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.

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:


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.

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.

The Message of Symbols Part 3

The last symbol I want to address in this brief series is the idea of Jesus coming on the clouds. There are references to the clouds Jesus mock trial prior to His crucifixion, His comments to those who saw Him depart after His resurrection and the broader scriptural context including Daniel and Psalms. First Jesus trial.

63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

65 Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! 66 What do you think?”

They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” Matthew 26:63–66 (NKJV)

Here Jesus is accused of blasphemy. What did the high priest and others understand from what Jesus said? The answer is in Daniel’s vision and the Psalms.

13 “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. 14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:13–14 (NKJV)

4 Sing to God, sing praises to His name; Extol Him who rides on the clouds, By His name Yah, And rejoice before Him. Psalm 68:4 (NKJV)

3 He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, Psalm 104:3 (NKJV)

There are other references as well but these serve to illustrate the understanding held by the high priest and others at Jesus trial. When Jesus spoke of coming on the clouds and being at the right hand of power their minds went to Daniel and the Psalms. Yahweh was the one who moved in power in the heavens and the one who held authority. In fact the phrase ‘power’ was a Jewish expression used to avoid pronouncing the sacred name Yahweh. When the heavenly court scene was displayed in Daniel the one being given authority over the earth came on the clouds to demonstrate that He had the power and authority of Yahweh.  

 So now we look further at what Jesus had to say about Himself and clouds.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:29–31 (NKJV)

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9–11 (NKJV)

If in our minds eye we see Jesus gently floating down out of heaven on a cloud we are missing Jesus message. Jesus ascended on a cloud, again demonstrating His authority over nature. His return on the clouds of heaven will be both a demonstration of power and judgement. The clouds speak of His deity, power and authority, an everlasting dominion. That is what we need to see as well. I close with two more cloud references from scripture.

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 (NKJV)

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. Revelation 1:7 (NKJV)

The Message of Symbols Part 2

Here we will look at an agricultural symbol pointing to Jesus. It starts with a question that Jesus asks the Pharisees, trying to get them to think beyond their preconceived religious ideas. Had they understood the symbolism in the scriptures they revered they would have been able to see Jesus as the Messiah or at least they may have had the humility to seek clarification from Him. This exchange took place in the days leading up to Jesus arrest and crucifixion.

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”

They said to Him, “The Son of David.”

43 He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool” ’?

45 If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. Matthew 22:41–46 (NKJV)

These the last questions the religious leaders asked of Jesus prior to His arrest and subsequent crucifixion. The Pharisees were both puzzled and silenced by Jesus question. Yet Jesus gave them a clue in the paradox between the Messiah being David’s son and yet David referring to Him as Lord. The answer lay in the scriptures they studied. First we have Isaiah, and later a clearer exposition of this verse in Revelation.

            1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1 (NKJV)

In context it is clear for us looking back that that Isaiah was prophesying about Jesus and it is made very explicit in Revelation from Jesus Himself.  

16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” Revelation 22:16 (NKJV)

The clue to answering Jesus question to the Pharisees is seeing Jesus as both the source (root) and outcome (branch). They lived in an agricultural context with olive trees and grape vines being very important in their daily lives. The Hebrew word translated as ‘stem’ could refer to either a stump or stock but clearly pointed to a source. It is humanly impossible for someone to be their own ancestor, thus the need for spiritual revelation.

Jesus was quoting Psalm 110 when He asked His question about David calling the coming Messiah Lord. The Pharisees knew it because Psalm 110 was a well known Messianic reference. While it is obvious to us, the answer was still available to the Pharisees had they understood the symbol of the Messiah being both root and branch.

Here are further clues, also made explicit by Jesus.

4      Who has performed and done it, Calling the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the Lord, am the first; And with the last I am He.’ ” Isaiah 41:4 (NKJV) – see also Is. 44:6, 48:12

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 (NKJV)

As both the beginning and the end Jesus was the root and branch, the source and outcome. As such we can celebrate His work in our lives as Hebrews presents Him.

1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1–2 (NKJV)

We can have confidence that no matter what we are walking through in this season, He is faithful.

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)

The Message of Symbols Part 1

Oftentimes when we read some of the things in scripture, particularly symbolic things in books like Revelation or Daniel we are left shaking our heads. It is easy to simply move on to something easier to grasp. Yet if we see the scriptures as a unity, 66 books inspired by one divine author and penned by many human authors, we can draw wisdom from these symbols. There are patterns that we can see across scripture if we look. Once we see the repeated patterns some of the symbols are easier to understand. An example is the image of Jesus as the Lamb in Revelation. However understanding the symbols in Revelation requires a solid foundation in the Old Testament (OT).  

