The Illusion of Control

For anyone who has seen the movie A Few Good Men the classic climatic scene comes in the courtroom when Jack Nicholson, as Colonel Jessep, takes great exception to being challenged by the young lawyer and believing himself to be in charge begins to self destruct with the now famous line, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” The line has been repeated over and over because of what it conveys. Yet in the movie Jessep displays confusion when he is arrested after his speech. He stills saw himself as the one in charge, when in fact that ship sailed the moment he launched into his angry tirade and heated confession. It was the military judge, not Colonel Jessep, who was in charge, he simply failed to recognize that fact. The truth was something Colonel Jessep himself could not handle.  

We now switch to another courtroom scene with the illusion of control. Our court scene plays out in Acts 4. Peter and John are arrested and then brought before the religious court. They are challenged to give an account.

7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” Acts 4:7 (NKJV)

The religious leaders recognized what had been done by Peter and John but they didn’t like the implications so tried to suppress any further acts. They saw the source as Peter and John rather than the God they claimed to serve. Here they had convened a court to judge Peter and John, believing they were in control and exercising the authority given them by God. In fact they lost that authority when they sat and condemned Jesus and now refused to recognize the hand of God in their midst. They acknowledged the miracle, yet because they recognized that it threatened their idea of control, they tried to suppress anything further. Like Colonel Jessep, they could not handle the truth.

15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” Acts 4:15-17 (NKJV)

Clinging to the illusion of still being in charge, they commanded nothing more be done in Jesus’ name. Peter and John rightly rejected their command because they had no illusions. They knew who Jesus was and that He was in control.

            18 And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. 22 For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. Acts 4:18-22 (NKJV)

The religious leaders recognized their lack of power in practice but refused to let go of their belief they were the decision makers in spite of evidence to the contrary. Their focus was on political expediency not truth and justice. However, God is always concerned with truth and justice. As a result He is faithful and consistent, and what took place through Peter and John was simply a demonstration of His continued faithfulness. So, if we ever wonder who is really in charge we only need to look to Jesus and submit to His authority. We can then let go of any illusions of control by ourselves or others and rest confidently in His faithfulness.

Love Acts

‘Love.’ We use the word a lot. I think it is important to look at love in the context of how Jesus framed it in connection to obedience and abiding in Him. Much has been written on the lack of distinction between Christians and others in the surrounding culture in our time. This highlights the importance of how we live before others as a follower of Jesus. So, let’s take a look at what how scripture calls us to live from what John has written.

In chapter 15 John records Jesus exhorting us to abide in Him if we are to be fruitful.  

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Clearly to be fruitful we need to abide in Jesus so we need to examine what it means to abide.

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

Jesus says we abide in Him by keeping His commandments, and that as we do we will find ourselves resting in His love for us. Jesus makes an important connection between love and obedience. Jesus said His abiding in the Father’s love was an outcome of Him keeping His Father’s commands. Now, lest you think this will move us to legalism, it isn’t a salvation issue, it is a love issue. Jesus is telling us that to abide in His love we need to be obedient.  

Jesus call to obey His commandments is not a call to the Mosaic Law. It is a call to action.

12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

Love in these verses is agape, a sacrificial benevolent love. Jesus said we are to lay down our lives for our friends and that if we obey His commands, we are His friend. We can interpret the laying down of our lives as dying for someone else but as Paul put it elsewhere, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). This is a better application. We love others as we live for others and seek to serve them out of that love. That is how Paul died daily. So, let’s follow Jesus and Paul, laying down our lives in love so that the world may know who we are, friends of Jesus!

Martha, Martha

Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus are famous in the church for their interactions with Jesus. Martha is famous for serving and being rebuked by Jesus for making the wrong choice of serving instead of listening, while Mary is famous for the good choice of sitting at Jesus feet and listening (Luke 10:38-42). At issue here is whether a single interaction should define our legacy and the need for a deeper look at Martha and her heart. After all, I suspect that most of us would not want our life defined by one mistake we made.

We are told to not judge a book by the cover yet for most of us Martha being rebuked by Jesus is the cover of her book! Aside from this interaction in Luke 10 it is helpful to see what else scripture tells us about Martha. To attempt to discern her heart based on what scripture reveals. let’s leave Mary out of the picture and focus in on Martha. We have the following interaction just prior to Jesus raising Lazarus.

