Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 3/23/08.
"Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 5:10, KJV).
The writings the past two weeks on Healing (See Links at End), got a lot of e-mail comments, as you may imagine. Those comments reflect the human condition as we ponder the acts and teachings of Jesus, and what we perceive was/is His mandate for us. A brother in UK wrote to us about his questions and concerns, and since many of us have had similar thoughts, I'd like to include a part of it:
"I understand everything that you are saying, and agree that you are essentially correct in a lot of what you say. However, I belong to a church which is really seeking the spiritual gifts (as well as the fruits I hasten to add!), and is very keen on speeding up the revival of our city, and consequently our nation. There is a real earnest desire to have the kingdom of Heaven established on the Earth....
"The stance taken is that when Jesus walked the earth he preached that the Kingdom of Heaven "is at hand:" the rule and reign of God is available to us/them right now. In Matt. 5:23, it says that "people brought to him ALL who were ill with various diseases......and he healed them."
"Before he left the earth, Jesus said to his disciples "Greater works shall you do..." He had already sent them out on a trial run to preach the kingdom, heal the sick (as opposed to PRAY for healing) and drive out demons. Now as he leaves the earth, he commissions the disciples to continue the great work.
"On the one hand I agree with you wholeheartedly that it is not by our works that anything gets done, but on the other, it seems clear in the New Testament that God has given us responsibilities to see his kingdom come. Although God is ultimately in control, he gives us the responsibility of establishing his rule on the earth. It seems too easy to offer up fervent prayers asking God to do it all, because after that we become passive and write everything off to whether it's God's will or not.
"One of the phrases used at my church is 'there is no sickness in the kingdom of heaven.' It is scripturally evident that where ever Jesus went, healing went also. The fact is, Jan, I would LOVE to be able to bring healing to people I meet and know. I JUST DON'T HAVE THE FAITH FOR IT. But do I just sit back and say "well death is the ultimate healing." It just doesn't sit right, you know? So how do you reconcile the two?" End Quote.
This brother is caught on the horns of a dilemma: how to follow the teachings of Jesus and bring the kingdom to earth NOW, over against what he perceives is his lack of faith to do it. About that, I would ask, "Whose faith is it that we depend on?" If your answer isn't, "Christ's faith," you've got a BIG problem. Paul declared it is Christ's Faith we live by: "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith OF the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, KJV).
Likewise, if anything about establishing the kingdom depends upon us, rather than upon God's will, it will never get done. God does NOT DEPEND upon us for anything. If He did, He would no longer be sovereign! Paul affirmed that Christ has the responsibility to "present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27). Plus, we need to remember that Jesus said the kingdom is within (or among) us, and it comes "NOT with observation" (Lk 17:20). Let me just say as kindly but as firmly as I can that anytime you set yourself up to do God's job, you will fail and feel the pain of defeat. Been there, done that.
In a subsequent e-mail, the brother in UK said that there have been prophecies to the effect that revival is coming, beginning in UK and it will sweep across Europe, bringing healings and deliverance with it, the likes of which we have never seen. He asks, if NOW is not the time for us to do greater works than Jesus did, then WHEN?
His questions take me back to about 1970, when I belonged to a charismatic congregation in Thousand Oaks, CA. Like this brother's enthusiastic group in UK, we were on fire to see the works of Christ displayed in the world. Egged on and inflamed to good works by the teachings of Jesus and Kenneth Copeland, we had big plans for our community, especially where it came to healing. Most of us were young and healthy and didn't need healing physically (mentally maybe), but God gave us a powerful lesson in who is in control.
He sent us a woman dying of incurable and inoperable cancer. We pulled out all the stops and our little church group haunted the halls of the hospital, praying, pleading the blood, confessing scriptures, and standing on the stripes of Christ for her healing. She herself, frail little woman that she was, told everyone who came into her hospital room that Jesus was healing her. I had never seen anyone in so much pain. They offered her meds that would stop it, but probably hasten her death, and she refused, saying that God was going to heal her and she would do nothing to stand in His way.
She died a long, drawn out, agonizing death, and I was devastated because I was so sure we had the "right formula" to heal her. I was riding my bicycle in the neighborhood, railing on God about why didn't He do as He'd promised, yada, yada, yada. He spoke firmly to me, "Ruth is my business." I got it, being a quick learner, that God is the one in charge, not me.
