Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 06/08/08.
"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:21).
We enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend with my sister and her family. She is an excellent Bible teacher, having dedicated her considerable abilities, resources, knowledge, and passion to opening up the scriptures to her church family in Greeley, CO. She and I had some good fellowship about the parables of Jesus and the teachings of Paul and how the two relate to each other. A friend recently suggested I write about how these two men's teaching should be understood, saying he couldn't quite fit them together. The teachings of both have been used over the centuries, alternatively to encourage and edify, or to frighten and reprimand. Instead of being Good News, the Gospel for which Jesus died to bring men out of bondage, and for which Paul gave his life to share with the unredeemed Gentile world, has often been used instead, to manipulate by means of guilt and shame.
An example of misunderstood teachings might be how we view money, a subject beloved by clergy and laity alike. My sister observed that Jesus talked a great deal about money, the subject of at least 45 percent of His parables (depending on how you count them). This, she concludes shows the importance of good stewardship, of being faithful with all God has given us, because Jesus understood that our treasure, reveals our heart, our focus, our intentions, and our devotion. It also illustrates why Jesus was sometimes difficult to understand, because when He spoke of money, He wasn't always talking JUST about money, but what it reflected about the sorry state of men's hearts.
Jesus came to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel, to people longing for the freedom Messiah would bring them. His was a freedom which some misinterpreted as breaking the yoke of bondage to Rome which controlled their lives. Long centuries of failing to keep the Law had left them burdened with guilt and shame. Paul, formerly a dedicated Law keeper, was sent to the Gentile world, also mired in guilt and shame and the frustration that idol worship produces.
Jesus was a mystic, who brought heaven to earth, often speaking in parables to do so. These earthly stories with a heavenly meaning can be difficult to interpret. When His disciples asked Him why He used parables He replied, "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving...' But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it" (Matt. 13:13-14; 16-17). We too are blessed because we have the Holy Spirit to lead us, to help us see through the seen which is temporary to the unseen which is eternal.
Because Jesus spoke to people still living under Law, which He had not yet nailed to the cross, we cannot discern what He was saying to us today without the Spirit's guidance. Most Christians have taken His words literally, making of them a Law. We don't need more law. We need God's grace, Paul's most compelling subject. What Jesus said in the indicative mood (statement of what is), has often been translated as the imperative mood (a command). Here's an example: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). That verse has been translated as a command, but as Harry Fox observed, it comes after the Beatitudes, the blessings Jesus gave the multitudes, making it the result of what God was doing for them in Jesus, rather than a duty they had to do for themselves! The multitudes were drawn to Him like flies to honey. That would not have been the case if He were merely laying more law upon them! When I was still struggling to walk by works and law, rather than seeing it is all by grace, I used to despair and wring my hands over that admonition to "be perfect," which if it were a command, it was one I knew I could never keep. No one can be perfect by self effort, which is exactly the point that it took the Apostle Paul to make. Not only are we perfect in Christ, but "in Him," almost unbelievably, we are "the righteousness of God!" (II Cor. 5:21). In Christ, we ARE perfect!
Because it is so difficult to understand the teachings of Jesus with our natural minds, Harry Fox also observed that if God had not raised up the Apostle Paul to open our eyes to the real meaning of the gospel, Christianity would not have survived past the first century. Jesus was intuitive, a mystic, who spoke to people living under the Law of Moses; Paul was cognitive with a mystical bent, commissioned by God to reveal the true work of the cross: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). Paul himself had a "Ph.D." in Law, "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee" (Phil. 3:5); but he had no confidence in the flesh, in what we see with "unifocal" (near) vision. He helps us to see beyond the physical, into the eternal. His "bifocal" (far) perception is invaluable and necessary when we are experiencing the tribulations and turmoils of life: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (II Cor. 4:17-18).
Years ago, I regularly hosted pot luck suppers for any who wanted to fellowship and share in Harry Fox's gifted presentations. On one occasion, he shared an article by J. Louis Martyn, a Professor of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. The article was called "From Paul to Flannery O'Connor with the Power of Grace." (If any of you would like to read the entire article, let me know and I'll e-mail it to you). I had occasion to think about this excellent article recently and asked Harry if he still had it. He found it, made a copy, and sent it to me. Some parts of the article have stayed with me for almost 30 years now, and I want to share some of what this gifted writer says about "Paul's apocalyptic" (interpreted here as the struggle between living in the world and seeing beyond it. It comes from the Greek word "apocalypse," which Martyn translates as "revelation," specifically the unveiling of Christ).
Louis Martyn referred to the revelation of Christ as an "invasion" into time and flesh: "What has been made visible is not some thing previously enclosed behind curtains, now revealed by pulling the curtains aside. Rather, the One who has been on the other side rips the curtain apart, steps through to our side, altering irrevocably our time and space."
To see what God did for us in Christ, we must utilize "bifocal" vision: "If we are to converse with Paul, we are required to speak of bifocal vision, an expression not found, of course, in Paul's letters, but one which may help us to understand his letters" (and the teachings of Jesus). "The dictionary defines "bifocal," as regards eyeglasses, as a lens having two portions, one for near vision, one for far vision. In order to find a metaphor helpful to our interpretation of Paul, we will have to imagine looking simultaneously through both of these lenses. Looking in that manner would cause you to see everything in another perspective.
"To see bifocally in Paul's terms is to see both the Old Age (the sphere under the power of Satan) and the New Age" (the sphere under the power of God in Christ)... "Paul's perspective links apocalyptic to vision not in order to gaze into heaven in a mystic trance, but to bear witness that God has begun the apocalyptic war by striking the decisive blow in Jesus Christ, thus making certain that the ultimate future of the world is the future of Christ, the corporate One of the New Age."
