Tag Archives: Disciples

Breath of Life

Studies in Genesis 2

Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7 ESV)

God filled Man’s nostrils with a puff of His breath and the dry clay and dust He formed into the shape of a Man came alive. That which was not alive, lived.

Ezekiel had a vision of a valley of dry bones. It was not uncommon for a victorious army to take their captives to the top of a cliff and throw them off. Exposed to the weather and the carrion it would not take long for the flesh to be stripped off the bones and the sun to bake them dry. God showed Ezekiel a pile of that which had lived but was now dead.

God’s question suggests a “yes or no” answer. “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” But that is not the answer Ezekiel gives. “And I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, you know’” (Ezekiel 37:3 ESV). Ezekiel cannot bring these who have died back to life. No one created by God can bring back to life that which has died. Does he think God cannot? Though we carry the image of God we are not God. Only God can give life.

Then God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones. A prophet tells the truth, whether about what is before them or about the future. Only God can give the truth about the future. When God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy He was telling him to tell the truth about what will happen to these dead, dry bones.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:4-6 ESV)

 God assembled the bones into people and covered them with muscle and flesh. But they were not alive. They were still dead.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” (Ezekiel 37:9 ESV)

“Breathe on these slain, that they may live.” “Breathe” is the same word used in Genesis 2:7. “Live” is closely related to the word “living” used in Genesis 2:7.

God told Ezekiel to tell the truth about what God was going to do and then did. Only God gives life. Yet, God uses people to deliver His truth and act upon His will.

Jesus, when He sent out the twelve, instructed them to tell the truth about the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He told them to announce “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7 ESV). He then gave them authority to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8 ESV). His disciples raised the dead. Those who died and could not live were given the breath of life and lived.

God tells us the truth throughout Scripture. He took a handful of dust and breathed on it and Man lived. Adam, the first Man, knew God. He told Ezekiel to tell the truth and those who were slain were given life. When they were raised they knew God. “And you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:6 ESV).  Jesus gave His disciples authority to tell the truth and raise the dead. Jesus told the truth about His death and His resurrection. All of the circumstantial evidence, from the beginning of the history of Man to now, tells us the truth of His resurrection and validates every word God has said. Jesus’ disciples know God and are His witnesses of truth to the world.

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Even to Death

Peter, the boldest, most opinionated, outspoken of the disciples, was one of the “inner three.” He walked on water and witnessed Christ’s metamorphosis on the Mount of Transfiguration. He bore Christ’s rebukes after each of his arrogant, unthinking statements. At the end of his life He died for Christ.

On the night before Passover, the passion of Christ, Jesus continues preparing His disciples for His death. He tells them what will happen, what they are to do and to wait for. Peter hears only some of His words and allows his arrogance to rise. He declares he is ready to stand with Christ through anything and everything, even facing death.

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”

Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” [Matthew 26:31-34 ESV]

Jesus rebuked Peter often. I have often wondered how Peter felt after each rebuke, every time Jesus challenged his intent, the thinking of his heart. I can only imagine hurt and since Peter is like most men, his pain turned into stubbornness, a form of anger. Did he say to himself “I will not fall away!” dejectedly and dutifully following his Master into a garden like he had done so many times before. This night would be different. This night they would have unwelcomed company. This night would begin a day of terror and suffering for Jesus.

Mark adds to the story.

But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. [Mark 14:31 ESV]

It is not until we read Luke’s account we discover a hidden element to Peter’s heartfelt declaration.

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. [Luke 22:31-32 ESV]

Like Job, and how many other unknown followers of God, Satan squeaked into God’s presence, tolerated by a Holy and Just and Good and True God, and threw down a challenge. Satan cannot be everywhere since he is not God. He can direct those who are his, who speak and act in his name, to tempt and lie to those whose sin will grieve God deeply. God is not afraid of grief and agony and suffering. He decided from eternity past to embrace the agony of the cross as a sacrifice of love for those with whom He will have an intimate relationship. God uses Satan to test the obedience of those He loves so they will fail and relinquish control to Him and live. Yes, He expects us to fail. Only in our failure will we accomplish His will His way. He must be the One who works in us. It is the suffering of our failures which brings us the joy of God presence.

Peter belongs to God.  Satan cannot have him.

John shows us what Peter’s devotion will cost him. Peter, like his fellows, will face unmerciful emotional suffering which will last until they see with their eyes the resurrected Jesus. Christ’s suffering is finished and ours is begun. Do not think for a moment our suffering is not experienced by God. We are hidden in Him, identified with His Son and filled with His Spirit.

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”

Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” [John 13:36-38 ESV]

Jesus knows intimately the heart of His disciple. Peter truly wants to be with his Master. Jesus truly wants Peter with Him.  For this to happen, and it will happen, both must suffer the agony of the cross, one on the cross and one watching. Jesus must endure its physical trauma. Peter must endure its spiritual consequences. He must mourn deeply over the entire consequences of his sin bourn by his Master in his stead.

