Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO 64850, 2/9/03
"But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away" (II Cor. 3:14, NIV).
For the past two weeks, we have intensified our study of the differences between religion and life in the Spirit. We'll continue this topic with a look at John, Chapter ten. This is the beautiful passage where Jesus tells His disciples that He is the door through which the sheep go in and out. "Truly, truly, I say to you, He who does not enter through the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up from somewhere else, he is a thief and a robber; But he who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him, the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:1-6, The Recovery Version).
Parables are word pictures, figures of speech, or metaphors, which give us a spiritual meaning from an earthly story. Sheepfolds and shepherds were as familiar to Jesus' listeners as cars and computers are to most of us. According to one foot note in my NIV Study Bible, "The Palestinian shepherd led his sheep (he did not drive them), and the sheep followed because they knew his voice." This is a symbolic picture of Life in the Spirit, where the sons of God are led by His Spirit (Rom. 8:14). Jesus calls the one who does not depend on Him, but climbs up from somewhere else, "a thief and a robber" which speaks to me of doctrines and creeds. Organized religion is a set of rules for behavior, the "thou shalts" and the "thou shalt nots," by which the participant seeks to win God's favor and avoid punishment. If that would work, there would be no need for Christ.
A friend told me about a website (www.biblesforamerica.org), offering a free New Testament (The Recovery Version). It came last week and I have really been enjoying it, especially the study notes written by Witness Lee, which add depth to the text. For instance, regarding the passage just quoted, he says, "The sheepfold signifies the law, or Judaism as the religion of the law, in which God's chosen people were kept and guarded in custody until Christ came." He identifies the "thieves and robbers" (V. 8), as those who would come into the sheepfold, but not through Christ. The thieves and robbers today are those who still mandate that purification, sanctification, justification, and even salvation come by keeping the rules and regs laid down by religion. He points out that the blind man that we read about in Chapter nine, is an example of one of these sheep who, "was led by the Lord out of the Judaism-fold." As we remember, that man was kicked out of the synagogue by the Pharisees for honoring Christ as a man of God.
Harry Fox points out that Christ, who is the door to the sheepfold, is by definition, inclusive and intrinsic. That is to say that anyone who comes to God will have come through Christ, "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Those of us to whom God has given the revelation of ultimate reconciliation (and there is no other way one can receive it except by divine unction), know that in the final analysis, no one will EVER come to God, or find himself safely in the sheepfold with the Shepherd except through Christ. Paul articulates this truth plainly in this passage: "that at the name of Jesus EVERY knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10,11, RSV). This is NOT a "gun to your head," kind of concession to avoid hell, for such a shamefully gained acknowledgment could NEVER bring glory to the Father. Even in our judicial system, a confession gained by coercion is not admissible in court because it was obtained by duress. The confession Paul speaks of here is the result of seeing Him as He is, for then we shall be like Him.
People who commit heinous crimes have never beheld the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; they have never felt the Father's unconditional love, and thus they cannot love Him. Sadly they have received rejection and punishment to the degree that this is all they feel they are worth. Once He reveals Himself to them, be it this side of Jordan, or the other, they, like we, will fall on their faces in worship to the King of kings and Lord of lords. This is why there are many genuine prison conversions. When even hardened criminals face up to what they have done and understand that God forgave them by the efficacy of the blood of Christ, they forsake who they thought they were and embrace who God says they are now, His child.
Jesus' disciples did not understand what He said; so He repeated it: "Truly, truly, I say to you that I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved and shall go in and go out and shall find pasture" (Vs. 7-9).
The footnote in the Recovery New Testament observes, "The pasture here signifies Christ as the feeding place for the sheep. When the pasture is not available (e.g., in the wintertime or at night), the sheep must be kept in the fold. When the pasture is ready, there is no further need for the sheep to remain in the fold. To be kept in the fold is transitional and temporary. To be in the pasture enjoying its riches is final and permanent." When I read this, I understood why so many are still chained to the pews of churches which do not exhort, encourage, or even feed them. I am referring to the Church on Main Street here, NOT the church Paul described in Eph. 3, which owns no real estate on planet earth today. It has no street address, no e-mail address, or phone number. Yet, some continue to suck the dry paps of organized religion, seeking in vain to find succor and life. When I read this commentary, I "saw through the veil," and realized that God is protecting these delicate sheep from the world, the flesh and the devil, until the time when He allows them to feed on Christ Himself. These weak sheep are like the children of Israel, encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, who said to Moses, "God is scaring us. You go up there and find out what He has to say and come back and tell us. We're afraid of Him" (Ex. 20:19).
In that moment, the clergy and laity was born, and many are still afraid to approach God themselves, preferring instead to go through church leaders. A friend wrote a classic example of what religion produces: "Sadly, I heard so many differing voices that I never arrived at 'right.' Everything was always changing, adjusting; no formula.... I guess what I'm seeking is something, someone that is not shifting like sand, a solid TRUTH on which to stand. That TRUTH is Jesus, of course; our Sure Foundation. He's just so different than I've ever imagined and I don't know how to react to Him. There's no formula (apart from the law). I don't know this territory, I've not visited this town before, don't understand its customs; it is unlike anything I've ever known or believed." End Quote.
People are still missing Christ today for the same reason the Jews missed Him: God has blinded their eyes. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said, "He (God) has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them" (John 12:40, RSV). According to Paul, this is a temporary situation, "And Isaiah boldly says, "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." But con-cerning Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people" (Rom. 10:20-21, NIV).