He wraps up this thought about the power unleashed at the cross against the forces of evil: "When the crucifixion of God's Messiah is seen as the center of God's invading revelation, the battlefield is defined in ways that probe the mystery of cosmic evil, rather than in the reductionistic perspective that is focused on the ill will, the misconduct, the immorality, of this or that individual or community."
I so appreciate his conclusion about God's power being all sufficient, not dependent upon anything man does or is, because this IS the message God has given me to write and speak about. Martyn says it so eloquently: "A mystery, the crucifixion is God's war in our favor, the event of his powerful invading grace, uncontingent on the fulfilling of a single presuppostion from our side. On the apocalpytic battlefield Christ's death is for those who are under the power of Sin, and that means for all of us. Paul can even say, therefore, that in Christ's death God is the one who rectifies (justifies) the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Here is the power of God's grace: that Christ did not die for the righteous, for the morally acceptable, for the noble of heart. Indeed Paul even sees in the crucifixion that Christ did not die for those who believe. Neither Christian faith nor faith of any sort is a presupposition to God's invading apocalypse of love in the crucifixion of the Messiah. On the contrary, the crucifixion is God's revelation of that gift of grace that not assuming or presupposing faith, calls faith into existence." End Quote.
While Flannery O'Connor's story about Mrs. Turpin's Pig Parlor is wonderful and has stuck with me for almost 25 years now, the story is fiction, used by Martyn to illustrate the difference between unifocal and bifocal vision. I may share that in a later writing, but right now, I have a true story to share with you, a triumph of God's apocalypse of love in the life of our friend, whose e-mail began this series on healing. And if there ever were someone who needed healing, it is our friend, for she saw God most of her life with unifocal vision, concluding that He didn't love her, that she was outside the kingdom looking in, and never could go inside, but now, He has broken through into her life gloriously, giving her bifocal vision. Lenny and I rejoiced and thanked God when we read this "Hallelujah" e-mail:
"I find it amazing that for years and years I agonized over and over that I was not one of God's chosen ones (and it made me really mad) because I couldn't understand His word, hear His voice nor feel the Holy Spirit (unifocal vision). I just realized that anyone who is so driven to know the word of God could be nothing but among the elect! (bifocal vision, God's apocalypse into her life). I thought God was punishing me because I was in such darkness about the Bible and what it is saying. I thought everyone but me "got it." Little did I know that it isn't revealed in one giant "beaming down" but rather in a journey of discovery which makes it even sweeter! I didn't know why I asked the questions I did, I only knew that the need was so strong, I could not help but ask them, I would go crazy if I didn't ask them! Now that sounds really weird I know!
"I also had an insight that death is nothing more than the casting off of the shell we have outgrown much like the cicada! They spend some 7 years of their life underground in complete darkness only one day to feel the need to come up to the light. We see evidence of their old "body/shell" but we know they are now free, not dead but just in a different form and experiencing life in a new way. I think that pretty much describes us on our walk of the Christian life.
"You mentioned timid souls being afraid to ask questions. For some reason, I've never had any fear about asking about my thoughts and wonderings because I never meant any disrespect for God in the asking and wasn't afraid He'd punish me for asking questions. I wasn't afraid he'd punish me for trying to understand Him. It strikes me as odd that anyone wouldn't want to ask their questions in order to get themselves out of agony!! Just like depression hurts, so does not knowing God! It is a physical and mental, actual felt pain!
"I'm still only taking baby steps in knowing God, but I can look to others who have also taken baby steps that led them into a real relationship with God and know that if they did it, then it is possible for me as long as I don't give up and God continues to keep me seeking. I feel as if I am the poor widow who kept asking an unfair judge for a favor and she became such a pest that in order to get rid of her, the judge finally granted her, her request!" End Quote.
We've known this woman for almost 20 years and loved her from the first time we met her. She is a good person, a bible believing person, but she could NOT get what we were saying about God. She was seemingly cursed with unifocal vision, like those people who couldn't understand Jesus' parables, the ones whose eyes were closed and whose ears were shut by God Himself. I have wrung my hands in prayer over her countless times, but I knew that until and unless He opened her eyes, she could not see Him. In the fulness of His time for her, He did. Hallelujah! What a wonderful experience it is when once our eyes are opened, we can say, "I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:25). Healing the blind was always Jesus' business and it still is!
One last word about money. My observation is that those who view it through unifocal lenses still struggle to understand the relationship between money and grace. Only through bifocal lenses can we see beyond dollars and cents to what God wants us to know. He uses money as a means to hone us, to refine us, and to build trust in our hearts that He is our provider, the giver of all good gifts.
Father, we thank You for the grace to see beyond the veil into Your heart. We know that in Your time, You will open the eyes and ears of all men to see and hear You as You really are, not as they imagine You to be. The veil has been rent, Your glory released, and all flesh will see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. In Christ, Amen. Jan Antonsson
To Be continued....
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)
Healing, or Stealing God's Glory?
Risky Business, Healing, Part II
The Royal Priesthood, Healing, Part III
Rest in the GIFT, Healing, Part IV
Restoring the Glory Land, Healing, Part V
Organizing the Church, Healing, Part VI
Victory Through Helplessness, Healing, Part VII
What Does Faith Have to do with It? Healing, Part VIII
The Death of Death, Healing, Part IX
The Death He Died, Healing, Part X
Freed From Sin, Healing, Part XI
Flesh, Spirit, & the New Man, Healing, Part XIII
The Church, the Gospel, and God's Will, Healing, Part XIV
The End of the Law, Healing, Part XV
The Divine Possibility, Healing, Part XVI
What Shall We do? Healing, Part XVII
The Tyranny of the Vegetable Eaters, Healing, Part XVIII
The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
Harry Fox's Website
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 05/30/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/19/08.