And behold, the Lord passed by, & a great & strong wind rent the mountains & brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: & after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the eathquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: & after the fire the thin sound of silence. 1 Kings19:11 & 12

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Gifts of the Bride.

The reading for this sermon was Genesis 24: 1~28.

There are certain themes that scripture comes back to over & over. Some things just can't be overlooked because God himself does not overlook them. The most important of these is our covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

I will say it again because it is imperative we understand covenant: a covenant is cut in blood; the terms & conditions of the covenant, once entered in to, are irrevocable, unchangeable, unalterable.

Again & again throughout scripture we read of God's covenant arrangements with His people.  It is there in the Old Testament & it is there in the New Testament. As Jesus pointed out: Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me...

We see this very clearly when we read the New Testament but remember, Jesus had no New Testament so the scriptures he was referring to are the Old Testament.  

OK, you might think.  One can see this in some of the prophets, perhaps some of the psalms of David & certain preincarnate manifestations... but I tell you all of scripture points to Christ! Certainly Jesus thought so!

So I was studying up  on this passage in Genesis & a very interesting passage it is because every time we read about a marriage, about a betrothal, about the maritial relationship, we are being shown something about the covenant relationship Christ has with His church because the Church is referred to in scripture as the Bride of Christ.

In this passage a dying Abraham sends his servant off to find a wife for his son Isaac.  He sets out certain terms & conditions because he already has a covenant with his God concerning the land of the Cannanites in which he dwells.  We also know that the one thing the Cannanites were really good at is Baal worship & so Abraham is specific that his son not marry a Cannanite woman.  She would bring her idolatory with her & contaminate the covenant line with its worship & the fertility rites & sexual impurity associated with it.

Instead he returns to Abraham's homeland to choose a bride.  Now watch carefully because the terms & conditions of this covenant are reflected back into the Church as the Bride of Christ.  The servant comes bearing gifts.  This is traditional amongst many cultures.  You want to sign a contract you come with gifts ~ usually lots & very expensive, to show how highly you regard & value what you want.

Abraham's servant comes with 10 camels.  Now a camel, just one, can drink about 4 galleons of water at a go ~ & there are 10 of them.  Do the math.  And he arrives at the outskirts of the city as the women are coming out to draw the evening water.  This is a man who does not really know God for himself.  He addresses God as the God of his master, Abraham.  Nor does he have the Holy Spirit within him to guide & assist him so he does what Gideon will also do many years later; he lays out a fleece.  If such & such then....

He sees Rebekah & the girl is a stunner!  The bible is very restrained but amongst the women the servant notices this one particular girl & notes she was *comely*.  But is she the one?  Is this the wife God has chosen for Isaac?  He asks the girl for a drink & she willingly draws water for him & revealing a servant's heart offers to also draw for the camels until each beast has drunk its fill!  Oh.  My.

Now pay attention.  This is important.  The servant has found & chosen the bride.  He has even entered into preliminary negotiations about accomodation & he brings out his gifts.  Trust me, at this point Rebekah knew what was going on.  She knows she is being offered a marriage proposal.  She is under no obligation to accept.  However, as soon as she accepts the gifts being offered she is contracted.

The biblical understanding of marriage is very different to what we in the west have made of it.  It is, & always has been, a contract between 2 people & in biblical terms it is a covenant contract that is sealed in blood. Understand this because this is something the church needs to understand.  The Church is called to be the bride of Christ, & will be presented without spot or blemish to her betrothed ~ BUT....the Church is under no obligation to accept the contract ~ the covenant contract.

Until she accepts the gifts the church is not the covenant bride!  Ouch?  I was stunned as the Lord was showing me this because like most Christians I understood the Church to be Christ's bride but it is not so.  The bride becomes the bride immediately, & only, if she accepts the bridegroom's gifts.  Not before.  

So what gifts are these?  We are told over & over that when Christ sent His Holy Spirit into the world He sent Him bearing gifts that were to be imparted to the believers!  Those gifts must be accepted before the terms of the marriage contract become binding.