Do I want to be with God, where He is, to please Him, to love Him? This is hard. My gift will only please Him after I suffer with His Son. This is not something I am willing to face. But, God loves me and will bring me through what He has determined for me. I will never for eternity be out of His presence. Even when enduring the deepest, harshest suffering.

Teaching Children

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! [Matthew 18:1-7 ESV]

We are all teachers, by what we do, say, think and feel. Everything we do teaches others about what we think and feel regarding God and His Son. Nothing is hidden from God. Though we are the finest actor who has ever lived, able to fool crowds, even to the point of convincing ourselves we are what we are not, God knows who we truly are.

We want to control God, our world, our relationships our own lives. Anyone who thinks they do not want control is either lying to themselves and others, a self-righteous dishonesty, or deluded. Not only do we want to control God, or at least wrench control from Him, but we want those around us to think well of us, respect us, or fear us.

One of the hazards of teaching is allowing others to put us on a pedestal. Every teachers faces this hazard sometimes succumbing to its subtle influences, which tugs and pulls them into thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. This is a form of control. Remember, everyone is a teacher even if they do not think they are. We teach more by actions and motivations than words.

In Matthew 5:19 Jesus states flatly, without pretense, everyone who teaches about God’s will is either thought of by God as great in the kingdom or is placed as the least in the kingdom. His criteria for judgment is profound.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. i [Matthew 5:19 ESV]

“Relaxes” means to loose, melt, or put off. Those who live according to the will of God, to whom they belong, teach others by example how to live with and for Him. Jesus’ words almost imply there are levels in heaven where some can earn greater prestige in this life. We know nothing we do carries merit in God’s eyes. We cannot earn our citizenship or place in eternity. This does not mean God will not lift up those who live righteously. He is preparing us for eternity. This does mean our obedience to Him is important for the here and now and for eternity. We are commanded to live according to truth given to us in nature, the evidence of God’s work, through His Word, Jesus Christ, and through the teaching and direction of the Holy Spirit. We are not partners with Him but obedient servants of His, seen as adopted children.

In order to teach truth the person must be filled with truth, understand how truth works and how it affects every facet of life. Learning to recognize truth is more important than recognizing sin, or a lie or ungodliness. This means learning to test all things against truth, even the motivations and attitudes of the heart.

We cannot judge greatness in the kingdom by the standards of the world. Being great in the kingdom of heaven means sacrificing the world’s standards and living according to God’s, even when it brings persecution.

Jesus’ disciples wanted to know who was the greatest in the kingdom, obviously wondering which one of them would fill the spot. How arrogant. They were standing in the presence of God, the King of the kingdom, and they had the audacity to ask such a question. But, Jesus did not come to exalt Himself but to take upon Himself the sentence of death for all. He placed a child in front of them and told them who the greatest was. All who enter the kingdom are the greatest.

Then He warned them. Since all you do, all you think, all you feel, all which motivates you, is taught to all around you, especially children, who by their very innocence (though they are the greatest of sinners) love God, be mindful and aware of how you are living. They will copy you. You will be held accountable. You’re best practice is to know God, not just intellectually but intimately, with your whole person. We are not citizens of the kingdom of the world but of heaven. As His servants we do and by doing teach others to do His will.

Confirming Evidence

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  [Matthew 5:19-20 ESV]

With these two verses Jesus closes a circle begun with His first statement “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:3 ESV]. Within the circle are all of the characteristics God is building into the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Outside of the circle is eternity. Like God, who transcends space and time, each Christian, as they grow and spiritually mature, will transcend the circle. This does not mean the qualities God is building into those who are His will no longer be necessary, as if anyone can grow out of being poor in spirit or no longer hunger and thirst for righteousness. Once emplaced these characteristics do not change. They do form the eternal foundation, laid in space and time, for the whole person who lives for eternity.

Everyone is a teacher. Everything done reveals what has been taught, what has been learned, and teaches in some way lessons to all with whom we come in contact. Our training is evident, the evidence of our training scattered with every step, gesture, word and thought. From the earliest training given by those who raise us to the right now impacts us for eternity. Our thinking and decisions, what we are right now allowing or giving permission to enter our life, influences who we are and what we will become. God may define who we and direct our development  but we still have  responsibility for our actions and reactions.

You teach others what you believe whether you are aware or care. Those who are poor in spirit have recognized the reality of sin in their lives, the world and those around them. They love the truth and hate sin. They confront sin and the lie behind it as part of their spiritual nature.

