry or service.

But the question can be asked, empty of what?  The answer is empty of all of the things that prevent a person from being able to be used effectively by God…such as pride, self-will, arrogance, haughtiness, fear, self-centeredness, impatience, being judgmental, racial prejudice, social prejudice, personal ambition, and many similar things.

All of these attitudes in some measure or another hold back people from being filled with the Holy Spirit power and anointing to minister the gospel to other people.

The Christian disciple who is empty of self and open to service, has stepped off of the throne of their heart and allowed Jesus Christ to take His rightful place there as God.

Like a small child (Mt. 18:2), the Christian who is walking in faith and loving service to others is oblivious to the concepts of self-glorification and personal ambition.  For the Christian disciple who has an empty vessel open to God for service, the Holy Spirit can prepare ahead of time people in need of ministry and bring them across our path for salvation, healing, deliverance, or encouragement.  This is the formula that produces eternally beneficial results.

God knows our spiritual capacity.  God knows the needs of people in our immediate, physical vicinity.  The Holy Spirit can bring the two together.

Our part is to be “prayed up,” live the quality of life that can produce the words of Life when called upon, to be willing and open to be used by God, and to give God the credit and the glory when we see positive results.  This approach works for the most average of Christian disciples and for the greatest apostles like Philip, John, Paul, and Peter.

The way to greater power and anointing under the Holy Spirit, like that displayed in the lives of the first century apostles and disciples, is through the humility illustrated by Jesus when he placed the child in the midst of the apostles.  The way to real spiritual power is not through succumbing to the temptation to become “somebody” in the Christian world, thereby mimicking what occurs in the conventional outside world.

The spirit and attitude of the Christian is supposed to be the opposite of the spirit of this world.  The most prepared person for God’s use is not “full” of themselves, but “empty” of themselves.  The greatest among us are supposed to be the least in terms of haughtiness and worldly pride.  The chiefest is supposed to be servant of all.  The person who is truly walking in the Spirit is devoid of self-awareness and self-recognition.

Even experienced, mature, and savvy Christians walk a fine line in this area.  As God transforms us into sons and daughters of light, we always have to recognize our need for God.  The proud and arrogant cannot do this.

That is why the process of salvation begins with humility and repentance, and continues that way as long as we draw breath on this earth.

Spiritual Pride Needs a Context 1

“But so shall it not be among you; but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your minister; And whosoever of you would be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”                                             (Mk. 10:43-44)

For it to surface, spiritual pride needs a suitable context in our Christian lives.

In Mark 9:33-37 and in Luke 9:46-48, the story is told of the apostles disputing as they traveled on the road, who should be the greatest among them.  They knew…by then…who Jesus was.  They knew that they had been chosen to be the apostles of the Messiah the King.  They suspected that events were coming to a head and that somehow Jesus would take His rightful place as the leader of the Jewish nation.  They knew this opened up opportunities for them to occupy positions of leadership in Jerusalem.

This new reality occasioned the dispute among them as to who should occupy the highest positions in the new upcoming kingdom.

This internal debate amongst these men could not have happened a few years earlier, outside of the context of their becoming apostles and disciples of Jesus.  The thought of who would be the greatest among them in God’s upcoming kingdom on earth, which they mistakenly thought would be politically established in the very near future in the capital city of Jerusalem, could not conceivably have happened while they were ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, or revolutionary zealots.

Only after successfully following Jesus for two or three years as apostles and disciples…did this tempting new context of events start to actualize into a foreseeable eventuality.

Matthew 20:20-28 tells the story of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus and asking Him if her two sons could sit on His right hand and on His left hand in His kingdom.  This request could not have been made without James and John being in the inner circle of apostles close to Jesus.  The extraordinary ministry of Jesus created high future expectations among His followers for the nation of Israel.  This provided the context for this forgivable and understandable ambition on the part of the mother of James and John.

Jesus did not rebuke the mother of James and John for this request (He probably inwardly admired the courage of her advocacy for her sons), but simply answered that she did not clearly understand the thing she was asking of Him.  The scriptures then say that when the other ten apostles heard what the mother of James and John had done, they did not get upset with her but they were “indignant” against James and John.

The response that Jesus has for the apostles arguing among themselves as to who should be the greatest…was to take a child and set him as an example in their midst, and tell them that “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (Luke 9:48).

The apostles and disciples learned this important lesson well, and had the right spirit regarding this issue in their first-century ministries.  After these specific lessons by Jesus, and after the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles (Jn. 13:2-17), we do not hear anything more about who will be the greatest among the apostles or disciples.

But the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, in place of a worldly coronation and political reign in Jerusalem, also removed from the apostles the previous context of determining who would have high positions in the supposed new government…under Jesus.

The first-century church of new Christian converts was the actual kingdom that resulted from the ministry of Jesus, not the worldly reign of Jesus the political King in Jerusalem.

In the context of the New Testament church, Jesus’ teachings about the least being the greatest, Jesus washing the apostle’s feet, and Jesus using a young child as the example of the correct attitude for spiritual leadership, now made perfect sense to the apostles.

Luke 20:46-47 reads:

46  Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the market places, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts.

