Sunday, May 4, 2014

A contemplation of the glories of Christ

Who is this Jesus?

He is the creator of the universe. There He was at the beginning, rejoicing always before the Father, rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, and delighting in the sons of men. (Pr. 8:30-31)

He is fairer than the children of men (Psalm 45:2); the Desire of all nations (Hag. 2:7); the High and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity (Is. 57:15)--yet he was made of no reputation (Php. 2:7), despised and rejected of men (Isa. 53:3), and made a little lower than the angels (Heb. 2:9).

He is worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing (Rev. 5:12), yea, and my own life also (Mt. 10:38).

He is the Lamb of God, the spotless sacrifice, who opened not his mouth, but willingly laid down His life.

He is the one who is risen in great power and majesty, who dealt the final blow to sin and the flesh, who ever lives to make intercession for me.

He is the Bridegroom, the fountain of love, the satisfier of every longing soul. His presence is sweet. The delights of His love are rich, so that every earthly joy pales and loses its charm in comparison.

Shall we not fall at His feet and adore Him? Shall we not spend ourselves for His agenda, wake up earlier to be with Him, and let His name and His work drop from our lips in the natural outflow of our conversation?

Shall we not tremble before Him, rejoice to be invited near, and hold nothing back from Him?

Yes, Lord, Jesus. I bow myself anew at your feet, surrender myself afresh to you, and lay my life before you to be used for the purposes that you choose. My love springs forth in response to your love. You are the rejoicing of my heart. Come and take your rightful place in my life.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The flesh's crucifixion

I have been praying, studying, and pursuing a new revelation of God's truth to my soul in the area of being crucified with Christ. A book that has been very helpful in this study has been The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. I had read it before, but this re-read has been particularly blessed. Watchman Nee was a Chinese man, and his illustrations and explanations are vivid, clear, and simple.

One thing he points out is that there is a four-step process towards living in the reality of what God has done for us in the gospel. These four steps are (1) Knowing, (2) Reckoning, (3) Presenting ourselves to God, and (4) Walking in the Spirit.

I was particularly struck by the first area, Knowing. In Romans 6:6, it says, "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him." We have to know this before we can reckon it. And Nee presents the case that we must know it, not just with head knowledge, but by divine revelation.

Reckoning is the second step. Romans 6:11 "Reckon yourselves therefore to be dead indeed unto sin." Nee points out that you do not reckon in order to make yourself dead, you reckon because you are dead. Reckoning means doing accounts, book-keeping. Nee gives this illustration:

"Why does God say we are to reckon ourselves dead? Because we are dead. Let us keep to the analogy of accounting. Suppose I have fifteen shillings in my pocket, what do I enter in my account-book? Can I enter fourteen shillings and sixpence or fifteen shillings and sixpence? No, I must enter in my account-book that which is in fact in my pocket. Accounting is the reckoning of facts, not fancies, Even so, it is because I am really dead that God tells me to account it so. God could not ask me to put down in my account-book what was not true. He could not ask me to reckon that I am dead if I am still alive. For such mental gymnastics the word 'reckoning' would be inappropriate; we might rather speak of 'mis-reckoning'! 
Reckoning is not a form of make-believe. It does not mean that, having found that I have only twelve shillings in my pocket, I hope that by entering fifteen shillings incorrectly in my account-book such 'reckoning' will somehow remedy the deficiency. It won't. If I have only twelve shillings, yet try to reckon to myself, "I have fifteen shillings; I have fifteen shillings; I have fifteen shillings," do you think that the mental effort involved will in any way affect the sum that is in my pocket? Not a bit of it! Reckoning will not make twelve shillings into fifteen shillings, nor will it make what is untrue true. But if, on the other hand, it is a fact that I have fifteen shillings in my pocket, then with great ease and assurance I can enter fifteen shillings in my account-book. God tells us to reckon ourselves dead, not that by the process of reckoning we may become dead, but because we are dead. He never told us to reckon what was not a fact."

This has stimulated a chain of thoughts and has revealed to me that I was indeed going about it the wrong way around. I was attempting to make myself dead by reckoning, rather than recognizing that I was already dead and then reckoning on that fact.

Here is the progression of my thoughts.

The Bible says that I am dead, that I have died, that my death with Christ is accomplished, and that it is past tense, not present or future.

  • "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him." Romans 6:6
  • "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." Galatians 5:24
  • "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." Colossians 3:3
  • "I am crucified with Christ." Galatians 2:20
  • "Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ." Romans 7:4
  • "And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin." Romans 8:10

If God says it, and God cannot lie, then I am dead.

God would not say it if it were not the case. He is not playing verbal games. If God says I am dead, that is because His word corresponds to the actual facts of my condition.

But I don't feel dead, and therefore, accepting God's word on the matter feels like mental gymnastics. What do I do with that ?

Contemplate Christ crucified. When did I die? I died when He died, for I was in Him when He died. He was on the cross, and He took all the souls of men and pulled them into Himself, out of Satan's reach, and then He died.

Did Jesus really die? Yes.

And His death is my death. I do not need to feel my own death, for He died it for me.

I enter into His death by faith. The moment I look to Him in faith and come to Him and accept the work He did, His death becomes my death.

