The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

Jesus-female-followers-in-Jerusalem

We spoke little as we hurried through the streets of Jerusalem. Slivers of warm sunlight were already piercing the dying darkness as the long night fled away. I pulled my cloak tightly around my face as if to protect myself against the harsh realities coming daylight would bring. Between us we carried the oil and the spices specially purchased for the task that lay ahead: Mary with her jar of olive oil, Joanna with the myrrh, and I with the finest spikenard I could find in the marketplace.

Each one of us, and the other women in our company, had understood it must be us, the women, who would carry out this last act of worship for Yeshua. Had we not stood, alongside His mother, there on that desolate hill while He was lifted up on that cruel Roman stake? Were we not eye witnesses to His suffering, His humiliation and His final breath? We had remained together as always, silent observers, and no man stood with us save John. I had listened while the men argued on the road about which of them was greater. I had heard of Peter’s boast that he would even die with Yeshua. Yet where were our brothers while we huddled in unspeakable anguish watching Yeshua’s execution? But such is the way of men.

And afterward, again we had observed in silence, following the two wealthy citizens as they removed His body to the tomb, hurriedly wrapping it in crudely anointed linen for fear of the Sabbath overtaking them. Why had they not openly declared their allegiance to Yeshua while He was alive, and joined our company? Why had they come after the crowds had moved on, after the soldiers had lost interest, to steal away His broken body secretly?

It was then we had agreed on our plan. Yeshua’s body must be properly anointed for burial, and in this matter for once we would not be the silent observers. We were willing to risk our lives to render Him this last act of reverence. Since time unspoken it has been so. Men rule the world, make the big decisions, and jostle for position. But it is women who quietly observe, consider and get on with what must be done.

By the time we drew near the tomb the sun was visible on the horizon. Quietly, Joanna asked how we would remove the great stone we had seen rolled across the entranceway. In our urgent desire to anoint Yeshua’s body we had not considered such a practicality. While we pondered, the earth beneath our feet shook violently and unexpectedly, causing each of us to fall to the ground. Afraid and shaken we rose and continued on our way. Nothing must keep us from what we had determined in our hearts.

The scene before us as we arrived at the tomb’s entrance halted us abruptly. Three Roman guards were lying unconscious among the trees, but it was not this that arrested our attention. The great stone had somehow been moved and the tomb lay open before us. My heart pounding like a beating drum I stepped slowly through the tomb’s entrance, the others following, but Yeshua was not within. Before any of us could speak, a man, I knew not from where, stood by us.

“Don’t be afraid” he told us. “Yeshua is not here. He is risen. Go, tell His disciples.”   Other things he said to us also but I could not take in his words for fear and shock. Trembling and uttering not a word to one another we backed out of the tomb, each of us heading as fast as we could towards the house where we knew Peter and the others were gathered. Questions beyond my understanding crowded my mind and gave speed to my feet. Perhaps the men would have some explanation for the confusing events of the morning.

Outrunning the other women I burst, breathless, into the house. Locating Peter and John I struggled to compose myself. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him!” I blurted. Others eyed me dismissively, glancing knowingly at one another and whispering about the foolishness of women. Peter and John, however, looked wordlessly at each other with alarm, then took off running. Still breathless I followed, unable to keep pace with them, but compelled by the growing realization that someone had removed Yeshua’s body from the tomb. Could it be the members of the Sanhedrin, the Romans, or tomb robbers? No matter, whoever it was, we must know where they had taken Him!

Both men had entered the tomb by the time I arrived. Their suntanned faces paler than I had ever known them to be, they emerged, glanced at me and left hurriedly, no doubt to confer with the other nine.

Alone now, the aching sorrow that had been threatening to overwhelm me for almost three days rose like the squalls that blow without warning on Gennesaret. A sudden torrent of grief and shock swept over my weary body, draining all remaining strength. So deliberately had I kept myself busy, first with Sabbath duties and then with the preparations for anointing Yeshua’s body. For the sake of the other women, I had reasoned, I must show strength in this terrible hour. I had put from my mind lingering visions of His crucifixion….the nails, the blood, the tearing thorns pressing into His brow.

Just as determinedly, I had pushed aside memories of our first encounter when He had delivered me of my devilish tormenters. I had refused to think on the hope that had grown in me as He taught us of His coming Kingdom, lest sorrow overwhelm me beyond reason.   I would hold the crushing sorrow at bay, defer my gnawing grief, until afterwards when all that could be done was done. Then, I knew, I must give place to a depth of heartbreak I had never known before.