Being poor in spirit, with its characteristic and motivations, is only the beginning, the first step, in the call and life of the citizen of God’s kingdom. Each step which follows, each of the characteristics and motivations Jesus describes, He builds into the person making them whole and fitting them for eternity with Him. Though He does this with the individual we are part of a whole, a member of the body of Christ, where one piece influences and affects all others. We do not live independently from Christ or separated from the Church.

We are also His witnesses in this world for His righteousness and goodness. Who we are, what motivates us, all we do, all we are is critical to our witness. As servants, owned by Him, He governs us and gives each a purpose, being salt and light, showing His love, His mercy, purity and peace. What you do reflects who you are and dictates what you will become. How well we learn the lessons taught, conforming to the straightness of His will for us, is seen in the influence we have on those around us.  God is deepening our relationship with Him and strengthening our relationship with others at the same time. Being a citizen of His kingdom is not for the lazy but the diligent. There are no shortcuts.

Midway through His time, as Jesus prepared His disciples before sending them out, His instructions were explicit and definitive. Here are the people you are to teach. Go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” [Matthew 10:6 EV]. Later, He would send them throughout the world.

Should those of the world accept you, good. Should they reject you “shake the dust from your feet” [Matthew 10:14 ESV] as you leave. People will reject you, persecute and drag you into court, and kill you. Your message is clear. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Matthew 10:7 ESV and many other places]. You are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Act like citizens of the kingdom of heaven not like citizens of the fallen world. Why? “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” [Matthew 10:24-25 ESV].

Preparation for eternity is preparation to be like Him for eternity. What we do right now counts.

God Defines Us

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. [Matthew 5:17-18 ESV]

We are not defined by our environment. People will try to control our thinking and our emotions. Yet, our families do not define who we are any more than those with whom we associate. All of these people and circumstances may influence our character and mold our personality but they do not define who we are. God defines who we are. He is the One who places value. He is the One who created us in His image for relationship with Him. Sin corrupts but does not redefine.

At the final meal Jesus ate with His disciples before His passion He clearly told them what was going to happen. He would suffer. One of His disciples would betray Him to the religious authorities. Peter would deny Him three times though he adamantly declared beforehand he would never deny Him, that he would go to prison or death with Jesus. He tells them to gather their belongings, their money and things. He tells them to get a sword.

“But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” [Luke 22:36-37 ESV].

These words remind us of His statement in Matthew “until all is accomplished.” Before sunset the coming day His life would be taken from Him, the sacrifice for which the Passover lamb they were eating was as symbol.

From eternity God knew what would happen in the space-time universe He created. He knew and controlled the outcome of the entrance of sin and the consequences of rebellion upon those who are His. He knew sin would completely sever the relationship He wanted with those created in His image. He knew in order to heal this relationship all those who are His would have to die. He decided His Son, His Son decided, He would die in our place, taking upon Himself the sentence of sin for all. In exchange those who are His are covered by His shed blood which is His righteousness. This is not a debatable truth but reality firmly established by God from eternity without beginning to eternity without end.

Jesus, the morphe of God and the morphe of a servant, lived His human life as God intended all live. Though surrounded and assaulted by sin He did not succumb to its temptation. Though we sin we were not recreated for sin, to be controlled and enslaved by it. We were created, and recreated, as servants of God, free to devote ourselves to Him, in full relationship with Him. Our place and purpose in eternity will be exactly as God intends, nor more and no less. We can never have the morphe of God but we will be His servants, the perfect and complete citizen of the kingdom of heaven. We will be like His Son.

Here is a mystery. We are separate from Him yet intimately a part of Him. We live our lives now assaulted by, even enslaved by sin, but belong completely and wholly to Him who recreated us. We gain nothing from our obedience though we have gained everything from His obedience. We carry nothing with us from this world into eternity but what He gives which is already eternal. We do not define who we are. We are defined by Him. What God is making us is at war with our temporary, rebellious self. While in the world our old self is being killed and changed and formed and conformed and separated from the world. Our world is temporary. We are eternal.

Jesus accomplished in space-time that which God determined and finished in eternity.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV]

 

Broken Made Whole

No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light. [Luke 11:33-36 ESV]

God created the first humans, Adam and Eve, perfect, with the ability to grow and learn and create. They were created in His image, with the light of His being shining from them, not just through them. His light not just a reflection. They, themselves, were the source of illumination. Yet, the light was God’s light as much as it was their own. Their light was more than a mirror or a fire or a lamp. Imagine a mirror which does more than reflect, God’s a glass from which light comes as naturally as from the sun.  When you saw them you saw God but you still knew them as individuals.

Sin attacked and tried to extinguish the light by destroying them. Sin broke their mirror, the glass of which they are made, shattering them, splintering them and scattering them across the ground. Still, each shard continued to glow with the light of its essence for each shard contained the image of God, which cannot be destroyed. But the scattered pieces were useless and now dangerous. Each piece, sharp and deadly, could cause injury. A careless footfall and there was a cut or puncture, or they become a  weapon, using the sharp, ragged edges of the incomplete glass to cause serious injury or even death.

