A while ago I was reading a book where the following was recounted, in more detail: a man is preaching about Jesus to a group of people who’ve gathered to listen. Another man shows up and tells him to stop. He ignores the man telling him to stop until he notices that the man is a police officer, at which point he perceives his demands to be authoritative and complies. I don’t wish to criticize the individual in question. I don’t know the particulars of the situation; maybe he was blocking a route and it really was appropriate for him to move. What really bothered me about the story was actually where and how the writer told it; he was using it to illustrate the weight of authority. As such, it is singularly unhelpful and even harmful. Of course, I suspect the writer was taught to see police officers as necessarily carrying some kind of authority and so isn’t really at fault. The belief is, however, seriously mistaken. Police officers are men and, like most men, many of them are at enmity with God. Sometimes, they tell you to do what God forbids or not to do what God commands. When they do this, they have no more authority than any other human being, whether or not they have more power. When the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel, told the Apostles to stop teaching in the Name of Jesus, they said, “We must obey God rather than man.”
Month: December 2017
The Humiliation and the Glory
The Infinite One who encompasses the worlds, the Lord of Majesty, becomes a baby in a woman's womb. The Lord of Love and Faithfulness is betrayed with a kiss of devotion. He is bound with ropes that can not exist for a moment apart from His active will by men who can not breathe except …
(Part II) The Promises of God: Prayer – Whatever You Ask
In the end, those of us who are in Christ Jesus will find that, whatever life brings, God has given us everything we desire.
Why The Believers Were Shocked by Peter’s Release: It Wasn’t What They Were Praying For!
I was just reading an interpretation, which I can't let go, of that part in Acts where the believers are praying for Peter and then can’t believe his release in a Bible Study guide a friend received. The interpretation, which I have seen in more places than I can count, was that that the believers didn’t really expect God to answer their prayers; they’d seen James killed and they were desperately praying for Peter’s release but they didn’t really believe that God could or would answer their prayers. I’m going to be honest. I can’t stand that interpretation. That’s why I’m writing this article right now. I don’t think the believers were praying for Peter’s release at all. They’d seen God deliver Peter from prison before; [Read more…] there had been the time the angel released Peter and John and told them to go and speak to the people in the temple courts and they had ended being flogged and rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the sake of the Name. Earlier, when the Apostles were first threatened, they had gathered together and prayed something like this: “Why do the nations rage in vain? Kings of the earth and princes gather together; they take counsel against the Lord and against His anointed One. They say, let us cast off Their bonds and break Their fetters. O Lord, this was fulfilled when both the Jews and Pontius Pilate took counsel together and crucified Your Messiah, whom You raised from the dead. Now, Lord, take note of their threatenings against Your people and stretch out Your hand to do signs, wonders, and healings, and to make us bold to continue proclaiming Your word.” Upon praying this, the place where they were gathered was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and with great boldness. So, we can see that they prayed for signs to draw the people’s attention to their message and for boldness to proclaim it without fear. Later, we hear Paul asking people to pray for him like this, “Pray that I may not be at all ashamed but will be able to declare the word in all boldness,” or “Pray that I would be able to proclaim the word clearly as I ought,” and in Philippians he writes, “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of God all this will turn out for my deliverance. I fully expect that I will in no way be ashamed but that now, as always, Christ will be glorified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, to die gain. I do not know which I would choose; I am torn between the two. To depart and be with Christ is very much better, but it is better for your sakes that I remain.” Of course, this is Paul, but it gives one an impression of what the mindset of the believers of that day was. We can see it, too, in the very word “martyr,” which is simply the Greek word “witness,” the very same when Peter says in his sermons, “Of this [that God raised Jesus from the dead] we are all witnesses,” or that Jesus uses when He says, “You shall be My witnesses, starting in Jerusalem, and in Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.” These believers were on fire to witness to the truth of the Risen Lord, it was what their whole lives were about, and they saw dying for that truth as the very culmination or crown of their lives, as the ultimate “witness,” and that was what they all were – witnesses. So, I am certain that these believers were praying for God to enable Peter to witness to the Resurrection in a way that would most glorify God