Archive for the ‘Angels’ Category

FAMILY

 

The beauty of complementary otherness within the Godhead shines forth in its ideal representation of family. I attempted to capture the essence of that beauty in my novel Buddy, where in Chapter 20 I repeated a blog that I had posted on my site friendofthefamily.wordpress.com entitled The Marriage of God with God. Excerpts are presented below.

“In previous postings I have raised the question of why God’s Trinitarian nature, a facet of Him that is accepted without question by mainstream Christianity, is so vaguely defined in Scripture. I also raised a companion question as to why, in the face of this apparently feeble portrayal of the Trinity, both Moses and Jesus declared with passion the oneness of God. I then presented the obvious answer, which was that the loving union of male and complementary female produces unity from multiplicity, a unity that continues with the fruit of the union. In this context and only in it, the description of the Trinity in Scripture isn’t feeble at all; it’s quite strong. Given that basic understanding, the wonderful truth about the Holy Trinity is expressed openly throughout Scripture beginning in Genesis 2:23 and 24:

“’And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.

“’Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.’”

“To the above I add the following:

“God Himself through Scripture has provided man with certain specific images of His nature by which He apparently wishes us to understand and appreciate Him. First among these is His ability to give and to receive love. Fundamental to the exercise of that ability is the family structure, within which we have the ability to intuitively understand a corresponding relationship among the Members of the Godhead itself as well as of the relationship between God and mankind. The family is the singular means within our comprehension by which separate individuals may become component elements of a greater whole, a oneness in love that both transcends the individual person and extends his own significance.

“As the communication and functional harmony within the family approach the highest ideal of which humans are capable, in the setting of selfless love at an equally ideal level, the individuality of its component members blurs. All become subordinate to but vital elements of the greater entity called family, which itself takes on a life of its own. If the love, communication and harmony within this entity are perfect, an impossibility with mankind but perhaps a defining quality for God, one would expect a spiritual unity and mutual identification so complete that the component members could no longer rightly be thought of as separate individuals. The divine Family, in which the various Members would identify perfectly with each other as if the individual boundaries did not exist, would have its own unique identity and life.

“God, in this context, is truly one God.”

Given the family nature of the Godhead, the commandment to love this God fervently becomes natural and effortless. Indeed, as I had commented in Part 2, Chapter 2 of Family of God, within our own families we see positive attributes of our own that arise from the family relationship.

“Under the extraordinary circumstances of disaster or war, a man might bond with his companions through the sharing of hardships and fear. In some cases, this bond may become so close that he will lay down his life for them. But the individual character and the conditions that might bring this about are so unique that medals are granted for altruism of this order. More typically, man is, at best, indifferent to the welfare of his neighbors and acquaintances. At his worst, he regularly places those with whom he is in contact at a disadvantage for his own profit, caring little about his victims’ consequent loss and discomfort. He lies, cheats, covets, and steals, doing these things with impunity under a pragmatic and often twisted legal system. He may do them with little sense of wrongdoing. Hidden behind the mask of a false face or the tinted glass of his automobile, he often indulges in nasty, mean-spirited thoughts: he hates; he is quick to take offense and visualize a bad end for the offender. In this manner he might, in his mind, break most of God’s commandments without hesitation during a simple drive from home to work.

“But there is a unique relationship in which that same individual will often behave in an altogether more altruistic manner. That relationship is with his family, his spouse and children. Historically, most people on earth have willingly belonged to this unit, exercising their responsibilities to it and taking pleasure and comfort from it. The individual intuitively understands and accepts the principle that while every member of the family unit deeply and permanently belongs to him, he also belongs to them in the same way. He accepts as natural the principle of sharing: of shared responsibilities, shared activities and recreation, shared possessions and, most importantly, shared intimacy. Within the impositions and limitations of the larger society to which he belongs, the individual will also usually accept as natural and beneficial that particular division of function and labor which will result in the most secure and orderly maintenance of the family unit. Beyond that, he will often behave as nobly as the heroic soldier in the protection of his family members from harm.”