20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:20–27 (NKJV)

We learn from Martha’s interaction with Jesus that she had faith in Jesus ability to heal and that she recognized Jesus as the long awaited Messiah (the terms Christ and Messiah are interchangeable and both mean The Anointed One). Martha was confident in who Jesus was and trusted Him. We next see Martha after Lazarus has been raised.

1Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. John 12:1–2 (NKJV)

Martha had a heart to serve and she clearly loved and honoured Jesus. It is significant as this meal takes place at the home of Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6-7, Mark 14:3). We can safely assume Simon had been healed as a leper would not be hosting a meal in his house. Thus we know that Martha is serving in the home of someone else. This time we have no record of any rebuke by Jesus and Martha is not contrasted with Mary who extravagantly pours perfume on Jesus. She is merely noted as one who has a servant’s heart.

A last look at Martha through the eyes of scripture. I doubt this short verse spring to mind when we think of Martha but there it is recorded in scripture for all to see.

5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 NKJV

Knowing that Jesus loved Martha I think there are two primary lessons we can draw from what we know about Martha. First, serving Jesus and others is good thing. After all there are numerous calls to service in the scriptures. Micah 6:8, said to be a summary statement of the Law, it is a call to justice, mercy and a humble walk with God. A call to service. The second lesson is that serving when we should be sitting at His feet is the wrong choice just as sitting in contemplation when He is calling us to action is also a bad thing. Let us embrace serving and sitting, seeking Jesus heart and the wisdom to know when to serve and when to sit at His feet.

An Engaged Heart

If we have been in the church for any time at all we have probably heard about the wickedness of our hearts, often in reference to Christians. It is generally some version of these verses from Jeremiah.

9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:9–10 (NKJV)

When we read a message in scripture proper exegesis is required. We look at who it was written to and the context and culture. In this case Jeremiah was speaking to his fellow Israelites and confronting their idolatry and failure to trust Yahweh. What Jeremiah spoke was true, in the context in which he spoke it. For our situations we need one of those maps that says, ‘You are here.’ I do a lot of hiking and the national parks have small maps in the backcountry but they are of little help if that little dot that locates your position relative to the rest of the map is not there.

For our spiritual walk we need that dot on the map of our journey with Jesus. To that end let us look at what the scriptures tell us about our hearts and where we are. We will start with what Jesus had to say.

43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43–45 (NKJV)

Notice here that Jesus was addressing people who had not been born again by the Spirit. Yet He stated that people could bring forth either good or evil from their hearts. His point was that what was dominant in our hearts is what would come out of our mouths and be reflected in our lives. So those who were not born again but were committed to the Lord could bring good things out of their hearts. Our next step is looking at the hearts of those who have been born again. Here is some of what Peter and Paul had to say about our hearts at conversion.

And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:7-9 (NKJV)

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV)

At conversion our hearts encountered Jesus as we were born again and our hearts were purified and made new. Paul did warn about the dangers about what we could fall back into if we did not guard our hearts (see also Proverbs 4:23).

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. Ephesians 4:17–19 (NKJV)

While Paul presented this as the way in which unbelievers in general lived, and warned that Christians could fall to this, his regular practice focused more on encouragement and how to walk with Jesus. One of the more practical teachings Paul gave to keep our hearts anchored in Jesus is in Colossians.

14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:14–17 (NKJV)

Paul informs us that if we choose to walk in Jesus love and engage in a lifestyle of worship and encouragement we can learn to live out of hearts that are at rest in His shalom. This creates a continuous circle of looking to His peace, leaning into it, our hearts being full and overflowing with worship, then leaning into His peace and so on. So let us live lifestyles of worship and intimacy that out of the abundance of our hearts others will encounter Jesus.

Righteousness and Justice

Frankly, there are some things difficult to either understand or accept in the scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament. When I come up against things like this I have a default scripture that I turn to as my source. I still may not understand but I remain in a place of trust and acceptance. The scripture is found in context of Abraham interceding with the Lord for Sodom. Abraham concludes his intercession in the following manner.

25 Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25 (NKJV)

The phrase I turn to often is the last sentence, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” I have a fundamental and unwavering belief that righteousness and justice are important and that He is just and shall do right. That is not a question in my mind. I know we shall all have to eventually give an account before the Judgement Seat of Christ and trust He is a fair and faithful judge who shall execute righteousness and justice.

Now I also believe it is not wise to build a theology off a single verse of scripture. So here are some of the verses in the Old Testament that refer to the importance of righteousness and justice.