I got this far & the Lord brought up the issue of tongues ~ which is listed amongst the gifts of the Spirit & has caused so much division amongst believers down the centuries.  *sigh*  I try to avoid controversy but the Lord was adamant & I will tell you why.

Firstly: the Lord is very clear that He is returning soon.  Very, very soon.

That being so we need to understand that we are entering a time of great tribulation ~ not The Great Tribulation, but a time of tribulation, that will increase & increase the closer we get to the end of the church age as satan realises his time grows short & fights to destroy all he can.

Now tongues does 3 things & they are very important to a believer in any age but most importantly in this end age.

1. It allows us to pray the Father's will.  When we pray in the Spirit like this it is God's Spirit who prays in us & He always prays out the perfect will of the father.  We don't need to try & guess what God's will is.  We don't need to end our prayers with the little appenage: If it be thy will.... We don't need to hope we've got it right or worry that we've got it wrong. We pray Spirit to spirit exactly according to the Father's will.  Come on people, you know if you have the Holy Spirit in you, you have the very Spirit of God Himself living in you & you have become a temple for His indewelling!

2.  If you are like me you will be praying for something seamingly impossible but you know we are to walk by faith & not by sight & so you muster up all the faith you can to not be a double~minded man who can expect nothing from the Lord & all the time your mind is listing all the reasons why it can not happen! Ugh!  Frustrating. & self~defeating. When you pray in the Spirit this self~defeating exercise is circumvented.  Unless we ask specifically for understanding our reason is circumvented & so cannot undermine our faith!

3. Lastly, & this is a comfort, there are things the Lord wants to share with His people, secrets he wants to confide, directions he wants to give & he doesn't want satan to know about any of it!  So He want to speak Spirit to Spirit.  Satan can't get in there.

There are other gifts also, some just as controversial.  Most are given for the winning of unbelieving souls.  Tongues is a gift given to God's covenant people, a special way of seperating them out so they can chat privately.  We are asked not to grieve the Holy Spirit & not to quench Him.  That He may choose to work in ways that make us uncomfortable or do not fit our doctrine should not surprise us.  We only have to look at what happened to Judaism under Jesus to realise the Holy Spirit sets the world upside down because His whole purpose & intent is to turn men's gaze upon Christ & establish the Kingdom on earth!

Monday, November 11, 2013

When we come to Communion...

 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me... John 12:32

Communion, Eucharist, The Love Meal, the Bread & the Wine is central to Christianity.  The partaking of it is a command.  One that most denominations follow though our understanding of what it means, the how & the when, may differ & the denomination I most closely affiliate with does not practise it.

The practise of communion, by whatever name it goes by, has always fascinated me.  What is it about this humble meal of bread & wine that Jesus had in mind at that final Passover meal?  It was then, as they shared the final cup, the cup of the Kingdom, that Jesus ended the old covenant, at least symbolically.  I know, it gets strange when a Lit major takes to religion, doesn't it?  The bread & the wine was never going to just be the bread & the wine.   How could it?  This is symbolism that goes all the way back to Abraham & Melchizedek.

This simple meal holds so much rich symbolism I am unlikely to cover it all so I will just touch on a few of the more pertinent points here.  

Firstly:  I have mentioned this is a covenant meal.  You will find a fuller explanation of covenant here. There are 2 elements to covenant: flesh & blood.  The flesh is broken; the blood is poured out because For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.  Oh. My.  Even way back in Leviticus!

Jesus names the elements: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for youthis do in remembrance of me...

Ever since whatever is used to represent Jesus body, whether it is a wafer, flatbread, unleavened bread or ordinary bakehouse bread, it is broken in two ~ & it is broken in two so that the one making the covenant may pass between the pieces.  I don't think there is any mistake about what Jesus is doing here.  He is making covenant, which would be sealed on the cross & fulfilled at His resurrection. 

