The Apostle Paul was a spiritual juggernaut. The life of the Apostle Paul shows just what can happen when men have crucified their lives. There is power – indescribable power – in the crucified life!
Did you ever stop to think about Hebrews 11:3? The Bible says about God:
“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Heb. 11:3)
Imagine the power that could create the visible world (the universe). And we are not talking about the world as we know it, no. The world as we know it is a perversion of what God created. God created a perfect world. Perfect in every sense. The Bible declares:
“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31)
This was the world that God created. The world that God created was perfect in goodness. But the day Adam sinned, he was chased out of that perfect world, and ever since we now live in
“this present evil world.” (Gal. 1:4)
The world we live in today is imperfect and perverse. And yet we think it is some sort of paradise! Imagine such blindness!!
Think also of how we boast in our little accomplishments in this world, forgetting that there is a Creator who brought about all that there is.
But God is able to do exceedingly far above the visible world. He is able to make new creations out of us.
God is perfect in power. But we need to know the reason for this power. It is because God is also the Ultimate Sacrifice. He gave His Only Begotten Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. The power that God has, therefore, is the power of love.
The truly Good News is that the power that God has is available to every man and woman who is willing to crucify their lives to the extent that Christ did. And this was the sacrifice that the Apostle Paul sought to make of his own life, that he might live the full life of the Spirit, to reveal the love of God to the world. For this reason Paul declared:
“we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), and;
“I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20).
You cannot make a mockery of a man whose life has been crucified with Christ.
In order to preach Christ and His power (which is the power of the Holy Spirit), we must cross the veil of the flesh. We must of necessity die to our flesh, or self; and henceforth when we preach, or live, our preaching and our life will be a distillation of the right Spirit right from Heaven.
This was the goal that Paul sought to attain to, and we see clearly his determination to arrive there through crucifying his flesh. And the impact that he made upon the church and upon the world was far, widespread, and palpable. Moreover, it will live on forever.
It is clear that the problem with the present-day church is that we have not died to the flesh. We have not crucified the flesh! (I am not saying we are not saved; although our not crucifying our flesh could also drastically impact negatively on our salvation.) God is not a respecter of persons. For this reason, we cannot bring the power of God to impact the world like the Apostle Paul did.
But we have done worse. We have refused to crucify our flesh. Instead of crying out to God to help us crucify our flesh, we have gone off and introduced other gospels, gospels which have not the resurrection power of Christ in them. This costly rebelliousness on the part of the church is what we will look at in the second part of this post.
In recent times I have been traveling a lot and, on one of these days, as I was waiting for the bus to fill up at the bus terminal, I found myself in a conversation with God that went as follows.
Me: “Oh, glory! Thank you, Lord, for all this travelling; as you know, I love the adventure of travel and you have been so gracious to me in this regard.”
God: “Oh yeah?”
Me: “Yes, Lord. I am truly grateful. Moreover, these travels keep me far from home where, as you rightly said, a prophet has no honor in his own country.”
God: “Oh! I said that, did I?”
Me: “Yes, Lord. Back at home, there are so many things that make me to stumble in my walk with You, but out here, there is so much peace!”
God: “Oh? Peace. Is that so?”
Me: “Of course, Lord.”
At this point, the Lord left off talking with me. The small bus had filled up and the driver got in behind the wheel.
As soon as the bus began moving, the driver turned on the radio. The volume was automatically set to the highest level possible, and the driver left it right there.
“Hey!” I shouted from the back seat where I was seated. “Please turn down the volume of your radio.”
The driver did not respond. He did not even look back to see who had called out to him. I could not believe it. Had he not heard me? Even above the din, I had shouted loud enough for anyone outside the bus to hear.
I took a closer look at the driver and for the first time I noticed the fellow had a nasty haircut which I took an instant dislike to. I looked at him again and I did not like anything about him.
I called out for the second time.
“Driver”, I shouted loudly again. “Please turn down your radio.”
I settled uncomfortably back into my seat feeling angry and unsettled both by the the loud music and the cold shoulder the driver had chosen to give me.
After half an hour of high- speed driving (which I also did not like and I was thinking I should warn him about that, too), the bus stopped to drop off some passengers. This being a small bus, the driver was also the conductor. As he came around to take his fare I spoke to him.
“I think you did not hear me”, I said stiffly. “I told you to turn down your radio.”