19 For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” Genesis 18:19 (NKJV)

         5 He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. Psalm 33:5 (NKJV)

         14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face. Psalm 89:14 (NKJV)

         2 Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Psalm 97:2 (NKJV)

         9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice, Equity and every good path. Proverbs 2:9 (NKJV)

         3 To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3 (NKJV)

The first passage refers to the beginning of Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Yahweh explains why He has made Himself known to Abraham, so Abraham can teach his descendants and household to follow Yahweh’s way, to keep righteousness and justice. This makes sense when we discover later in scripture that righteousness and justice are they very foundation of His throne. His rule, His place of authority is built upon righteousness and justice. He cannot do anything that violates righteousness and justice.

Our sensibilities may recoil at His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah but sometimes evil is so entrenched and infectious in a people or area that it needs to be eradicated. Things may not appear that way from where we see but we need to learn to look from His perspective. Sin is like a cancer that destroys if left unchecked. I know in my own life the dangers of cancer being untreated. I have had two surgeries for cancer, both of which caused physical pain, particularly the second. Interestingly I had no pain from cancer, something that was destroying me inside and unseen. Prior to my second surgery I felt fine, had recovered well from the first surgery and was ready to get on with life. All the tests had been run and there was no evidence of further cancer. The surgeon wanted to perform the second surgery as a precautionary measure. I was reluctant but gave in to pressure from my wife. It saved my life. After the operation the surgeon told me that when he opened me up he discovered a cancerous tumour the size of a grapefruit around my aorta. I would have died in the near future.

The point of my story is that to all appearances I was fine. Though I felt fine something unseen inside me was killing me and needed to be dealt with. Our Father, because He rules from a place of righteousness and justice, knows what needs to be dealt with in our world and how it is best addressed. He sees the reality that lies behind appearances. Knowing this, we, like Abraham, can partner with Him in prayer asking that righteousness and justice be done. We can do this while at the same time acknowledging that even if things don’t look as we think they should, the judge of all the earth will do right. 

Knowing that the throne He rules and reigns from is actually built upon righteousness and justice makes it easy to trust that He will do right. With this perspective let us open His word and come to His throne agreeing with His heart, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10).

Using Time Wisely

Do you ever wonder if you have the time or ability to make an impact on the lives of others? Is it too late? This past winter I heard a quote on a television show. The quote was attributed to US President Roosevelt and when I researched it the quote was accurate. The quote said, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” While I am sure we could all think of examples of people effectively walking in their gifts and callings I will highlight one example from scripture. The thief on the cross.

So, a look at what the thief on the cross could do with what he had where he was. Below are the accounts from both Matthew and Luke, beginning with Matthew.

38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. 43 He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”

44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Matthew 27:38–44 (NKJV)

33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. 35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:

THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:33–43 (NKJV)

We know from the text in Matthew that the two men were robbers (Matt. 27:38, 44) while Luke simply refers to them as criminals (Lk. 23:33, 39). In his passage Matthew informs us that as Jesus is hanging on the cross He is being mocked by the crowd, the religious leaders and the two criminals. Luke however has the one criminal, popularly referred to as ‘the thief on the cross,’ defending Jesus and rebuking his fellow criminal.

Obviously something happened in the heart of the one criminal as he hung there dying. He went form mocking Jesus to defending Him and asking for His grace in the next life. Returning to our theme, doing what we can with what we have where we are, this man clearly had limited options. He couldn’t go anywhere as he was fixed in place on an instrument of cruel torture. It was a struggle to simply draw a breath and it would have made sense for him to have simply remained resigned to the inevitable outcome. Yet in spite of his circumstances, or perhaps because of them, the thief on the cross underwent a transformation. He began to speak on Jesus behalf. He had begun by mocking Jesus but then something happened in his heart and he recognized Jesus as Messiah and King. What is usually presented regarding this story is the ability to gain salvation at any moment, up to our last breath. However, even while right near death the man went through repentance, a change of mind and heart, and began to be a witness for Jesus. He asserted Jesus innocence, defended Him from false accusation and recognized Jesus as king.

The result of him doing what he could with what he had where he was? Jesus tells us, that very day while his fellow unrepentant thief was going to step from time into eternity and encounter horror, this man received the following assurance from Jesus, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23:43).

So, as it relates to being effective in and for Jesus kingdom let us reflect on what we have in terms of our abilities and do what we can with them where we are.

The Gateway to the Eternal

In Genesis 28:10-22 we find Jacob fleeing from his brother Esau after deceiving his father Isaac and stealing Esau’s blessing as the firstborn. In Genesis 28 we see a divine exchange taking place and through this experience we get to briefly peer into what the eternal realm offers.