In thinking of our Judeo-Christian God as a Divine Family as Scripture suggests, I gladly and without reservation worship Him with the fervor of the Great Commandment.

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THE FIRST LIGHT OF CREATION

 

In Revelation 3, the risen Jesus delivers to John an admonishment regarding the seventh Church of His concern, the Church of Laodicea. In His description of that Church, He bypasses His usual format by omitting any mention of commendation. Of the seven Churches over which Jesus prophesied, only Sardis and Laodicea received that implicit chastisement. The Church of Laodicea, in fact is often cited by scholars of the Bible as representative of the fallen state of the Church at the time of the end of the age.

Focused on the characteristics of the Laodicean Church, scholars typically overlook the nature of the label that Jesus applied to Himself in verse 14, which is odd because that statement contradicts the traditional doctrine of the mainstream Christian Church in a very important area.

“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.”

According to the Athanasian Creed and implicit in the others, including the Nicean Creed, Jesus had no beginning in time. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were supposedly co-existent throughout eternity, none having been created. While in one sense that may be true, if one considers the pre-existence of one to include presence within another Being, that is not the usual interpretation of the creed as understood by the mainstream Churches, both Catholic and Protestant: Jesus and the Holy Spirit existed forever as separate Entities alongside the Father.

Yet there in Revelation 3:14 Jesus directly claims the opposite. If one must choose between a creed, which itself is extra-Scriptural, and Jesus, the very embodiment of truth, the obvious choice is Jesus.

The understanding that Jesus was created carries with it some very important collateral implications. In opposition to the mainstream Church’s insistence upon God being genderless, which itself implies that procreation is a non-existent feature of the heavenly realm, this contradictory understanding implicit in Revelation 3:14 solidifies the notion of the Holy Spirit’s femininity, which, in turn, supports the characterization of the Holy Trinity as the embodiment of Family, complete with the function of procreation. The procreated Entity, in that context, is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father and of the Holy Spirit.

This identification clarifies a functional issue: do the members of the Holy Trinity have the same or different functions, and if they are different, what are they? In the family context, with procreation on the table, the functions are indeed different, much as in an earthly family. Scripture itself identifies the Holy Father as embodying the divine Will. Scripture in John 6:38-40 exemplifies this association:

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the Father’s will who hath sent me, that of all that he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him who sent me, that everyone who seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

As divine spouse of the Father within the divine Family, the Holy Spirit must not only be feminine but must embody a function that represents the perfect complement in the procreative sense. That would necessarily define the functional attribute of the Holy Spirit as one which would enable the implementation of the Father’s will. A word for this enabling function would be “means”. Thus the divine will, in union with the divine means, creates the Holy Son, the divine actuality Jesus Christ. It is Jesus, the divine implementation resulting from the union of will and means, who came into the created universe and represents the actuality of creation. John’s Prologue, verses one through eighteen of John 1, says nothing less:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shone in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men though him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness to that Light.

That was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them who believe on his name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.

John bore witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, He that comes after me is preferred before me; for he was before me. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.”

In addition to declaring Him to be the actuality of creation, John’s Prologue equates Jesus to both the Word and the Light. Given the nature of Jesus in this passage that is so fundamental to creation itself, is there a context within the creation epic of Genesis in which Jesus is both the Word and the Light? The account in Genesis 1:14-19 that the sun and moon were created on the fourth day of creation places these bodies as having been created later than other events; while it doesn’t implicate Jesus as the Word and the Light, an earlier passage does, that of Genesis 1:3-5, and it is the first act of creation, following references to God and the Spirit working together:

“And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”

In this passage God speaks. His first Word is the will for Light. We can assume from this that the Holy Spirit responded with the birth of the Light, the implementation of the Word of God – Jesus Christ, who acknowledged His birth in Revelation 3:14.