Without saying a word, the young man stopped taking the fare from the passengers, walked to the front of the bus and turned down the radio’s volume to an acceptable level (as per me).
He then came back and finished taking the fare. I couldn’t help noticing that he had a kind word for each one of the passengers. He even helped an old lady cross the road.
Soon he was done and we drove off. After an hour I arrived at my destination. The driver came round to take my fare. I gave him the money and, as he searched for some loose change in his pockets, I looked into his face. I was looking for an excuse to not like him even more.
But I found nothing there. Instead, I noticed how, despite his cocky haircut, he seemed to be a normal, likable young man.
Right there the Lord spoke to me. He said to me, “You are the problem, not him. If you are looking for something not to like, it is in you, not in him.”
I hadn’t planned on talking to the young man. By the time he gave me the change, though, I realized how much I already liked him. I told him, “Thank you.”
He looked up at me and said, “Thank you, too, sir.”
Then, instead of jumping back into his bus, he just stood there. Suddenly he put his hand back into his trouser pockets and showed me an old one shilling coin.
“You’ve got to be on the lookout for these”, he said, giving me one of the brightest grins I had ever seen. “It appears the same as the new 500 shilling coin. They are using these one-shilling coins to trick people nowadays. Someone tricked me with this one the other day. It is getting to be a common practice.”
“See you around”, he said.
“See you”, I answered absent-mindedly.
As I crossed the road, my eyes were burning with tears. I said to myself, “That boy ought to be preaching the gospel, not me.” He had so much peace. And I was still learning to have God’s peace in me.
The Lord uses any situation to show us how little of His Kingdom we have in us. When we have His Kingdom in short supply in us, that shortage will manifest in us, whether we are at home or far from home.
We cannot run away from the cross. The cross working in us ushers in the Kingdom of God into our hearts. In Colossians 1:24-29, the Apostle Paul writes,
“24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: 25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.”
Notice the word “sufferings” there. The more Paul denied himself and walked the narrow path of the cross, the more the incredible grace of God manifested in his life.
Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb. 1 Sam. 25:3
Many years ago, when I was a small boy, my school organized an expedition for some of us to visit a ship at the coast. When we arrived, the ship’s captain led us on a tour of the big ship; but I do recall that the one thing that made a permanent mark on my mind was the engine room. It was huge. When we walked down there, it was like we had entered a different world altogether. At that young, impressionable age, the engines appeared to be a hundred stories high! Surprisingly, there was not much activity going on down there. In fact, I recall it was like we found no one down there. Just the large engines powerfully humming away by themselves.
Then the captain spoke to us about the engines. I remember the word he used. He said, “The engine room is the heart of the ship.”
The engines, he told us, drove everything on that ship. Nothing could work on that ship if the engines were dead. The engines were the life of the ship. In other words, the engines made the ship to become a ship! Without the engines, that ship was just a big piece of scrap metal sitting uselessly (and possibly dangerously) on top of the ocean waters.
It is the same with us. The heart is our engine room. It is our very life. Our heart controls everything we do. And God, in his infinite wisdom, is concerned only with what issues from our hearts, for this is where our life is. As far as God is concerned, if we are to do things without the heart, we might as well not do them. God does not regard anything that is not done from the heart. That was exactly what He meant when He told Samuel:
““…for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”
The man who wrote the Book of Proverbs probably received one of the greatest insights into God’s working, for he wrote:
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Out of a man’s heart comes every issue of his life. His character comes out of his life; and so does his success, his prosperity – and even his beauty. And, in more ways than one, this inner life comes out and brightens a man’s exterior life.
That said, we cannot, as spiritual people, measure success, beauty or prosperity in material terms. No, we measure these things through what comes out of a man’s heart.
Consider Joseph. The Bible says of him,
“And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.” (Gen. 39:6)
What does the Bible mean by “goodly”? Does it mean he was good-looking, handsome? He might have been, but that is not what the Bible is talking of here.
Or, “well favoured”; what does that mean? Does it mean Joseph was built like Hercules? By no means. We might not even have any inkling of Joseph’s physique, for that is not what the Bible is referring to here.
The Bible is not interested in these things. Rather, in using these terms, the Bible is trying to show us the kind of heart that Jospeh had. Joseph had a “goodly” heart (not physique); and the term “well favoured” means he had the grace of God in him. And, through having this kind of heart, Joseph prospered.
