Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 9/7/03
"O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?" (I Cor. 15:55, Wesley).
Last week, when I was wringing my hands before the Lord about Mister, our sick kitty, I heard, "Your covenant with death has been annulled and your agreement with the grave will not stand." I knew that was from Isaiah 28, and that the Lord had something for me in it. A brother scolded me recently for saying, "The Lord told me," because he said I was possibly leading baby Christians astray. So let me be clear that when I say, "The Lord told me," I mean the Lord told ME! It was a personal enlightenment, which it pleases the Lord for me to share for any who might benefit, as well as a perfect example of how the letter kills but the Spirit MAKES ALIVE what He wants us to know from Holy Writ. We can read the bible until our eyes grow dim, but if the Spirit does not open it up to us, we might as well be reading the comics, for all the spiritual growth we will get out of it!
When I heard the Lord say my covenant with death is broken, I saw immediately that He was referring to what I call "the family neurosis." One psychologist said that we engage in neurotic behavior to avoid feeling the pain of what's wrong in our lives. For example, all addictions, positive and negative spring from that need. This includes religion, which is one of the most powerful addictions of all! I have come to understand that when the scripture speaks about the sins of the fathers being visited on the children to the third and fourth generation (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9), it refers to neurotic behavior, for all sin springs from our not knowing who we are in God and who He is in us. Likewise, I have seen in my own life a strong neurotic component in chronic illnesses, like allergies, which don't kill us, but allow us to feel as bad as we feel.
To find out how bad YOU feel, listen to what you say, to what comes out of your mouth. A wide streak of fear runs through my extended family. If you are a half hour late, they'll fear you are "dead in the ditch," in a New York minute. In fact, the first response to any situation is usually gloom and doom. Though I have fought against it my whole life, and make a conscious effort to look to the Lord, rather than at the circumstances, still, this family tendency toward assuming the worst leaps out when I least expect it. When we had to rush our very ill little Mister to the Vet last Sunday afternoon, she told us he has asthma, but worse than that, he tested positive for feline immune deficiency virus (HIV in cats). I could barely hold myself together long enough to pay the bill and get into the car, before I fell apart and cried all the way home (good thing there was no traffic). My first thought when she told me the diagnosis was, "He's going to die." I grieved his passing all that day and woke up Monday morning in tears. It wasn't until my cousin told me that her daughter's cat lived 10 years with the virus that I realized what my imagination had done. Did I pray? Yes. Do I believe God can heal him? Yes. Do I think He WOULD heal him? Unsure.
Here's another example of my personal covenant with death. When I heard about a beloved brother's bad experience in a recent surgery, my first thought was, "He's going to die." I prayed, pleaded really, with God to spare his life because he has ministered life to so many people, and God did spare his life and he's doing well after a subsequent surgery removed the tumor, but it clearly wasn't my faith that brought this good result. My neurotic stuff was in full swing while I was marching around Mount Sinai, instead of standing on Mount Zion.
This nation has a covenant with death, an agreement with the grave. What do you read in the newspapers and see on the evening news, day after day, night after night? What sells copy? Death! And the grislier and the more bloody, the more copy it sells. We are a people obsessed with death. And if we're not reading about it, we're being lectured by the media, the church, and our mothers about how to avoid it. Everything hinges on us, they all tell us. Yes, we pray, but instead of speaking from the New Covenant knowledge that death has no victory and hell has no sting, we are still groveling under the Old Covenant, lashed by the law, where everything depends on our ability to hear and obey God. Since no one other than Christ ever did comply with the Law, we're under the pile all the time.
I've read Isaiah 28:15-18, over and over this week, in many translations, because what I got out of it isn't at all what the text is talking about, or so I thought, until the Lord pulled aside the veil and revealed Himself to me. With His help, I'll explain why this concept is so important to me and maybe to you as well.
Isaiah was a mighty prophet of the Lord, one with a huge task. He warned them in various ways that God was going to punish them for their sins. They lived under Law, and the punishments for disobedience were drastic and severe because their sins were an abomination before the Lord. Like the people round about them, they worshipped idols made with human hands, even sacrificing their own children by fire to these pagan gods. Jeremiah lamented about this, "They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" (Jer. 32:35, RSV). The Valley of Hinnom is modern day Gehenna, located in Israel, just outside the city of Jerusalem. It is also the word translated as "hell" in the New Testament. In Jesus' day, Gehenna was the place where they burned the refuse, the bodies of dead animals and criminals. The fire was kept burning day and night (Jesus said it was never quenched), a perpetual incinerator. It was the place where He said, better to throw your eye (Matt. 5:29) or your right arm (5:30) than to have your whole body thrown in there. His audience did NOT run screaming into the night. They understood the spiritual metaphor He was using.
Ignorance and poor translations of the New Testament have fueled the concept that Jesus was speaking of an everlasting hell fire where the fire is never quenched, where the worm never dies. He was, in fact, speaking of this literal place called Gehenna, where fires burned continuously to destroy the evil, the putrid and the rotting in their lives. God knew how this would get twisted and turned by the carnal mind of men, by religious doctrine, and this is why He gave us the Holy Spirit, that we would not need men to teach us, but would go by the Word that comes forth from His mouth, and that Word (CHRIST) will never return unto Him void. And since He said that burning their children in the fire never entered His mind, how in the world can the church insist that He will burn His own children in an everlasting hell forever and ever? Is He above His own laws? Can He do with impunity what He punished the children of Israel SEVERELY for doing?
The scripture speaks for itself: "They (Israel, the Northern Kingdom) rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.... They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left" (II Kings 17: 15,17-18. NIV).