Now the bread that Jesus would have used would have been unleavened Passover bread such as this:
 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed....1 Peter 2:24 

As you can see matzeo bread is striped ~ & punctured.  Jesus would have known he was about to be whipped bloody, have a crown of thorns pushed down on His head & nails driven between the fine bones of His wrists & ankles as He took this bread & tore it in two.  For centuries the Jews celebrated this meal with this bread not knowing Christ was represented there.

Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you....Luke 22:20

I am going to say outright that while I have read & understand the arguments for the *wine* being grape juice & non~alcoholic I do not believe they are valid & I will tell you why.  Firstly, the custom, as it still is in many of these regions where wine is drunk routinely, was to water the wine: one measure of wine to 2 of water.  This is because the water is contaminated & full of germs.  The wine, being antiseptic, acted as a purifier ~ I'm sure you can make the analogy!  It is Jesus blood that purifies us!

Now there is one final point I would like to make because I think this is central to the taking of communion, to life in Christ, to walking out our faith.

What we are meant to do in communion is both to recognise Christ's sacrifice for us & to exalt him.  The word used in John 12:32 is  ὑψόω (hypsoō) & means to exalt, not simply to *lift up*.  We are to exalt our Lord & Saviour.  When we do this He is able to draw us with Him into the abundant life in God that we are meant to share.  

As we prepare for communion & enter into he fellowship of believers who are in covenant relationship with Christ, we are meant to exalt His Holy name & what He has done for us.  Then we can lay claim to all the promises Christ's sacrifice bought us: healing, blessing, grace, abundance, joy, peace ~ all this in the midst of trouble & turmoil because we have not been taken out of the world.  We are in the world but we are no longer meant to be of it.  In the partaking of the communion meal we recognise we are in a new covenant, a people called out, set apart, a holy priesthood, a peculiar people, salt & light in a world that knows not its saviour.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sukkot: The Season of our Joy

Most Christians know Christmas is celebrated on the wrong date.  Many know of the pagan traditions associated with Christmas.  A few, very few, know what the bible has to say about the birth of Christ & the
festival Christians have forgotten.

For an in depth study of the math involved you will need to do your own study.  Math & I are not friends & I am not even going to attempt to do the math.  There are many places that will give you step by step instructions on this.  What I am going to do is give the broad outline, some of the inherent symbolism & the application for us as Christians today.

We actually have a really, really good idea of when Christ was born thanks to Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth was married to Zechariah & Zechariah, as we know from the first chapter of the gospel of Luke was a priest of the division of Abijah & Elizabeth was a daughter of Aaron.  Thus both belonged to the Levite line.  

Because Zechariah’s division is mentioned we can date accurately when he was called to serve in the temple, which  would have been twice a year for one week.  Luke also tells us that he drew the lot to go in & burn incense before the Lord, offering up the prayers of the people.  At this point an angel appears, prophesises that in their old age their prayer for a son would be answered & that he would come in the spirit & the power of Elijah.  Zechariah is struck dumb, goes home to his wife & she falls pregnant.  This places John’s birth around Passover, which would be what Christians later termed Easter.

As we read on in Luke we are told that in Elizabeth’s 6th month her cousin Mary visits her.  Mary has some rather startling news to share because she has just found herself in a very unique position & is also pregnant.
We know that according to Luke Mary fell pregnant in Elizabeth’s 6th month.  Count forward 40 weeks & you are in September when the festival of Sukkot is celebrated ~ though like many of the Jewish festivals it is sort of moveable because the Jew’s calendar works on a combined solar/lunar cycle.

That is the foundation.  Scholars can work it all out & practically pinpoint the very day.  That is not my purpose here.  While I know God values accuracy He does something both charming & kind for the mathematically challenged amongst us.  He gives us symbols.  He gives us shadows & types.  He lays down a pattern so that we recognise the real thing when it arrives.

Now it is not my purpose to tell you whether or not you should celebrate Christmas.  Rather I want to reveal the Father’s heart &  add to your joy in the birth of a saviour.

