Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’”
His mission was clear from the beginning.
He considered himself a servant of rulers.
He left his own natural family to become the hope of ALL the nations.
When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” So from that hour, this disciple took her into his home.
As Jesus hung dying, did he look out on the crowd only to see his mother and siblings as a type of Zion and her children, waiting on their redemption?
After all, Mary’s Magnificat song is specifically about the redemption of Israel. Jesus was the blessed answer to their prayers.
Jesus never stopped loving his nation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you that you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
He trusted the restoration of Israel to come through his Bride.
He will repopulate the desolate inheritances of Israel through his offspring.
Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
God will count these children as if they were born naturally to Israel herself. :O
Once Jesus had ascended to the Father, he appoints Apostles and sends them to the nations.
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
These Apostles sent others to restore the nations through faith to the inheritance that Jesus won them.
“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.”
1 Corinthians 4:17
God’s ultimate purpose is to use his Church as a vehicle of redemption for the entire world.
Instead of just the Levant (Israel/Palestine), their borders will increase until they inherit the entire Earth. It is not possible to fit them all in one place anymore.
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Imagine a couple has several kids and a small house. If they suddenly, supernaturally have many more children (through all means possible, both naturally and through foster parenting), what do they do?
Well, they will probably need to buy a bigger house. Under the new covenant, the Kingdom is the same way. His children will increase until they fill the entire Earth, and he will gather them from all over!
When his Church outgrows the Earth, then he will make a New Heavens and Earth.
He has prepared a better place for us.
In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Before that day, his Righteous Offspring will redeem their nations. Through their holy influence, the physical geography, flora, fauna, and people will be set free from sin. They will experience the health and wholeness of the Kingdom of God while they still live on the Earth. This will be a foretaste of Heaven and a sign to the world.
Just as he was called a “Servant of Rulers”, his people will fill the nations with peace.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Even in persecution, they will bless. Even if they are hated, they will endure.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Then the beast was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them, and it was given authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all who dwell on the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written from the foundation of the world in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb who was slain.”
They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
They will see his complete Victory on the Day of Christ.
On that day, the Lord will raise the Righteous Dead first.
“As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”
Then, together with the Righteous dead who were raised, the Church will have a Mass Ascension experience. It will be the exact same kind of Ascension Experience as Christ had.
**TO SOAPBOX BRIEFLY: Unlike it’s portrayal the Left Behind Series, the true Rapture (named “rapture” because of its joyful, rapturous nature) is the picture of a MASS ASCENSION EXPERIENCE that will happen at the end of days, directly before Judgement Day. All the righteous will experience it, not just the presently living, as God will raise the dead first. Those who are not glorified with Jesus will be condemned by him. Lord, help us not sensationalize the gospel through scare tactics. The Gospel is already sensational enough!**
The Lord will Judge all People.
And his faithful people will be revealed as Fully Mature Sons of God.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
At that time, Jesus will receive his eternal, righteous reward.
Implications for Today: Lord, Help Your Bride Restore the World
So God, teach your Bride to be like Ruth and like Jesus,
Help us surrender our rights and all of our plans,
Help us choose to Fearsomely love your people and see restoration of the Nations,
Deliver us from our own selfish intentions that would cause us to be like Orpah, rejecting the widow and prioritizing comfort,
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.”
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Give us authority from love and make us loving authorities,
Help us live with sober-minded judgement, because the time is short.
“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Re-beautify the world through us, Jesus. Make us your vehicle of redemption in the world.
How is faith in Christ different than aiming to be a morally “good person?”
Last night, I was prompted by one of my dreams to wrestle with the difference between faith and general good ethics.
In my dream, I was walking down a sidewalk towards a crowd. A short, greyish black haired woman, approached me, hesitating. She tried to speak twice, but was so intimidated that I sat down on the sidewalk as a gesture that she was welcome to join me.
She explained that she noticed something different about me. She was currently into New Age philosophy and witchcraft. I began to explain that the thing that was different about me is that I know Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
When I finished explaining, she told me that she had always made it her goal to carry the heart of Jesus. Growing up, her father had wanted her to be like Jesus. I could see that she was doing her best to be like Jesus. She embraced the marginalized and was so friendly. Still, there was something missing.
