By Samuel Clough
The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into His fields. – Matthew 9:37b-38 (NLT)
No one would deny the great need for laborers for the gospel in this hour. Not only is there the great need among the nations of the, but previously evangelized cultures in the western world are growing more and more ignorant of the gospel and more and more in need of a gospel witness.
The need for the gospel to go forth with power is clear and the need is as great as it has ever been in history. There are more men lost and in bondage on the earth now than ever before in human history. God is laying this burden on the hearts of believers all over the earth, but it is imperative that we do not merely respond to the call but that we return to the apostolic method of missions whether we have in view missions to the lost in our neighborhood or to an unreached people group.
What are we to do when are hearts are burdened by the great need of the gospel to go forth in power? Though our first impulse is to zealously enter into activity, Jesus summarizes the apostolic missionary method in Matthew 9:38. Before we undertake any activity, if we are truly burdened for the overripe harvest fields, we are to enter the place of intercession asking God to send out laborers into the fields and I fear that our familiarity with the language of the Scripture has masked just how radical Jesus’ instructions are.
Most of us, burdened with the great need of the gospel to go forth, immediately devise ways of motivating others to the call. We find new and innovative ways to call people to the great need of the sharing the gospel. We use charts and graphs to clearly indicate the great need. We devise powerful sermons that move the human heart to respond. We create training programs to equip individuals to evangelize. We teach new and innovative methods to communicate the gospel. In other words, once we get even a hint of the burden of God’s heart for the gospel we set ourselves immediately to activity and completely bypass Jesus’ instructions on how to respond to an overly ripe harvest.
We fall prey to this error for many reasons, but one reason this course of action is so deceptive is because the activities we have already listed are all necessary to the cause of world evangelism. Individuals must be called to share the gospel. They must be trained and equipped. Believers must understand how critical the hour we are living in is. It is not that what we are doing is wrong, the issue is that, in the rush to activity; we are setting the cart before the horse. Matthew 9:38 exposes our error in clearly declaring that laboring for an apostolic sending of men from heaven is the horse that must pull the cart of missions.
Saints, we have had a lot of gospel activity but the reality is what we have had little fruit. A lot of sweat, tears, blood, effort, and money have been expended and yet we have not seen the kind of results that the apostles saw. While there are many reasons for our lack of fruit, Matthew 9:38 identifies one of the critical errors.
The Apostolic Pattern
Saints, if we desire to again see apostolic missionaries of the same kind as the early apostles were, we must return to the apostolic method of missions and the apostolic method is to first pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers. The most well known apostolic missionary, Paul, was sent out of a community in Antioch that was obedient to the apostolic pattern. In Acts 13:2, the saints were in the place of prayer and the Spirit expressly sent Paul and Barnabas forth to the gentiles and so began the career of one of the greatest apostolic missionaries of all time.
Part of the secret of Paul’s success was that he did not just go to the gentiles with a burden and under the compulsion of human emotion, but he was sent by the Spirit. After all, that is exactly what is means to be apostolic. Apostolic simple means a “sent one.” In fact, it is a clear indicator of our lack of understanding of what it means to be apostolic that we constantly attempt to define what is apostolic according to role and function. We define an apostle by what he does, but an apostle is defined by who his is. To be apostolic is to be sent and only the Holy Spirit can effect a sending. When we begin defining what is apostolic by the activities that accompany it rather than by the God initiated sending that is the basis of all that is apostolic, we have already lost the essential elements of what it means to be apostolic.
The Holy Spirit is the Grand Architect
We must understand that man is not the grand architect, nor even the executor, of the plan of world evangelism, but rather that the Holy Spirit is the architect of the cause of Jesus on the earth. In the book of Acts we clearly see the Holy Spirit actively directing the work of the church. While we would acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit, we are much more prone to use the “wisdom” of 2,000 years of history to prop up human effort while we give the Holy Spirit lip service and then ask Him to provide the miraculous power when we need a “sign” or a “wonder” to back up our gospel claims.
And is it not part of our fundamental problem that our gospel campaigns our often our campaigns and not His? Saints, the Holy Spirit has not changed His role. He is still God. He is still the grand architect of the church as He is the one that makes known to us the mind of Jesus and tells us what is on His heart. Is it not the height of arrogance that we build so much of our gospel activity on human wisdom and human zeal and then ask the Holy Spirit to sprinkle a few miracles on it as though He is simply power for our programs?
