Discerning Life and Truth

The verses below are a quote from Psalm 118:22-23.

10 Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. 11 This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?” Mark 12:10–11 (NKJV)

In context Jesus was disputing with the priests, scribes and elders. He had just told the parable of the unjust stewards of the vineyard and informed them that they were going to lose it, the vineyard, in this case representing Israel. Then in His quotation of Psalm 118 Jesus was doing two things. He was pointing out something His challengers had missed, or at least missed the significance of in scripture, and He was letting them know they were wrong in their views.

Here we will look at the message inherent in construction and then apply it to discernment. In building the right stones needed to be selected to fit together. The cornerstone was foundational and every other stone need to be shaped to align with it. The leaders were charged with building and stewarding the nation of Israel and Jesus was pointing out that in their rejection of Him they were rejecting the very cornerstone they needed to build upon.

There is a discernment principle here. When we consider why they would reject the very one they were waiting for the answer is obvious. They had expectations, rules and a checklist. Jesus didn’t tick the right boxes. When they looked at Jesus, they saw not a cornerstone but a stone that didn’t into what they wanted to build. It never occurred to them that what they wanted to build wasn’t what Yahweh was building. After all, they knew and determined what was right.

This pattern is repeated over and over in the gospels. It isn’t always about rejection; it is always about how we see and what we expect. In John 4, the woman at the well and the disciples both initially missed what Jesus was pointing to because their minds and hearts were directed elsewhere. Jesus had to shift their focus.  

Often our current views blind us to new views. We are unable to see the new because we are fixated on the old. In the season we have been in for the last two years we hear from many a desire to return to normal. I think if that is our vision, we are missing the point of this season. We need to seek His heart and discern where He wants us to go from here. How do we do church in a way that community and relationships are strong for the next thing that comes? Covid exposed fault lines within culture and within the church. We need to learn from this and consider whether we have been building on the right things. Has Jesus been the cornerstone the last two years? Have we built our church communities around Jesus? If not, how do we shift in a way that sincere believers on both sides of our current divides will have a bridge to cross over and remain?

Where Wisdom Rests

This verse, specifically the first phrase, has carried great significance for me for many years.

33 Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, But what is in the heart of fools is made known. Proverbs 14:33 (NKJV)

The significance lies in the fact that when I think of wisdom I think of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says that Jesus is wisdom to us from God. Thus, when I consider the idea of wisdom resting within me I think of Jesus resting in my heart. There is however a qualifier, it says that wisdom/Jesus rests in the heart of those with understanding. Which means there is a need to look at what understanding means.

The Hebrew word translated as understanding is bin and refers to discerning or carefully considering. It could be translated as ‘Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has discernment/is discerning’ and we know from Hebrews 5:13-14 that wisdom is the fruit of maturity.

We have the word in understanding context in the verse and then the broader context of Proverbs. We also have a contrast in this proverb with wisdom resting in the heart of the wise, in a sense hidden, waiting to be revealed at the right time, while what is in the heart of the fool is exposed. In Proverbs the word ‘fool’ refers not to one who lacks intelligence, rather it refers to one who does not seek and honour God.

A clear implication here is that the wise and mature have less to say than the fools. The wise and discerning weigh their words carefully. We live in a time when civility has greatly decreased, in particular in online discourse. What is needed in this hour is wisdom; wisdom coming from the hearts of those who take the time to listen, weigh and consider before speaking, those who have Jesus resting in their hearts. In this hour we need not bombast and hype – we need wise words that point the way.  

Knowing that the understanding or discerning create a place for Jesus to rest in their hearts and then speak when He is speaking or prompting from within, we need to do two things. We need to practice restraint if we are not already doing so. We then need to discern and speak what Jesus is speaking into the lives and circumstances of those around. After all Jesus pointed us to the fruit of wisdom, let us heed Him.