But it feels so remote, so distant, so incomprehensible, to think that my death happened 2,000 years ago.

In that case, would it have made any difference if it was today or tomorrow? Think of the people who were alive and walking around at the time of Jesus's crucifixion. The disciples. Paul. Future converts who were already born and perhaps living somewhere else, like in Asia.

At the moment Jesus died, they died. But do you think they felt dead? Did they suddenly feel an excruciating loss of self, as something inside of them was suddenly ripped out and nailed to the cross to perish? No, not a bit of it. The disciples went on mourning, the yet-to-be converted people went about their lives, and nobody felt a thing.

This death is not recognized or detected by feeling dead, no matter what time in history you appeared.

Come to think of it, Adam and Eve didn't feel dead when they died, either. God said they would die when they ate the fruit, and they ate the fruit, and they died--at least, the spiritual part of them died, and they lost their access to God--but it looked to everyone like they went on living for 900 more years.

When we think of death, we think primarily of physical death, but what God defines as death is something far more profound.

Is not God's definition the one we should go by? God, who can see the spiritual realities as well as the natural world, has something in creation called 'death.' Before Adam and Eve sinned, and nothing had ever died, what basis would there have been to know what 'death' even meant? The only way to know would have been to go by God's definition.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they knew they were naked, and they were ashamed, and they hid from God. Why? Because they had died. This is death. Yes, their hearts were still beating, but something real had died. God had said, "If you eat of the fruit, you shall surely die." They ate of the fruit, and just as surely, they died. This was called death long before there was ever a slain lamb or a murdered Abel or a 930-year-old body of Adam that had just breathed its last.

Is not this spiritual, unseen, unfelt death the original, while the physical, biological death is just the copy, the illustration, the picture that allows us to know what 'death' means? For is it not always the case that the spiritual reality in the heavenly realms is the real thing, the original, while the earthly thing (which we often call by the same name) is but a copy that only serves to help us to picture the real thing?

  • Marriage between a man a woman is just a picture of Christ and His Bride, the church
  • The sacrificial lamb was just a picture of Jesus, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world
  • Parenthood is merely an illustration to us of God's fatherhood
  • And death--death is that grievous, mournful, mysterious thing from which no one comes back. We think we know what 'death' means because physical death is so sobering, so shattering--but what if we realized that the original death in the heavenly realms, the spiritual death that separates us from God, is even worse, just as final, and far more sad? 

We trivialize the spiritual death that Adam and Eve died, because they didn't "feel dead," but they were nonetheless dead. Adam and Eve died spiritually and their flesh sprang to life.

And then all their descendants were born dead, and the life principle that acted in them was the flesh.

Then there entered a different kind of death. The spirit had died in the garden. Now it was the flesh's turn on Calvary. Jesus laid down his life on the cross, and He simultaneously took the flesh and nailed it to His cross. The cross was just as effective upon the flesh as it was on the life of the Savior. Both were extinguished. But the glorious day of resurrection came, and Jesus rose again, leaving the flesh behind, buried in the tomb. Thereby He triumphed forever and completely for those He came to save.

For Adam and Eve, the spirit died and the flesh came to life. For you and I, the flesh gets put to death, and the spirit comes back to life, liberating us to be free to serve God. In both cases, there was a literal death, as defined by God, in the spiritual realms.

So when God gives us an opportunity to enter into Christ by faith, when He provides for the flesh to die and for what He defines as "dead" to rise again, shall we expect it to feel like physical death and resurrection? Not at all! Our brain waves and pulse and respiratory action can go on uninterrupted, but meanwhile God is effecting a change in the spiritual realm, which, after all, is the place that matters, for it is more real and more important than this earthly realm.

My eyes cannot look into the spiritual realm. My hand cannot penetrate into the heavenly realms and touch what is there. My senses are useless to me to access any information this spiritual land. (Though if the veil could be drawn away, I would undoubtedly discover that it's right here and not a million light years away in the universe somewhere). There is, however, one organ provided to me which can "see" into this heavenly land, can detect things that are there, can palpitate these invisible and unfelt heavenly realities. It is called the eyes of faith.

Faith can look there and see things that no other kind of eyes can see. Faith can see Jesus, high and lifted up on his throne. Faith can appreciate the glory and majesty and holiness of the heavenly court. And faith looks to see where I am--I, who am this hopeless ball of sinful flesh, do I appear? Faith looks around in vain to find Rebekah in the flesh. Where is this creature who has made so much trouble to herself and others? Faith hunts high and low through the heavenly realms. There is a cross, but it is empty. Nearby is a tomb. Faith looks inside. Lo and behold, there, wrapped in graveclothes, cold, motionless, and utterly lifeless--I am dead! Faith beholds--and believes. The flesh is dead, buried, destroyed, deactivated. Faith turns, and there is Christ, and there I am, alive in Him. My flesh was left behind in the tomb, but He resurrected me. In the heavenly realms, I am in Christ, and His life is my life, and I live by the working of His mighty power, which raised me up from the dead. Faith beholds this marvel--and believes.

How I can rejoice--because the flesh isn't coming back!

Furthermore, when Satan tempts me to look within and see myself as very much alive, I can simply point to the heavenly realms and show him the dead, cold, buried flesh there, and even he will have no argument against that, for he knows exactly how real and final that is.