By then, various people had gathered around us, listening. I offered to give them a glimpse of what it was like to know Jesus. We all held hands and prayed. Some people started to experience the power of God. I remember that I was shaking so hard it was like being in the spin cycle of a laundry machine. Eventually, I was moving so fast I could no longer feel I was moving. I could only hear a hum. The people all around me were overwhelmed by the power of God.
I woke up realizing that it is actually easy for most people to be a little bit like Jesus. I’m sure we’ve all met people who were not Christians, but were relatively generous, thoughtful, and kind. And to be fair, most people can imitate 2-3 aspects of Christ’s character relatively well on their own strength. However, when it comes time to separate the true from the counterfeit, without true internal transformation, when we face challenges, we discover that we aren’t usually as nice as we think we are.
While being nice is of some value, Jesus of Nazareth’s life was so much more powerful than a modern model of “A Good Person.”
If Jesus only flattered, encouraged, and celebrated, he would be essentially useless to you and I. He would have no power to save us, because he would not have needed to die.
And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.
There would be no real difference in the world between people who knew him and those who did not.
Realistically, a Jesus who is only friendly and easy to accept has no good news to share. We all know what it is to flatter and please others. And we all know that it feels good to receive other’s approval, even for the wrong reasons.
You do not have to read the Bible for long to realize that Jesus of Nazareth was not just trying to be a “good person”.
Knowing and following the real Jesus of Nazarethwill make you realize very fast that you cannot be a truly good enough person without God’s help.
Faith vs. Counterfeit
As I have just said,
Most people can imitate 2-3 aspects of Christ’s character relatively well on their own strength.
If we dare admit it, the aspects of Christ’s character that we as individuals person are most likely to imitate probably depend on the values of our cultural context. For example, if you are from the American Great Plains Midwest like myself, you will probably admire Jesus’ honesty and warmth.
Even if I was not a Christian, I could quite easily convince myself that because of my Christlike (lol) honesty and warmth, I am a good person. Believing in my own untested goodness may even convince me that I deserve nice things in Heaven and on Earth.
But what happens when I come across situations where my character is tested?
Personally, I can tell you even recent moments of testing where I avoided conflict (yes, me too, still). Or, where I have equivocated and put on being fake nice when it would be easier to say a gentle “no.”
This may seem low stakes, but ultimately the point is:
In order to live up to what I perceive Christlikeness to be, on my own strength, I have to fake it.
If you rely on your own strength, there comes a point where your strength runs out. And in those moments, like all sane human beings who have run out of capacity, most of us resort to faking it, for there is nothing left. We know we are supposed to be good. We may even be disciplined in forcing ourselves to go through the right motions, white-knuckling it until we’ve gotten more sleep, substances, or serotonin.
And frustratingly, despite our best efforts, we fail. We are transparently, publicly broken.
And all too predictably, our capacity for goodness seems to go out the window when we need others to be good to us most.During economic disasters, war, environmental crisis, and global pandemics, our capacity becomes very thin. We feel helpless, scared, and very aware of the presence of evil.
Like sweet tea that starts to taste syrupy, shaking exposes our backwards intentions and we realize that all along, we were just looking for approval. If there was an easier way to be performatively good, we probably would have picked that, because true righteousness wasn’t really ever the goal.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised, but to recognize our weakness and tendency towards self deception is scary! God reminds us in Proverbs 4:23 to make sure our motives are straight.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Do you know your heart’s motives?”
Realistically, shaking and our earthly circumstances are just a foretaste of our works being tested. As we stand before God on Judgement Day, we know that all of our works will be tested.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
2 Corinthians 5:10
Only what was done out of a desire to unselfishly serve Jesus will remain.
In the end, doing good works and pursuing moral goodness is ultimately useless before God, because his level of righteousness is so completely Holy that the only way you can measure up is by letting him fill the measure for you.
A man just starting out in faith and the hope of Christlikeness will do better on judgement day than someone with an entire life-time of self-motivated “”good works”, because their source and motive was off. You must have the genuine article, and that only comes by faith.