We ignore the Holy Spirit as a person and as the all-wise God and instead use Him for power and then we stand amazed that so little power is on the gospel. Frustrated, we read the accounts of the apostles and become disillusioned that there is not power on the gospel, but when we have not followed the apostolic pattern, we should not wonder that the Holy Spirit does not gives His full endorsement to our activities.
We must again give the Holy Spirit His place as the grand master architect of missions and as the possessor of the mind of God if we expect His power to accompany our proclamation. It is true that He always uses men and that is precisely where the confusion comes in. He uses men and then we come to believe that something is intrinsic in man and so we seek to duplicate the pattern we see played out in a man rather than go back to the place of the sending of the Holy Spirit that is what made the man unique in the first place.
The issue of missions then is putting the Holy Spirit back in His place through the application of Matthew 9:38 and one of His primary roles, as the initiator of gospel activity, is to send men and women. As already noted, this is foundational to the understanding of what is apostolic because contained within the very definition of apostolic is the understanding that one who is apostolic is one who is sent.
It is true that the community of saints must send and individual, but that sending must be a secondary sending. When a community sends an individual whether it is to pastor a local church, or to go labor across the earth that sending must be an affirmation and acknowledgement of a sending that has already taken place, because before one can be properly sent by men they must have been marked as a sent one by the Holy Spirit.
Saints, one sent men can do more to turn the world upside down then a thousand believers sent by human effort and motivated by human zeal. The great need of the earth right now is not laborers, it is sent laborers and there is a tremendous difference. There is a reason that Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 1, and Acts 9 are such pivotal passages and the reason is that they mark the sending of a man from heaven. Men that are sent from heaven change history. Men that are sent from man merely increase activity. God, in His kindness, may give some measure of blessing to man’s efforts, but He will not give an apostolic outcome where the apostolic pattern is not followed.
If the great need then is sent men is there any way we can increase the number of heaven sent laborers in our generation? Matthew 9:38 holds the promise for us. Are you burdened for the gospel? Do you feel the Lord’s heart both for your own nation and for the nations of the earth? If so, then the first thing is not to preach your burden or call others to missions, although that may very well come, the first thing to do is drop to your knees and ask the Lord of the Harvest to send men.
If you truly understand the great need of the harvest and the vast need for laborers you will understand the gross inadequacy of human effort and be pressed into the place of intercession crying out that God would send men knowing that a sending from heaven is the only solution to the great need of the earth in our hour.
Contending for Sent Laborers
The place of prayer is the place where the great missions enterprise is lost or won, for it is only in that place that we can secure the favor of heaven to send men for white harvest fields demand sent men, not merely laborers sent of energy, zeal, and humanistic motivations. Jesus’ instructions to His disciples were radical. They were ready for His call to lay down their lives and labor in the harvest fields, but I suspect they were surprised to hear Jesus’ admonition to rather pray that God might send men. As a measure of how significant Jesus’ words were, Acts 6 reveals that the apostles learned this lesson well as they gave themselves to prayer and the Word that sent ones might go forth and they shook the powers in their generation because their labor in prayer secured sent ones.
How different Jesus’ value system is from ours! We rush to activity, and the fact that we rush so quickly to activity betrays the fact that we have so little confidence in prayer and the reason we have little confidence in prayer is that we have little confidence in God Himself. We are more confident in our ability to labor than we are in God’s ability to send, though it is the heaven sent ones that are truly apostolic and that change history.
Does laboring on our knees preclude laboring in works? Certainly not. We must put our hands to the tasks in front of us in obedience to Jesus. He certainly calls us to labor, but He calls us first and foremost to the labor of prayer. He calls us first to gaze upward and cry out for sent ones to again walk among us and advance the gospel with power as the apostles of old did. We will labor until our bodies are exhausted and spent, but we must labor as sent ones from heaven, and it is the place of prayer that will secure this sending. Jesus’ command does not give us the luxury of praying and then refusing to go when sent.
The Holy Spirit has not changed. He is still jealous for Jesus’ glory. He is still the grand architect of the gospel enterprise. He waits only for a company of people who will resist human initiative and lay hold of Him in prayer beseeching Him to send men of His own initiative into the harvest. He will send men if we stand before Him and ask for apostolic witnesses. He will anoint the gospel with power when it goes forth according to the apostolic pattern.