Children know intuitively how to sin and hurt each other. They have to be taught more sophisticated ways to sin. Small children also instinctively know God and have to be taught to believe lies about Him. God’s light shines brilliantly through the pieces of a child. Slowly, over time, each of the pieces will begin to lose their luminescence until finally they are darkened and even more lethal.

Such is the state of fallen man. Created to have a relationship with God and others, the broken person instead tries to destroy God by injuring and maiming others. There is in each enough of God’s light and image recognizable to be used against Him. God created the whole person, not pieces. It is the whole person who accurately shows God in their person. Pieces show broken and incomplete bits of God from the world’s perspective and the world, looking at God through the eyes of sin, cannot see God correctly, misinterpreting Him, making Him into something in their minds and hearts He is not.

God does not reassemble a broken mirror or glass. He recreates it. So God does not take the person shattered and deadly, marching onward to death, and patch them, or reassemble them. He sweeps them away and recreates them whole so their light, His light, will begin to shine, and grow in strength and intensity throughout life. He adds to the image the likeness of His Son, whose Body was wounded and murdered by the shards of all.

Once God recreates us He leaves us, His new lights in the world, to draw those in the world toward Him. But Jesus gives us a curious saying, suggesting light in one who says they are God’s and are not, can be darkness. It is the same point He made with salt losing its saltiness. God’s light is there but if there is no relationship then even His light in the person is slowly extinguished until there is only darkness. God recreates the person whole and grows the whole person, reigniting His light, their light, in them.

His intent is obvious from the words of Jesus. It is their light but their light points to God. He does not leave those who are His in the world so they may attract people to themselves but to Him. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 5:16 ESV]. Where the light attracts to self it soon becomes darkness, a shard of dead glass capable of destroying.

Are those around us attracted to God because of who we are?  Are we allowing God to form us into the image of His Son, or are we angry with Him because of our circumstances and refuse to submit? For those who are His He will not stop until He has finished His work. Perhaps we cannot see our own light and need to listen to those around to discover what God is doing in us. How tenuous and sure is our place before God in this world.

Distractions to Peace

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.[ Matthew 10:34-39 ESV]

Making ourselves or anything in the world, especially our stuff, more important than God is sin. Making another person more important than God is sin. Our actions will show the evidence of sin, pointing at our rebellion against God. We are willingly compelled by a combination of worldly distraction and the thinking of our hearts toward sin. We want to control the circumstances which bring and secure peace.

Rejecting God we sacrifice true peace to gain control over a false peace. We convince ourselves that which is sin is not sin in order to maintain emotional control. We are completely out of control but as long as we feel in control we are at momentary peace with ourselves. As soon as we perceive either real or imagined danger to our emotional peace we launch into the fight or flight mode, or we freeze. As long as we concentrate upon ourselves, and the fabricated right to ownership of stuff, we are in danger of losing peace. It is not the stuff, or the collection of stuff, which challenges our peace, but the attitude which says this stuff is ours by divine right.

Jesus trained His disciples to go and teach to Israel what the people needed to know. Initially, on the first trip out, they were to take nothing with them allowing the people to meet their needs. He gave them authority and instructed them how to discern who was worthy and who was not. Did their peace stay on a place or return to them? Expect persecution, for His message was designed to stimulate conviction of sin and demand repentance. People who heard and responded either relinquished control to God or fought against Him.

We are not designed to control without being under God’s authority. Adam was given dominion over the world as part of the image of God and with his place of authority.  He sinned, rebelling against God. In Adam we sin and rebel against God. When sin entered we did not lose the image of dominion but God’s authority to control. We replaced His authority with our own, manufacturing a right to own with no consideration of God’s ultimate right to ownership.

God gave us His image so we might have a relationship with Him whose eternal being as Three in One defines all relationships. True peace is found first and only in God.

It appears the dynamic is first peace with God then peace with others based upon peace with God and, finally internal peace founded and based upon peace with God and with others. Where our peace with God is threatened because of our insistence upon control God will wrench away that control. He will not allow anything in and of this world to compromise our relationship with Him. If you own something and have turned it into an idol He will break it. If a relationship is an idol, He will demand our eyes move from the other to Him no matter the temporal, worldly consequence.

Those who belong to God will not have peace in this world. This does not mean they will have no peace. It means their peace is eternal not temporal, fixed in the thinking of God’s heart. When we struggle with a lack of peace God shows the attachment to that which is other than God so we might detach from it and rest in Him. Our peace was bought for us by His Son, Jesus Christ. We must work with God to change the thinking of our hearts.