How about Moses? The Bible record about Moses states:
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.” (Heb. 11:23)
Does that mean that Moses was more handsome than his siblings and that his parents therefore gave more consideration to him than to the others?
Hardly. On the contrary, the writer here is talking in the Spirit. In the Spirit, Moses’s parents saw into his heart. They somehow saw, in the Spirit, that this boy would turn out to be a vessel in God’s hands. And for that reason (for they were people of faith), “they were not afraid of the king’s commandment”; and they hid Moses.
Finally, let us consider the life of what most people regard as the Bible’s favorite character, David. In most people’s imagination, as well as in folklore and in countless modern-day movies on the subject, David is given the character of a strapping, handsome young man. My guess is that all this comes from what people read about David in 1 Samuel 16:12:
“… Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”
But th church has no place for Hollywood’s portrayal of a Biblical figure. All the attributes that the Bible lays out here talk, not of David’s physical appearance, but of his heart. Yes, the commendations that this particular scripture places on David are many, but that is because the heart of David had so many credentials to it.
Many of us would love to have such credentials attached to our names in God’s heavenly Kingdom; but there is a price to pay. And these men and and women were willing to pay the price.
The price we have to pay to become beautiful in our spirits, as the writer of Proverbs tells us, is to guard our hearts. And, when it comes to guarding our hearts, there is no way around it apart from denying our selves, taking up our cross, and following Christ.
Need we wonder, then, why the Apostle Paul would preach such a singular gospel,
“Jesus Christ, and him crucified”? (1 Cor. 2:2)
It was because he realized the power of the cross. The Apostle Paul said,
“Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Col. 1:29)
Christ worked in Paul’s heart mightily. The Apostle Paul was one of the most beautiful people spiritually. It was because he allowed the cross to work in him. When our hearts are well, we are the most beautiful people in the world.
24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Mat. 6:24-34
One of my first ‘vocabularies’ in school was the word “paramount”. We used to read a book about a certain paramount chief, and that word has stuck with me to this day. In today’s post we are going to learn, not about the paramount chief, but about the paramount need in our lives as believers in Christ.
In the above scripture, Jesus says we cannot serve two masters, for either we will hate the one, and love the other; or else we will hold to the one, and despise the other. We cannot serve God and mammon.
Notice that this is a statement. It is not a point for contention or debate. Scripture states simply that we cannot serve God and mammon.
Mammon is the god of this world. Now, you would think that this refers to money and wealth only; but Jesus here makes it abundantly clear that it refers even to our most basic human needs: food and clothing. Jesus said we are not to “take no thought” for these things. Why?
Jesus again gave us the answer:
“for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”
God will provide for our physical and material needs! Hallelujah!!
But let us back-pedal a little. What does scripture mean when it says to “take no thought”?
It means to not worry, or to get concerned about. We are not to worry about a lack of these things in our lives. There are things that should be worrying us more, Jesus says.
The foundation that Jesus set for us as His people is to seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness. It is to seek God’s spiritual Kingdom first. That is Christ’s foundation for His church. We are to seek the establishment of God’s Kingdom in our hearts. That is God’s priority for us. Jesus said it again in His model prayer:
“9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Mat. 6:9-10)
You may mention food, clothing, cars, health and anything else you want after that; but first things first.
If God ever allowed us to worry, it would not be to worry because it appears we are going to sleep hungry tonight; or for lack of school fees for our children. On the contrary, we are to worry, or to get concerned, on account of God’s Kingdom not being fully established in our lives. That is what Jesus said.
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…”
The establishment of God’s spiritual Kingdom in us is God’s paramount need in us. And it also ought to be our paramount need.
It is not that the many gospels being preached in the world today are not preaching Jesus, no; the problem is that they are emphasizing on the well-being of the outer shell, the body, over the profit or well-being of the inner man.
The true gospel of Jesus Christ puts its emphasis wholly on the condition of the man of the spirit. It realizes full well that whatever we do for this outer covering (the body) is vain, for ultimately, this body will end up six feet under, to be eaten by worms. But, today, there are so many believers who are so taken up with the welfare of this body! So much so that a large portion of the Body of Christ has diverted the gospel of Jesus Christ to cater for this outer shell, while the spirit is left to wither and die. Little strength and even fewer resources are directed to the well-being of the spiritual man.