Now that heartbreak was here, before I wanted it, and I had no strength left in me to resist. Surrendering, I lay sobbing on the ground, shaking uncontrollably. It was not enough that my Lord had been unjustly executed, and had been buried by strangers, but now we had been robbed of His body and denied the chance to render Him this last small act of devotion. They had taken Him, and I knew not where to find Him. For me not to be able to follow Yeshua was unbearable beyond words.

“Why are you weeping woman?” came a voice from inside the empty tomb. Rising slowly to my feet I looked and beheld two men in white. I cared not who they were or what they might do to me now. Whatever befell me for following Yeshua, I would not deny Him. Defiantly I answered: “It is because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve taken Him.” Yes, let them know and understand that Yeshua was still my Lord, and I would not turn back even though they kill me as they killed Him. He had given me back my life and in return I had vowed to serve Him till my dying breath. Let God determine my fate, for without Yeshua life would not be life.

Another voice then, from behind me this time: “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Turning to a man I assumed to be a gardener I hardly looked up. My eyes swollen from weeping, my voice quivering, I answered: “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away”. I knew that I, a woman trespassing in the garden of a wealthy man, risked being brought before the authorities for my audacity. But love and desperation compelled me. Even if no other disciple came with me I must locate Yeshua’s body and somehow convey Him to a safe place where He could lie undisturbed.

“Mary!” The unexpected familiarity of the voice startled me. Could it be that such deep grief had deluded my mind? Dare I look at that face? But I must. None but One had ever spoken my name like that. Reason told me I was sick with heartbreak, but something else told me I had never heard anything more clearly.

Turning again, my eyes desperately seeking the eyes of the One whose voice had uttered my name, I looked fully upon that Face…that Face that I had so recently seen contorted in pain and anguish. It was indeed Yeshua, not bloodied and beaten, but joyful and glowing with the vibrancy of life!

In the twink of an eye the despair of the last few days was transformed into a joy that cannot be spoken. I had watched my Lord suffer, heard His final cry, seen the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed His limp and lifeless body removed from that most dreadful stake. Yet, here He stood before me, more alive than any person I have ever met.  I had thought to find my Lord, and instead He had found me! Falling at His feet in the same place where I had just laid weeping, joyful, adoring worship poured out of me: “Rabboni! My Master! Rabboni!”

I had come to the garden in mourning, bearing oils and spices to anoint the dead. Instead, through some divine mystery for which I have no words, I found Life. Surely whatever has transpired this day can never be reversed.

Surely this day is the first glorious day of forever!

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Footnote on Mary Magdalene: Mary was called Magdalene after Magdala, the Galilean town she came from. We may assume Mary from Magdala was an unmarried woman, otherwise normal practice would be to name her as ‘wife of………”.   Church tradition has grown up around Mary from Magdala suggesting she was a former prostitute.  However, neither the Bible nor historical records give any indication this was the case. She has often been confused with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11 or the woman ‘who was a sinner’ from Luke 7:37-48,  but this confusion came into the church from non-Biblical sources and has been perpetuated throughout history through art, literature, Hollywood movies and such theatrical shows as “Jesus Christ Superstar”.  In fact there is no Biblical passage at all that indicates Mary of Magdala had ever been a prostitute.  We do know from scripture she had been tormented by seven demons.  

Around the sixth century, the Catholic Church under Pope Gregory began to identify Mary Magdalene as a woman of loose morals because they equated her demonic oppression with sexual uncleanness.   Jesus, however, always distinguished demonization from wilful sin.  He rebuked sin and delivered the demonized. Prior to her healing and deliverance,  Mary could well have been suffering from what would now be identified as any one of several mental illnesses,  or some form of self-destructive behaviour.  There is absolutely no Biblical basis for assuming she was a prostitute.  Another thing we can surmise about Mary is that she was a woman of financial independence since she was free to contribute to the itinerant ministry of Jesus and the twelve.    Mary was not only among the ‘many women’ disciples of Jesus who stayed with Him at His crucifixion (Matthew 27:55), she is the only person mentioned by name in the gospels who witnessed Christ’s death, His burial and His resurrection (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56, John 19:25). She was chosen by Jesus to be the first disciple He revealed Himself to after His resurrection and the first one sent with the gospel of salvation.  