Is the Holy Spirit associated with birth elsewhere in Scripture? Yes, and directly indeed, from John 3:3-8 and Colossians 1:15:

“Jesus answered, and said unto [Nicodemus], Truly, truly, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time unto his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but can not tell from where it comes, and where it goes; so is every one who is born of the Spirit.”

“[Jesus], who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;”

Given the obvious nature of birth as a feminine function, Jesus and Paul here directly identify the Holy Spirit as feminine. Proverbs 8:22-31 is a more detailed and beautifully intimate narrative, delivered from the perspective of a feminine source, of the Holy Spirit’s function as complementary to the Father’s:

“The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth – when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, was I brought forth; while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there; when he set a compass upon the face of the depth; when he established the clouds above; when he strengthened the fountains of the deep; when he gave to the sea its decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the foundations of the earth.

“Then I was by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delight was with the sons of men.”

OTHERNESS

 

The various Christian creeds have a number of things in common, one of which is that while for the most part they conform well to the essence of Scripture, they are in fact extra-Scriptural. They make some statements that don’t quite match up with Bible teachings. In one major issue, in fact, they oppose the clear teaching of Scripture. This issue is time, or sequence.

In this issue of time, the Nicene Creed and others like it claim that Father, Son and Holy Spirit coexisted from eternity past. The implication is that they coexisted forever, or to state it in a firmer way, there was never an occasion where they didn’t exist apart from each other. But that implication runs against the grain of Genesis in general and Revelation 3:14 specifically, in which Jesus asserts that He is the beginning of creation. This assertion of Jesus is a claim that harmonizes with Genesis 1 and John’s Prologue, in which Jesus is the first light of the spoken Word.

Paul, speaking of Jesus in Colossians 1:15, echoes that assertion:

“Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;”

This issue is anything but trivial. As co-existing Entities, and either genderless or weakly-gendered as well, each Member of the Godhead in the eyes of the creeds is self-sufficient with regard to attributes, powers and commitment to the others, and fully God in a manner identical with the others. This perceived self-sufficiency creates a situation that profoundly opposes the intrinsic nature of God.

Scripture often speaks out against the sin of pride. Proverbs, for example, has much to say against pride, as exemplified in Proverbs 8:13, 11:2, 13:10, 14:3 and 16:18:

“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride, and arrogance, and the evil way, and the perverse mouth, do I hate.”

“When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the lowly is wisdom.”

“Only by pride comes contention, but with the well-advised is wisdom.”

“In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride, but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.”

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Despite the numerous instances in Scripture where God speaks out against the sin of pride, an eternally coexistent, individually self-sufficient Godhead renders it difficult for the Christian to understand and appreciate the unity in love implicit in Jesus’ Great Commandment, Mark 12:28-30, which echoed God’s Word through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5:

“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and all your strength: this is the first commandment.”

In attempting to maximize the majestic attributes of God, the founders of the creeds minimized the attributes of God of most importance, their selflessness and humble nature. Earlier, in Mark 7:6-9, Jesus spoke out against teaching doctrines of men in the place of Scripture:

“[Jesus] answered and said to [the Pharisees], Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. However, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups; and many other such things you do. And he said to them, Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.”

Apparently not much was changed from the time of the Pharisees to the time that Christianity became legal and began taking over the affairs of men.

The problem of eternally co-existent, self-sufficient Members of the Godhead is that such an arrangement would support the narcissim of each Member. Moreover, that situation would tend to convey to Christians that same self-centered characteristic within the Godhead.

For that reason, otherness within the Godhead is an absolutely necessary feature. How much more representative of the tenor of Scripture to impute complementary otherness between Father and Holy Spirit, where they are strongly bound together by love, a love that bears fruit in Jesus Christ, their only-begotten Son!

COURAGE

 

To fear the Lord is to understand His reality, and the greatness of His Being. That fear however, is tempered with a companion knowledge of His goodness, permitting that fear to banish from the mind the fear of anything else. According to Proverbs 1:7, it fosters wisdom.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Fear of the Lord supports courage. God treasures that quality of character, as exemplified in Joshua 1:5-9, where God speaks to Joshua as he replaces Moses as leader of the Israelites in their journey into the land promised to Abraham by God.