Oh, to worry! Yes, we should worry – worry that we are not spiritual enough. We should be concerned when we find that the works of the flesh are there in our lives and that there is little fruit of the Spirit in us.
But this is a good worry. God works with such worries. His Holy Spirit in us will awake to such a call. And He will galvanise us to desire to do that which is pleasing to God more. We read about exactly such a response from the Corinthian church.
“9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Cor. 7:9-11)
Godly worry produces Godly sorrow, which in turn produces repentance.
These are the things that constitute God’s spiritual Kingdom. They are the things that should concern us.
Let us touch briefly on our material needs.
Faith is all about seeing into God’s spiritual kingdom. It all depends on whether our spiritual eyes have been opened or not. If we have spiritual eyes, we will see the spiritual and we will focus on the spiritual. If we do not have spiritual eyes, we cannot see into the spiritual and we will therefore focus on the material.
The Macedonians were poor and they were willing to grow even poorer because they saw the spiritual blessing of sharing their lives with the suffering saints in Jerusalem. To them, the blessing was not material. It was not in having their needs met. On the contrary, to them, the blessing was spiritual.
The most important thing that the church needs to understand is that Christ is building a spiritual house in us. He is not building a physical house. As our Father, though, He understands our material needs and He will provide. But He wants us to focus on His spiritual calling in us.
It is when we have this focus that we can refrain from hitting the panic button whenever we get low on our material supplies. Actually, we can even laugh at such conditions, for we know that God is in control. If I am walking with a clean heart, the devil can hit me with all the material deprivation he wants, I wouldn’t care. When God deems it fit He shall provide, and the devil cannot prevent it once God begins working on that front.
But if we do not have this spiritual vision, it becomes very difficult for us to understand why we should not be panicking in such situations.
But we are called to be servants of the Spirit, not the flesh. We cannot serve God and this world. And the true value of Godly faith in us can be found in how willing we are to serve Him in the Spirit.
15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,
16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;
17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power… Eph. 1:15-19
I have a brother, a fellow pastor, who goes from one conference to another, from seminar to seminar, and I have come to discover that all he is really after is money. Most of the conferences that he attends are hosted by organisers who promise numerous perks to the attendees: return tickets, free food, free accommodation and even, sometimes, pocket money. The truly big fish that a preacher can land in these meetings, of course, is to ‘connect’ with a wealthy ministry that can support him financially.
In my heart, I have refrained from judging this brother because I was once in exactly the same boat that he is in right now. There was a time when I thought that “gain is godliness” (1 Tim 6:5)!
But the revelation of the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ has helped me to know that God’s Kingdom has absolutely nothing to do with anything of this world, much less its material and financial propositions. Therefore now, even though I may not have everything that I need in this world, yet my eyes are not set on these things. I run a different race now, a difficult one in the flesh, but refreshing in the Spirit.
Notice, in the above scripture, that Paul prays for the Ephesians that, as believers in Christ, their spiritual eyes may be opened to the end that they may see or “know” something different from what the world is chasing after. The things that he wants them to see are spiritual:
The hope of God’s calling upon their lives;
The riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints; and
The exceeding greatness of God’s power in us who believe.
The Letter to the Ephesians is an incredibly powerfully spiritual letter. Right from the beginning, it compellingly portrays our spiritual inheritance in the Spirit. But for us to know these things, our spiritual eyes must be enlightened.
Most people assume that, because they are saved, that they can see everything, that they know everything. But that is a wrong assumption. Notice how Paul addresses the Ephesians in verse 13:
“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise…”
In other words, these were people who had believed in Christ Jesus. They were saints. Moreover, they were filled with the Holy Spirit (“… sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” – refer Acts 2:39). The Ephesians were Spirit-filled, tongues-speaking believers!
And yet the Apostle Paul prays for their eyes to be enlightened. How can that be?
It is scenarios like that of my pastor friend that show that the church’s eyes are not enlightened yet, even though we are saved. When a baby is born, it is born with its eyes closed. The mother looks for nothing else but the eyes. She eagerly anticipates the moment when her baby’s eyes will flip open and, as she looks deep into her baby’s eyes she says, with deep emotion, “Welcome to the world, baby!”