Walking with God is a process of maturing under the Spirit's guidance. We start out as babes who fall in love with Jesus. When we mature a little, we become what Lenny calls "obnoxious teen agers," the ones whom the Apostle John describes as "young men because you have all the vigor of youth, because God's truth is at home in you and because you have defeated the evil one" (I John 2:14, Phil). Fighting the works of the devil and taking the kingdom by storm is a hallmark of impetuous youth. Jesus said about it, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven has been subject to force and violent men are trying to seize it" (Matt. 11:12, Phil.).
When Christ sent the twelve disciples out, He gave them authority to heal every disease and sickness in Israel (Mt. 10:1), and specific instructions to preach this message: "'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:7-8). Luke recounts that Jesus also sent out seventy two disciples, two by two with a similar assignment. They returned with this report: "The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.... However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:17,20). This may be a reminder to those of us who have been hungry to see God's power in action, that the greater blessing is that our names are written in heaven.
Our grandchildren were playing in a friend's swimming pool under our supervision several years ago. Observing his little sister Hannah jump into the water, Harrison, who was about ten at the time said, "Grandma, Hannah can't walk on water yet. She has to practice more." That's a summation of most of our self-effort attempts to heal and bring the kingdom to earth.
Those of us with the burning desire to see people healed and delivered of all their afflictions must remember that Christ Himself said that He only did what He saw the Father doing and said what He heard His Father saying, and everything He had or did came from God (John 5:19; 14:24; 17:7). Jesus and His Father are one, and He prayed that we would know that even as He and the Father were one, so we are one with them. His request for us was, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world" (John 17:24). Did you get that? Jesus asked God to show us HIS GLORY.
I had to be brought up short in my seeking the gifts, rather than the Giver, by realizing that at some level, I was wanting to have part of the glory, part of the credit. We can never steal God's glory. He will not allow it, but the promise of the incarnation is this: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also CALLED those he called, he also JUSTIFIED; those he justified, he also GLORIFIED" (Rom. 8:29-30).
The irony of trying to take the kingdom by storm is found in Jesus' statement, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to GIVE you the kingdom" (Lk. 12:32). The kingdom, like salvation, justification, sanctification, and FAITH, is a GIFT of God, lest any man (or woman) should boast.
The Lord is weaving several strands together here, so hang on tight. Harry and Jeri Fox recommended a fabulous book to me entitled, Finally Comes the Poet, by Walter Brueggemann. He is a Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, Atlanta, GA, and God used his fine writing and scholarship to open up something for me that I hadn't focused on before: the Levitical priesthood. The book of Leviticus has rich treasures, no doubt, but it is far from my favorite book, so drenched in blood, guilt, recrimination and law, that I don't read it unless the Spirit opens it up for me, which this book did.
Brueggemann defines preaching today as an experiment in trying to explain God in watered down prose, which he refers to as a "reduction." Because God won't fit into our neat boxes, nor will His actions, we need poetry to lift us out of the mundane into the divine. By poetry, he is clear that he does NOT mean rhyme or meter, but rather the Spirit breathed passages that you find in Isaiah and the gospel of John, for instance. "God's actions defy any attempts to reduce them to the ordinary, and it takes therefore, extraordinary means to communicate about the mysteries of God." Paul calls the gospel a mystery. Why? Because it is bigger and wider and deeper and richer than any words can frame.
Brueggemann observed, "The work of priests is to make available the God who is required for reconciliation." He has an excellent discussion of the function of the priests, who stood in the stead of God for the Israelites. He also links healing to the priestly action of overcoming guilt. That, of course, is psychologically sound, since guilt (and the stress it causes) is at the basis of most human physical ills, and is as he observes, "more toxic than nuclear waste." He points out that it took more than bringing a guilt offering to the priest to actually remove the numbness and ache which guilt leaves in the offender's psyche and which "one cannot dispel by one's own actions." To accomplish this requires, "God's action and must be given by the regularized channels of priestly action."
He's referring to the Levitical Priesthood, but my mind leapt to the Catholic Church's "knock off" version of the Aaronic Priesthood. The Catholic Church, it always has seemed to me, has transplanted much of the Old Testament rules and rituals into their sacraments and the Mass itself.