“There shall not any man be able to stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you, nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage; for unto this people shall you divide for an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be you strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law, which Moses, my servant, commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Have not I commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be you dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim was given that position of leadership upon the passing of Moses because, through his faith in God, he stood with only Caleb of Judah in support of their entry into the Promised Land out of the twelve tribal representatives who went into the land to spy it out. When they returned from their venture, only Joshua and Caleb had the courage to recommend that they go into it and conquer it.

Two years into their wilderness wanderings, the Israelites stopped over at Kadesh-Barnea while the twelve tribal representatives went into the land of Canaan to spy out the produce and the people who inhabited it. They returned with news that the land was lush and productive, but the people there were giants. While Joshua and Caleb stood firm in their trust in God, the other ten were afraid and, weeping in abject terror, convinced the nation to hold back from entering the land. God did just that – He kept them in the wilderness for another thirty eight years, waiting for a full forty years from the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, until the last of that generation died out save Joshua and Caleb. For his valor God awarded Caleb Hebron, the final resting place of the Patriarchs and their primary wives, and the location of David’s first throne. For the valor of Joshua, God awarded him leadership over Israel upon the death of Moses.

The journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan was a real event; it also was a type of every Christian’s personal journey from sin to salvation and fellowship with God. Our individual journeys involve our development of character from the secular traits of self-service, avoidance of trouble, greed and indifference toward others to the more noble qualities set before Christians. This process of growth demands the heavy involvement of the Holy Spirit, but also asks of the individual personal courage and eventually results in the Christian’s own possession of valor.

Jesus Himself set the standard for courage. Knowing that He was God and understanding with excruciating clarity what lay ahead, yet for our sakes He submitted Himself to disgrace and great suffering. In the Garden of Gethsemane, according to Matthew 26:36-39, He revealed His knowledge of the horror to come upon Him.

“Then came Jesus with [His disciples] to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, Sit here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very depressed. Then he said to them, My Soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death; stay here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Faith and courage are very close in nature, but there is a subtle difference. Faith involves a willingness to believe, even in times of stress when it might be thought of as beneficial to give up that belief. Courage involves faith to the extent of casting out fear, but also requires the ability to do something unpleasant, of which the flesh protests.

Persecuted Christians everywhere must exercise courage to stand fast in their faith.

FAITH

 

Faith is the ability to understand that the God of Judeo-Christian Scripture truly exists, to want that God to exist, to the point that enough Scripture is read and digested to understand intuitively that God does, indeed, exist. Faith also accepts as real and welcome the work of the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers. Moreover, faith involves the ability to appreciate that a better world exists, the spiritual one in which God plays such a vital and loving part. Faith includes the ability to value valor over wealth. Faith is explained in a noble manner in that great Hall of Faith chapter, Hebrews 11:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders received witness. 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.

“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaks. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.

“By faith Noah . . .By faith Abraham . . .By faith Isaac . . . By faith Jacob . . . By faith Joseph . . . By faith Moses . . .

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets. Who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again, and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“And these all, having received witness through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Abel’s offering to God was more excellent than Cain’s because of his more noble understanding of what would be pleasing to God, which came from his greater faith. Even back then, Abel understood that God Himself would have to die sacrificially in the place of fallen and helpless mankind to bring him back into fellowship with God. He knew that and sacrificed an animal, one of God’s creations, in honor of that future event, long before Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac and Moses instituted the Passover in commemoration of that same great sacrifice that Jesus made.

Cain failed to understand that same helplessness of man; he thought that he could please God through the fruit of his own labors. There are sects that attempt to do that today: storm the gates of heaven through their own efforts.