It is even so with God. God’s earnestness is for us to see into His spiritual Kingdom. Not until our spiritual eyes have been enlightened to see into His spiritual Kingdom can God feel truly satisfied and say, “Welcome to My Kingdom, my beloved son/daughter!”
[Below: “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Ps. 24:1. Many nationalities, including Chinese, are welcome in Tanzania]
24 And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? 25 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts. 26 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. 27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. Lk. 7:24-28
Just the other day, a brother and I were walking in the hot midday sun and we got so exhausted that one of us quipped, “Sometimes I wish we had a car to move about with!”
To which the other replied, “True. But that’s hardly a priority.”
“Yes”, agreed the former. “A car is hardly a priority with us.”
One of the incredible graces that God has blessed this brother and I with is to discern what God’s real blessings are. I remember there was a time when I used to pray for every material blessing under the sun. I had a long list of things that I wanted God to give me. While some are needful, yet I now realize that most of the things that I used to desire and pray for so vigorously are absolutely insignificant.
When some believers hear me saying that, they deride me.
“It is because you do not have these things, that’s why you talk that way”, they say.
But I know their accusation is not true. On the contrary, it is what is in my heart that makes me to consider material things unimportant in my life.
There are many blessings in my life which that God has granted me. One of the blessings that this brother and I cherish in our lives is the deep contentment we get from each other’s company. We both realize that the grace of God is upon our lives in this regard. This brother’s company is one of the most amazing and important things in my life. He is as I and often I wonder at the blessing of having such a wonderful brother by my side.
Today’s modern gospels want the believer to believe that the comforts of this world are the most important things in their lives. This leads him to compete with the world for the things and comforts of this world. But we ought to realize that, although we are in the world, our Kingdom is not of this world. We should not become materialistic Christians.
Jesus said, “… Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts.” (Lk. 7:25)
These are worldly-minded people, Jesus said. In today’s world, the prosperity gospel has bewitched God’s people.
But the man whom Jesus was about to talk about did not live in kings’ houses.
Now, one the most amazing facts about this account is the fact that Jesus would take such a long time to speak about a man, John the Baptist. This shows us that this man was very important in God’s Kingdom. Jesus Himself said as much.
Jesus began by contrasting John the Baptist with the comfortable lives that earthly kings live. A king’s lifestyle represents the highest standard of living in the land. He lives that kind of life because he holds the ultimate reins of power.
But Jesus went on and told the people that, even though John was so weak in the worldly sense that he appeared like a reed in the wind, yet he represented something which had infinitely much more power and glory than that of earthly kings.
Jesus said, “You went out to see, not a king, but a prophet.”
It is beyond doubt that a prophet is supremely above any king. A prophet is someone who has been sent by God. That in itself sets him far above this world in terms of glory, power and importance, for all earthly kings are subject to God. A prophet carries a message from God. He might be sent to warn, to direct or to comfort, but his message comes directly from God Himself. He is God’s mouthpiece. In spiritual terms, an earthly king in all his glory pales in the face of a prophet of God. The former lacks enduring glory and power, while the latter carries the same in himself.
But, still, Jesus told the crowd, John’s mission was far greater than that of an ordinary prophet. John had a mission that set him apart from other prophets. This is because he came to accomplish the most important task that would ever be accomplished by any man on earth. John was sent to precede and prepare God’s people for the coming of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.
“26 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. 27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”
There could never be a more noble duty assigned to man than this!
For this reason, Jesus said, “… Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist”.
Among those that are born of women, including kings, there never had been, and there never would be, a greater prophet than John the Baptist.
But Jesus had not arrived at the end of what He wanted to tell the people who were listening to Him. In saying all this, Jesus was laying a foundation for the ultimate message that He was about to deliver. All this was a preamble to the important message that He had for His listeners. And it was that, finally, He declared it: “… but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Notice there are two “he”s in this sentence. The last “he” refers to John the Baptist, of course, but who does the first “he” refer to? And it is clear that this person is greater than John the Baptist. Who could this “he” be?
It is us, we who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was telling His listeners that anyone who would believe on Him under the New Covenant would be far greater than John the Baptist.
What an awesome realisation! Jesus indicated that John was of another era, the Old Testament era, whose end he was announcing. The Lord Jesus Christ ushered in the new era of the New Covenant. And the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3 that the New Covenant is far greater than the old one.