and testify to Jesus. They may have been explicitly praying that God would strengthen Peter to boldly and clearly witness to the Resurrection in his trial the next day, with the expectation that the outcome would be death – witness. I’m pretty sure it didn’t even seriously occur to them to pray for his release from prison; the idea may not have entered their heads in even the cloudiest forms. (I’m not at all sure that it would have entered mine if I had been in their place – or Peter’s. I’ve grown really sick of how, when they hear that I am being a little harassed for telling people about Jesus – I will not use the word persecuted, being thoroughly sick of those who complain of being “persecuted” because someone laughs at them; I mean, even being thrown out of the market place is really not that big of a deal – people say they will pray that God prevents the harassment. Oh, to shreds with that idea! Pray that God would glorify His Son and bring people to Him and if He wants to use my death – or anyone else’s – so be it! I don’t know wherever some people got this strange idea that anything is preferable to dying a martyr. Of course, martyrdom should never be sought, but why are we always trying to prolong our lives as absolutely long as possible, mourning it when some old person whose been kept alive by the medical profession for years dies, preferring absence from the Lord and, frankly, uncomfortable bodily life, to dying, if it so comes, at twenty-one, for Christ’s sake and going to be with Him? Didn’t Paul say we could prefer to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord? Were did we get this idea that persecution or martyrdom is some terrible cost? Haven’t we lost the old life already? Don’t we want it crucified, buried, dead, and not trying to climb out of the grave and smother us anymore? Don’t we live, or at least want to live, solely to testify to the Lord? Why then don’t we simply see persecution and martyrdom as “an opportunity for our testimony” and to be “blessed, and rejoice for great is [our] reward in heaven?” Yea, sure, it hurts. Don’t chase it! God knows what’s best, and if it’s best, then He will give it. If not, He won’t. Don’t question Him either way.) Anyway, enough for my feelings about the state of mind in America. The believers in Acts had seen countless miracles. They believed that God had power and they believed that He did things. However, they weren’t hoping against hope for Peter’s release. They were praying for his witness. And, here, is where we see one of the amazing things about our God. We can pray for whatever we wish and it shall be given us, and we need never fear that God will do less than His absolute best or be swerved from His sovereign purpose. God really answered these believer’s prayers to the fullest. He gave Peter an excellent opportunity for witness. What these believers had in mind was Peter’s bold and joyful witness in death the following day. What they were praying for was God’s glory, Peter’s well-being in Christ, and his witness. God gave that abundantly beyond all that they had asked or imagined. Peter got to live many more years to the glory of God to witness to the Resurrection to various people, among them Cornelius and his household, and God strengthened the Church and increased Peter’s own understanding of Himself and His plan. Eventually, Peter did die in witness to the Resurrection, many years later. Nonetheless, God here gives us a wonderful illustration of the truth that, whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name, it will be given us. God answers all true prayer, and He doesn’t say no. He always says yes to His children in the Spirit. Every promise He has ever made, He goes above and beyond. Don’t ever let anyone trick you into thinking that what God means by His promises is anything less than what He says, anything insubstantial or shallow, anything weak. God always means more than He promised and always answers His children infinitely above and beyond all they could ask or even imagine! Copyright 2017 Raina Nightingale
(Part I) The Promises of God: Introduction and Psalm 23
It is my firm belief that God never says more than He means, more, that He always means more than He says. I have chosen Psalm 23 here, because it is well-known and rather short. These promises are scattered throughout Psalms. “YHWH is my portion; I have no good besides You… The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, behold, my heritage is beautiful to me. I have set YHWH ever before me. Because He is at my right hand I shall not be shaken. My flesh also will dwell securely, for You will not abandon Your holy one to the netherworld nor will You let my flesh see corruption…. You will lead me in the paths of life. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
What Jesus’ Words Mean in the Context of the Holiness of God
God is holy, jealous, and alone in majesty; He will not share His name, His prerogative or His glory with any other. Jesus Christ has claimed the name of God, He has claimed the prerogatives of God, and He has claimed the glory of God. Unless Jesus Christ is, in very fact, God, He has blasphemed Him. The Jews of His day understood that. That is why when He said, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven,” they condemned Him to death for blasphemy. God is Holy and God is King, and no one but God can sit down at His right hand.