47  Who devour widow’s houses, and for a show make long prayers, the same shall receive greater condemnation.

When the apostles disputed among themselves who should be the greatest, they were on a parallel road in terms of attitude with these scribes.  Although they did not realize it, they too were similarly thinking about wearing long robes, being greeted as “somebody” in the market place, having the highest seats in the synagogue, and occupying the chief rooms at festivals.

The sinful pride side of their natures was showing itself in this dispute, on account of the context of the possible upcoming rulership of Jesus in Israel.  This would have been the beginning of church-leadership personality conflicts, power structures, political intrigue, and unholy ambition in the Christian church.

That is why Jesus took the time to speak to them about this important issue on several occasions.

And that is why, in God’s infinite wisdom, He produced a different context for His Bride…the Church…from what the apostles had in mind as they disputed on their way to Jerusalem who would be the greatest.

God had in mind the humble New Testament church that could evangelize the world without the burden of worldly ambitions and concerns.  The three thousand new converts on the Day of Pentecost would need church leaders who were humble shepherds and “servants of all”, not self-important people more concerned with their outward appearances, titles, and reputations like the scribes of Luke 20:46-47.

In Peter’s speech to the multitudes on the Day of Pentecost, there is not a hint about himself, or about any personal ambitions regarding what he plans to do or to build in Jerusalem.

Everything in Peter’s message is about Jesus, and about people coming to Christ through faith.

Peter is no longer thinking about having drapes measured for his large corner office in the Temple.  Peter is fishing for men according to his true calling (Mk. 1:17), not fishing for financial donations to build something.

A Fourth Cross on Calvary Hill 3

The Character Manufacturing Furnace

Nearly every Christian can look backwards in time and say: “Now I understand why God took me through that trial.”  Every Christian looks forward to the future with hope that we will improve as people and that things will get better.

It is the present time that we all have difficulty with.[1]  Knowing, without a doubt, that we have surrendered and yielded our lives to Jesus Christ, and that the present situations and circumstances in our lives are not an accident but are in the control of God, is a mark of the mature Christian.  The mature Christian can apply every line of Psalm 23, along with David, with full assurance and confidence to their lives.

In-the-moment, present-time situations and circumstances is the furnace where Christian character is manufactured (Jas. 1:2-4).

Our self-in-charge natures will not venture anywhere near the character-manufacturing furnace.  Self-in-charge is terrified of the risk of potential failure that is associated with this furnace.

In the furnace of present-time, in-the-moment situations and circumstances, the issues are so important according to outward appearances that a real spiritual test is set up.

Is God reliable enough to place my faith in as the Lord and Sovereign King of my life, in the present-time circumstances, or do I have to take matters into my own hands because the issues are simply too important to trust to anyone but myself alone (1 Sam. 13:12)?

This is a fundamental, pivotal issue of faith outlined for us throughout the Bible.  Gideon was in the present moment when he went to battle with 300 men against tens of thousands of the enemy.  David was hunted by Saul in-the-moment.  Queen Esther made her decision to risk personal safety, in-the-moment, in approaching the King and opposing Haman to save her people from destruction.

God told the young prophet Jeremiah not to be afraid of the countenance of the people’s faces when Jeremiah delivered God’s message to them, thus declaring plainly that it took some courage on Jeremiah’s part to be God’s spokesman.  This challenge for Jeremiah occurred in-the-moment.

In the New Testament, Peter and John defending themselves before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29-32, had the very real risk of being stoned to death like Stephen a few chapters later (Acts 7:58-59).

These accounts are all variations of the central question of the reliability of God’s character in the fiery trial.  These people all put their faith and trust in God…in-the-moment of their present-time circumstances…thus declaring that they believed that the character of God was trustworthy.

The Holy Spirit is charged with the task of taking us to the character- manufacturing furnace of personally tailored situations and circumstances, but only if our self-in-control nature is subordinate to the will and plans of God.

Any attempt to skirt around the Christian character-manufacturing furnace is self-deceiving.  Certainly God is not fooled.  God is only dismayed and hurt that we do not trust Him enough to let go of self-in-control.  When we exercise faith and trust in God in the present-time, no matter what is happening or how bleak the circumstances look, we are saying we believe in the goodness and reliability of God’s character.

The furnace of in-the-moment situations and circumstances is always a test of character, both God’s and ours.

This is where the value of a real relationship with the living God rises to the fore.  It is not some homogenized, new-age diluted humanistic slogan like “let go, let god.”

People who say and teach these kinds of cleverly reduced, cheerleader-type motivational phrases generally have no actual intention of stepping down off the thrones of their lives and following the Holy Spirit into real-life circumstances that require genuine release and trust in the one living God.

The cross is difficult.  Death to self-in-charge is not easy.

Whether it is financial challenges, family issues, health struggles, or the opposition of people to our Christian ministry, God will set up the issues in our lives specifically to create this furnace of character-manufacturing for our spiritual growth.

That is why the outward appearances of some of these situations and circumstances are frightening and terrifying.  Without the genuine challenge of real consequences that matter, the decision to follow God would be too easy.  If the Christian life went perfectly smooth from beginning to end, we would never learn anything about ourselves, about eternal truths, or about God.

[1] Bob Mumford, Fifteen Steps Out (South Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing, Inc.) 5-7