Now, if Jesus could contrast, or separate John the Baptist from the world and its comforts, how much more should we be separated from them? Much, much more, I believe.
It is not that we should not have the things of this world; rather, it is that our hearts should never, ever be bound up with these things.
One of the most powerful examples of this in the Bible is Job. Job was one of the most blessed men in his generation. He was extremely rich materially. But Job lost everything, including his children, in just one day. Upon receiving the news of his staggering calamity, however, the Bible says that Job fell down on his face and worshipped God. And the Bible further says: “21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. 22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” (Job 1:21-22)
Clearly, Job’s heart was not on the things that God had blessed him with. Job’s heart was on the heavenly glory; losing, or not having material things was a small sacrifice for him.
For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better… Phil. 1:23
When He was here on earth, Jesus always had an urgency about Him – the urgency to go back to His Father in heaven. In the above scripture, we see the same attitude with the Apostle Paul. Paul’s singular desire was to “depart” from this world. But Paul had a reason for wanting to depart. He says he wanted to “depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better…”
It was incredible, the love that Paul had for Jesus. It is unmatched. People are always talking about, oh! how they desire to go to heaven so they can walk the streets of gold, etc. I am sure there are a few believers who think that heaven is a lot like Disneyland!
But heaven is all about Jesus. Heaven is about knowing Christ. It is loving Jesus and His ways – His all too often difficult ways. The Bible says we have to suffer with Christ in order to be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).
There are many things that will hold us onto this world if we do not see in the Spirit. We shall be bound by the system of this temporal world and we shall miss out in the issues that truly matter.
In Ephesians 1:15-23 the Apostle Paul prays that we be empowered to see these things.
Beloved, it is not time to be drawn by what the world can flash at us. There are people who would want to mix the gospel of Jesus Christ with the materialism in their own hearts. These are the so-called prosperity preachers. But it is not time to allow materialism to blind us to the beauty of heaven.
Materialism is a big enemy to the church. There are many believers whose ‘destiny’ is to become rich materially. But it is clear from the scriptures that even our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was not rich in earthly material things. One day someone came running up to Jesus and declared he would follow Him wherever He went. Jesus warned him,
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Lk. 9:57).
Our Lord Jesus Christ did not even have a place to lay His head!
On another day the tax men came to demand Caesar’s half-shekel from Him but our Lord did not have a penny on Him! Simon had to go fish for the money to pay the tax (Mat. 17:27).
Jesus could have become the richest man on this world if He had wanted to. But His eyes were set on the heavenly Kingdom, and He showed a holy disdain to the things that this evil world has to offer.
I am not preaching that men should be poor. But true believers are certainly not in a race for any material ‘destiny’.
Jesus could see something in the Spirit. Do you see anything? Do you see what Jesus saw?
Even more importantly, where is your heart set? Do you have an inordinate love for this world? Believers today have an easy lust for the world, and they compromise. They compromise their love for Christ. That makes them not ready for the heavenly Kingdom. There are many who would rather not “depart”; they would love to enjoy the pleasures of this world for a little longer.
But we should be so ready for heaven that if we were to die at any moment, we would do so with joy knowing we were going to the most beautiful place in the spiritual realm – heaven, and to be with Christ.
Is it time to harbor all those ill feelings that we have against a brother or sister who has wronged us? The answer is no. On the contrary, it is time to watch over hearts. We should strive to keep our hearts pure however contrary the circumstances. We should love back and pray for those who persecute us (Mat. 5:44).
That is what heaven is all about. That is what Christ is all about. Just in case you are in a hurry to get to heaven, first consider your heart and your life. Make sure you are living a holy, sanctified life and that you are walking in love towards your fellow men. That is what heaven is all about!
[Children. The Kingdom of God is for such as these]
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Phil. 1:21
“…and to die is gain.”
I haven’t heard anyone speak that kind of language lately. It appears that, today, the world has so much to offer!
But, again, the early apostles were men who saw in the Spirit. They were men who were ready for another world. They had leavin’ (this world) on their minds. In the Spirit, they saw and desired another world, God’s spiritual Kingdom. The Apostle Paul says,
“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (v. 23)
For Paul and the other apostles, being with Christ was “far better”!