By Samuel Clough
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the rightesouness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 (ESV)
Have we fully considered the faith of Noah? He believed what he heard from God in spite of what was around him. We find that he alone had confidence in the word of God and the promise of God. What is even more amazing than his belief is the fact that Noah’s obedience condemned the world. The very way that Noah lived pronounced a judgment on the age in which Noah lived. (It is important to understand that, in the context of the verse, condemning the world is more rightly described as condemning the age rather than the earth. It is a condemnation of the systems and values of this age rather than a condemnation of the creation.) The word used here has the idea of declaring the verdict but not necessarily executing it. The execution of the verdict belongs to God always, but our very lives are a part of declaring the verdict.
How then should we live? As our lives are lived under firm confidence in the Word of God, our lives are proving the truth of His promise by the way His promises shape our lives. Our unseen, mostly future, hope then becomes the very evidence that the unseen thing for which we hope exists (Hebrews 11:1). Our lives are designed to be a witness and testimony to the truth (Acts 1:8).
Have we considered that our very lives are going to be testimony against the damned? God is calling us to live in such a way that we give a witness to the truth that is so authentic that it condemns those who do not believe. Saints, do we live this way? Do you live in such a way that your life pronounced a judgment on all who turn away from the gospel? Are you such a vibrant witness to the living, risen Son of God that for men to reject your witness is to condemn themselves?
Jesus did not leave the world without a testimony. We have the testimony of the infallible Scriptures. We have the testimony of creation which Paul argues in Romans is sufficient to bring one to at least a rudimentary knowledge of God. We have the inner witness in man that we call the conscience that leads a man into truth. We have the testimony of the very Spirit of God who convicts this world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
Besides these witnesses God has given, He also intends us to be the primary witness to the world. How that should cause our hearts to tremble. Who we are and how we live is to give vibrant and living testimony of Jesus. In other words, on the day of judgment when men stand before Jesus, should a man try to claim ignorance, Jesus will point to you and me and say, “They were a living flesh and blood example of Me. They were evidence that every word I spoke was true. There is no way you could have seen then and not seen Me. You are without excuse because the testimony of their lives was too compelling.”
Who is sufficient for this? Can you and I honestly say that we are witnesses to the extent that a man encountering us is as though he has encountered Jesus Himself? Does our witness have the power to condemn men? Can men who have seen us be condemned for having seen the reality of God and rejecting it? This is what the author is saying of Noah. Noah so carried what God had spoken in his heart that to reject Noah was to reject God Himself. Noah was a man of flesh and blood just like you and me, but what he carried in his life was so vibrant, so alive, that it was enough, in God’s eyes, to be a revelation of Himself to the unbelieving world.
Are our lives so much a revelation of Jesus that they would count as a verdict against the world? Are we enough of a witness to condemn the world when it rejects us? Remember the inverse is true as well. If our lives are so authentic that they can bring condemnation that means they are also authentic enough to bring men to life. It means that we are so full of the living God that there is a river of living water flowing from us (John 7:38) from which men can drink. If our lives are a real enough testimony to condemn men then they are also real enough to bring men into life.
By Samuel Clough
We often speak of the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” in Christian circles but I am afraid that very few of us actually know what we are talking about. I say this because there seems to be volume upon volume written on the kingdom, each volume trying to present the kingdom slightly differently and, at the end of the day, it seems most believers are confused as to what the kingdom actually is and are unable to clearly articulate the kingdom when asked to define exactly what the kingdom of God is. I have seen a teacher pose that question to seasoned believers and the saints questioned looked dumbfounded and were at a loss for words to clearly articulate exactly what the kingdom is. It is a significant issue that we struggle to understand something that is at the cornerstone of Christian theology and is at the heart of the apostolic proclamation of the gospel.
Now, obviously I cannot give the kingdom a full treatment in one post. Volumes have been written on the kingdom so any small thing I can post here cannot even begin to be exhaustive. However, I believe a few short words about the essence of what the apostles, and Jesus, actually meant when they used the term “The Kingdom of God” may help to demystify the kingdom making it much more approachable and understandable.
Two Primary Misunderstandings
I believe there are two primary misunderstandings that have caused confusion about what the kingdom actually is. The first misunderstanding arises in the fact that the word kingdom is a foreign word to the western mind. We operate in governmental structures that are rooted in the ideas of democracy and, to a lesser extent, a republic and so the word kingdom is foreign to us. For us it is a word that we encounter only in fairly tales and ancient history. It is not something that we can tangibly relate to. Dictator would probably be the closest word to kingdom that we could understand, but it has negative connotations that make its use unsuitable.