First the background. Jacob has been blessed by Isaac and sent away by him for two purposes. To get a wife from among his extended family and to protect him from Esau. When he travels he sleeps with his head on a rock he first night and has a prophetic encounter in a dream. It is interesting to note that at this point Jacob is not yet committed to Yahweh. He makes that clear in his stated vow.

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” Genesis 28:20–22 (NKJV)

While not yet committed to Yahweh Jacob is still walking under the blessing of the covenant that flowed through Abraham and Isaac (28:13). It is in this context that he has his dream. In the dream he sees angels ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth (28:12). Jacob recognizes that this is Bethel, literally ‘house of El/God.’ If we fast forward to John we can glean further insight into Jacob’s experience.

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” John 1:49–51 (NKJV)

Notice how Jesus uses the language of Genesis 28.

12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Genesis 28:12 (NKJV)

As an aside, while Peter is generally credited with first recognizing who Jesus was in Matthew 16 it was actually Nathaniel who first recognized Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God right at the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry. Now, when we move past Jesus resurrection and ascension we see another point being made.

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19–22 (NKJV)

If we wonder if we access to heaven, the door is always open. Jesus is the way, Jesus is the ladder upon which angels ascend and descend, bringing help from heaven. I don’t know how everything works in the spiritual realm. I do however know enough to realize that I have access through Jesus and anytime I focus my heart in upon Him I can draw upon His grace and mercy because the door is always open.

I need it. How about you?

Living Truth

Recently I was reading through Galatians 4. In this book in general, and more specifically in this chapter, Paul addresses the issue of identity. That is, how we see ourselves after salvation. Many scholars believe that Galatians is the first of Paul’s letters written in about 49 AD prior to the Jerusalem Council in 50 AD (see Acts 15). The significance of Galatians being written prior to the Jerusalem Council is that the focus there was on whether the Gentile converts had to follow the Jewish Law to be saved. The answer at the Council was a resounding no. However, Paul addressed the issue and the theological implications prior to the Council because many believers from the Jewish community were trying to get the Gentile converts to embrace circumcision and other elements of the Jewish Law.

We might wonder why someone who had found salvation in Jesus would even consider adding something else to their salvation. Yet at this time the church was less than two decades old and many of the theological positions we take for granted had not yet been sorted through and discerned by the church.

A key here is that Paul presented theological truth in Galatians 4 that needed to be internalized. He compared the old covenant with the new and said the old one led to bondage and the new one to freedom. To walk in the freedom meant truly living out of the truth of the new covenant.

4:1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4:1–7 (NKJV)

It is one thing to know theologically that we are sons (or daughters) and not slaves. It is another to walk in that reality. I have believed for many years that Paul’s apostolic heart cry is encapsulated in a single verse in his very first letter.

19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, Galatians 4:19 (NKJV)

We can be saved, have our sins forgiven, have received Jesus righteousness instead of our own, and yet still not live like it. Paul’s heart in Galatians was not that the Galatians would receive something in addition to their salvation. His heart cry was that they would understand what they had already received! Hence his statements about adoption and being a son. Paul presents it not as something to be earned or received but as something to be walked out. 

The issue before us then is whether we understand and believe what we already have and live it out in our daily lives. Understanding our adoption into the family and Christ in us means we pursue regular intimacy and fellowship with the one who dwells in us. It means we seek to encounter Him in relationship and in relationship with His word. If we actually believe it we actually live it. I pray we as the church embrace our adoption not merely as a theological reality but as a living experiential reality that changes us and those around us.   

Who is Praying?

I am part of the prayer movement and a common teaching in the prayer movement is that intercessory prayer is engaging or partnering with Jesus in His prayer ministry as the High Priest who ‘always lives to make intercession.’ While I firmly believe in that last phrase, I also firmly believe we generally misunderstand and misapply it. Frankly, if I believed Jesus was praying for what is happening to and through the church in the world it would lead me question how effective His prayers are. Thankfully, I don’t believe there is any lack on His end.  

Let us look at the phrase ‘make/makes intercession.’ We find it in four places in the New Testament. Once in Hebrews and three times in Romans 8.