But then, apparently, today, many believers cannot see as much into the Spirit. The reason for this is that other gospels have come in and blinded them to the heavenly vision. The churches with the biggest numbers today are those that preach on materialism. But the gospel of materialism is not taking anyone anywhere near heaven. On the contrary, it will most likely take many to hell.
Most people think that if they can throw in an “In the name of Jesus” to anything they say or do, then that thing becomes spiritual. But that’s not true. Jesus Himself said many would even do miracles in His Name and still not enter heaven (Mat. 7:22).
How can someone say, “to die is gain”?
It all depends on the gospel that one is hearing. There is only one gospel that has the power to make someone say such words. It is the gospel of the revelation of the cross of Christ. Today there are many gospels that abound, but they do not bring a revelation of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”. And yet… “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” is the only true message for the church today.
THE CHURCH NEEDS TO HEAR THE TRUE GOSPEL, THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED! THE REVELATION OF THE CROSS IN A MAN’S HEART IS THE POWER OF GOD THAT BRINGS THE TRANSFORMATION NEEDED TO MAKE A MAN WORTHY OF HEAVEN.
Upon reading the epistles, we find that many in the early church were men and women who did not count their lives dear to themselves (Acts 20:24), on account of the gospel that they heard. Through this gospel, they had a true heavenly vision. That means they saw the glories of heaven. They saw into the Spirit, and what they saw made them willing to trade in their worldly lives for the heavenly one. That is why they were willing to die. For them, death for the sake of the gospel was the Golden Gate to heaven.
But, pray, how can one be so willing to leave this world? And how can one be so unafraid of death?
It is because they had met with the resurrected Christ.
The classic example of this are the apostles. Many died for their faith. They were killed. We recall the Apostle James, who died at the hands of King Herod. But before the revelation of the cross in his heart, this man had so much of the world in him that Jesus nicknamed him and his brother John “the sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17).
These were the men who were so chagrined that a particular village would not line up and obediently clap for Jesus as He passed through, so much so that they asked Jesus whether they could not be allowed to call down fire upon that little village as Elijah did.
James and John were they also who wanted each to be sat on either side of Jesus in His kingdom, thinking His was an earthly kingdom.
In every instance, Jesus rebuked them vehemently. It is safe to say that with the kind of outlook that they had in life, these were earthly, carnal men. They could hardly expect to go and live with Christ in His heavenly Kingdom.
But after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we find a new attitude in James. It is clear now that in the Spirit, he had seen something different. He had seen “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” – and he had been transformed. He was willing to trade in his life for Christ.
In Acts 12:1-2 we read,
“1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. 2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”
I am sure that, now, James welcomed death. In his spirit he must have been saying, “Hurry! Take me to my Lord!”
I can imagine if they had tried to kill James before the revelation of the crucified Christ had come into his heart. He would have died cursing and kicking. Not a spot of heavenly light in his life. Just seeing the dark world he was leaving behind, nothing else.
That is why the church needs the revelation of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) today more than ever. This is the only gospel that can make us to consider dying as gain. The words of the Apostle Paul need to be heard more and more in church today:
“… to die is gain”
In another place, the Apostle John says,
“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).
We must leave the spirit of the world behind if we are to have confidence at Christ’s coming. We must be found abiding “in him” – in His sufferings, and in His death. Having this mind in us, we shall not fear physical death; on the contrary, we will welcome it, for it alone will usher us triumphantly into Christ’s presence.
[Below: The approach to Iguguno, a small town just outside Singida]
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 2 Cor. 5:6-8
Notice, clearly, that the Bible states that when we are “at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord”.
One day, many years ago, a brother and I were walking in the hot, punishing Musoma sun when I made the unfortunate remark that I wished we had a car or even a motor-cycle. The brother kept walking for a minute and then he said, “Y’know, pastor, nowadays we are too soft on ourselves. The early church never even thought of such things.”
I winced at the brother’s words. But on closer reflection, I realized how truly “absent from the Lord” I was. Somehow I was reminded that cars and motor-cycles have nothing to do with the Kingdom to which we have been called, for it is a spiritual Kingdom!