The second misunderstanding that causes confusion is the influence of Greek thought on Christianity. Because of Greek influence on western thought and culture, we spend more time looking for the “ultimate meaning” of a passage rather than wrestling with the literal words in front of us as the Hebrews would. Compounding the issue is Matthew’s description of the kingdom as the “Kingdom of Heaven” which, because of the Greek dualism which separates “heaven” and “earth” that we have embraced, makes the kingdom even more ethereal. So, because of our heritage of Greek thought, we are looking for the ultimate meaning of a kingdom that seems just as ethereal and mystical as “heaven.” Because we think that “heaven” is some other ethereal realm, we struggle to create ways to make the “kingdom of heaven” relevant and tangible to existence on the earth. Understanding the misunderstandings that have clouded the definition of the kingdom for us, let’s now look at a few simple concepts that will help us gain a better understanding of what the kingdom actually is.
The Kingdom is Simply a Government
The simplest way to properly view the kingdom, coming from a western perspective, is to use the word government rather than kingdom. When you swap this word it is amazing how clear Biblical passages become. When Jesus or the apostles declare the “kingdom of God” they are essentially declaring the “government of God.” When you read a passage and substitute the word government for kingdom, just that word substitution will immediately enable the western mind to better understand the passage as the apostles intended.
The second concept that can help us understand the kingdom, or government of God, is understanding why Matthew uses “Kingdom of Heaven” rather than “Kingdom of God.” First, Matthew never wrote “Kingdom of Heaven.” He wrote “Kingdom of Heavens.” (Use any Bible software, or consult commentaries, and you will see clearly that heaven in the book of Matthew is always plural even though it is translated in English in the singular.) Now, this did not make sense to the Greek mind and so translators have rendered it “Kingdom of Heaven” in accordance with the Greek concept and model of reality which defined two distinct realities consisting of “heaven” and the physical, or earthly, realm rather than according to the Hebraic understanding of one unified reality consisting of both the heavens and the earth.
So what is the “Kingdom of Heavens”? This is explained in Genesis 1:1 when we are told that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God created the heavens as the place of His throne, or His government, and then created the earth as man’s place of government. The earth then was under the heavens, or subservient, to God’s throne. This idea is all throughout the Old Testament once you understand what the language means and understand that the word “heaven” is never in the Old Testament as a singular but is always plural.
The Old Testament is filled with consistent references to the heavens as God’s dwelling place and as the seat of all power and authority over the earth. This was the Jewish, and apostolic, understanding of the universe. The key is understanding that the Greek idea of “heaven” is foreign to the Jewish mind. Once you understand the basics of the Jewish concept of “the heavens” the Old Testament becomes much more understandable and the simplicity of the Jewish understanding of the cosmos becomes very apparent when you read the Scriptures.
The Apostolic Proclamation of the Kingdom
Now it is a popular misconception that earth is under satan’s rule until Jesus returns. This is actually false. The earth is still completely under the power of the heavens. This is actually the correct understanding of the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is not primarily His ability to manipulate events to produce a desired outcome, but rather His present rule over all of creation. The Bible makes this completely clear in multiple places. Just a few references that are helpful on this subject are Daniel 4:32, Psalm 103:19, Romans 13:1-2, and 1 Peter 2:13-23. (Leave a note in the comments if you are struggling to understand the present authority of God and I’ll try to write a post on that topic in the future.)
So we now can understand that “kingdom” is another word for government and “heaven,” or the more accurately “the heavens” is a reference to the throne of that government. Now notice how Young’s Literal Translation helps us understand this even futher:
And in those days cometh John the Baptist, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Reform, for come nigh hath the reign of the heavens,’ – Matthew 3:1-2 (YLT)
Young’s translation, being literal, makes the text clear. John was proclaiming the the ruler of the heavens, in other words God Himself, was coming near to them. Can you see now why the people flocked to John to repent and to cleanse themselves in an act of baptism? John was not announcing some sort of ethereal or “spiritual” kingdom, but rather was declaring that the ruler from the throne over all creation was coming near among the people. The ruler of the heavens, the location of God’s throne, was now coming near His people as a man.