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

 

The Harlot – Beauty Arise – Lyrics – Misty Edwards

breadforthebride:

I am not usually one for reblogging, but this You Tube video posted by
Ben Nelson today is an exception. Please take a little time to read the lyrics and then watch the video. Worthy is the Lamb!

Originally posted on Another Red Letter Day:

What follows here is one of the most moving works of art I have ever heard. At the bottom of the post is a link to the Youtube of this song, but i wanted to post the song lyrics here for those who “hear” better in written form. Misty Edwards is one of the most anointed ministers of worship of our day. Here you will find the gospel beautifully depicted in an encounter with Jesus. Please make time to read or listen this week as we move toward the Crucifixion and Resurrection celebrations this week.

The Harlot – Beauty Arise

I am broken
I am wounded
I am wretched and ashamed
and a harlot is like a chain around my neck
it’s my name

She sings the song of humanity the song of you the song of me

They drag her through the city square
dragging her by her hair

View original 1,403 more words

Featured Song for April: Song for the Lion

This month’s featured song was written way back in 2001, but grows more and more relevant by the hour.  I wish I could sing it to you, but you are welcome to make up your own tune and sing it to yourself if you wish.  This song should be read slowly, and sung slowly.  Like fine wine it should be savoured, rather than gulped.  Let it’s truth roll over and through you.  The King seeks His Bride! 

lion of judah

 Artwork used with permission.

 

SONG FOR THE LION

HAVE YOU GAZED INTO THE EYES OF THE LION?  

FEELS LIKE DROWNING IN AN ENDLESS SEA 

HE’LL CONSUME YOU WITH FIRE

AND BRING YOU TO YOUR KNEES 

FOR THERE’S NO DEEPER PLACE TO BE

THAN THE EYES, OH THE EYES 

OF THE LION OF JUDAH! 

AND YOU’LL KNOW WHO HE IS

YOU’LL KNOW JUST WHO HE IS 

AND YOUR KNEES WILL BOW

AND YOUR TONGUE WILL CONFESS THIS JESUS

LION OF JUDAH

  

HAVE YOU TREMBLED AT THE ROAR OF THE LION?  

FEELS LIKE THUNDER ROLLING THROUGH YOUR SOUL 

HE’LL REVEAL YOU AS YOU ARE

AND AWAKEN HOLY FEAR 

FOR THERE’S NO MORE AWESOME SOUND TO HEAR

THAN THE ROAR, OH THE ROAR  

OF THE LION OF JUDAH!

AND YOU’LL KNOW HE IS LORD

YOU’LL KNOW HE IS LORD 

AND YOUR KNEES WILL BOW

AND YOU TONGUE WILL CONFESS THIS JESUS

LION OF JUDAH

 

 HAVE YOU TASTED THE KISS OF THE LION?

FEELS LIKE SOARING IN ETERNAL SKIES 

HE’LL EMBRACE YOU WITH FREEDOM

AND LIFT YOU UP HIGH 

FOR THERE’S NO SAFER PLACE TO HIDE

THAN THE ARMS, OH THE ARMS 

OF THE LION OF JUDAH!

AND YOU’LL KNOW HE IS LOVE

THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN 

AND YOUR KNEES WILL BOW

AND YOUR TONGUE WILL CONFESS THIS JESUS

LION OF JUDAH

 

ARE YOU WILLING TO RIDE WITH THE LION?

FEELS LIKE HE’S CALLING OUT A HOLY BRIDE 

HE’LL CLOTHE YOU IN FINE LINEN

SPOTLESS AND WHITE 

NO GREATER ARMY WILL EVER RIDE

THAN THE ARMY OF THE MIGHTY

LION OF JUDAH! 

AND THEY’LL KNOW WHO HE IS

THEY’LL KNOW JUST WHO YOU ARE LORD

AND THEIR KNEES WILL BOW

AND THEIR TONGUES WILL CONFESS THIS JESUS

LION OF JUDAH 

© Words and Music copyright Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2001-2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission. 

ALTAR, TEMPLE, KINGDOM Part Three

temple

For a fuller understanding of this article please first read Altar, Temple, Kingdom Part One and Altar, Temple, Kingdom Part Two.

As Jesus related parable after parable to demonstrate kingdom life He presented to His hearers a Kingdom not to be imagined in a distant future but freely available in the present, or ‘at hand’. The Kingdom is not separated from its King. It is present wherever Jesus Christ reigns. As the manifest presence of the King is the very atmosphere of the Kingdom, to receive the undisputed reign of Christ is to receive His Kingdom.