Enoch pleased God through his faith. His translation from Earth into Heaven without death was equivalent to what we look forward to today: the rapture of the Church, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

“Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus God will bring with him. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”

Jesus Himself stressed the importance of faith, often attributing the faith of those whom He healed to their restoration. In Luke 18:42, Jesus heals a man, and then tells him that he was saved through his faith:

“And Jesus said to him, Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”

IN THE BEGINNING

 

Near the very beginning of Scripture, in Genesis 1:26 and 27, God asserts that man was created in His image:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Commentaries on this passage commonly interpret the likeness of man to God to involve qualities of character. That they do not include gender and gender-based love in their descriptions, despite the obvious intent of Scripture to include this feature, is a deliberate and unjustified attempt to equate purity with chastity, as I’ve noted elsewhere. They simply don’t address the most important underlying issue, which is that man’s character at his creation reflects the character of God.

The Reformation Study Bible, for example, describes the similarities between God and man at his creation as possessing intelligence and creativity, the ability to communicate and relate to others, and moral uprightness. Regarding man’s morality, the commentary does not go into details, other than to acknowledge that this faculty was diminished in man’s fall from grace. Other commentaries are similarly vague.

The details are important. The regenerate man, he who has been born again upon his acceptance of the selfless act of Jesus Christ on the cross, and has received the indwelling Holy Spirit as Jesus promised to His followers, is capable of much more than the moral uprightness commonly thought of as being peaceful, avoiding “sinful” behavior, and not indulging in troublemaking. The more important qualities of his regenerated character as aided by the Holy Spirit include faith, courage, selflessness and compassion for others.

These four qualities sometimes occur together in events so profound as to define the person. When they do, they display nobility of the high order associated in wartime with recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The reading of the recipient’s deeds that led to the receipt of that medal often causes weeping in the audience due to the extraordinary greatness of the heroic action that is being cited.

That is the greatness of God’s character, and the character in His image with which He endowed us at creation.

Psalm 22 describes the agony of crucifixion; Isaiah 53 describes the humility and suffering imposed on Jesus for our sins; and the Gospels affirm these forecasts.

The Gospels and the various letters of the New Testament place the same expectations on the followers of Jesus. In John 14:12, Jesus claims that some will do even greater works than Him:

“Verily, verily, I say to you, He who believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father.”

Jesus was able to make that assertion because after His resurrection and the subsequent Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given by the Father in great measure to Jesus’ followers in the Upper Room of Acts 2. The Acts of the Apostles bears witness of the amazing healings, resurrections and transmission of the Gospel message performed by Peter, Paul and others. That they managed to do so under severe persecution is even more remarkable.

Or is it? Are the acts of the Apostles remarkable despite the persecution they were forced to endure, or are they remarkable because of that persecution? There has been talk in some Churches that many of those first gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer apply, for one very flimsy reason or another, the excuse most often put forward being that the gifts ceased at the final canonization of Scripture, and the establishment of Churches throughout the known world, rendering that Power from God no longer necessary. This point of view is called cessationism, for the cessation of the gifts. It is most prominent in those Churches having no outreach and whose attendance has been limited to Sunday services of a ritualistic flavor. Here there is no challenge requiring faith or courage, nor any exercise of selflessness or compassion. Here there is no manifestation of the Holy Spirit, not because the gifts have ceased, but because the Church has abandoned its fervent love of God.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are as necessary today as they were in that Upper Room. Societies that have suppressed Christianity for decades and even centuries are re-awakening to Jesus’ message. Their need to hear the Word of God is just as urgent as those societies of the First Century that had never heard the Gospel. In Africa and China, for example, the underground Church is spreading like wildfire, and multitudes of these repressed people are being harshly persecuted. But the Holy Spirit is working signs and wonders there, just as in the Book of Acts, and Churches continue to grow.

And the multitudes who are coming to God in the midst of their persecutions are growing in faith, courage, selflessness and compassion. They are well-pleasing to God and worthy of their future spiritual marriage to Jesus Christ.

We in societies in which Christians are comfortable may not be as fortunate as we think. Perhaps we should ask, even plead, for the Power of the Holy Spirit, even if it means our physical discomfort and danger. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:24,

“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.”