If ever anything would drive men to repentance this would be it! And so it did with the people flocking to John to prepare their hearts for his arrival. They knew full well how disastrous it was when God appeared to His people in the wilderness during the Exodus so they were now preparing their hearts for His visitation in their day and time. You can see now also why Matthew used the phrase “Kingdom of the Heavens.” He was writing to a Jewish audience so that phrase clearly conveyed what he was trying to convey which is that the very ruler of the government of God was among them. In addition, the Jews would have read “the Heavens” as a euphemism for God since the heavens are His dwelling place. This would allow Matthew to clearly convey the Kingdom of God to a Jewish audience.
The other writers were targeted on a wider audience than Matthew so they used the phrase the Kingdom of God because the Greeks, and others, did not necessarily have the same understanding as the Jews of the heavens so they, rather than using the euphemism that Matthew used, just plainly used the term the kingdom of God which clearly communicated that they were referencing the very government of God.
And Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus – Acts 17:7 (ESV)
We can see clearly that the apostolic presentation of the gospel continued in this same vein. They clearly preached the government of God. In fact, this is one of the major factors in the early persecution of the Christians. The Jews shared the morality and monotheism of the Christians, but it was the aggressive message of the early apostles of a real and present government over the government of Caesar and the coming of the ruler of that government, Jesus, to shatter all the governments of the earth that caused such an uproar. The Romans could not tolerate such preaching because they were declaring another kingdom that was going to usurp Rome.
In fact the Greek words used to refer to the preaching of the gospel in the New Testament are the same words that were used of a messenger of Caesar who was delivering Caesar’s decree to the people in remote places. In other words, the proclamation of the gospel was a governmental decree carried by messengers of God’s government called “apostles,” which simply means “sent ones.” The apostles were offering the people redemption and forgiveness that they might have right standing with God’s government and be kept safe in the hour when God Himself chose to smash the rebellion of the nations and to move His governmental headquarters from the heavens to the earth.
Can you see now why Paul who write letters encouraging the saints of their citizenship in the kingdom of the heavens and their role as ambassadors of this government? The early church clearly understood the “Kingdom of God” to be a governmental reality that they were declaring, both as a present reality and as a coming reality in the installment of Jesus as an earthly, as well as in the heavens, king and the destruction of all unrighteous government. This why the church in Thessalonica, though Paul was only with them a very short time, had been taught eschatology. Paul simply declared the government of God and the repentance that was necessary before that government destroyed the rebellion of other governments. The apostolic proclamation of the kingdom was governmental.
This is also why Jesus could say that the kingdom was within us when our hearts were submitted to His government. The earth at present is in rebellion against His government and is in the delusion that the rebellion is successful. Those who have repented understand that there is a higher government consisting of a present king that is also coming to destroy the delusion and rebellion on earth. In their repentance, they now become messengers of this government, carrying the reality of it in their hearts and in their witness. This coming government, along with the offer of redemption and immorality through the Spirit, is the cornerstone of the apostolic proclamation of the gospel.
Why is the kingdom demonstrated when signs and wonders occur? It is simple. Healing and other signs serve two purposes. First they demonstrate the nature of God’s government. Satan has deceived man that God is a tyrant who desires to inhibit man from true freedom. Healing and deliverance oppose that lie by demonstrating the true nature of God’s government. These signs clearly demonstrate that satan is actually the tyrant and it is God’s government that brings the maximum freedom and pleasure to man.
The second purpose these signs serve is to validate the governmental proclamation of the gospel. We are to declare a present ruling King as well as a King that is coming. How are men, under the delusion of the present rebellion, to know that this proclamation is valid? In order that men might know, God grants signs and wonders as a miraculous testimony that our proclamation is true because they demonstrate an authority beyond that which man, or satan, can exert.
There is much more than can be written on this topic, but this should help to simplify the issue of the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Hopefully you can see that it is much simpler than we have made it out to be. It is simply God’s present government which also includes a future military action, led by Jesus, in which He will destroy all rebellion and relocate the headquarters of His government from the heavens to the earth. Many valid insights have been taught over the years, but I fear we have made the kingdom too mystical and not as practical and real as it is.
Let us return to the roots of the faith and the simplicity of the gospel proclamation rather than trying to examine the apostolic proclamation through hundreds of years of philosophy and cultural mindsets that are different from the cultural understanding that Jesus and the apostles preached from.