A Better Way
Realistically, we need help. We reach a sobering and healthy moment where it’s easier just to admit that we cannot reach the goal of goodness by ourselves.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
We must be transformed through the inside out. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we can draw upon God’s strength is us not just to be a goodish person, but to model beauty, goodness, courage, justice, discomfort, joy, peace, generosity, and so many other divine character traits. Beyond just receiving the Holy Spirit and having the opportunity to be changed, we have the honor of sharing the genuine goodness of Jesus with the world.
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
The Holy Spirit tests and purifies our motives.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Through difficulty, we are transformed to love only what God loves and stop trying to endlessly live for others’ approval.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
As we change and increasingly know who we are in Christ, we know that the only way we can measure up is by letting Jesus be our measure. Letting Jesus be our righteousness and transforming help is what it means to put your faith in him.
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
1 Corinthians 1:30
Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:9
No Changes to the Standard
If you have put your faith in Jesus and been saved, you’ve acknowledged before yourself and God (Romans 10:9-13), and before others (baptism) that you can’t do it on your own.
The criteria for God’s approval is Christ, and hallelujah that we cannot change his standards!
We are better off not trying to lessen the standards of God. If we tried to change his righteous standards to make them easier for us to meet, that would mean:
Christ would have only died for our partial transformation (Would he be only partially dead?)
The only spotless lamb we had available to redeem the sins of the world has already died
Luckily, Christ died so that we would have complete deliverance from evil, not just partial remission.
“He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility
Inevitably Righteous by Intimacy with Christ
So how exactly do we measure up to Christ?
As you walk closely with God, you will organically let God have more access to all the areas of your life, out of love for him. As this process continues and you walk it out day by day, you get more comfortable resting on God’s strength instead of your own. Over time, it builds up until you’re quite different than you were one month, one year, several years, or decades than you started. We should always continue to press into God, not necessarily to become perfect, but because he’s wonderful. He is the most fun to be around and the best teacher. He always has answers, and there is always more. As we continue on in increasing intimacy with Jesus, he makes us more righteous the closer we get to him. Imagine that you are drilling down into the center of the Earth, and just when you’ve thought, “Surely this is as wild as it gets”, there is more. You’d spend your whole life trying to reach the center. If you focus on spending quality time with him and make him your sole focus, the transformation organically happens.
The amount of change can be surprising, and even disorienting. I know someone who was fluently cursing like a Savior at 9 years old and today often doesn’t even feel tempted to curse even when they stub their toes. It has been removed out of their insides by the Spirit of God. I imagine if the person really gave into rawness and allowed cursing back in, the sin could find a way to take root again (providing the devil a foothold). By and large, it’s up to us whether we remain in closeness with God and develop discipline through God’s power to remain free.
There are several ways this can go wrong for people who assume to be following Jesus. The first is not discerning the difference between “being a good person”, and trusting God to justify you. Realistically, this means that maybe you haven’t yet perceived that you need saving. Even if a person has gone to church for years, if they don’t decide to let Jesus be their vindication and righteousness through simple faith in his saving grace, they are just going through the motions. Salvation is an inward decision of the soul and we each have to give God access to our deepest longings. If you know someone who you think fits into this category, don’t judge them. Just pray for them to have hunger to know God as he is and have a deep encounter with Jesus.
Another stumbling block for Christians is to revert back to trying to justify themselves once they get sanctified enough to forget all that God has done and is doing to help. We cant afford to forget that we need God’s mercy for even basic wellbeing, let alone seeing the answers to our prayers and his power here on earth.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
We cannot afford get too self reliant, because then we ascribe to the Lord things that were painfully the result of our own dumb choices.
When Christians become too focused on performance, people compete. They stop defining themselves relationally to Christ and through the lens of reverence, and make his Church an area of personal pride. Jesus’ Bride is a collective of believers who are called to love and serve him, and love and serve one another. When you allow yourself to anxiously focus on your own actions and others (different than holding people accountable), you are forgetting that your good deeds weren’t what attracted Christ to you. It was your need. He had love to give, and you clearly needed it.
If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
We provide his love no opportunity in our hearts to be poured out on others if we compete with each other.
Usually, we are competing for other people’s praise and approval, something that we have to die to anyways. Listen to what Jesus has to say about people who compete for approval:
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
Lord, help us trust you to be our only justification.
If you know someone like this, don’t judge them. Just pray for them to know what it is to rest in God’s finish work, receive his grace as is, and have a deeper sense of identity in sonship.