Receiving the Kingdom

Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”(Jn. 18:33-37 NASB)

Pilate’s cross examination was two pronged. First he wanted to establish the geographical boundaries of Jesus’ claim to kingship. “Are you the King of the Jews?” If he could keep this matter as an internal dispute among the Jews he could dispose of it quickly. Secondly, if this Jesus was claiming only to be King of the Jews, the might of Rome was not threatened and this Galilean rabbi, (who looked anything but a king), and His bedraggled followers presented no military or political threat to Rome. Pilate’s career prospects would be safe.

But Jesus refused to meet Pilate on His own ground. Unlike the kingdoms of the world His Kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. Nor can it be defined by political or geographical boundaries. Frustrated, Pilate tried once more to have Jesus state the location of his kingdom. “So You are a King?”Yes”, says Jesus, “but if you want to speak of My Kingdom then we will speak in terms of its attributes, not of its boundaries. I have come to this world to represent My Kingdom which, unlike yours, is founded on truth. Anyone who loves truth will recognize me. Apparently you do not.” (see Psalm 45:3,4).  However,  truth was something Pilate evidently did not care to discuss that day.

The fact is Jesus is King of the Jews, as He is King of all tribes and nations. Ironically, though Jesus Kingship was rejected by the Jewish leaders, it was proclaimed both at his birth and his death by Gentiles (Mat. 2:1,2; Luke 23:38; Jn 19:21,22). Jewish prophets including Nathan, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah had foretold the coming King (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Is. 9:6,7; 11:1-5; Jer. 23:5,6, Zech. 6:12,13). Jewish ears heard these prophecies read out regularly in the synagogues. Jewish tongues repeated them in prayer and in times of despair. Jewish eyes witnessed the signs and wonders that testified that here was the One the prophets and the scriptures had spoken of (Jn. 5:36; 10:25). Yet, bound to its temple system, Israel as a nation ultimately failed to receive their King and His Kingdom.

Herein lies a sober warning for today’s church. The contemporary temple system, built as it has been on church centrality, hierarchy, and law keeping, cannot contain the fullness of the Kingdom of God. The lesser must give way to the greater. The temple made and maintained by human hands was only ever a shadow of the spiritual temple of living stones formed and honed by the Spirit of God. Something greater than the church/temple system is breaking through here and now that will not be held back. The choice to receive or reject it is before us, but the choice is not optional.

And what of the man-made temple system we have clung to so tenaciously? Shall the temple disappear altogether? No, God’s temple is an essential component of His Kingdom, but He has ordained that His people are to be His temple (1 Peter 2:5). We have glorified our own denominations, traditions, and religious buildings to the extent they have become the object of our worship rather than the God they are meant to represent. We have exalted a vast hierarchy of human personalities as our mediators, priests and kings, in place of the King Himself. Masses of us have convinced ourselves we need ‘covering’ from pseudo apostles and prophets who are busy building their own kingdoms rather than preaching the true Kingdom. We are the people of God – from who or what do we need other covering?

Our Season of the Temple is passing away and God will not be found among its ruins. God chooses to dwell within a thriving spiritual house of living, human stones being molded into the image of His Son. His priesthood is a nation of Kingdom dwellers, sold out disciples without regard for class, race or gender. I love the name penned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for such ones – the “fellowship of the crucified”.

Receiving our Kingdom Season will require a willingness on our part to relinquish the security of what has formerly passed as normal “church life”, with its atmosphere of tradition, programs and predictability.  It will require us to ‘leave our nets” and follow King Jesus unconditionally. It will require us to love Christ more than the temple. For some, this will mean loss of income, loss of friends and family, loss of ministry and loss of reputation. For many, the price will be too much. The flock receiving the Kingdom is, after all, ‘little” (Luke 12:32).

The Kingdom is bestowed, not built (Luke 22:29); the Kingdom is earnestly sought, not wished for (Matt. 6:33); and the Kingdom must be received or else it is rejected (Matt. 11:12; Heb. 12:28).

Kingdom life is life in the realm of the Spirit where the will of God prevails and the reign of Christ is undisputed. In the Kingdom our lives are increasingly lived in the tangible Presence of God even as we physically walk in this world. We are becoming more conscious of the realities of the Kingdom than the passing environment of the world. “Oh, you mean more spiritually minded than earthly good?” I hear some ask. Yes, because no lasting good can be done on earth unless one is spiritually minded.