By Samuel Clough
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3 (ESV)
Jesus promises a governmental position in the government, or rule, of the heavens to all those that are poor in spirit. Remembering that the heavens, being the location of God’s governmental throne, are clearly above the earth, we can see that Jesus is promising a place of authority in His own personal government that is ruling over all that exists both on the earth and above it. What is clearly implicated here is that poverty of spirit is a necessary requirement for ruling in God’s government. Lucifer was cast down because he lost poverty of spirit and chose to embrace the power and strength of his own spirit. This led to him becoming so deluded that he challenged God in his own might, resulting in a flash when God cast him down from his privileged, governmental position.
When lucifer embraced personal power in his own spirit, he changed from being one of the most beautiful of all creatures to being the most dark and terrible of all beings. He was transformed from one filled with light to one filled with oppressive darkness. His rejection of poverty of spirit transformed his being into a selfish, dark, and evil being with a capacity to destroy that has brought destruction not just to his own nature, but has also brought manifold destruction to others in his corruption of one third of the angels and his subsquent acts in corrupting all the earth. Lucifer so successfully transmitted this disease to humanity, that we too embraced strength in our own spirit, with the end result being that our inner man became corrupt and depraved as well and human history has became the tale of the dark deeds of humanity. Do we consider the disastrous consequences of embracing the strengh of our own spirit, rather than the poverty of it as Jesus exhorts us to do? Do we consider that strength of spirit may be cloked in religious language and religious ambition so that we may end up pursuinig the very thing Jesus desires us to reject within a religious framework?
Jesus, on the other hand, calls us to poverty of spirit. He calls us to return to the primary issue of the garden and re-embrace the leadership of God in refusing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather than embracing the promise of its fruit, we are to bring our spirit in poverty before God desiring to once again know the thrill of being filled with His spirit rather than dominating others with our own. His Spirit alone is capable of ruling over others while keeping the well being of others as His first priority. Our spirits are not equipped to rule as His is and so any time we attempt to live out of our own spirits, the inevitable result is selfishness, pain, and suffering. Only God’s Spirit has the capacity to rule others in a way that is ultimately selfless. We do not have that capacity in our own spirits and to thing otherwise is delusional, though it be couched in religious language.
For this reason, only those that embrace poverty of spirit will be equipped to rule in the government of God. This is truly a high call because Jesus is offering us access, not just to the government of the earth, but to the government of the heavens. As we noted at the start, the government of the heavens sits over all creation and is the location of God’s very own throne. How high an exaltation Jesus offers us! Yet, at the same time, the qualifications for that exaltation are paradoxical. To ascend to the high place, our spirits must embrace a low place. We sit enthroned in government with God only when we acknowledge our total lack and poverty, not when we stand on our own accomplishments and power. Who can embrace such a thing? Who will empty themselves that they might be exalted by God? Who can lay aside from our natural methods of improving ourselves? Who can reject our human ideals of embracing power, ability, and stature thinking that our strength offers something to God that is necessary to His government? Do we desire what Jesus offers or do we have the secret desire that we may rule over our brethren in the age to come?
Only the poor in spirit can stand in the place God desires us to stand. Only the poor in spirit will endure in that place. Anyone else, no matter how talented, gifted, or accomplished, when raised to the right hand of God will fall in corruption just as lucifer did, corrupting both himself and others. Nothing exists in isolation. Everything any creature in creation does reverberates throughout creation impacting others. For that reason, God cannot allow an individual to be open to the place of corruption because an individual’s corruption never remains isolated. When you and I fall, others fall as well. Our corruption touches all those that we make contact with and so our corruption is not just an issue of our own personal nature, but it is an issue of our effect upon others. For this reason, a ruler in God’s government must lay aside his own strength, which will enslave and corrupt others, that he might be filled with the strength and Spirit of God which alone is fit to rule over others in a benevolent way.
Poverty in spirit is not just a phrase, it is a critical reality that you and I are called to embrace. To neglect this offer is to suffer great loss for Jesus is offering us an incredible place of privilege if we are willing to embrace His requirement. The offer is great, but the cost of that position is high as well. Forget your own achievements, ministerial or otherwise. In Matthew 5:3 Jesus gives you what He wants to see on your resume if you desire a place in His government, and it’s a poverty in your own spirit, not the massive strength that sadly we spend so much time pursuing. Let us embrace His paradigm so that on that great day, He can invite us with joy in His voice to sit on His very own throne with Him participating in His brilliant rule.