(Part II) The Wonder of the Trinity: Father, Son, Spirit
We tread on very holy ground here. How sacred and unfathomable are the mysteries of the Trinity and the union of the Persons of our Triune God! Let us approach with care in reverence and awe, and take warning that if we think that we have grasped Him with our minds, it is not God upon whom we gaze. This mystery of the relationships of the Persons of YHWH is far deeper, higher, and wider than is the truth that God is One. It is hidden under His train, veiled by the unapproachable light and the rainbow like an emerald that is round the throne. Let us take care that we do not seek to delve into the hidden things the knowledge of which God has reserved to Himself alone, but approach in worship to receive that which He would disclose to all His children, to whom His gift is Himself. All we see is but a sliver of the Infinite One, and words are so poor; I can only point, and hope that someone might see that which I have seen or greater yet, or at least realize that that which they think they have seen they have not seen, for they have not seen rightly. [Read more…] We know that the Father delights in the Son and glories in glorifying Him. We have only to read the answer of the Father in the thunder to Jesus’ prayer to glorify His name in the Temple in Jerusalem, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” Or Jesus’ words at the end of John 13. “Now is the Father glorified in the Son. Now that God is glorified in the Son of Man He will glorify Him and will glorify Him at once.” Or again, in John 17, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer, offered the night before He died, “Father, I will that they be with Me where I am and see My glory, the glory that You gave Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world.” Or again, much earlier in His ministry, after His baptism, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased,” or after His transfiguration, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” Then, there are passages like this one in John chapter 10. “For this reason the Father loves me, that I lay down My life for the sheep. It is not taken from Me; I lay it down freely and I take it up again. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.” Of course, the Cross is the greatest and most complete demonstration of Who God is. I believe that the Cross (and Resurrection and Ascension, for they are all, in fact, one thing) actually completely and adequately expresses Who God is; the incompleteness and inadequacy is all in our finiteness (and, while we live on earth, sin). Jesus is the complete and perfect image of the Father. He is as the Father is. And since Who God is is entirely One, Holy, there can be no diminishing of it; were it to be diminished it would not even be a mangled or poor representation or image of the Perfection, it would be something of a different kind entirely. All that the Father is, Jesus is. Jesus is like the Father as no created being is like another being. He is perfectly like the Father, completely like the Father. So, one may very well say that what Jesus does the Father does (of course, Jesus alone is the incarnate God). “I am in My Father and He is in Me.” “The Father living in Me does the works that I do.” The Son and the Father are different Persons, but by love They perfectly live through and in each other. It is mystery unspeakable. So, when Jesus lays down His life for the sheep and takes it up again, He perfectly represents Who the Father is. What is more, God is eternal. He acts and He works, but all His works are the expression of His eternal nature; one may say that they are the form His eternal character takes when He enters into time or through the lens of time. (Let no one think that I am denying that God is the Living God or that He is free to do as He pleases. God alone is truly free. He does exactly as He pleases and He is under no constraint; that is, He acts in perfect accord with Himself and His actions are not in any way limited or defined by anything or anyone except His own will. Moreover, He has seen and planned all of time from eternity, so all His actions in time are the expression of His eternal will, which is grounded in Himself, in the Blessed Trinity.) So, Jesus’ laying down of His life and taking up of it again is the Persons is, in very fact, where we find Their relational or Personal distinctions. Oh, how Jesus says to the Father, “Glorify the Son so that the Son may glorify You, just as You have given Him authority over all peoples so that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. For I have glorified You on earth by doing the work which You gave Me to do.” Essentially, Jesus is saying, “Glorify Me because I am Your Son,” or even, “Glorify Me because You are My Father,” that is, “Glorify Me because You are Yourself,” for, unlike in poor human beings or even perhaps in angels, there is no distinction, no separation, between deed and person, and Jesus is the very likeness of the Father. Or again, the Father says to the Son, “Ask of Me and I will give the nations as Your inheritance, the very ends of the earth as Your possession,” and the Son says, “I chose you,” but they are “those whom You have given to Me. All I have is Yours and all You have is mine, and glory has come to Me through them.” How can the Father and the Son both choose? Because They are one. The Father is all-goodness, infinite and eternal. That is His nature, His essence. The Son is the Son, Word, and Image of the Father. As such, He must have the same nature as the Father, be like to the Father. Only all-goodness, infinitude, and eternity are like all-goodness, infinitude, and eternity. There is only one all-goodness, infinitude, or eternity, by very definition, by intrinsic reality. Knowing the same, loving the same, willing the same, not by any arbitrary constraint of sameness but by natural spontaneity or spontaneous nature, by love, the Son can freely choose without constraining