Sukkot falls some time in either September or October.  This year it fell in September.  It is a week long festival & lasted from the 1st to the 7th of October.  In the northern hemisphere this makes it a fall festival & the 3rd of 3 mandatory annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  The first is Passover which celebrates Israel’s delivery from Slavery.  The second is Shavout , which celebrates the giving of the Law.  The third is Sukkot, which remembers how Israel wandered for 40 years before being allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Why should Christians bother themselves with this stuff?  It is O.T.  It was for the Jews.  Because this is the shadow of what was to come, indeed came in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ!

Firstly this is the festival that celebrates God Tabernacling with His people.  As He did as a cloud by day & a pillar of fire by night, when the Shekinah glory filled the temple, when Christ became man & dwelt among us & most wonderfully when the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within us.

This is a 7 day festival that lasts for 8 days.  Why?  Because it is the only Jewish festival that is not Jew~specific.  That is, it was a celebration that was extended to & included the gentile nations, invoking blessing & inclusion to them also.  Sacrifices were offered for the nations of the world.  Traditionally the 8th day is the day God asked his own people to tarry a little longer to enjoy a special time alone, just He & them together.

Sukkot was a time of extending hospitality, especially to the poor.  Each night a chair was set for the specially invited guest for that evening who would be one of the Great Shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron ~ or when Christians celebrate this festival, John the Baptiste but most especially Christ Himself!

Sukkot is commonly known by 2 other names:  Holiday of the Ingathering & The Season of Our Joy.  Both have deep symbolism for the believing Christian.  It is said that you have never known rejoicing until you have celebrated Sukkot in Jerusalem!
For the week of this festival it is customary to build temporary shelters & to live in them ~ though modern Jews usually only eat meals in them.  As the weather in Israel is usually mild at this time of year it is perfect for camping out!

Now come forward to the birth of Jesus.  We have established that He was He was probably born in September but what clues do we have that it was at Sukkot?  Firstly we know that Jospeh & Mary went down to Bethlehem for the census.  Bethlehem was considered an outer suburb of Jerusalem.  As traveling was expensive & took people away from their work it would make sense to combine the 2 things.  Joseph would have been close enough to Jerusalem to attend the religious services each day.  After the birth of Jesus Mary was unclean until she offered her sacrifices on the 8th day.

One of the joys of doing word research is what turns up.  What turned up was the Greek word Phatne, which is usually translated as manger & indicates a crib for fodder for animals.  The Hebrew is, yep, sukkot ~ a temporary shelter for animals made of green boughs & the traditional housing for the Jewish festival.  Many sukkot were attached to the outer wall of the temple.

The last point I want to raise is another obscure tradition that has been lost ~ because it tells us something terribly important about who Jesus is & what He came to do.

In the 2nd chapter of Luke he informs us that not only will Jesus be lying in a sukkot, he will be wrapped in swaddling clothes.  I have always found this comment a little strange because surely all babies are wrapped in swaddling bands of some sort?  That Luke mentions it means there is something for us to note.  It is found in a Jewish priestly practise.  When the priestly garments had become worn out in service at the temple & could no longer be worn they were torn into strips & used by Levite families to swaddle their babies to indicate they were priests dedicated to the Lord from birth…

We too have our sukkot ~ this flimsy temporary dwelling we call our body & which now is a dwelling place for God’s Holy Spirit.  God physically dwells with us.   

God gives us such richness to feed our spirits.  When we place things in their correct biblical frame we have the most wonderful promises:  As I dwelt with Israel in the wilderness, so now I dwell with you;  See, I have given you one who has fulfilled all the law & redeemed you from the bondage of sin; I remembered you, though you were not my chosen people & you did not know me ~ but now you do; I have sent my son; from His birth he was a priest dedicated unto the Lord & now, you are my people, my chosen ones.  Come apart & tarry with me, just the two of us together.  Truly this is the season of our joy.