In short, the answer is clear. Embrace lack that you might prosper. Ask for emptiness that you may be filled. Beware the temptation of your own spiritual fullness though and in your filling, stay in the place of poverty.
By Samuel Clough
Recently I was spending some time with one of my daughters and at her request, we ended up watching one of her videos. When it stopped, the television defaulted to a Christian channel and they were showing a movie of Noah and the ark. She begged to watch it, so we watched some of it. It was a great example of what I would call “Biblical film making.” The dialogue was a little humorous in that the language was so archaic that it made King James English almost seem conversational. At the same time Noah seemed to always be looking off into the distance making profound statements with an air of wisdom about him. Regardless of Noah’s depiction, their depiction of the ark was actually interesting. They had an interesting view of how the ark was laid out and what life was like inside the ark both for people and animals. However, after the initial ark scene, I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen.
After the ark was loaded, Noah and his family were secured in the ark and soon the rain began to fall. As the rains fell the ark slowly began to be lifted and drift on top of the waters. At the same time the people outside the ark were panicking and frantically climbing to the highest places they could find to escape the water that was slowly overtaking them as a steady and unstoppable force. In the midst of this, there is a scene inside the ark where you can hear the muted sounds of screaming and shrieks from from all those that are lost outside the ark and frantically trying to escape the ever encroaching waters. As you hear these sounds, Noah’s wife has a look on her face of horror. Up until now the family hasn’t fully considered their predicament, and suddenly the full realization of what is going on strikes them. Noah’s wife looks to Noah and their eyes meet. Her expression is begging the question, “am I really hearing what I think I’m hearing?” Here Noah’s family is saved in the midst of cataclysmic destruction and yet the realization is finally hitting them that everything is real. Everything Noah had been preaching had been words up until this point, but now those words were reality and the terror of the reality was more than any of them anticipated.
I was so struck with that scene that I trembled on the inside. My mind raced to the Scriptures and I considered more and more how every time I pick up the Scriptures I am seeing such a clear declaration of the coming Day of the Lord. Whether it is the historical books, the prophets, the gospels, the acts of the early church, or the apocalypse of Revelation, there is a consistent and persistent declaration of the Day of the Lord in the Scriptures. It is almost as if there is a veil causing us to miss the preeminence the Day of the Lord has in the Scriptures and when that veil begins to lift, one is astounded as just how much of the Scriptures is given over to declaring that God is coming to the planet and that coming is something so dramatic that words fail in the description of it.
The prophets saw and declared this coming day. The Jews so anticipated that day that when John Baptist declared that Messiah was coming, they were baptized in repentance to prepare themselves for the day. In fact, the primary stumbling block for the first century Jews was that they were expecting the ultimate day of the Lord and not a coming that, in kindness, made available a redemption prior to that cataclysmic day. In Paul’s writings, we find that he motivated both himself and the saints he wrote to by exhorting them that they would be found in Christ on that day.
The coming of that day and the ensuing events were the cornerstone of the apostolic proclamation and the motivation to declare the gospel to the earth that as many as possible might be saved in the great day of God that was coming. Remember that salvation Biblically is mostly presented as a future thing and what we have failed to perceive is that future salvation is not just salvation from hell, but salvation in the great Day of the Lord. This doesn’t negate the present need of an encounter with God or of being born again, but rather our present experience of redemption and the indwelling presence of the Spirit, among other things, gives us assurance of full salvation on that day.
Every temporal judgment is a warning of an ultimate day of reckoning for the earth and those who have walked upon it. While we often focus on whether current events are judgments or not we miss the fact that any present judgment event is merely an illustration that is meant to point us to that ultimate day and warn us of a judgment that far surpasses anything we have presently experienced. Even the flood, as cataclysmic as it was, was not an event in itself, but rather meant to be an prophetic picture to shock and awaken us to the nature of what’s coming when God comes to the planet.
The issue of God’s coming is not an issue merely of an angry deity, but rather the issue of what happens when the One who is truly perfect and good comes into full contact with all the evil on the earth and in man. The drama of that day is actually part of the love and kindness of God because the present evil that we tolerate is having horrific effects on creation that we don’t even recognize because we are so numb to it. Since we are part of the environment and over it we can’t even see the full effects on our environment of the evil dwelling within us. God is not content to see this destruction continue forever and so His coming brings a massive judgment that is rooted, not in anger, but in perfect love.