The Northern Kingdom of Israel was carried away by the Assyrians in 722-705 BC, and Judah was taken into a seventy year captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon after he totally destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. "Very interesting," you may think, "but what has it to do with us today?" The Old Testament is a shadow of the reality God revealed to us and in us, IN Christ.
Isaiah is speaking of this shadow in Chapter 28. He said that Israel would not listen to the voice of the Lord, in which the weary could rest (Vs. 12). For them, the word of the Lord became: "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there, so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured" (Vs. 13). Those who are addicted to religion (human doings) will say, "What's wrong with doing? Are we supposed to sit on our backsides and eat bonbons? What about working for the kingdom of God?"
A subtitle to this writing could be "Principles without power." We had a welcome visitor Sunday morning, who came back home with me for fellowship after the service. She said the Lord had sent her to a church which was long on principles, but without the power of the Holy Spirit. This is exactly what Isaiah is warning these smug, self-righteous people against: "You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place" (Vs. 15). Like the Pharisees, they were teaching for doctrine the commandments of men (Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:22; Tit. 1:14). It is religion in all its self proclaimed glory. All religion is similar, but I was especially thinking of New Age, which sounds, oh so good, and has many great claims amongst its followers, but all without Christ's power. It is individual power that counts, they preach, the god within each of us, but who is this god?
As anyone knows who has sat at the bedside of a critically ill child, or watched helplessly as a loved one slips away, principles, great sounding though they may be, are only as good as the ability of the human mind to understand them and the strength of the human flesh to perform them. Any religion, New Age or not (all of us are in the New Age, which Christ's resurrection ushered in), will ultimately fail. Only the power of Almighty God delivered by the Holy Spirit, will never fail us.
To these same scoffers, the prophet Isaiah said, "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation (Jesus the Christ); the one who trusts will never be dismayed.... Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it" (Vs 16,18). Because the Apostle Peter admonished, "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" (II Pet. 1:20,21), when I read Isaiah's powerful declaration about the covenant with death, I realized the passage did not support what I was getting. When that happens, I can only wait for the Lord to reveal what He is saying to me. It was not until early Tuesday morning that the Lord brought it all into focus for me.
My own covenant with death and agreement with the grave is, as I said, part of my family's neurotic tendency to leap to the dark side at first hint of anything wrong. Where did that come from? The answer leapt at me with the full force and fury of law, for that's exactly where it came from! Like my family, many Christians love the Lord, or at least fear the Lord, not the same thing, but all do the best they can with the Light they have been given. Like Job, they offer sacrifices (works) lest any they love or they themselves have sinned (Job 1:5). And like the children of Israel, they sacrifice to the flames all the rebellious children who disagree with them. "You're going to hell," they say. How much of Christian neurotic behavior is rooted in the fear of eternal hell fire? And how much of Christian works are really idolatry, worshipping the works of man's hands rather than the living God?
In Isaiah's words to Israel, I heard the Lord say to me personally, "Your covenant with death has been annulled and your agreement with the grave will not stand." I loved it and basked in it, but finally asked, "When Lord? When is this covenant going to be annulled?" He answered, "It WAS annulled in Christ." Yeah God and hallelujah! Sin and death is a non issue for those in Christ. It is finished, a done deal. It is over. I knew that. You know that, but God showed me at a deeper, cellular level this truth in my crisis over what I feared would be Mister's imminent death. EVERYTHING that comes to us, good and bad, comes from the hand of the Father, to eventually reveal to us the truth that NOTHING can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is as impossible to expect our individual, neurotic covenant with death to deliver us from it as it was to keep the law. A brother recently expressed his confusion about what I mean in my writings when I say we have been delivered from the Law. He apparently thinks there is some of it we should still keep, but at the same time, clearly he longs to believe in the reconciliation of all. That is an oxymoron, big time. If any part of our salvation, justification, purification and glorification depends upon our efforts to keep any part of the law, NONE of us will make it, but the Good News is that God chose us in Christ before the world was made (Eph. 1:4, II Tim. 1:9-10). So then, how can we boast? Of what need we be ashamed? How can we be guilty? It is GOD who locked us up in the prison of disobedience, Paul said, so that He may have mercy upon ALL (Rom. 11:32).
A local station played Dr. Martin Luther King's, "I have a dream" speech in its entirety last week, and was I struck by his articulation of his vision for his people, and in fact, for all people. I loved the part where he burst forth with his hope that the day would come when we ALL can say, "We are free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last." A PBS report on prison ministries this week, included testimony from a convicted felon who had met Christ in jail. He rejoiced, "I'm free, really free. I'm freer than many people who are not locked behind bars." That is so the truth, so the essence of our Father's unconditional Love for us. It is what the scriptures declared from START, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31, RSV), to glorious FINISH: "Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen" (Jude 1:24,25, RSV).
Father, we thank You that You have annulled our covenant with death and removed our agreement with the grave. We bless You that Your life replaces death wherever it is found and flows out from Your children to the sick and dying world. We bow before Your glory, Your majesty, Your dominion, and Your authority in all things and all people, now and forever. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Post Script: This journal is dedicated to Mister, our precious little kitty, who gave it a good fight, but his immune system couldn't handle the virus. He died on 9/6/03, and went back to be with the Lord from whom He came. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen" (Romans 11:36, RSV).
We buried him beneath the Walnut Tree outside the window behind the computer. I fashioned a rough cross with twine and twigs and Lenny put it in the ground. We thanked the Lord for all the fun, the frolic, the love and the joy that He brought to us in this gift we named Mister. He will live forever in our hearts and we shall see him again in the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21).
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The High Cost of Love, Covenant with Death, Part II
Reverse the Curse, Covenant with Death, Part III,
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 8/4/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/27/08.