Above all, the Kingdom is spontaneous, breaking through and manifesting in the atmosphere of the earth at the will of the King. Kingdom dwellers must be so readily available and so in tune with the King that at any moment of His choosing they become conductors of His Kingdom into whatever earthly situation they find themselves. Think of Peter stepping out of a boat into a raging sea. Think of Philip overtaking a moving chariot. Think of Stephen praying for his murderers even as they stoned him to death. These and many other scriptural examples are the Kingdom breaking through spontaneously and powerfully into the world’s realm.  

The Essence of the Kingdom

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colosse exhorting them to not be moved away from the ‘hope of the gospel which you heard’ (Col. 1:23). This gospel, which they had heard form his own lips, was the gospel of the Kingdom for it is the only gospel Paul preached (Acts 20:25, 28:23). He goes on to state that He had been given a particular ministry by God for the sake of the church. This ministry was the stewardship of a great mystery hidden throughout ages (Col. 1:24-27).  The mystery is “Christ in you”. “It is Him we preach”, says Paul (Col. 1:28) as if to differentiate from any other version of Christ they may have heard.

This Christ, this Christ in us, His people, is the very essence of Kingdom life. Whenever we see the title “Christ” in scripture we should recognize that now we are beholding Christ Jesus the almighty and supreme King. This Christ, this King, is so much more than the “Jesus, come into my life” I encountered at the Altar Season, and so much more than the “Jesus who strengthens me to do all things” of the Temple Season. It is Christ Jesus, Eternal King of Heaven and Earth, IN us, in all His glory, all His power and all His majesty, doing all.

If you have read this far, just stop and consider that for a moment. This is a profound mystery, not able to be imagined by human minds without the indwelling Spirit of revelation. Astonishingly, it is a mystery in which we are being invited to participate. We need to make room in ourselves to receive this mysterious, sovereign, risen Christ the King, the One who fills all in all, who is greater than any picture of Him we have previously held. We cannot do that while clinging to what is fading away.

The Kingdom of God is not demonstrated in word alone, but backed up by power (1 Cor. 4:20). The power of the Kingdom is the power of Christ the King’s endless, dynamic, supernatural Life, which He chooses to make manifest in mortal human vessels solely through the Spirit of the Living God (Heb. 7:15,16). This is a mystery the world cannot receive and the church has barely begun to grasp.  

Christ in us reaching out to the world as Reconciler; Christ in us interceding as Great High Priest; Christ in us restoring the sick and the suffering as Healer; Christ in us, Fulfiller of the Law; Christ in us as Living Word; Christ in us as Apostle; Christ in us as Prophet; Christ in us as Evangelist, Teacher and Shepherd. And over all, Christ reigning in us as King of all Kings!

This quickly advancing Kingdom Season is not about the Kingdom of God moving into world institutions and transforming them, as some are teaching in these days. The Kingdom and the world do not mix for the Kingdom has nothing to do with this world and its myriad systems (Jn. 18:36). The world is not going to receive the Kingdom at this time. On the contrary: the world, as it always has done, is going to persecute the bearers of the Kingdom and those who cling to the fading temple system will join it, believing they do God a favor (Jn. 16:2).

Nevertheless nothing will hold back the increase of this Kingdom. The invasion of God’s Kingdom on earth took place with the incarnation of Christ. The Kingdom has steadily been advancing since, mostly unnoticed (Lk. 17:20). We are on the dawn of an hour like no other in earthly history when Christ shall manifest His Kingdom through a crucified, resurrected people who love Him more than they love their own lives. These are those who, having caught sight of “something greater” cannot turn back towards the passing comfort of the man-made, man-controlled temple system. Unseen by the world, disregarded by institutional religion, they are becoming the true dwelling place of God on earth.

The prayer repeated by every generation of Christ’s disciples since His ascension to the Father is being fulfilled, “Let Your Kingdom come”. The Kingdom, though costly, is coming in those who are willing and eager to receive it.  

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

ALTAR, TEMPLE, KINGDOM Part Two

templeThe Kingdom

For a much fuller understanding of this article please first read Altar, Temple, Kingdom Part One here.

Word spread like wildfire through the inhabitants of Jerusalem that amazing day.  Jesus of Nazareth was approaching the city!  Many had already witnessed his signs and listened intently to His teachings, but this day was different.  This day He was entering the city on a young colt, just like the prophet Zechariah had foretold.  Even those with limited or no education had heard about the prophet’s promise:  one day the King of Israel, the Messiah, would come, not with the usual fanfare kings demand, but humbly, seated on a donkey’s foal (Zech: 9:9).  Could it be that this was actually happening in their lifetimes?  Men, young and old, laid down tools and ran from their workplaces to see the spectacle; women followed, babes in arms; children, dancing with excitement, laughed and shouted.