If Jesus had to suffer for our sakes and was hated by the world, how should we expect not to encounter those same conditions? Perhaps, over the centuries, many sincere Christians were able to live out their lives in comfort and security. Perhaps they were fortunate, or perhaps not. But I know that personally, I’d like to have some things in common with Jesus. Provided, of course, that I am able to maintain my faith.

GOD’S MERCY TOWARD PETER

 

I’m grateful to God for Jesus’ having selected Peter to be a disciple. I can’t speak for anyone else, but before the Holy Spirit got hold of him, Peter was a lot like me – willful, impetuous and slow on the uptake. With some spectacular exceptions, he never quite seemed to get the point of what Jesus was saying. Worse, he denied Jesus to save his own neck. Not just once, but three times. It’s there in the Gospels in all the sordid details. In Matthew 26:33-35, for example, Peter, as usual, thinks that he’s good enough to follow Jesus on his own merit. He can do it all himself without help from God. Jesus rebukes him for that, saying that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. Sure enough, as Jesus was being abused by the religious “authorities”, Peter denied any association with Him three times. At the sound of the rooster, Peter realized what he had done and was devastated by his own lack of faith.

The lesson, of course, is that without God we can’t do anything, even come to Him. Peter’s failure of faith was made all the worse by Jesus statement in Matthew 10:33,

“But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father, who is in heaven.”

After that Jesus was crucified and died, leaving Peter to fret, and continue to do so as he thought, for the rest of his life over what he had done. But Jesus didn’t leave Peter in that state. Instead, the resurrected Jesus came back to Peter, as recorded in John 21. Three times He asked Peter if he loved Him, each time following Peter’s affirmation of love with the command to feed His sheep. In those three exchanges, Jesus forgave Peter three times for his denials, thus canceling out the terrible consequences of what Peter had done. But it didn’t end there.

Beyond the forgiveness, Jesus also was sharing with Peter something of immense importance. He was including Peter in His own acts of speaking His Word to mankind, in that act increasing the Church. The first account of Peter’s fulfillment of Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, after he has been filled with the Holy Spirit, is given in Acts 2:22-41. In that account, Peter’s bold exhortation resulted in the salvation of three thousand souls. It may be seen in that first fulfillment of Jesus’ command that when Jesus talked about feeding His sheep, He wasn’t talking about material food. Instead, the food of importance was the spiritual one, speaking the words of the Gospel to the salvation of souls. Having followed the prophet Jonah in ducking away from God, Peter was now following that same prophet in voicing God’s displeasure with sin and exhorting the people to righteousness.

In the second instance of fulfilling Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, Peter again spoke before a crowded audience, this time bringing five thousand souls to salvation through the Word of God.

In the third instance, Peter became involved in dialogue with the Italian Cornelius. This act, of course, involved the mighty, loving Arm of God, the Holy Spirit, who had to overcome Peter’s Jewish attitude of repulsion by Gentiles to accomplish that task.

In fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to feed His sheep, the first time Peter speaks the Word of God to the salvation of three thousand souls. The second time Peter feeds Jesus’ sheep with the Word of God, five thousand souls are saved. Until this time, the Church was pretty much limited to Jews. (Even the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized by Philip was probably a Jew, Ethiopia having enjoyed a long Jewish history extending back to Solomon and the queen of Sheba.) Now comes the third time that Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, obeys Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, as described in Acts 10, and this time, after healing another lame man and raising Tabitha back to life in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter through the Word of God extends the Church, and salvation with her, to the entire Gentile world.

The immediate importance of this fulfillment by Peter of Jesus’ threefold commandments to feed His sheep, beside its obvious demonstration of God’s merciful love, is the support it gives to the assertion that God not only welcomes but desires the active participation of Peter, and consequently of mankind itself, in the sharing of His grand plan of salvation. Man is thus a participant, albeit with the necessary input of the Holy Spirit in the process, of his own salvation. Can anything demonstrate more fully than this the loving intimacy of sharing with which God relates to mankind?