Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Church! The Hope of the World! Part 2

Posted earlier today looking at Genesis 28:17 which asks the question, what is this place? The answer - it is the House of God! I tried to examine it in context and see that it is a place of the prophetic, a place of promise and a place of progression. Now I want to apply it to me - today - here. What is this place?

i) The Church – A Place Where God Must Speak.

The church HAS to be a place of the prophetic. 1 Corinthians 12 to 14 is full of the prophetic shout. Why else would the apostle urge that this gift must be earnestly desired? The key verse in my opinion concerning the prophetic gift is chapter 14:24 – 25

If all prophesy and an unbeliever enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all and the secrets of his heart are disclosed, he will fall down on his face and worship God declaring ‘God is certainly among you’”.

So practically it is no good urging a resurgence of the prophetic gift without some indication of what we feel the Bible intends.

a) Prophecy grounded in the Word.

Some of the most awesome prophecies that have come from platforms today have been from men who are totally committed to the sufficiency of Scripture, but not only that – clearly live in the Word of God. Consider the following prophecy. It was given by Terry Virgo to the Church of Christ the King in Brighton on the 8th May 2001. It is reproduced to demonstrate the fact that God can speak apart from His Word, but He never speaks outside of it.

"I want you to feel the excitement of a page that is getting loosened up. I want you to feel the excitement of a page that is about to turn, I want you to feel excitement that what you have read and re-read, is about to be replaced by another page, that is going to turn. You are at a stage of page turning and what was solid, and what seemed dense in weight and like a block of paper, you’re to feel the breath that is coming under that page, its about to turn. I say to you, you are in the midst of transition and page turning says the Lord.

I want you to come with great anticipation even into this week. You are to turn and look with new excitement what is written on this new page. I want you to look like you have never looked before. I want you to drink in what I am going to show you. I want you to realise that I am moving on with you, and I want you to give attention to things you see and hear in these days. I want you to be ready to be at home on that page, so you don’t close it again, that you don’t return to familiar turf and territory, that you say I have got this down, I know this page. I want you to live in the excitement and vulnerability of a new page that I am turning.

I want you to know that I have not called you to a static path; I have not called you to be a defender only of what you have thus far. I don’t want you to have a fortress mentality. I want you to know the excitement of pressing on, experiencing more, and going on with me, that is my call to you. I call you to grow, this is not something that should frighten you or seem strange to you, and this is the great essence of life that you grow. Therefore I say to you, beware of the dangers of defending everything you know, standing only secure in what you have proved; I call you to the adventure of learning new things".

b) Prophecy Walking With the Spirit.

It is absolutely no good being a theologian par excellence who can quote Scripture, unless the prophet is a man of the anointing. There is a great mistrust among the evangelical world of “new” things – indeed a common ditty quoted goes something like: “If it’s new it isn’t true”[1]. This is totally contrary to the Word of God. Indeed it would seem that God actually DELIGHTS in new things. New movements. New waves. New aspects to be discovered of His glorious character. Of course we strongly believe that the canon of Scripture is complete – nothing new will be ever added to it. Yet who is bold enough to assert that they understand the complete canon of Scripture and have plumbed it’s depths so they know God in His fullness? The great Jonathan Edwards addressed this matter most sternly in his thesis on dealing with great revivals. He wrote:

If there be any thing extraordinary in the circumstances of this work, which was not observed in former times, theirs is a rule to reject this work which God has not give them and they limit God where He has not limited Himself … that it has all along been God’s manner to open new scenes and to bring forth to view things new and wonderful – such as eye had not seen nor ear heard, nor entered into the hearts of man or angels – to the astonishment of heaven and earth … we live in those latter days wherein we may be especially warranted to expect that things will be accomplished concerning which It will be said, who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things?[2].

The prophetic gift was never intended to be a party piece for the church solely and for its enjoyment. For those of such opinion the words of the prophet Isaiah should shake: (Isaiah 41:1) “Coastlands listen to Me in silence”. (Isaiah 49:1) “Listen to Me O islands and pay attention you peoples from afar”. (Isaiah 60:3) “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising”. These glorious verses demonstrate that God envisages a church that will attract the attention of the world. This is a church that hears and speaks the powerful prophetic word of God! Not only that – we are most certainly led to believe that the world is waiting for that shout to resound forth out of Zion.

ii) The Church – A Place Where God Must Be Worshipped.

It is absolutely fascinating to note that the only place where Jacob actually spoke was in verse 17 when he awoke from the vision. “How awesome is this place!”. So often we speak far too often both individually and corporately. It is rare to find a church service where the congregation are allowed to linger in the Presence of God and hear Him speak. Because of this, we rarely hear the prophetic word of God resound forth. Yet Jacob’s example must be followed! “How awesome!”. He is not worshipping the church for itself – He is in awe of the fact that this is “the house of God”. For too long this aspect of church life has been neglected. Consider Ephesians 2:22: “You also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit”. This conscious awareness that the gathered community is the dwelling place of God should be the sole drive to worship. Not duty – not tradition but the response that comes from walking into the Presence of Majesty. Let the song and shout of our hearts resound forth: “Christ the Lord is risen today – Hallelujah!”. How can our song be so triumphant? Because the Spirit witness and ministers to our hearts that our High Priest has gone before us and is now reigning and ruling at the right hand of God the Father.

iii) The Church – A Place Where God Must Be Experienced.