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  The King of Israel!”  The atmosphere was electric with anticipation.  The King was here at last.  Now He would surely enter the city, raise an army, defeat the gentile occupiers and re-establish the ancient kingdom of David (Mk. 11:10).

But Jesus didn’t do any of those things.  Instead He prophesied the city’s destruction, weeping.  Then He headed for the great Temple, angrily upending the tables of the money handlers and the traders before sitting to take his usual teacher’s position before the people.

Later, as they departed the great building, when some of His disciples remarked on the temple’s grandeur, Jesus had this to say: “These things which you see—the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.”  (Luke 21:5,6) 

The arrival of Christ into the world was nothing less than an audacious invasion, heralding a new and revolutionary season in God’s interaction with humanity.  From the moment His coming birth was announced by the archangel, a new spiritual season, the Season of the Kingdom, began manifesting on the face of the earth. And of this third and final season there would be no end (Luke 1:32, 33).   When Jesus came everything changed….forever.  The old Season of the Temple was quickly passing away.

From the beginning to the end of His earthly ministry, the gospel Jesus preached was the gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:43; 8:1; John 18:36).  Likewise, the gospel He sent His disciples with was the gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 9:2).  In so doing He inevitably clashed head on with the Jewish religious authorities who, well established at the top of the hierarchical temple system, wanted everything to continue as it had been.

God’s people had become comfortable worshiping Him under the rules of the Temple Season, but once again God was nudging His people forward into a spiritual atmosphere that was radically new and strangely unfamiliar.

“The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” Jesus announced… “ for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:23,24)

“The time of this new season of worship is both now and will continue to come. God does not wish to dwell in a building made with hands with your rituals, laws and sacrifices.  If you wish to worship God you must learn to worship Him in the Spirit.”  To some, like the Samaritan woman conversing with Jesus at a well, His message was exciting and life changing.  To others, like most of the religious leaders, His message was alarming, unlawful, and extremely life threatening. 

How then does this relate to our own individual journeys as Christ followers?  We have been born again of the Spirit in the ‘Altar Season’ of our spiritual lives;  by the Spirit also we have journeyed on into our ‘Season of the Temple’, that is the understanding that we do not live in Christ in isolation but are members of His spiritual Body on earth, the church.  And there the great majority of us set up camp and settle down comfortably (or not so comfortably) to see out the remainder of our earthly Christian existence.

But something greater looms before us (Luke 11:31,32).  It is the Kingdom of God, here among us now and continually coming in greater fullness.  It may come as a surprise to some that the Kingdom of God is not the church. Nor is the Kingdom of God some ethereal far off place waiting to receive us when we depart this earth. The Kingdom of God is the spiritual atmosphere in which the church is meant to live and function, here, now and into eternity hereafter.  This Season of the Kingdom also must be revealed to us and in us by the Spirit of God.

Jesus arrived in an Israel where the people had passed form their Altar Season into their Temple Season, and from that atmosphere they were relating to God and to each other.  He came to reveal a new and final stage in their spiritual journey, the Season of the Kingdom.  But the religious leaders not only wanted to stay firmly rooted in the Temple Season, they wanted to keep the people there also.  They had a system where they enjoyed great power, position and prestige that was working for them very well and they liked it immensely.

For God, however, the Temple Season had only ever been a brief stop along the journey as He led His people towards the Kingdom.  He longed, not for a man made building erected as a monument to the good intentions of mankind, but  for a temple of living, human stones forged and fitted together by His Spirit (1 Peter 2:5).  He yearned for His people to come into the full revelation of His Son and the manifestation of the Kingdom He had bestowed on Him.  For God, the great temple with all its worldly beauty, was too small, too incomplete,  and well, too earthly.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem that day as He rode into her gates seated on a humble foal because He knew His people had rejected both His Kingship and His Kingdom.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!  See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

The crowds who had so willingly thrown down their garments on the road shouting “hosanna” had wanted a King in name only who would free them to resume life the way they themselves wished to live.  They envisaged a political Kingdom after the fashion Israel had experienced under the reign of the legendary King David, free of foreign occupation and victorious over surrounding nations.  But for this spiritual Kingdom Jesus taught about, most had little desire or interest.

