Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on Feb. 3, 2008
"It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it" (Isa. 2:2).
The night before he was killed in April, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech to a packed house in Memphis. Thanks to video technology, it was saved for future generations to hear. His words given that night were Spirit born and Spirit delivered. He said, "I do not know what's going to happen, but I fear no man, for I have been to the mountain top. I have seen the Promised Land and the power of the Lord God Almighty." When he finished, he was so emotionally spent that they had to help him to his seat, and I was powerfully moved. Many of us have been to the mountain top and beyond. In a mystical sense, we have crossed Jordan and are now IN the land promised to Abraham's seed. Hearing Dr. King's words triggered two thoughts. One was the comparison between Dr. King and Moses, who was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, but was only able to view it from the top of Mount Nebo (Deut. 32:49; 34:1; See Numbers 20:1-13).
The second thought was that Dr. King apparently had a premonition of his death and was reassuring his followers that it is the power of God who would lead them to freedom, if he could not. His words have proved prophetic though it has taken a lot of bloodshed, death, anguish and tears for his people to get as far as they have come today. This is equally true of the followers of Christ, who have been persecuted by the spirit of the Pharisee down through the centuries. Jesus prophesied about those who, empowered by the Spirit, would stand against the traditions of men: "Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town" (Mt. 23:34).
Matthew also records Jesus' definition of orthodoxy: "You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men'" (Matt. 15:7-9). Orthodoxy is always a byproduct of religion's proclivity to organize the free flowing Spirit into an unmovable mass of ideas, commandments, and protocol.
The Old Testament prophets railed against orthodoxy in their day: "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" (Amos 5:21-24). Man's ideas of what is pleasing to God can never bring us to the mountain top, which by the way, is symbolic of the place where God dwells.
Isaiah said about this place, Mount Zion, "Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:3). The Hebrew writer referred to Mount Zion as "the kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Heb. 12:28).
On our journey to the mountain top, we encounter many obstacles, temptations, and detours, not the least of which is misinformation which we grew up hearing, and have difficulty dislodging from our souls. Here's how one of our friends described the myth that man has free will to choose good over evil:
"I've read and reread 'That OTHER Place' (See Link at End), and I know in my spirit it IS the truth, all of it. But don't we have to take responsibility for our actions? Can we really "blame" everything on God? I have this strong belief that we do need to take responsibility for our own actions, which I'm sure comes from my years of studying psychology and working in behavioral health departments! How do you reconcile 'I'm responsible for my own actions' and 'God is responsible for everything that I do and everything that happens to me?' Are we responsible for our own actions, or is that a myth too?" End quote.
The subject of man's accountability versus God's reconciliation of all was also the topic of an e-mail from the friend whose original e-mail was the springboard for "Greasy Grace" (See Link at End). After reading "That OTHER Place" (Link at End), he wrote, "You say: God is the only one who has free will in the whole universe! That is true in the ultimate sense, but that does not mean that man has no freedom whatever to make choices. God can and does intervene to limit man's activities in order to carry out his purposes; but man is still held accountable for his choices.
"II Tim. 2:15 admonishes that we should 'rightly divide the word of truth.' II Tim. 3:16 says that 'all scripture is given by inspiration of God;' therefore we cannot take one scripture and build a doctrine on it if it contradicts other scriptures.
"There are a plethora of scriptures admonishing us that what we do on this earth will have consequences, both temporal and in the hereafter, and we are repeatedly admonished to do good and to eschew evil. None of these scriptures have any meaning if man has NO freedom to make choices... I conclude with Gal. 6:7, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.'" End Quote.
These readers have valid concerns. How do you reconcile the seeming contradiction between our responsibility to do good and not evil, and God's reconciliation of all, including evil doers in this life? The journey to the mountain top is a metaphor to address this conundrum. To climb a mountain, you must first get to its base, which probably means traveling over flat ground. Your vision would be limited to what you can see on the flat ground at the base of the mountain.
As you begin to climb and get above the tree line, you can see further and further into the country side around the mountain. When you reach the top, you have no impediments to seeing everything around you on every side of the mountain. As the saying goes, "on a clear day, you can see forever."
The deeper we go into God, and the more we abandon the doctrines and authority of men, and the closer we follow the Spirit's leading, the easier it is to understand that contradictions are caused by blurred vision of where and who we are.
The Apostle John described our journey in terms of our spiritual maturity: "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father" (I John 2:13). When our children are small, we don't explain WHY they must never play in the street, just that they cannot. As they get older, we must tell them the dangers inherent in playing where speeding cars are traveling.