the free choice of the Father and vice versa. Herein is the perfect, free, and Divinely dignified obedience and submission of the Son! “He did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself empty, taking the form of a servant, and being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him...” His deepest obedience and humiliation is as free and Divine an act – maybe more so, if we can use such words when speaking of God – as the creation of the world, for He was with the Father there. Love! There is nothing more beautiful or wondrous to me than the perfect oneness in love of the Father and the Son. Love! What a word, and how little we know of it as yet, or ever shall know, for the Love of God, the Love which is God (for all that God is, all of God is), is infinite! There is no question whether the Divine Persons are One because They love one another or love one another because They are One. Their Oneness is Their love and Their love is Their Oneness. Their love is Their relational distinctions and Their relational distinctions Their love. So also, Their Oneness and Their relational distinctions are one and the same. And then, there is the Spirit of God. Doubtless, no less Personal than are the other Two. He is spoken of as the Spirit of God who alone knows the things of God and as the Mind of Christ which is given to us who believe. How can God’s Spirit or Mind be less personal than He Himself is? In John chapter 14, Jesus says, “I will ask of My Father and He will give you another Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, whom the world has not known… but you will know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” No impersonal force could ever be a Comforter like the Lord Jesus. “When He comes, the Spirit of Truth whom I will send to you from the Father, He will testify about Me.” Only a person testifies. “The Spirit of Truth, when He comes, will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” Again, only a person can do that. Nor may the Spirit ever be confused with either the Father or the Son. The same Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son, and, thus, neither the Father nor the Son. He is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, of God, and God Himself. “You are no longer controlled by the flesh, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ He does not belong to Christ. But if you have the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead then He who raised Jesus will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who lives in you.” Likewise, the Spirit is called the Spirit of God or the Father innumerable times, but He is also known as the Spirit of Truth – notably, in that very same passage where Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” I don’t know what to say about the Spirit and His relationship to the Father and the Son. These verses more or less say it all. Perhaps this: “the Spirit, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” It is the Spirit who lives the life of the Son of God in us, crying “Abba! Father!” in our hearts and testifying with our spirit that we are the children of God. It is the Spirit who shows us Jesus – “He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” – and makes living waters to flow from us. Yet, it is the Father who draws us and the Son who draws us, and also it is the Father who sanctifies us and the Son who sanctifies us. Just as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father, so also with the Spirit. In the Spirit, the Father lives in us and in the Spirit the Son lives in us; see John chapter 14, “We will come to him and make our home with him.” And the Spirit lives and works in the Father and the Son. It is perhaps this verse in Hebrews, “He, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God,” that lifted the corner of the veil on the glories of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit Divine! Father, Son, and Spirit of Love! God dwells in unapproachable light and Him no man – or angel – can ever see, for we are told in John that it was Christ whom Isaiah saw, whose train filled the temple and in whose presence Seraphim hid their faces and their feet. In the Son we – and all creation – see and know the Father: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” “This is eternal life: to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” It is the Spirit who shows us Christ and lives in us, who “takes of what is [His] and makes it known to [us].” The Son lives in us. The Father lives in us. The Spirit lives in us. It is the Spirit who is the guarantee of our salvation, but “No one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of His hand.” O, Blessed and Sacred Trinity, God Most Holy and Most High! Blessed be Your name through all the ages, glory forever and forever, world without end. O, to have the Blessed Trinity dwelling in our hearts! To gaze forever upon and live forever with this God of love! Copyright 2017 Raina Nightingale
(Part I) The Wonder of the Trinity: God is One
God is One. There are three distinct Divine Persons. These two truths have been held by Christians throughout the ages. They form the basis for our understanding of the faith. With the doctrines of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ and the Incarnation they stand at the very center of the Christian faith. Indeed, without a right understanding of the Nature of God and the Trinity the mystery of the Incarnation is nonsense, and without the Incarnation the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are equally nonsense.
The Image of God and the Firstborn over all Creation: God must be all in all
It is only fitting that in all things good God should reign supreme, that everything that is not rebellion, that is, defiance against His nature and law, God should fill. There shall be no goodness had by any creature, no good role held or enacted by any creature, that does not belong to God! This is fulfilled in God's Messiah.