“The Gate of Heaven”. We are not simply building a theology here on an isolated incident. The whole scope of Scripture is full of this “ascending and descending” principle. If we can effectively establish that then something of the passion of Gods heart to be “known and known by us” will be all the more powerful. Let us examine a few and allow the weight and glory of Scripture to speak for itself.

a) God Comes Down – Heaven Touches Earth.

(Genesis 3:8) “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day”. From the birth pangs of Creation itself God was not a removed Deity who left His handiwork to progress by itself but He was One who came down to His people – longing for fellowship with them. (Exodus 19:18) “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire”. Despite the continual sinning of His people, God again came down. His purpose was to draw the nation of Israel to Himself and to communicate His law to them. Yet we may see quite clearly that there is a method in how to approach God. Despite all, He is God! (Exodus 40:34) “The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle”. From the mountain to the Tabernacle – God was drawing closer to His people. They had obeyed His commands; “just as the Lord commanded” - and His seal was His Presence.

As an aside it is vital to note the principle stated in Leviticus 6:13 concerning the fire on the Brazen Altar. “It must not go out”. While men can establish the Tabernacle and follow all instruction, while man can plant churches and make plans and visions, while man can write sermons or sing songs – the bottom line is that at the end of the day we can but wait for the fire to fall. Elijah built the altar – yet he had to wait and so do we. There is no guarantee it will fall, thus the urge is – when it does – keep it burning! One never knows whether it will fall again in a lifetime.

(2 Chronicles 7:1) “Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and sacrifices and the glory of the Lord filled the house”. The temple was complete! Notice that these ‘heaven touching earth’ events occur less and less as God’s people continually grieved Him. The disturbing fact is that organized tradition and religion continued regardless. (Ezekiel 10:18-22, 11:23) detail a very deliberate and staged withdrawing of the glory and Presence of God, yet it seemed as if the prophet was the only one to notice that it was happening. Has anything changed today? Is God’s church listening to His prophets? Has He left?

God’s final word to His Old Covenant people is fearful and disturbing.

Malachi 1:10: “Oh that there were one among you who might shut the gates that you might not uselessly kindle fire on my altar”.

We must ask seriously – is this His verdict on church life today? Do we dare to continue to meet regardless of whether He is present or not? Has anyone asked the question – are you here Lord? Are you pleased with what is going on? Where is the cry of the Lover from the Song of Solomon: “Have you seen Him?”.

We digress. The ultimate “Coming Down” event of course was the glorious outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Dr Jack Hayford, the great Pentecostal prophet and teacher had a powerful vision that connects the crowning of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Spirit. He:

Related a vision in which he had seen Jesus seated on His throne at the right hand of the Father. In the vision Jesus began to lean forward and rise from His seat. As the anointing caught in the folds of His garments, it began to splash out and fall over the church. Jesus said; “I am beginning to rise now in preparation for My second coming. Those who will rise with Me will share in this double portion of anointing[3].

This is a tremendously significant word further evidenced by a message given by Dr Ern Baxter on; “The Robe of the Ephod”. He drew a parallel between the golden bells that lined the bottom of the High Priest’s robe and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, for when the people heard the bells ring from the Holy of Holies they knew that the blood had been accepted. Just as similarly – when we are baptised with the Holy Spirit and fire, the one predominant thing we know – is that our High Priest is accepted in the throne room of Heaven and the cry goes out from our spirits: “Abba! Father!”.

So we have seen that again and again God has come down – heaven has touched earth.

b) Access to Heaven – “Come Up Here”.

Remember also that the angels were ascending! We do not have the comfort of sitting in ease on earth waiting for heaven to come down. Heaven is no longer a closed door to us – because of Christ’s finished work, we can see with the apostle the following gloriously exciting vision: (Revelation 4:1) “I looked and behold a door standing open in heaven … Come up here”. What does this mean? Is it again a simple historical event for the purposes of completing the canon of Scripture? Or is God setting a tone for New Covenant life? Consider Hebrews 10:19: “Therefore brethren since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near”. How then does that relate to our primary question of experiencing God in His House? We are more familiar with the concept of heaven coming to earth. Many have heard of revivals although we many not have experienced them. We are comfortable that from time to time God may pour out His Spirit. Yet what of “coming up”? We may dissect the divine invitation thus so:

1) Divine Providence: “Come Up”.

This is an invitation of grace – all purely and totally of grace. We have done nothing to contribute to this. We have done nothing to deserve this – and yet still He calls us “Come”. The crucifixion motif is solely designed to make peace with God – symbolised and dramatised by the splitting of the huge veil in the Temple. The way is open! The text already quoted from Hebrews makes it quite plain: that God in His sovereignty has done all necessary for us to experience Him in power and to know Him in the glories of His throne room. The Son has died – yet He rose again! And because He rose we may have faith! 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that had He not been raised our faith would be in vain. Let us never exalt the Crucification above any other aspects of Christ’s finished work. Without the resurrection Jesus Christ would have simply joined the throngs of martyrs and victims under the Roman rule. Yet the fact remains that today He is not hanging on the Cross, He is not lying in the tomb. He is not even walking around in the garden. He is seated and reigning at the right hand of the Father! It was that moment on Easter Day morning when He walked out of the tomb triumphant, that made it reality.

