Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 3/2/03
"As it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame" (Rom. 9:33, I Pet. 2:6).
It pleases the Lord for us to continue in the Gospel of John, again noting the marked difference between Life in the Spirit (freedom in Christ) and Religion (a system of codes and doctrines that have no life in them, and produce only death in the participant). Our title comes from John, Chapter Thirteen, where we look in on the disciples and Jesus eating a meal just before Passover. It is unclear whether this is a pre-Passover meal, or the Passover itself, but whichever it was, we glean some important insights from John's testimony: "The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God" (Vs. 2-3). It is fascinating that John makes his statement about the devil entering Judas, right before declaring that Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power. He wants us to know that evil exists, but we are not to fear it for God uses it for His own purposes. Jesus knew who would betray Him (John 13:11). Yet, He was unruffled, calm, unhurried and instead of lashing out at His betrayer, He does an amazing thing: "So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him" (Vs. 4-5).
This act of washing the disciples feet exemplifies Jesus' emphatic statement that "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matt. 23:11, RSV). Religion makes gods of its leaders with pomp and circumstance, robes, miters, rings, positions of authority, mostly served up with a notable lack of humility. An example of Life in the Spirit, the Apostle Paul said he counted all that earthly glory as dung, "that I may win Christ" (Phil. 3:8). The Pharisees loved the accolades and attention of men, but Jesus said of them, "They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men" (Matt. 23:5-7, RSV). His conclusion about this behavior? "They have had their reward" (Matt. 6:2,5). Sadly, many church leaders failed to see what He meant. We watched a well known faith healer the other night on TV. Before he came out, his musicians played, "How Great Thou Art," which I perceived is how he feels about himself. He has had his reward.
I know church people who love to tell about their good deeds, and as they are telling me about them, I always think, "You have had your reward."
Jesus, the Only Begotten of the Father, humbled Himself and became a Servant to men. The Lord gave me a perfect example of how astonishing His behavior must have seemed to the disciples. Imagine that you are behind the scenes at the staging area for the D-Day invasion of France. A Jeep drives up and General Eisenhower himself gets out. Striding purposefully to the mess tent, he asks to see the lowest ranked soldier there. Private Peter leaves the vat of dishes he is washing and advances in fear and trembling. The General makes his wishes known. "Son, give me your boots." The startled soldier takes off his boots and timidly hands them over. The General then proceeds to polish them to a spit shine, leaving the watching men in awe that their great leader would serve a lowly enlisted man in this way.
"But that would never happen," you protest. Probably not in the military, but it did happen on that night so long ago when the Captain of the Lord's hosts, the creator of heaven and earth, stooped to wash the feet of His followers. Awesome, tremendous, glorious, the experience for Peter and the rest, when they finally submitted to it, became one they would never forget for the remainder of their lives on earth.
He explained His actions to them: "When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
"I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them" (John 13:12-17, NIV).
A footnote in the Recovery New Testament explains, "In ancient times the Jews wore sandals, and since their roads were dusty, their feet easily became dirty. If, when they came to a feast, they sat at the table and stretched out their feet, the dirt and the smell would certainly frustrate the fellowship. Hence, for the feast to be pleasant they needed foot-washing." This was usually done by a servant, which Christ became for us, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:6-9, NIV).
Christ's humbling Himself to become a servant reminds us of the metaphor Jesus gave of the wheat seed which must die before abundant life springs from it. Paul tells us what this abundant crop will be at the culmination of God's plan of the ages: "that at the name of Jesus EVERY knee should bow, in heaven (in spirit) and on earth (the living) and under the earth (the dead), and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11, NIV).
The footnote goes on to say that today, we need spiritual foot-washing to maintain pleasant fellowship with the Lord and each other, the Holy Spirit being the washing agent. We are made clean by the blood of the Lamb, which Paul described this way to Titus: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).
Based on law, religion can offer no such cleansing, because "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). The passage goes on to say, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for ALL" (Heb. 10:8-10). Many Christians today are operating by law, though they deny it loudly, because there are no bulls and goats being offered up. Adherence to a set of rules, doctrine, dogma or creed, rather than following the Shepherd's voice is the very essence of religion. Going to men rather than to God will always put the written code back into play. The Law was perfect (Psalm 19:7), but it made nothing and no one perfect (Heb. 7:9). It was "but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near" (Heb. 10:1). The evidence of the futility of trying to live by Law is that it cannot cleanse us from the guilt and shame we feel when we cannot keep it. Comparing Law to Life in the Spirit, the Hebrew writer says, "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Heb. 9:14, NIV).
Here's a simple litmus test you can apply to discern if your conscience has been cleansed from acts that lead to death: Do you still suffer shame and guilt for past sins or present sins which you cannot stop committing?