35 “But wisdom is justified by all her children.” Luke 7:35 NKJV

The Danger of Offense – the Blessing of Grace

Let’s look at a story that involves Jesus, Judas, Mary and an audience who had to make a choice regarding how they would respond. I think Judas began following Jesus out of a genuine desire for change. I suspect that he, like the rest, was expecting a warrior king messiah, another David, who would free the nation from the oppressive yoke of Roman rule. Whether or not my thoughts are accurate, we know from scripture how the story of his life ended. Mary began following Jesus because Jesus set her free and she loved Him deeply. Judas began following Jesus and came into bondage because he sought a freedom other than what Jesus was offering in His earthly ministry. Jesus was clear about His mission in Luke 4:18-19, preaching the gospel, healing hearts and setting captives free. All of which Judas would have known. Here I look at a key moment that I see as leading to the terrible ending for Judas and an enduring tribute for Mary. The story centres around one of the many meals Jesus had with others.

Our story takes place in John 12:1-8, Mark 14:1-11 and Matthew 26:6-16. I have included the passages at the end for your reference but will highlight key verses as we look at the event. We start with the scene, a supper. The meal takes place at the home of Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3), obviously Jesus had healed him as Simon was hosting a meal. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were guests and Martha was helping with the serving. It was also someone else’s home, which we will come to shortly. During the meal Mary comes and pours out costly perfumed oil on Jesus (John 12:3). We know that a number of the disciples complained but for John the focus is on Judas, for the meal is in his family home. Here is Judas’s response to Mary’s sacrifice.

4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” John 12:4-5 NKJV

Now look at Jesus response. He says two things. He rebukes Judas and honours Mary.

7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” John 12:7-8 NKJV

6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7 For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8 She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Mark 14:6-9 NKJV

How does Judas respond?

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him. Mark 14:10-11 NKJV

Consider the setting again, Judas’s father, Simon is hosting a meal. Judas and the other apostles are there along with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We don’t know if there were others. We know Judas took offense at being rebuked in front of others the family home and that settled his decision to betray Jesus. We know that Mary, without any agenda, anointed Jesus with fragrant oil. The outcome of Judas offense was to be damned. The outcome of Mary’s sacrifice, a response to grace, was to be honoured everywhere the gospel was to be preached.

Judas was unaware he was sealing his fate because he valued his reputation. Mary didn’t know she was anointing Jesus for His burial – she was pouring out what she valued because she valued Jesus more!

In this tumultuous time, as in years past, we will have plenty of opportunities to take up offense and do the wrong thing. This year we will also have plenty of opportunities to value Jesus more, move in grace and pour out upon Jesus by blessing others. I pray we choose wisely each day.

John 12:1–8 (NKJV) — 1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. 7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

Mark 14:1–11 (NKJV) — 1 After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. 2 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.” 3 And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4 But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7 For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8 She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.

Matthew 26:6–16 (NKJV) — 6 And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. 8 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.” 10 But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. 11 For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. 12 For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. 13 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” 14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. 16 So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.

Authority and Power

In the last two years the world has battled the power of Covid. We as the church have also engaged in this battle, though our battle is both with Covid and the spiritual power behind it. There have been conflicting perspectives on it, failed prophecies on when it will end and on and on. Many of us have prayed and not yet received the answer or outcome that we sought and so we live with the certainty of uncertainty, and for many of us a sense of growing weary in the battle.

So, we will take a look at what we are battling against. In scripture horns represent power. In the Old and New Testaments, we see it in both a positive and negative light.

1 And Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the LORD; My horn is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, Because I rejoice in Your salvation.” 1 Samuel 2:1 (NKJV)

10 But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil. Psalm 92:10 (NKJV)

8 I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words. 9 “I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; 10 A fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, And the books were opened. 11 “I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. Daniel 7:8-11 (NKJV)

6 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Revelation 5:6 (NKJV)

11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. 12 And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. Revelation 13:11-12 (NKJV)

In the passages where we see a horn or horns representing power. Yet the power of the enemy is always defeated by the authority and power of the Lord. No matter how long it takes or what we have to face we can be confident in something Jesus said.

19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.Luke 10:19 (NKJV)

We also see the extent of Jesus authority in The Great Commission.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)

Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth and He has delegated us to exercise His authority in the earth. To do so we must be actively engaged in the battle that we are all in and the battle is first fought in the realm of prayer. We not have seen the things we would like to see in the last two years. In spite of what we have not seen our response needs to be one of continuing to look to Him. A response of repenting of anything that He has put His finger on in our lives (2 Chronicles 7:14) and coming before His throne seeking His face. The world needs to see a testimony of a church that reflects the Jesus of scripture not the Jesus of our culture. There are pockets of this so let us press in for more and obey what Jesus said.