It always bothered me that my Catholic friends thought they had to go to confession and have the priest forgive their sins. Why not just go to God, I wondered. Jesus tied forgiveness of sin with healing when He healed the paralytic lowered down from the roof, so if modern day priests have power to forgive sin, why don't they have power to heal? (Matt. 9:2,5).
In the Old Testament sacrifices, the sinner had to cut the throat of the offering himself, but only the priest could sprinkle the blood on the altar. The Israelites were forbidden to offer sacrifices just any place, but were commanded to bring them to the place God would designate (Lev. 3:2;13; 4:13-17;27-30; Deut. 12:11; 13-14). In Leviticus, the priest always sprinkled the blood. What did that signify and why couldn't the sinner do that for himself since he had to slit the animal's throat? Brueggemann concludes:
"The problem for the text [and for us reading it] is how to speak of God's action that is given as priestly action. God's action wrought by the priests is an action of God's pure GIFT done through the offering given by the worshiper. God's action wrought by the priests is a visible, concrete act, but it is an act with surplus meanings that move well beyond what is visible and concrete. The language for God's act wrought through the priests is the language of sacrament, an invisible act wrought through a visible sign, a means of grace wrought through the concreteness of human offering."
I had never before thought of the Levitical priests as a visible representative of God's self giving, without which there is no relief from sin. Of course, it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to forgive sin, which is why Christ came in the body prepared for Him by God, to be our sacrifice, once for all, so that by His blood, we can participate in the New Covenant written on our minds and hearts, not on tablets of stone. I do encourage you to reread Hebrews, chapter 10, for it is a rich contrast between the Levitical rituals and what we enjoy today.
I found Brueggemann's passage about God's gift, done "through the offering given by the worshipper" to be pregnant with meaning, not just for them under the Old Covenant, but for Christians today, struggling with Law. Catholics and Protestants alike have translated the sacrificial offering commandments of the Old Covenant into today's admonition by priest, pastor, and preacher, to work, to do, and to give BEFORE God will bless you or heal you, or save you.
Brueggemann said, "The priests in the Leviticus text know that finally guilt requires a sacrifice 'from the other side,' from the very person of God who alone has enough self to give to answer the guilt. Such sacrifice, however, cannot be enacted directly, because God is not so directly available. The sacrifice therefore is enacted 'at a distance.' The distance is maintained by the use of the animal [or a good work for us today]; the participants know, however, that is the very presence of God that overrides the distance, that contacts directly and decisively the poisonous power of guilt." End Quote.
When we do good works in order to get God to give, we are putting distance between us and Him, whereas in fact, Jesus said, WE ARE ONE!
Peter called us a "royal priesthood" (I Pet. 2:9). We don't NEED a priest. We ARE priests and kings (Rev. 5:10). What meaning could this have for us today and what does it have to do with the "greater works" Jesus said we would do and for healing itself? It came to me by the Spirit, that THE GREATER WORKS are that WE stand in the name of God, ministering not to the congregation as the Aaronic priesthood did, but to the world! We are to "speak peace to the heathen" (Zech. 9:10), and in that is implied that we are a channel to bring Christ Himself, His healing, His salvation, all the gifts of the Spirit, and the kingdom of God to everyone on earth. Jesus and His disciples limited their ministry mainly to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:1, 5-8). Our ministry is to the world! That's the greater works that Jesus spoke of! (Matt. 28:18). The ONLY WAY possible for us to do that is for Christ to pour out the gift of His Life through us and in us. Individually, we cannot contain God's glory, but we can reflect the Light of the world as He shines through us and our lives reflect His Life and unconditional Love.
What a difference this is to what we were taught about our responsibilities and duties. Christ is the doer, the self-giver, the God bringer, and the one who is responsible for getting the works done. We participate with joy, according to His will and timing in all He planned before the foundation of the world.
Father, we lay our trophies down and walk away from our works. You have given Yourself to the world in Christ, and whatever part we have in Your plan, we accept with joy, because You are the one doing the work. To You belongs the glory, the honor, and all praise, now and forever. 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
Rest in the GIFT, Healing, Part IV
Restoring the Glory Land, Part V
Organizing the Church, 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
Money, the Kingdom, and Bifocal Vision, Healing, Part XII
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
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 03/18/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/19/08.