What do you really want?
If you choose other’s approval and sell the genuine article for the praise of man, you wont be able to delight in the simplicity of depending on the Father and not having to be superhuman. You will be tired and drained without ever feeling satisfied.
If you act superhuman, you will drive away everyone who knows that grace is the only solution, for themselves and others. You will be left with only people who are willing to compete and line up for a race eying their neighbors jealously. You will look for gracious people who can run alongside you in genuine support, but it will be hard to find them. What an awful way rendition of community.
But you saw our need and decided that as we are, human beings are worth saving. Help us to receive your acts of love and your atoning sacrifice on the cross as our only vindication. We trust that by your Holy Spirit, you can change us and make us new. You are the God who constantly wants more for us, and we want more of you. Give us the capacity to let go, the capacity to receive, and the grace to measure up to the full standard of Christ. We want you to be glorified in our lives so that all people will know you as Lord.
I have a challenge for you! Read the following verses and tell me what they all have in common.
“To the choirmaster: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David. For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.”
My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Did you notice anything?
Whether in waiting, joy, or sorrow, the Psalmists consistently address their souls.
In Deuteronomy and later in Matthew, we are told that we must not just love God with our hearts and minds, but also our souls.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37
In John 3, The Apostle John blesses Gaius, blessing his soul with the expectation that from his soul, his body would prosper.
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
3 John 1:2
In each of these verses, the writers direct their focus to the most important organ required in salvation: the soul.
In praying for salvation, one of the biggest ways that the Western Church wastes time is by praying for people to intellectually receive God. You can pray for that, but initial comprehension of the salvation experience isn’t actually necessary to encounter God.
Most of us are experiential learners, and tend to comprehend the fullness of God as we go and read the bible.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
There are seldom few who, through (often trauma-related) self-protection, require God to shatter their arguments in order to reach their hearts.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
However, for most human beings, the majority of salvation-related prayers that the Church prays need to be directed directly at the soul.
When a person starts long for God at the soul level, it comes from a place deeper than our reason and temporary emotions. It is like being pulled by an internal cord into a direction you may not consciously understand. Often, people experience this sensation over time, and describe it with sensing language (discerning, noticing, thirsting, hungering, itching, burning, aching, yearning, pining). When it comes to the soul (and the spirit), it isn’t a factual knowing or a rational reasoning, but an intuitive perceiving. Often, this means waking up a level of desire for righteousness and longing for the beauty of God that people didn’t know they had. These experiences can be confusing because they are not frequently discussed in every day life and most people who are not overly spiritual to begin with will lack language to communicate the depth of what they feel happening. People generally sense something is different but don’t realize they are being pulled by the longing of their souls until they can see a pattern develop. This is part of what makes salvation a process: it’s so beyond us that we sometimes struggle to process it.
Here are some common sensations that might happen to a person when their soul starts to yearn after God:
Often, people experience a stirring on their insides, a deep, gnawing inner hunger.
Sometimes, longing feels like a deep sense of weary, restless drivenness and longing for purpose.
Sometimes longing can relate to a form of beneficial disbelief, “Is this really all there is to life?”
Sometimes longing is a desire to recapture or encounter something we sensed in someone else that felt holy, right, and safe.
Misconceptions about the Body and Mind
People don’t use the wording of “soul winning” as much in the modern era. However, the reasons reclaim the connection of soul to salvation are so great that we may need to get over ourselves. For a lot of the 18th-20th centuries, the Church in the West focused on the salvation of people’s souls at the exclusion of their physical needs (something we inherited from Gnosticism). In the 1960s onwards, Liberation Theologians first in Latin America and then throughout the world reclaimed Jesus’ sentiment in the Beatitudes: that he doesn’t just care about eventual spiritual prosperity but he wants people to live holistically healthy lives here and now.
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
Over time, discussion over the importance of the soul to salvation started to be stereotyped to people who were overly harsh (ascetic) towards the body and other people’s basic human needs. Verses like Romans 8:13 got twisted to deny even the body’s right, godly pleasure and desires.
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.
Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.