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 (NKJV)

Jesus never told us to pray once, never to pray until we are tired, never to pray when we feel good. He told us to pray until the answer comes. In fact, the Amplified Bible captures the Greek tense in the above verses and says to ‘…keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking.’

What we are facing looks intimidating. We need to face it with confidence in the authority that we carry. When we look at scripture and history we see these strong horns, these horns of power rising up again and again but ultimately always bowing to the authority of the King of kings and
Lord of lords. We are also assured in Revelation that this will continue until consummated in the final outcome!

So, as this year ends and we step into the coming year let us continue to battle to overcome the power of the enemy, persisting in prayer, seeking His wisdom and exercising His delegated authority. Let our lives be an emphatic yes to Jesus’ question, “when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

The Future Hides in the Past

I generally listen to worship music. However, I also like some artists from my past. Two who I admire for their lyrical skills are Jackson Browne and Dan Fogelberg. Recently Spotify created a playlist for me so I decided to listen to it while I working out in my basement. While I was listening to an old Jackson Browne song that I was not familiar with (Something Fine) a line in the song caught my attention, “The future hides in the past.” Being intrigued by the phrase I looked up the lyrics, which actually say, “The future hides and the past just slides.” Not at all what I heard.

Be that as it may, what I heard in the phrase highlights one way the Holy Spirit speaks to me. He will often highlight a phrase someone says and give it a different emphasis or twist, or while hearing the actual words I will hear something slightly different that holds spiritual significance. When this happens, I have learned that what I hear points to something He wants me to focus on. In reflecting on ‘The Future Hides in the Past’ I was drawn to a truth of scripture. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul tells us that the things in the past were written for our example – the future hides in the past.

11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV)

While Paul’s was providing a warning to learn from, he was also pointing to a pattern we can see unveiled in the scriptures. In the Old Testament when Israel was faithful in following Yahweh, they experienced blessing and favour. When they went astray, they experienced calamity. There is a parallel truism in the helping professions, ‘The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.’ Again, for good or bad.

Paul expressed the same sentiment in different language.

11 This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. 12 If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NKJV)

The basic point – He is faithful. We can trust Him. Anytime we incline our hearts toward Him we encounter His heart

In this coming year, whatever you face, I challenge you to look back. Looking back, not upon errors or failures, looking back upon your history of His faithfulness. When we have truly depended upon and looked to Him, we know He has always been faithful. In your history of His faithfulness, see what is to come, ‘the future hides in the past.’

Prayer from Where?

In scripture there is an interesting shift in the location of the Altar of Incense from how it is presented in Exodus 30 to Hebrews 9. We begin with a little information from scripture showing what the Altar of Incense represents.

So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.” (Luke 1:8–10, NKJV)

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8, NKJV)

Here we see that the incense ascending from the altar represents prayer. Zechariah and the other priests took their turns each day offering incense on the Altar of Incense which was positioned before the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies so that the incense wafted into the Holy of Holies to the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant. This design is seen in the Tabernacle of Moses in the wilderness. The furniture of the Tabernacle and the design of the priestly garments are described in Exodus 25-30. The placing of the Altar of Incense is in Exodus 30:1-5. We also have clear descriptions of the placement of everything in the tabernacle in Exodus 40 when the tabernacle was first set up.

This now leads us to Hebrews 9.

Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant;” (Hebrews 9:1–4, NKJV)

The phrase ‘golden censor’ here refers to the Altar of Incense and that is how it is translated in some bible versions. So, we have the author of Hebrews writing something that isn’t true, bear with me here. If you read Hebrews 11:8-11, the hall of faith chapter, you will find what is written there doesn’t appear to be true either. It says Abraham ‘obeyed’ and Sarah had ‘faith.’ In fact, if you read the accounts in Genesis, you have a different story. Abraham was told to leave his father’s house and go to Canaan, instead he went halfway with his father, then after he died continued on with Lot. Sarah laughed and didn’t believe the Lord when told she would conceive in her old age. I think we reconcile these differing accounts by recognizing that in Hebrews we are being given heaven’s perspective. The focus is not on the failures of Abraham and Sarah but the fruit of their obedience. Failure is ignored in heaven’s assessment.