The law, Paul said, was "our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). Law is the default (fallback) position, for our code of conduct. Carried to its extreme, however, depending on Law to make us righteous is fruit from the poisonous tree, because Paul declared that "you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4).
And yet in spite of powerful scriptures which tell us we are saved by grace through faith, a gift of God, and that God is the one who consigned ALL MEN to disobedience, there persists the conviction in Christendom that we are responsible for our actions, accountable to God for everything we do and every word we say.
That brings us to another scary scripture, Matt. 12:36-37: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." How many sermons have we heard in which we were beaten bloody by these words? A lot, in my case.
Lenny points out that Jesus was speaking to Jews still living under the Law of Moses. He had not yet paid the price for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2). His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave delivered us from the curse of the Law, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (Jn 3:16-17). There's no time limit or expiration date on that promise. Yes, it says that "whoever believes in Him shall not perish," but remember that belief (faith), is a gift so that no one can boast. What have we that we did not receive from God? Nothing at all. Of what value is self effort in our attempts to please God? Merely fuel for the fire.
Paul's statement to the Corinthians is so awesome, so over the top of what most Christians have been taught, that it is inconceivable to the carnal mind: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that IN HIM we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21). Based on the e-mail we get from our very honest readers, most Christians struggle to believe they are justified, that God really loves them, so beat down are they by church doctrine over the years. And yet, there it is in black and white. Paul's powerful words fill our hearts with hope and our souls with joy, for every honest person knows that we cannot on our own steam keep from saying careless words or doing careless deeds. Thankfully, we do not live by Law, "For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified" (Rom. 10:4).
One of our friends, whose struggles with "scary scriptures" I have recounted in the past, wrote this week to say that the Spirit gave her valuable insight into Matt. 12:20: "A Bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering (dimly burning) wick He will not quench, till He brings justice and a just cause to victory" (Amplified). About this verse, she said, "Verse 20 meant to me that God's intent/plan is to impart justice through Christ with mercy and grace until He is manifestly and unquestionably victorious (He is already so by default). In other words, the purpose of justice and therefore judgment is to bring about Godly victory in each of us. Verse 19 seems to me to imply that it will be an inside job (Holy Spirit led) rather than through external workings of current day preaching (most notably that of the televangelist).
She concluded, "I think I can begin to read the word as good news again though the firmness of some of those scary passages may lead me to question my new found hope. I can look at this as part of the realignment needed to move forward in faith." End quote.
This woman has come through a long, dark tunnel, a place where law and legalism all but stamped out the reality of God's unconditional love for her. Like most of us, she had never heard teaching that God is love and in control of everything, only that He is just, righteous, and oh yes, punitive. Her e-mail reminded me of Isaiah's wonderful statement, "When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9). According to the prophet chosen to relay very harsh punishment indeed on the Israelites, the purpose of judgment, was so that "the people of the world learn righteousness." God's horrific judgments on Israel and her enemies used to terrify me as a child. Looking at the scripture without the Holy Spirit's guidance as to what it means can be a frightening prospect.
All the severe and deadly judgments God rained down on Israel were upon the earth, NOT AFTER DEATH! There is no indication in Old Testament scriptures that any of God's wrath survived the grave. In fact, the Apostle Peter said that Christ preached the gospel to the disobedient souls who died in the flood (I Pet. 3:19-20). They got another chance and since God is no respecter of persons, so will everyone get another chance, if they need it.
When I was meditating on this topic, it came to me that the harmonizing of two seemingly opposite ideas, man's accountability for his choices and God's reconciliation of all, is as simple as Isaiah's declaration that God's judgments come upon the earth. We're held responsible for our choices in this life, but not in the hereafter. In other words, If you jump off a 10 story building, you will reap broken bones or worse for your rash decision. If you step out in front of a speeding car, you will pay the price. You may die, or worse, be in a wheel chair for the rest of your life, which would certainly seem like hell.
The journey to the mountain top is long and difficult, and as the Hebrew writer indicated, full of earthquakes, for God is going to shake us until only that which cannot be shaken remains. We have come to Mount Zion where we receive the full force of God's love. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).
Father, open our eyes that we may see You as You are and be like You. We stand before You in the company of innumerable angels in joyful assembly. We bless you that You alone are responsible and accountable for Your perfect will being done on earth as it is in heaven, and we fall on our faces in worship to the One from whom all families on earth are named, and in whom, all men may find solace and rest. All praise and honor and glory to You, our Father, and Christ Jesus, our elder brother. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
When we all get to Heaven (The Gospel according to cats).
Greasy Grace for the Flawed Women in Jesus' Genealogy
That OTHER Place
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 01/30/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 02/03/08.