When people overcomplicate holiness and heap on rules that are past God’s requirements (ex: requiring abstinence of all ordained clergy, requiring specific clothing to curb sexual desire without addressing purity of heart), it often happens because they have not yet realized who they are in Christ (identity) and do not yet know the freedom that he gives us.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.
1 Corinthians 10:23
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Our bodies do matter. We know that they matter because in the Incarnation, Jesus deemed the experience of having a body to be a worthy and essential part of the human experience.
It was the Church’s partnership with Greek dualism has led people in the West to believe that they could logically acknowledge the supremacy of Christ while still having no deep emotional (ie, soul level) encounter.
Quite frankly, many of us have been quite happy to assume that we can make an intellectual concession to the goodness of God and call it salvation. Rationalizing will always require less sacrifice than genuine salvation.
You may wonder: If salvation is holistic, why does it matter that we start with the soul?
The order of salvation matters, and it does indeed start with the soul!
If salvation starts with temporary or surface level emotions, it doesn’t go deep enough.
“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
If salvation starts with the mind, it can become a mere ritual.
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Faith has got to start with a soul that hungers, thirsts, and is moved from out of our insides.
“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
If the soul catches God first, your mind will be renewed:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Your emotions will receive Christ’s inner wellness.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Your body will usually come into greater health and wholeness:
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
Charismatic Christians believe that the connections between the body and the soul mean that as you put your faith in Jesus, you can even be set free from demonic oppression. But in order to reach all this, we have to start with the soul.
You Must Choose
Jesus invites our souls to find our rest in him.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In our immediate lifetimes, each of us must make a deep internal (soul-level) decision follow Jesus or reject him.
Sadly, many of us make this decision by not engaging at the soul level in the first place.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
To make things more complicated, among our cultures, there are various beliefs that may hinder our souls in sensing the immediacy of Christ’s call to salvation.
Traditional religions often sidestep the entire soul issue by eliminating the need for a personal decision. Here are several beliefs that may make it difficult for a person to make a deep, immediate choice to follow Christ.
Assuming that religious, ethnic, and national identities are always linked. Especially true of regions that have syncretized religious values with politics (state religion). Denies the complexity of culture and ethnicity (homogenizing identity to a desirable norm). When used for political purposes, this has the effect of silencing diversity.
Believing that evil is inevitable to the point where one stops looking for solutions. Denies the souls desire for change, justice, joy, and beauty.
Matthew 5-7 The active redemption of the Kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount
Prayers that Call our Souls to Order
When individuals or groups pray for God to stir people’s souls, they often end up praying in hunger over regions. When a region is overcome by hunger for the Lord, people are saved more organically because they can sense their souls longing for Jesus.
Do you know what it is to yearn for God with all of your soul?
Have you ever wondered why the Christian faith focuses so much on dying?
Most of us know the logistics of Jesus’ death. Some of us may even come from traditions that teach the Stations of the Cross, as a reflective way to meet Jesus in his dying. But I am willing to bet that most of us have less understanding of the intentional approach Jesus took to death than we realize.
Before he went to the cross, Jesus had a lifestyle of death.
We can see this early on in the book of John, because out of obedience to his mother, Jesus set aside his own agenda to serve the hosts at the Wedding at Cana.
Before he went to the cross, Jesus shares his ultimate destiny with his disciples, inviting them to die too.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
First century Judeans would have known that to carry your cross meant that you were ultimately destined to die upon it. Jesus’s disciples may have wondered if he was inviting them into a group suicide.
While they probably didn’t enjoy the sound of death initially, it must have caught on, because only several decades later Paul declares,
“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!”
1 Corinthians 15:31
It seems that at some point, the Early Christians began to not just accept but even celebrate Jesus’s way of dying.
And that is for the best, because not one of us is able to follow Jesus without dying many times. We die in coming to faith initially, and hopefully many times after that.
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
I say “hopefully”, because you cannot follow Jesus without some death. To follow Jesus without death would be a lot like the people compared to “seed among rocky ground” in the Parable of the Sower.
While we will all go through rocky seasons, we must accept Jesus’ invitation to die when trouble comes (as it will regardless). We cannot be distracted (v 15), we cannot reject death for the sake of comfort (v 16-17), and we must bear fruit (v 18-19). To disengage with these moments of death is to stop following Jesus, for his way leads to the cross. To disengage is to reject the necessary, sometimes costly transformation that is required in following him.