25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV)

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26–27 (NKJV)

On the surface these three verses seem to indicate that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying for us. With a little deeper digging we find that the phrasing and tense in Greek in verse 27 refer to a meeting or conversation – Makes intercession for (ὑπερεντυγχάνει). Only here in the New Testament. The verb ἐντυγχάνω means to light upon or fall in with; to go to meet for consultation, conversation, or supplication. So Acts 25:24, “dealt with,” Rev., “made suit.” Compare Rom. 8:34; 11:2; Heb. 7:25.[1]

The idea is that the Holy Spirit comes upon us to help us and pray through us. Therefore, it says He ‘helps.’ He does not pray apart from us; He prays through and in union with us. Jesus and the Spirit are part of the Godhead and in unity. Jesus was clear that after He went to the cross, He would no longer pray for His followers.

26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; John 16:26 (NKJV)

Given Romans 8 is about the Holy Spirit helping us in our prayers and Jesus said He would not be praying for His followers after the cross we need to look at Hebrews 7 and the context to see what it means that Jesus ‘always lives to make intercession.’

I will not quote the chapter but the context in Hebrews 7 is showing that Jesus priestly role is in the line of Melchizedek not the Aaronic priesthood. For the Aaronic priests their priestly duties were ended by death. Jesus priestly role never ends because He never ends. That is the focus of the idea of Jesus always living to make intercession. The always is about His endless priesthood.

24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Hebrews 7:24 (NKJV)  

This leads to needing to understand what intercession means in this passage if it is not about Jesus praying for us. While in many sectors of the church we use the term intercession to refer to prayer, which it often does, the intercessory role of those who functioned under the Aaronic priesthood was not focused on prayer. It was about the offering of sacrifices to set aside sin so people could be right with God. This is what Isaiah prophesied about Jesus intercessory role and Paul affirmed. 

12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12 (NKJV)

34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Romans 8:34 (NKJV)

Jesus is our High Priest at the Father’s right hand. Paul described His priestly role in a very similar way to Isaiah.

5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NKJV)

Jesus priestly intercessory and mediatory role is His presenting Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf and His sacrifice is eternally efficacious because His life is eternal. This means that we may at any time come boldly to the throne of grace through a new and living.

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV)

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22 (NKJV)

Let us therefore embrace Jesus intercessory priestly work. He has made a way for us to come and present petitions for ourselves and others before the throne of grace at any time and for any need. Let us place our trust not in in His praying for us but rather discern how He seeks to pray through us.  


[1] Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 95). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

A Practical God

Ezra is an interesting book of scripture. We can see right from the beginning the Lord’s hand in what took place. Jeremiah had prophesied the return to Jerusalem and the Lord stirred the heart of Cyrus the king of Persia to initiate the process (Ezra 1:1). Ezra was a major instrument in carrying out this purpose and we see in this short book a balance of confidence in God and the practical preparation and working out of His purposes.

There is an idea that when it comes to the outworking of His purposes God won’t do our part and we are unable to do His part. His part was the stirring of the king’s heart to let the captives return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Ezra’s part was to provide leadership in practically engaging in the work. Once a number of captives had returned their first task was the restoration of worship.

            1 And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Ezra 3:1–2 (NKJV)

Worship is a practical expression of our dependence on the Lord and they recognized the need to make it a priority. This was very practical. It is like the old western idea cowboy’s held. At the end of the day you first looked after the needs of your horse before looking to your own needs as you could not do your job without your horse. I did some work in road construction my first summer out of high school and I noticed something. The good heavy equipment operators spent some time looking over their equipment at the end of the day’s work and greasing and refueling it so it was ready for the next day’s work.

Once the altar was completed they focused on the foundation of the temple.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord:

“For He is good,

For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”

Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:10–11 (NKJV)

Later on their enemies opposed their work and sought to stop it through legal means (4:1-24). The work ceased, however prophetic encouragement rose up and they began rebuilding and at the same time sought their own legal recourse (7:1 – 8:36). They not only received an order from the king to continue their work their enemies were forced to help pay for it (8:36).

So, some lessons we see in Ezra. When the Lord is behind something He is the initiator and our job is to cooperate with His purposes and obey His leading. Our work needs to have worship as a foundational priority. Opposition is not a sign we are doing the wrong thing, it is frequently an indicator that we are in the centre of His purposes. When we encounter opposition we need to seek His face for wisdom and prophetic encouragement. While we need to understand practical legal matters and use the tools at our disposal as needed the main thing is our obedience to His calling and commission. If He is in it then we can be confident in His leading and support.

Whatever He is calling us to do let us bathe it in worship and seek His wisdom in the face of opposition.