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)

Here we have Jesus depicted as the Lamb. The word ‘midst’ is used twice in this verse showing that the Lamb is the focal point of the attention of John as the observer. Earlier in 5:1 we have the Father on the throne holding the scroll. Then we see the Lamb in the same place. In my mind’s eye I see this lamb as superimposed over the image of the Father on the throne and at the same time in the Father and the Father in the Lamb. 

The Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes. The passage tells us that the eyes are the seven spirits referred to earlier in 1:3, 3:1, 4:5. The point is not that Jesus is an actual lamb but that He was the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of humanity. The fulfillment of the OT type. Seven in scripture is the number of completion or fulfillment. Some refer to it as perfection. I prefer the idea of completion or fulfillment as Genesis refers to seven days to complete creation and seven days complete a week. The seven eyes mean that Jesus has complete access to see everything. Nothing is hidden from Him.

The seven horns. Horns represent power or authority because they represent the power of horned animals. We see examples in the OT of horns that represent power and authority, both good and bad.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)

4     “I said to the boastful, ‘Do not deal boastfully,’ And to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up the horn. 5 Do not lift up your horn on high; Do not speak with a stiff neck.’ ” Psalm 75:4–5 (NKJV)

17   For You are the glory of their strength, And in Your favor our horn is exalted. Psalm 89:17 (NKJV)

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

“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 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. Daniel 7:7–8 (NKJV)

Now back to the Lamb with seven horns in Revelation. What the image communicates is that the Lamb has complete authority. We see this 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)

The message of the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes is that Jesus sees and knows all and that in the events about to unfold He has complete authority. If we know Him we can rest in this reality in scripture.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. Romans 8:28–30 (NKJV)

This use of symbols may seem like a roundabout way to get to the message of Romans 8 but John knew the OT so the message of the horns, eyes and seven would not have been mysterious to him. Instead they would have brought assurance, as they should for us. 

I will continue looking at symbols in scripture in future posts.

Following His Leading

Let’s take a fresh look at the brief battle between Davie and Goliath in 1 Samuel. This battle is generally presented as the underdog achieving victory against overwhelming odds and has become a cultural icon. It is true that if David had fought Goliath on the terms that Goliath anticipated he would have been easily defeated. However David didn’t do what everyone else expected. David’s key to victory was thinking about the battle differently and thinking differently about who he represented and was. Below we see some different perspectives.

Then he stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 1 Samuel 17:8 (NKJV)

10 And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.” 1 Samuel 17:10 (NKJV)

26 Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 1 Samuel 17:26 (NKJV)

Goliath referred to the Israelite army as the servants of Saul and the army of Israel. David saw Goliath as defying God’s army. Furthermore, David saw the source of deliverance as the Lord not his own skill or strength.

37 Moreover David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:37 (NKJV)

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s 2013 book David and Goliath. It is not a Christian book but what I appreciate about Gladwell is that he thinks differently and examines his topics in a way that most don’t. His book was about people who overcome against all odds. It is also a book about seeing things differently, like the biblical account of David and Goliath.

In looking at what happened with David and Goliath he references the three kinds of warriors in ancient battles, Calvary (horsemen and chariots), Infantry (foot soldiers in heavy armour) and Projectile warriors (those who used arrows and slings). The battle between David and Goliath would have been quickly over with David dead if David had tried to fight Goliath as an Infantry soldier. However, David fought as a Projectile warrior, not on Goliaths’ terms or the terms all the spectators from both armies were anticipating. Gladwell said a ballistics expert from the Israeli Defence Forces calculated that in less than two seconds David could have fired a stone at Goliath that would have hit his forehead with the force of a bullet from a modern small handgun – a rock traveling at about 200 kilometres per hour. It could have easily penetrated his skull or minimally rendered him unconscious.

David’s key to victory was twofold. First, he trusted in the Lord. Second he did the unexpected and met the enemy from a positon of his strengths and skills. David did what he was good at not what Goliath wanted. In thinking about this I wonder about thinking differently and being a bit paradoxical in our approach.

David took what he had. We can to do the same. He is clear that His ways are not ours. For example He sent Peter the uneducated fisherman to the Jews and Paul the educated Pharisee to the Gentiles. The opposite of what we would expect. So whatever He has called us to do let’s bathe it in fervent and frequent prayer and then we follow His leading based on what He has given us.