Indeed, when we reflect on the lives of the early disciples of Jesus Christ we find they were men and women who despised their own lives and the material trappings of this earthly life (Heb. 10:32-39). The apostles themselves lived lives that were materially far below even those of the common pauper (1 Cor. 4:9). And yet with all the wealth that was daily being laid at their feet, the early apostles could have lived like kings! (Acts 4:34-37) Which points to perhaps the most surprising fact about these early believers – that this was a choice on their part. It was not forced upon them by anyone. But these Godly men and women knew they were engaged in a war with their flesh and they therefore deliberately chose to cut themselves from this worldly life. They purposed to take up their cross and crucify the flesh in every possible way.
It was not that this scorning of the material life was in itself sufficient to make them spiritual, but they knew it was a necessary part of the road that they were called upon to take.
We reflect on men like the Apostle Paul, who one time commanded his team to go ahead by ship while he himself purposed to walk the long distance by foot (Acts 20:13).
Much more, of course, could be spoken of our Lord Jesus Christ who preached to the crowds from a borrowed fishing boat, and without even the aid of a public address system. And yet this Man, being the Son of God, could have stunned His peers as He flew from one ministry point to another in a post-modern superjet.
Moreover, nearly all Jesus’s journeys were made on foot. Can you imagine that! This was a Man who could walk on water; but on account of crucifying the flesh, Jesus planted His feet firmly on the ground and walked the Judean roads. At one point as He was passing through Samaria, Jesus was so exhausted from fasting and the long walk that He sat by a well to relax and ask for a drink of water. It was there that He met the Samaritan woman, and a beautiful story unfolded.
Space would not suffice to write about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; of Joseph, of Ruth, of Esther, of David, Daniel and the many other Godly men and women who in so many different ways were willing to lose this world that they might gain God’s riches in the Spirit. We see clearly that our spiritual fathers utterly despised the things of this world and this earthly life. They were seeking after a spiritual heritage. They were seeking to be “present with the Lord”.
Unfortunately, it is not so today. Clearly, we in this generation are certainly more “at home in the body” – and “absent from the Lord”. We are a “rights” people. We have so many rights! And we love the soft, comfortable fleshly life.
But this only takes us far from the Lord. Our only recourse to being “present with the Lord” is to crucify our flesh.
[Below: From the surrounding hills, one gets a beautiful view of Lake Victoria and Musoma Town down below]
As the new year dawns upon us, one thing and one thing alone, keeps ringing in my heart: that the church needs to grow in grace. If it were a matter of new year “resolutions”, then I would say, Let this year be a year of more grace for the church.
The church does not need more money, the church does not need more buildings nor (please!) does it need more private jets. What the church needs is more grace.
You could even go to the third heaven as the Apostle Paul did, and come back to earth; but if you do not have grace in your life, you are nothing. I mean you are nothing as far as God is concerned, of course. It is an undeniable fact that if you went to the third heaven and came back to earth you could become many things. You could become famous. You could start your own church or you could even write a book and become a star. But if you do not have grace in your heart, you are nothing. You are of no value to the church, and you are nothing in God’s sight.
One time a great preacher came to our church in Musoma and there was much to-do all over the place as the church bent itself over the edge to minister to this great man of God. Then one day the man woke up and he found the hot water for his bath was not ready yet.
He was a black man and he became so livid that if he could have gotten blacker he would have! He spoke many grace-less things. And the hapless young men we had put at his disposal to minister to him ran about like chickens in an effort to placate this preacher’s wrath.
No, the church needs more grace. It does no even need “great men of God”. In fact Jesus said that if you want to become a “great man of God” you should serve the weaker! Who is sufficient for such things? It is only the man or woman who has put aside his human nature.
Today it is like people are reading the Bible upside down, like Gaston in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”. But we must read the Bible straight up.
Grace is the inheritance that God has given to the church. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty…” (Gal. 5:13). He does not say that we have been called “to liberty and…” No. He simply says we have been called to liberty, full stop. The word “liberty” there talks of grace. Grace to serve a God of grace. Grace is the church’s inheritance.
The church today is seeking after so many things. Doctrine after doctrine has been set up to seek after all the wrong things. But it is, as they say, “You are looking in the wrong place!”
There is only one thing we are to seek after: God’s grace for our lives. Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mat. 5:33).
Let us desire to make 2015 a year of grace for the church. Then the world will see and they will admire our lives. Jesus said that it is by walking in love that we would reveal Him to the world: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn. 13:35).
[Below: Today I leave you with one of the songs that have made my holiday season memorable, “Mary Did You Know”]