In AD70, just one generation after the time of Christ, Jerusalem was sacked by the Roman Emperor Titus. The great second temple was destroyed by fire and multitudes of Jews killed or exiled. The Jewish historian Josephus, an eye witness, described the destruction of the temple in these terms:

“As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes.”

The remnant church Jesus left on earth with a handful of Jewish and later Gentile believers did not live their lives within the fading Temple Season.  They were learning to live in their Kingdom Season and teaching new converts to do the same.  For a few hundred years after Jesus ascended, that is how His church lived –celebrating the Kingdom He had established on the earth.

Soon after the deaths of the early leaders, however, other leaders arose who led the church back into the bondage of the Old Covenant with its hierarchy, rituals and adherence to law.  The church was dragged back into the Temple Season, church buildings became the new temples, a priestly class was reinstated and ceremony became honoured above the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The gospel of the Kingdom was diminished to a gospel of salvation, and even that was perverted to a message of salvation by works.  And there the church remained for many dark years.

The great majority of those seeking to follow Christ today are still living within their Temple Season.  The gospel preached under that system is a gospel that has been reduced to a salvation message alone.  The gospel of salvation through Christ is entirely wonderful and is vital to entering the Kingdom (John 3:3), but it is not the full gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus preached and left with His church.  The gospel of salvation is the gateway, but not the fullness of the Kingdom.  When Jesus said ‘go into the entire world and preach the gospel” He was referring to the fullness of the gospel, not a portion of it (Mark: 16:15, Matt. 24:14).

The Kingdom is among us here and now as it has been since Christ’s days on earth.  But the Kingdom cannot flourish under the limitations of the Temple Season.  The old must give way to the new.  Furthermore, those comfortable within the temple system can in no way preach the Kingdom Jesus preached because they have yet to receive and embrace it.

As the return of our King draws nearer His Kingdom is once again increasingly manifesting on the earth and will continue to do so. As for the Jews of 70 AD, the sacred temple structure that we have constantly guarded with such devotion is vanishing before our very eyes.  For some of God’s people, that fact may prove more than a little inconvenient.  Those who will receive and run with it, though, are on the threshold of something far greater than they have ever witnessed.

Stay tuned for Part Three of Altar, Temple, Kingdom, when we will explore in more depth this gospel of the Kingdom and its current season.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Related Article: Altar, Temple, Kingdom, Part One

ALTAR, TEMPLE, KINGDOM Part One

templeThe Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”  Luke 11:31,32 

Biblical history is the record of God’s dealings with man and man’s search for God.  Jesus’ Jewish audience had history with God.  They prided themselves that they were God’s chosen people.  They boasted in their rich heritage of kings like David and Solomon, and prophets such as Jonah and Daniel.  Under the daily weight of Roman occupation the Jews’ spiritual heritage was a matter of intense national and personal importance, a constant reminder of their unique status among the nations despite their Roman political overlords.  Into this unpredictable and volatile atmosphere Jesus throws a serious challenge.  He tells them there is something before them right now that is even greater than their history, greater than their heroes like Solomon and Jonah, and yet they are close to missing it.

On another occasion He tells them that the Kingdom He is bringing is mightier than even the greatest of their prophets, John the Baptist (Matt.11:11,12).  “Don’t cling to your history which is passing away. The Kingdom you have been waiting for is now here among you.  It is more important than your history, your prophets or your kings.  Reach out with both hands and grab a firm hold of it,” He warned them (paraphrase mine).  The Kingdom had come suddenly, was rapidly advancing, and those who stood passively by would not be part of it.

I believe we are living in a similar hour in time.  In this series of posts called Altar, Temple, Kingdom I want to explore three major seasons in history, two of which are passing away and the third increasingly among us.  These three spiritual seasons are historical, but also personal in that they represent three stages of our individual spiritual journeys in Christ.  We will begin with the season of the altar.

The Altar

In Luke 11:37-54 we find Jesus dining among Pharisees and lawyers (experts in the law of Moses).  Again, Jesus gives a history lesson, graphically relating their nation’s violent rejection of the messengers God has sent throughout Jewish history.