I've been dialoguing with a woman for months now, via e-mail, whom I have come to love and consider a friend. She struggles with the dictates of religion, which have always failed her and left her burdened with shame and guilt because she cannot keep them. God is opening her eyes to see the difference between what she thought was the right thing to do (religion), and who she is in Christ (Life in the Spirit). She wrote last week after reading a journal I had written called "Growing Pains" (Link at end), with a quote from it and her comments about it.
Because our friend tries harder than anyone I've encountered in a long time, this paragraph in my writing struck her broadside: "...trying harder isn't even an option, because even supposing it would make her godly, which it will not, she couldn't do it. If she could have done better, she would have...God knows what He is doing. He alone has the master plan, and He alone can carry it out. He will be there for this woman, to protect her from the dragon waiting to destroy her (Rev. 12:4), and He will bring her through to perfection, for it is who He is and what He does, my friends. Our God is glorious!"
About this, our friend reflected, "God kept the dragon from swallowing me whole, though I think some the 'dragon's slime' (shame) got on me a bit... Thank God for the cleansing blood of Jesus which washes me and His unending love which perfects me..." End Quote.
The shame of the extant church on planet Earth today is seen in the shame carried by its members. Our friend is a diligent bible student, but like a lot of us, before God opened our eyes to see what God did for us in Christ, she had focused on verses which she believes condemn her and has gone down for the count. In that journal, I had discussed Heb. 12:10-11, which speaks of the chastening of the Lord, which I referred to as "course correction,"rather than punishment. Our friend observes,
"I just want to fast forward through this discipline and get to the peace and righteousness part, but it seems more often than not that this is not the case for me. Additionally, it seems that I'm waiting in line for my spanking yet I long to be first and get it over with. God is never rushed by my anticipation and eagerness and this drives me bonkers. I want to rejoice where I'm at but I have this knowledge that "course correction," awaits me so anxiety sets in." End Quote.
It became evident that this woman was brought up by well meaning parents who laid shame and guilt upon her when she strayed from their rules. Then, as typically happens, she found a church group which replicated her "at home feeling," as they, like her parents, heaped more shame and guilt upon her, until she became so full of self-loathing that she could barely function. Our parents meant well. Church leaders mean well, but laying a set of rules on a penitent congregant does nothing but add frustration and more shame. If there is anything that makes me want to weep, shout, shriek, scream and howl, it is a Christian burdened down with guilt and shame. God does NOT put shame and guilt upon us, which is why His chastening brings forth the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).
I had a dream last week which perfectly illustrates this. In the dream, I was in my grandmother's house. When I went into the rarely used back closet, I saw an open casket, in which lay a deceased family member, in a mummified state, wearing a white wedding gown. There were filmy veils floating above the death's head, but she wasn't quite dead, apparently, because she said, "Hello, how are you?" I woke up more puzzled than frightened, though it could have been a scene in a horror flick.
When I asked the Lord about it, He said, "You talk about people keeping their old man in a coffin in a back room where they can visit him from time to time. This is what it looks like." That quickly reminded me what happens when people do not have a born again experience: they go up front to the altar, confess their sins and their belief in Christ, are baptized because they are told it's the thing to do, and then they go on about their lives. When guilt hits them, they go back to the coffin where their old man, their carnal nature is laid out, and lament with him about how bad he really was. Picking up a fresh load of shame, they leave the room and wonder why they are not leading overcoming lives. Our parents, in frustration, wagged a finger at us and said, "Shame on you." Church members do this to each other, which I assure you, is a far cry from washing one another's feet.
Trying to live by the "written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us" (Col. 2:14), is a quick trip down the tubes to shame, guilt, and a certain fearful looking for the judgment. Paul says that this written code, the Law, any law, all law, was canceled, nailed to the cross. Here's a new twist on what many still consider a scary scripture: "For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26-27). Remember that the book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were trying to add Christ to the Law. If we continue to look to law to help us with our sin, guilt, and shame problem, we have only a fearful prospect of judgment, because Law will never cleanse us from our unrighteousness. Only Christ has all power to do that. It is Good News that "...our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29), for He will consume the adversaries, burning up anything that stands against His grace and unconditional Love. Paul's summation of the death of the old man is this: "...anyone who has died has been freed from sin" (Rom. 6:7). Father, open our eyes to see the glorious truth, that "he who believes in him will not be put to shame." Give us grace to see that Christ, who has all things under His power, lives in us, and we live in Him. 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"
"Beyond the Veil, Second Hand Religion, Part III"
"Risen from the Dead, Second Hand Religion, Part IV"
"Anointing the Lord, Second Hand Religion, Part V"
"The Kingdom Option, Second Hand Religion, VII"
"My Father's House, Second Hand Religion, VIII"
"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 2/27/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/21/08.