I have to believe that, like Noah’s family, this event may be a part of our creeds and theology, but that our hearts have not truly anticipated just how devastating and traumatic this day is going to be. The Scriptures clearly describe an event that man cannot endure and that even the earth can barely endure. Regardless of how literal your hermeneutic is, and the further I go the more convinced I am that the Scriptures are far more literal than we have imagined, as you read the prophetic scriptures concerning this day, anyone who seriously considers these events will come to the conclusion that this day is going to be beyond anything any of us have imagined.
Jesus said that the end would be “as in the days of Noah.” He chose the days of Noah as the example of the end. Just as in the days of Noah, men live totally ignorant of the impending judgment. Men scoff at the idea that God is going to judge all wickedness and restore the earth in purity and goodness just as He has promised. As in the days of Noah, God has made an ark of escape in Jesus that we might endure that terrible day when God comes to earth in holiness and in zeal to cleanse and redeem the earth. And the real terror of that day is that, as in the days of Noah, the horror of what is coming will not be fully evident until the event is fully in motion and there is nothing that can be done.
The real horror of the look on Noah’s wife’s face is that she only understood the magnitude of what was happening after it was too late to take any more action. By the time she fully understood what was going on it was too late to do anything about it. It was too late to prepare any more. It was too late to warn others, and it was too late to rescue any more souls. The door was closed and the deluge had come and there was nothing that could be done to stop it. So too the real terror of the Day of the Lord is going to be that we will only fully grasp it on that day and on that day it will be too late to prepare our hearts to face the fullness of God and too late to declare to others the need to repent that they may be saved in that day. What has been done will have been done. In that moment, the fog will lift and we will clearly see our lives and actions for what they were and the pain of regret, which for some will be an eternal terror, will be immense.
Just like Noah’s family in the movie, believers are living in intellectual assent to the idea that Jesus is coming but with virtually no understanding of just what that day is going to be like and no preparation for it. Our theology may be correct in our hearts, but in our hearts we live as though everything that day will destroy is actually permanent. That day will literally shake the earth. Men will seek the escape of death because of the appearance of a holy God on the planet. We must begin to read the Scriptures simply, taking them at face value, and see that throughout the entire book there is a consistent declaration that God is coming to physically dwell on the earth among His people, and that coming will demand a complete judgment of all that is wicked and a restoration of the earth. We must also begin to see that all other themes in Scripture are in the context of this coming day and God’s purpose for it.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; – Isaiah 61:1-2 (ESV)
We are presently living in the year of God’s favor. It is the time period when salvation is made available. God in His immense love and kindness has repeatedly, though His Word and through messengers each generation, warned us of the events to come and provided, at the cost of His own blood, an ark of escape in that great day. However, this salvation makes little sense without the context of the day of vengeance against all wickedness, no matter how minor or how subtle, that is coming. One thing is sure: Something is coming far beyond what we can imagine. We are presently blessed with a period of time to come under God’s mercy and allow Him to prepare us that we might stand on that day, but this blessing will be a curse in that day if we find, like Noah’s family, that it never was real to us.
If you are not right with God through Jesus Christ, I don’t have words that are strong enough to urge you to turn your heart to the cleansing in Jesus Christ that you might be prepared for that day. If you are already a believer, I would challenge you that you probably do not live in preparation for that day. Like Noah’s family, we have heard the message but we really haven’t anticipated exactly what that day will be. Most of us are expecting the inauguration of some sort of utopia and heavenly retirement age and this bears no resemblance to the way the Scripture describes this day. While the end result is a cleansing and a perfect dwelling with God, we have grossly estimated the trauma of that process and the full purity of our God.
The reality is that this coming day is so dramatic that none of us can fully anticipate what is coming. Even those who give their hearts to prepare will, in some measure, stand like Noah’s family trembling under the weight of it all when it actually unfolds. Saints, that day is clearly described in Scripture if we only open our eyes to read it. Let us prepare our hearts in accordance with what the Scriptures really say while allowing our hearts to take the message to all those who are unprepared for this day. Malachi perhaps has the best summary of our predicament:
But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? – Malachi 3:2a (ESV)
Posted in Apostolic, Eschatology, Genesis, Judgment, Malachi, Prophecy/Prophetic, The Flood | Tagged apostolic, deception, Eschatology, flood, holiness, kingdom, noah, prophetic, salvation, theology | 3 Responses