Thus, back to Hebrews 9. From heaven’s perspective the Altar of Incense was moved into the Holy of Holies before the Mercy Seat because of what it represented. Understanding this requires looking at what the furniture in the Tabernacle of Moses represented. The Holy Place with the Lampstand, Table of Showbread and Altar of Incense represents our soul – our mind, will and emotions. The mind is the lampstand which receives light and illumination. The showbread with the ground flour represents a submitted and prepared will. The altar our emotions, from which prayer is to arise. The Holy of Holies speaks of our spirit, the innermost hidden place where His presence is designed to dwell.

This brings us to the implications of the Altar of Incense being in the Holy of Holies. In Romans 10:10 Paul said it is with our heart that we believe. Prior to that he said the following.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1, NKJV)

As I see it the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament is the transition from prayer arising from our soul to prayer arising and flowing forth from our reborn spirit. While that may not always be our practice, I think it is the scriptural design. Prayer was never meant to be an intellectual exercise; it is to arise from our passions and desires. Our heart is to be engaged.

I remember one time reading the story of a newly married pastor where he shared his journey into fruitful prayer. He said he was faithful to get up and pray an hour each morning. One day his new bride said, “Why don’t you record your prayer tomorrow?” He naturally wanted to know why. She said, “Well then you can just play the tape and you don’t have to get up so early every morning because you always recite the same thing.” While hurting his pride her question and comment also changed his prayer life, which is why he shared the story. Similarly, Charles Finney, a great man of prayer, said that if we can’t remember what we prayed about just after we prayed it wasn’t really prayer.

In conclusion, our prayers are to arise from our heart desires and the message of Hebrew 9:4 is that they are to arise from our being in His presence, not our seeking to arrive there. Let’s develop the habit of presenting our petitions from where we already are rather than from where we would like to be (Ephesians 1:3, Colossians 3:1-3).

What did He Say?

When we read the gospels we come across some interesting and challenging statements from Jesus. One of them is found in the following passage.

20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20–21 (NKJV)

Over the centuries many have sought to find a hidden meaning in the dual ideas of the kingdom not coming with observation and being within us. So a couple of points. The first is that Jesus is saying it isn’t about looking for signs. The second is that the word ‘within’ refers to being among, with or in the midst. Thus, Jesus seems to be saying ‘the kingdom is already here but you are not aware of it.’ This is where context comes in as Jesus then goes on to talk about His second coming and the signs that will precede and encompass His return. This is one of those occasions where if I were among the disciples I would have wanted one of those private conversations afterward where I got Jesus to explain what He was actually talking about!

In light of that a little cultural context is helpful as even Jesus inner circle didn’t get this and still hadn’t after Jesus resurrection and just prior to His ascension. Look at what Luke records.

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 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.” Acts 1:4–8 (NKJV)

In verse 6 they essentially asked the same question that the Pharisees had asked in Luke 17. In essence, “That’s nice Jesus but when do we get to rule and reign over everything as Israel?” Leading up to Jesus earthly ministry was the expectation of a conquering messiah who would restore power to Israel and rule over their enemies, the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. I won’t go over it in detail but even John the Baptist expected this as evidenced by his question to Jesus from prison (Luke 7:18-23). Even John was expecting that his forerunner ministry would usher in the cultural messiah who would restore the kingdom to Israel.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of Jesus hearers in the culture of the day we would have likely been equally confused. They didn’t see two things. The first was that the messiah was coming not just for Israel but for all (Luke 4:18-19) and that the messiah they were awaiting was inaugurating something much greater than the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. Jesus brought the kingdom with Him but the evidence of it was the release of power to heal hearts, restore broken lives and unveil reality. All of this would lead to the spreading of His kingdom in hearts and lives across the earth leading up to His eventual return as conquering King, the King of all creation! So, our looking won’t being the kingdom. Our recognizing when it is moving in our midst will however allow us to participate in and further it. Let’s do that.

Walking in Authority Part 3

There are different sources of authority. In my last post I showed how even Jesus had authority by coming under authority through submitting to John’s baptism. To conclude this series I will look at authority derived from ‘love for’ and authority derived through ‘commission by.’ These are terms I have come up with to describe what I am writing about. Though they are not theological or scriptural terms the principles are found in scripture.