Because of this – the invitation from heaven comes - “Come Up Here”!

2) Divine Promise: “I Will Show You”.

This invitation to go up to the glories and heights of heaven is not without purpose or meaning. God has His divine plan to show us, to reveal to us. Why do we seek to experience Him? Why do we say, “This is not enough?”. Hearts that are truly won by God will desire to know His passion for the nations. So we come – to learn. Terry Virgo rightly said: “The whole object is that I might know Him”[4]. He has things to show us, He has purposes for us His people. The Old Testament prophets wrote that the Lord does nothing except that He first reveals it to His prophets. This is a powerful revelation and one that should grab our attention. It seems that in the mystery of Divine Sovereignty God looks and watches for men and women who have a heart for Him – who hunger after Him – who long for Him, and to them He shows them the inner secrets of His heart. Is this favouritism? Let us not be so crass or indeed blasphemous as to suggest that He could stoop to our levels and have favourites. Eager evangelicals have taken the words of Colossians to extremes and suggested that we are all “one in Christ” therefore that means none are more spiritual or privy to deeper things than others. Such words are ridiculous. It is clear from the Bible that God does indeed allow some to “lean on His bosom”. Yet it was the people themselves who put themselves there.

The whole object of this brief paper has attempted to show that God desires relationship with us. He will not force revelation on those who are not listening or willing! He looks for those who walk after Him – who long to walk with Him. The question therefore is: Are we listening? Are we responding to heaven’s call? There is much to be seen from that glorious viewpoint!

3) Divine Purpose: “What Must Take Place”.

There can be no more fitting note to end this consideration of the House of God than on God’s divine purpose for His House. And that is quite simple: (v2) of the text in Revelation makes it quite clear: “A throne”. The purpose of God is the supremacy of His Son. That is what He would show His church from heaven’s viewpoint. His Son has risen from the dead – His Son is seated and glorified and reigning. “Sit down and reign until Thy enemies are made they footstool”. Such a word is a time word. Jesus Christ has sat down “until”. Therefore His mission for His people is quite clear – to take the life of heaven and the dominance of His Kingdom into a needy waiting world. The coastlands are waiting. Cities and towns are waiting. What they have seen so far is unimpressive. They look for a throne. They look to the church to see it. They wait for the shout to go forth: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”.

So What …

Can we, the readers of this text, honestly echo the Psalmist when he writes:

(Psalm 84:2) “How lovely is Your tabernacle O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes even faints for the courts of the Lord! My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God”.

What is this tabernacle? Clearly it was the meeting place of the community of the redeemed. So in present day, do our souls long – yes even faint for the courts of the Lord? The text is quite plain, that the ultimate thing we are longing for is not church in and of itself, but it is a recognition of the fact that God is peculiarly present at His house in a remarkable way. And that is what we should be longing for – that is what we should be seeing! If we see some distance between the Psalmist and ourselves, then the next question must be why. Could it be because God is not peculiarly present at our church gatherings as He was at those tabernacle gatherings that the Psalmist wrote of? And if He is not, then again we must ask why. Has He been welcomed? Has He been asked how He wants it to run? The late John Wimber showed a remarkable prophetic insight into the heart of God when he attended a church meeting before his conversion. He watched the worship. He listened to the sermon. And then asked:

When are we going to do the ‘stuff’?”.

Maybe that is not quite the way that we would phrase it, but one may appreciate his heart. How alike is the similarity between the awesome accounts in the New Testament and our church meetings today? If there is a vast difference then again we must ask why? This is urgent – this is critically urgent. It is not merely a matter of taste! A waiting world is plummeting towards hell while we sort out our ecclesiastical issues! A waiting world longs for a people who will rise up and say God is here! God is present! I can do no better than reproduce a glorious anthem that was sung at the Stoneleigh Bible Week 2000. “You said … Ask and I’ll give the nations to you, O Lord. That’s the cry of my heart! Distant shores and the islands will see Your light as it rises on us”. The heart cry is that the nations are waiting. God is willing. What in the world are we up to?

[1] http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/halltxt.htm

[2] Jonathan Edwards (9th ed 1998) – Volume One – The Works of Jonathan Edwards – Banner of Truth Press.

[3] “Pentecostals Set Priorities” – Charisma magazine – January 1991.

[4] Terry Virgo – Stoneleigh Bible Week 2001 – "Here We Go!" - audiotape.

1 comment:

S.J said...

A very interesting and encouraging and uplifting piece of writing. While as a cessationist I wouldn't quite tie in with your views on NT prophecy today (I would see your point on God speaking today as being fulfilled in the Bible) I was so challenged by God's passion for His church.

Thank you.