He continues, "So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day" (Rom. 11:5-8). We see by these remarks that God is totally responsible for everything, for those who accept Him by grace, as well as those, like Pharaoh, whose hearts were hardened. It is a temporary situation, Paul assures us: "Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!" (Rom. 11:11-12).
The glorious conclusion that the Apostle of grace describes goes beyond what our natural minds can comprehend. Only by the Spirit of God may we see what Paul saw: "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins" (Rom. 11:25-27). His statement that "ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED," is unconditional, nonnegotiable and inclusive. There are no qualifiers here, no wavering, and no exceptions. When God opened my eyes to see this, I was caught up to the Throne in rejoicing for the magnificence of God's plan, hidden from ages past, now revealed in Christ. When He died on the cross, the veil of the Temple was rent so that all men may now approach God freely. Hallelujah! Whereas religion is always practiced in the outer court and the Holy Place, life in the Spirit can only flow in the Holy of holies.
After I published, "Second Hand Religion, Part I," a reader sent me a link to a page called "The Mystical Core of Organized Religion," by David Steindl-Rast. He defines mysticism as "the experience of communion with Ultimate Reality (i.e., with "God," if you feel comfortable with this time-honored, but also time-distorted term)." I found the article fascinating, and e-mailed it to a few friends. Several wrote back and asked, "What is a mystic?" You may be asking this as well.
Since I live with a mystic, I'll give you my personal definition of one. Lenny sees that everything and everyone is IN God, and he fellowships daily with God in whom he lives and moves and has his being. He knows God as the Prime Directive of the universe, the ground of being, the beginning and the end of all things.
I am more cognitive, but do have a mystical component which always comes into play in these writings God gives me. Cognitive people get to a solution in an orderly, even logical fashion, by a direct route that's easy to follow. Mystics, on the other hand, leap to a spiritual conclusion by no visible or explainable means and are standing there waiting for the rest of us to plod our way along, the best way we can. In Christ, all of us get there eventually, because we have His mind to help us.
There have always been mystics in the church, and in fact, Jesus and John were two notable examples. Harry Fox has observed that if God had not raised up the Apostle Paul to help us to draw out the implications of Jesus' intrinsic teachings, the church would not have survived the First Century, and I am convinced he's right about this. Paul was certainly mystical, but he had a way of explaining what he saw in the Spirit which allows us to follow him. Jesus and John leaped to the end of the story, often leaving us to wonder how they got there. "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58), and "God is love" (I John 4:8, 16), are two mystical statements which flow from eternity into time and leave us gasping when we realize what they mean for our lives.
When Lenny puts on tape what he gets from the Lord, I type it into words, trying not to change much, though sometimes it needs a little clarification. He always says that his words are a pitiful substitute for the Glory of God which enveloped him as he was hearing them. He is expressing the difficulty of capturing with words the unknowable, the unutterable, the inestimable majesty of God. We notice that those people who have a mystical bent love Lenny's writings and often comment on what they get from them. Another way to say it is that mystics often get from A to Z without going through L, M, N, O, P.
The Lord does lift the veil for all of us in Christ, allowing us to see through to the other side. Mystics live over there beyond the veil, in the heavenlies, and have to come back through it to fellowship with the rest of us.
David Steindl-Rast's comments enhance our discussion of religion, versus life in the Spirit. He wrote, "Once in Hawaii, after I had been walking on still-hot volcanic rock, another image for this process occurred to me: the image not of water but of fire. The beginnings of the great religions were like the eruptions of a volcano. There was fire, there was heat, there was light: the light of mystical insight freshly spelled out in a new teaching; the best of hearts aglow with commitment to a sharing community; and celebration, as fiery as new wine. The light of doctrine, the glow of ethical commitment, and the fire of ritual celebration were expressions that gushed forth red hot from the depths of mystical consciousness. But as that stream of lava flowed down the sides of the mountain, it began to cool off. The farther it got from its origins, the less it looked like fire; it turned into rock. Dogmatism, moralism, ritualism: all are layers of ash deposits and volcanic rock that separate us from the fiery magma deep down below." End Quote.
Christ, our mystical core, leads us into green pastures, beside the still waters: "I am the good Shepherd, and I know My own, and My own know Me. Even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must lead them also, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one flock, one Shepherd" (John 10:14-16). Father, we thank You that You are the fiery magma deep within us, which bubbles up and flows out; baptizing us with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE. We thank You that You have taken the veil away in Christ, so that we may see You as You are. Call us, Father and we will follow You wherever You lead us. Amen. Jan Antonsson. To be continued......
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Second Hand Religion, Part I"
"Statement of Faith, Second Hand Religion, Part II"
"Risen from the dead, Second Hand Religion, Part IV"
"Anointing the Lord, Second Hand Religion, Part V"
"All things under His power, Second Hand Religion, Part VI"
"The Kingdom Option, Second Hand Religion, VII"
"My Father's House, Second Hand Religion, VIII"
"The Mystical Core of Organized Religion"
"Connected to the Vine, Second Hand Religion, IX"
"Chosen by God," Second Hand Religion, X"
"Labor Pains, Second Hand Religion, XI"
"Coming Home, Second Hand Religion, XII"
"A New Beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIII"
"Declaring the end from the beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIV"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 2/6/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/21/08.