Here are verses about love leading to authority.

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

17 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” John 10:17–18 (NKJV) NOTE the word power here is the Greek exousia, authority, and is translated as authority in the ESV and NASB.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9–11 (NKJV)

In the verses above we see that Jesus laid His life down as an act of love for humanity (Jn. 3:16) and we see that the Father’s love for Jesus action gave Jesus the authority to take His life up again. In my first post in this series I referenced Matthew 28:18-20 to show how we have authority as believers. What I did not focus on was Jesus comment, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Jesus was granted this authority because He laid His life down in an act of love and obedience.

We too are granted authority when we lay our lives down in love and obedience. One of Paul’s points in Philippians 1 is that as our love grows our discernment deepens. As we see we can say – if we are seeing out of love. I see the pattern in scripture that as our ‘love for’ grows so also does our authority. Paul was sent to the Gentiles as His primary mission but he didn’t just have authority in people’s lives because they were Gentiles. He had it in the lives of those who came to Jesus through his ministry because he constantly laid down his life out of love for them. This can be seen in many of his letters but particularly in 2 Corinthians. Twice in this letter (10:8, 13:10) Paul references the authority he had been given for their edification and not their destruction. The whole letter, but especially chapters 11-13 is filled with Paul pouring out his heart of love for this wayward group of believers. So, we can grow in our authority to speak into lives if we are laying down our own lives for them, whether in practical ministry or intercession.

The last area is authority being given through ‘commission by.’ We can see it in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). We can see the breadth of this ‘all nations,’ or as Luke puts it in Acts 1:8, ‘end of the earth.’ The scope of authority to make disciples is as broad as it gets. We also have examples throughout scripture of authority being given through commission by the laying on of hands and prayer. A notable example is Acts 13. As this juncture Paul (still referred to as Saul at this point) and Barnabas were among the leadership of the church at Antioch and were both teachers and/or prophets. However, they both had an apostolic call on their lives but had not yet been commissioned to this ministry. We know much more about the calling on Paul’s life than that of Barnabas but we immediately see the fruit when they are both commissioned as apostles.  

As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. Acts 13:2–3 (NKJV)

Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Acts 14:3 (NKJV)

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out Acts 14:14 (NKJV)

Commissioning comes about when there is a recognition by others in the church of the gift we carry, an endorsement by the Spirit, and the blessing and release to walk in it by leadership. An interesting side note, the general pattern in Acts was the establishment of churches by the apostles. Antioch was different in that we don’t know who started it, merely that some of those scattered by persecution in Jerusalem brought the gospel to Antioch and included the Gentiles in their evangelism. The church in Jerusalem then sent Barnabas to ground them in their faith and he went and sought out Paul (Saul) to help him. At the Spirit’s direction the Antioch church then commissioned Barnabas and Paul through the laying on of hands and prayer.    

To wrap all of this up, we all have a measure and sphere of authority. Whether or not we have a more specific commission, we all have a general one and our authority to walk in it grows as we lay down our lives in love for those we seek to minister to by His grace. So, let us seek His face and grace to the end that our spiritual authority will build His kingdom.  

Walking in Authority Part 2

Obviously to walk in authority we need to have authority. To take this further I will look at how we have authority or authority becomes operational in our lives by coming under authority. In a future post I will look at the connection between authority derived from ‘love for’ and ‘commission from.’ Now to coming under authority.

A great example of authority gone awry is Saul, the first king of Israel. If you are not familiar with the story, Saul was anointed king by Samuel the prophet at the Lord’s command. He was positioned for success. However things went terribly wrong when Saul ignored Samuel’s commands regarding sacrifice and bowed to the people. Saul was insecure, and whether consciously or not, he saw his authority as coming from people liking him and following him. When Moses was under pressure from an unhappy nation he responded by seeking Yahweh’s face. When Saul was under pressure from unhappy people he acquiesced. A brief summary of Saul’s response is in 1 Samuel. Here Saul was waiting as per Samuel’s direction but when Samuel did not show up on time and the people were leaving him Saul took upon himself the role of priest, Samuel’s role, and offered the sacrifice. He went beyond his sphere of authority and while it did satisfy his insecurity it brought a rebuke from Samuel. The event is laid out below.

Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.

11 And Samuel said, “What have you done?”

Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, 12 then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”

13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13:8–14 (NKJV)

Saul’s decision that day eventually cost him everything because he never got back on the right path.

In great contrast we have Jesus only doing what He saw His Father doing, walking in continual submission to His Father’s authority.

19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. John 5:19 (NKJV)

30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. John 5:30 (NKJV)

To be clear, Jesus as part of the Trinity is not less than the Father or Spirit but in His mission on earth as fully God and fully Man the testimony of scripture is that somehow He denied Himself access to His divine attributes and knowledge and walked in dependency on the Father and Spirit. This is a subject books are written about. Suffice to say for our purposes that we see it in scripture and Jesus said in Matthew 28:18 that all authority had been given to Him as a result of His obedience. Jesus authority was derived from submission to authority. That is also in scripture.

23 Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”

24 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: 25 The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?”

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.”

And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. Matthew 21:23–27 (NKJV)

Jesus was directly confronted by the religious leaders as to the source of His authority and seemingly never answered their question – or did He? There is a direct connection to John’s baptism. When Jesus was baptized the Spirit descended and the Father spoke audibly and affirmed Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17). At the same time John was offering a baptism symbolizing repentance from sin. John recognized that Jesus had no sin, and that in fact he needed to be baptized by Jesus. Yet John submitted to Jesus request based upon what Jesus said.

15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. Matthew 3:15 (NKJV)

Jesus told John that his baptism of Jesus would ‘fulfill all righteousness.’ We might logically wonder how and the answer is that John was the last in the line of Old Testament prophets. His was a transitional ministry and he represented all those who had gone before. In essence Jesus was telling the religious leaders who confronted Him that His authority came from submitting to, coming under, all of the prophets who came before Him and pointed to Him.

Thus, given that even Jesus in His humanity derived authority from coming under authority who are we to think that we could arrive at authority any other way? Let us submit to those He has placed over us and come under the authority of His word.

Walking in Authority Part 1

In my last two posts I wrote about praying for Israel. Now, whether we are praying for Israel, a family member or our neighbour our effectiveness is governed by our authority. If we have been born again we have been given spiritual authority and have a responsibility to use it wisely. 

4 Where the word of a king is, there is power; And who may say to him, “What are you doing?” Ecclesiastes 8:4 (NKJV)

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

While we have been given authority, our authority is only found within the sphere of our responsibility. Paul said it this way.

13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you. 2 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV)

Paul recognized that he had authority and used it. Yet he also recognized that it was limited. A reading through the book of Acts shows that while Paul went to Jerusalem or more than one occasion he never tried to exercise authority there as it went beyond his sphere.

As a practical example, prior to retirement my last jobs in the public service, in a Ministry, then in a Legislative Office, were Provincial in scope. That meant I had authority to make decisions on that level. However, I had no authority to make decisions related to neighbouring provinces or territories. When I led a team coordinating a national conference and people from across the country came I had authority in relation to other jurisdictions because it had been delegated to me by the national steering committee. However my authority extended only to decisions related to the conference. Now, I obviously have no authority in any of these matters given I am retired.

Spiritually the same principle holds. Jesus delegated all of us to make disciples so we can speak into the lives of others to accomplish that task. That is an authority to pray for, encourage and build up. It is not an authority over. Though I don’t know everyone who reads what I write, I am using the authority Jesus has given me to point others to a deeper relationship with Him. I do it through teaching because that is a calling on my life. There are people that I uphold in intercession at their request. Their request gives me specific authority to stand in the gap for them and to speak into their lives. If someone asks me to pray for person named Fred I can pray for them but I have no authority to speak into their lives in any authoritative way without their permission.

So, we have a general authority from Jesus for specific tasks and at times we have specific authority for specific tasks. A few days prior to writing this I did some teaching at our local House of Prayer. I am on the board and was asked by the Director to deliver some teaching on a specific subject. Yet I taught under the authority of the Director and had he placed limitations on the subject area I would have had no authority to teach beyond those limits.

In our individualistic western culture I don’t think that we have a good grasp of the relationship between having authority and embracing submission to authority. I will explore that further in my next post.