As we live, hopefully we will experience many deaths, including:
Death to ambition
Death to your reputation
Death to your your specific plans for the future
Death to your timings
Death to the flesh (ie, physical desires)
Death to relationships/your previous way of doing community
Death to autonomy
Fortunately, Jesus was an expert at dying, and his death on the cross was only his final death.
Navigating Death like Jesus
The Bible gives us some clues about how Jesus engaged emotionally with his death. While Jesus was indeed a victim of political and religious violence, his decision-making process and internal choices may be even more instructive for our lives here on earth than the good news of his resurrection! This post will answer questions like:
Was Jesus passive in his death on the cross?
Why didn’t Jesus die a quick death? What was his internal activity while nailed to the cross?
How can we follow Jesus’ way of dying, even as we live?
The active way Jesus chose to die has implications for how we walk out seasons of surrender and death to our own agendas. All necessary deaths lead to the redemption of God.
Q: Was Jesus passive in his death on the cross?
A: A Choice in Life, and a Choice in Death
Before creation, Jesus was with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with youbefore the world began.”
Jesus actively chose to live as a human, in the flesh. Jesus chose to come to the Earth, leaving a place where he was the uncontested Authority, making himself small.
Even though Jesus was on the Earth, he retained his authority.
We know this by the degree to which demons feared him.
“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Instead of giving up his authority (not possible), Jesus gave up his right to be defined by his power. Even while he was on the Earth, Jesus’ power was mixed with and indivisible from the power of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Instead of relinquishing or relying upon his own power, he chose to access divine power through his relationship with the Father only.
“So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”
Jesus didn’t give up his authority and he didn’t give up his power, but he gave up his will. In spite of his authority and his divinity, he allows his death to happen because God’s way is better.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Just as Jesus chose to leave his place of authority to come in the flesh, Jesus chose to give up his life.
The reason the Father loves Me is that I lay down My life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
Christ chose to die.
Instead of defending himself…
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
Jesus trusted the father’s power to raise him from the dead and vindicate him.
But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
Jesus trusts the father’s power to glorify him.
“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
it was not just Jesus’ righteousness, but his willingness to suffer at the right time that made him our path to the Father.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees. He did this to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and reconciling both of them to God in one body through the cross, by which He extinguished their hostility.
By being numbered with the transgressors, Christ experientially atoned for the sins we have committed intentionally. We know that Jesus received the full measure of God’s punishment, from all humans across the ages. Due to the scale of his atonement (for all humankind) and the purity with which he chose his fate…
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
For all the minor deaths we experience (and even actual death, in the case of martyrs), he still only keeps us in the shadow of death. He demonstrates a small piece of his experience to us so that we will understand him, but he keeps us from the severity of his own cost.
Q: Why didn’t Jesus die a quick death? Apart from dying, what exactly was Jesus doing on the cross, as he was nailed there?
A: Jesus was Lost in Intercession (and still is)
After having made an internal choice to die, despite the lack of understanding of his friends…
Choosing God isn’t rational, it doesn’t make natural sense. Choosing God enough to die certainly didn’t make much sense, yet it is the decision God required of Jesus. He requires us to choose death too, through Christ.
Jesus prayed with his soul engaged, if not his mind. The Holy Spirit prays in this same, groaning, intense way for us at all times.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
With his body already torn, Jesus’ soul made intercession for us until the hour of his death.
I personally believe that while Jesus hung on the cross, his soul interceded for every kind of sin, physical illness, and demonic oppression. He did this so that when we believe in him, we can be set free from sickness and evil power.I personally believe that God waited for the soldier to offer him the bitter wine until this labor of intercession had been completed.
Instead of trying to physically or mentally escape pain, Jesus’ soul was engaged behind the scenes and he leveraged the abundance of his suffering for our healing in an active sense.
Once he had sipped the bitter wine as a final prophetic act, Jesus surrendered with finality his spirit unto God, entrusting God to make up the difference.
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
To this day, Jesus is still interceding for us! He is currently sitting at the right hand of God, pouring out intercession for us that we be empowered by the Holy Spirit and have the capacity to endure.
“Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us”
Jesus was lifted up on the cross, but it is his finished work on the cross that draws all nations to him.
“And when I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
He had to endure the cross to be revealed as a fully formed, new Adam, who would obey the Father’s will until the end.
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Based on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, when we experience little deaths, we have an example to follow. Here are some specific ways we can apply the Jesus way of dying to our own lives.
Jesus perceived that the Father had called him to death, and accepted it. Instead of withholding from God areas of our lives that need to die, significantly change, or come to an end, we must allow God access. We must agree that his ways are better and allow loss. Choosing to let God bring you through loss isn’t failure but obedience.
Do not Cling to Self Defense
Just as Jesus relinquishes his own power, does not seek vindication from people, and allows his ultimate vindication to come from the Father, so we must also leave our justification up to God. We will need to accept that others do not understand and simply obey God with or without their approval.
Remain Actively Engaged
Instead of avoiding death, disengaging when we are tired, or inviting distraction, Jesus remains actively engaged in his process until the end. If you are in the furnace and need help to continue to die well, ask God to send ministering angels to strengthen you and give you the capacity to endure.
Trust in God’s Redemption
None of us fully know our timings, or how long we will need to endure. However, we know that it wont always be like this, because our God is a God of reversals and redemption. If you entrust your spirit over to God, he will redeem your pain and provide you a hope and a future.
We know that in seasons of loss and dying, God will not permit our pain [especially the worst of our pain] to be wasted. He will find a way to redeem it and heal us.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Day of Redemption: The Law of Reversals
In his death, Christ initiated a Law of Reversals: that as God comes to reverse the effects of sin, as he comes to judge and make justice,
Today, I’m going to discuss how Christian Prophesy in modern era is distinct from prophesy and mysticism from other world traditions, time periods, and cultures. My goal is to explain how revelation from and relationship with the Holy Spirit differs from other forms of mysticism. Some of the historical information I will be referencing are from Prophets, Prophesy, and Oracles in the Roman Empire by Leslie Kelly.
In both the Old and New Testament, Yahweh explicitly forbids divination. In the Old Testament, Israel was against the Canaanite gods of their neighbors because they prompted the people to worship in evil ways. For this reason, Israel believed that neighboring religions were actually led by demons (fallen angels who had rebelled against God).
While God gives the people guidance, they must choose for themselves if they will obey it.
Sadly, various leaders of Israel practiced divination through copying the surrounding cultures. For example, Manassah, one of the Kings of Judah, relied heavily on witchcraft.
“He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger.”
2 Chronicles 33:6 (About the sins of Manasseh, King of Judah)
“Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance.”
1 Chronicles 10:13
God so hates witchcraft that he considers it spiritual prostitution, breaking the exclusive covenant between him and his people.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
“I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people.”
Ultimately, God proves his strength over other gods and spirits many times in the Old Testament, through the surpassing quality of the revelation he gives his people. This revelation enables them to win wars, financially prosper, and continue to walk closely with him. One of the greatest examples of God’s power to prove himself most powerful over other God’s is in the story of Daniel.
“The Egyptians will lose heart, and I will bring their plans to nothing; they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists.”
Overall, Christians believe that the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) is most accurate, has the most power, and is the most holy of all Spirits. We know the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity that enables Christian prophets to prophesy in detail and accuracy. We believe that God gives people discernment to see the surpassing excellence of revelation that comes from the Holy Spirit, in comparison to other gods or mystical traditions.We believe that when tested, God will demonstrate his surpassing greatness through his prophets today.
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
When people experience the surpassing beauty of Jesus, the appropriate response is to throw away every stumbling block of divination and choose him with every aspect of yourself and lifestyle.
“When this [the gospel] became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”
Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, Christians can come into a purified relationship with the Holy Trinity.
Knowing the Holy Spirit
In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his followers to rely on the Holy Spirit to commune with the Holy Trinity. As I will describe below, the methods that the Holy Spirit uses are very different than divination. Christians believe that when individuals are led into the spirit realm by other spirits that are NOT the Holy Spirit, they are actually being led by demons. For this reason, God prohibits his people from engaging with witchcraft as practitioners or consumers.
As Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Living God. We believe this Spirit reveals Jesus and is completely in sync with the Father heart of God. The Holy Spirit is the excellent spirit that rested on Jesus:
Unlike unholy (demonic) spirits, the Holy Spirit changes people’s characters and empowers them with “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”
Demonic spirits oppose the Holy Spirit and promote all forms of evil (Galatians 5:19-36).
When people come to faith in Jesus, one of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives them is the capacity to judge whether a spirit comes from God or is demonic. This is called the gift of discerning of spirits (or “discernment”). Instead of writing off all forms of supernatural experience, Christians are encouraged in 1 John to simply “test [discern] the spirits” to determine their source.
Part of the reason Christians are meant to test the spirits is because we as humans can be deceived.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, there were significant differences in Christian prophesy and their pagan counterparts. These standards still reflect God’s heart for Christian prophesy today. Again, most of the following information comes from Prophets, Prophesy, and Oracles in the Roman Empire by Leslie Kelly.
Prophets in the Community
One document that guided the principles for early Christian prophesy was a second century document called the Didache. According to the Didache (pg 31):
“Christians believed that prophesy was a spiritual gift present in the community” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
A church may or may not have a prophet
Prophets traveled and were maintained by each congregation as they pass through
Prophets should be tested (in motive and doctrine)”
Kelly also describes the history of several Christian prophets in the early Church, including:
“Heretics think that the scriptures are ambiguous and that one needs to use outside information to interpret them”. (pg 38)
Defining Christian Prophesy
By comparing pagan, Jewish, Greco-Roman, and Christian methods of prophecy, Kelly shows that some hallmarks of early Christian prophecy are that it is:
Initiated by God’s initiative, without hallucinogens or divination (p 38)
Unconditionally connected to the person of Jesus of Nazareth (pg 36)
Completely against all forms of divination (pg 30)
Interpreted and confirmed by scripture (pg 38)
Generally more specific and accurate the divination of surrounding cultures (pg 34)
Interacting with Surrounding Cultures
In the Early church, Christians used prophesy to engage their neighbors through prophesy. They would often take a concilliary approach by appealing to their audience’s background in pagan prophecies to show how even these prophecies pointed to Jesus.
Paul takes this approach in relating to the Athenians at the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-34:
Other times, Early Christians took a polemic approach, specifically condemning divination and contrasted it with Holy Spirit led prophecy and methods.
In reading Prophets, Prophesy, and Oracles in the Roman Empire, it’s easy to understand how many pagan, Jewish, Greek, or Roman individuals would have understood Jesus to be a prophet based on their traditions, but would have needed the revelation of the Holy Spirit to know him as Messiah. It puts new context on verses like Matt 16: 13-20, John 1, 2 Timothy 4:3, Acts 16:16, Leviticus 19:26, Leviticus 20:6, Revelation 22:15, Revelation 21:8.
Story from a Friend
Recently, a friend from London told me a story that has become one of my favorite stories about how the Holy Spirit being greater than other spirits. She was with a group of Christians prophesying at a Psychic Fair, offering free spiritual readings to the attendees. A man approached her to talk, and after greeting him warmly, it became clear through his behavior and confessions that he was used to relying on a “spirit guide” to guide his mystical encounters. My friend explained a little bit about how as Christians, she and the other prophets with her relied on the Holy Spirit to be their guide. The man listened intently, then backed away for several minutes. When he returned, he explained that his “spirit guide” had told him to stay away from them, because “their spirit guide was too powerful.”
I sincerely hope the man had an encounter with Jesus through the Holy Spirit after he left. However, this story exemplifies that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than all other entities and demons people rely on for mystical encounters.
Dangerously, some people deny the power of the Holy Spirit. They equate the Holy Spirit to demonic spirits and fail to honor the authority and purity of the third member of the Trinity. They fail to discern the Spirit of God and fail to receive Jesus.
“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
The consequences for equating the Holy Spirit to demons are severe.
A Prayer to Know Only the Holy Spirit
Lord Jesus, you are the way, the truth, and the life. Give us faith in you and teach us how to recognize your Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, empower us to know Jesus, be internally transformed. Help us know the Trinity closely, worshipping you in Spirit and in truth and walking in miracles, signs, and wonders.
Father, deliver us from evil so that we can see you with unveiled faces and know you as our only Lord.