“And He said…..“Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.  Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute, that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation’ ”. Luke 11:46-51 (NKJV)

Jesus specifically mentions two people:  Abel and Zechariah, both victims of murder.  This is one of those occasions when Jesus is speaking about two things at once.  On the one hand He details the place where Zechariah was murdered: ‘between the altar and the temple”.   But within the phrase ‘between the altar and the temple’ there is also a period of history that covers the time frame between the life of Abel and the life of the prophet Zechariah.  Abel, living at the very beginning of Old Testament history represents the altar;  Zechariah, who lived close to the end of Old Testament history, represents the temple.  Many Old Testament prophets and apostles God had sent to His people were killed between the time of Abel, representing the altar, and the time of Zechariah, representing the temple.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD. Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD.  Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering….Genesis 4:1-5

Why did God respect Abel and his offering? This Hebrew word translated ‘respect’ means to gaze at, regard, or behold.  When God looked at Abel’s offering what was He gazing at that caused Him to regard it with such respect?  He was looking forward into human history and seeing the blood sacrifice of His Son.  Abel brought an offering of innocent shed blood to God while Cain brought an offering without blood.   God is beyond time and beyond human history.  He does not have to wait for an event to come to pass in order to see or experience it.  Abel bought a slain lamb to God and, in the Spirit, God saw the Lamb of God.

Historically Abel personifies the initial stage of fallen humanity’s quest for re-connection to God: the season of the altar.  Biblically the altar is a place of repentance and offering.  Abel spiritually understood that sin had caused a great distance between God and himself that he was unable to cross without a sinless mediator to bridge the gap.   With his bloodless offering Cain did not acknowledge his need for a mediator between God and himself, and therefore did not acknowledge his sinful state. Hebrews 11:4 tells us Abel’s offering was by faith.  He had faith that through an innocent blood offering God had the power to make him righteous.

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous,……

The season of the altar therefore began with Abel and continued for many generations.  The next notable person recorded in the Bible who built an altar to God is Noah (Gen. 8:20), and nearly nine hundred years later we then find Abram also building an altar to the Lord (Gen. 12:7).  The altar and the offering became intrinsic to the relationship between mankind and God. For many centuries altars were erected wherever and whenever man wanted to acknowledge his need of God’s favor and mercy.

There is a parallel season to this beginning stage of Old Testament history in our individual journeys into the fullness of Christ.   This historical ‘season of the altar’ also represents the initial stage of salvation, the new birth – that period of time when we first come into Christ Jesus.   We come via the altar of His Cross, we understand a sacrificial offering has been made for us, and by faith we are born again and reconciled to God.  In our Christian lives, that season is the first part of our history under redemption.  It is our season of the altar.

So from Abel onwards, from one generation to the next, people related to God through the altar.  For roughly 2,370 years, from Abel to Moses, the altar was the means by which humanity sought fellowship with God.

And then something changed…..

The Temple

Biblical history is about the progressive revelation of Christ. Everything God does is centered on His Son.  The entire history of mankind is about God gradually revealing His beloved Son to us.

Approximately two thousand years after Abel lived, God raised up a man named Moses and with Moses God’s people were propelled into the ‘season of the temple’.  It was Moses who led the Israelites out of enslavement in Egypt, towards the land God had promised them.  It was during this journey that God revealed a pattern for a physical sanctuary, a temple, where He would manifest His Presence and His people could worship Him.

 “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.”  Genesis 25:8,9

So God gave Moses the pattern for a tabernacle, or portable temple, because the people were on a journey and the temple had to be packed up and moved along with them. The ancient altar did not disappear but was incorporated as an essential element into the tabernacle/temple. God was propelling His people forward from the ‘season of the altar’ to the greater ‘season of the temple’.

Later, after Israel had taken possession of the promised land, King David wanted to replace the tabernacle with a great building where God could dwell among His people permanently.  But it was his son Solomon who fulfilled his dream and built the first great temple in Jerusalem.

The temple was divided into three parts:  the Outer Court where the ordinary people were allowed to gather, the Holy Place which included the altar where only priests could minister, and the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could enter once a year as mediator between God and man. 

The temple was a busy place with different ranks of priests offering sacrifices, burning incense, cleaning the altar, blowing trumpets, and performing many other duties, but the ordinary Israelites were excluded from many of the proceedings. Central to the sacred atmosphere of the Temple were the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, representing the Law,  which were kept in the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies (2 Chronicles 5:6-10).  Temple life was about hierarchy, offerings and law keeping.

Despite the presence of the temple with all its activity God’s people did not seek to truly follow Him, carrying out their temple rituals while continuing to involve themselves in every kind of idolatry. During this period God was also raising up prophets in Israel who would call the people back to God. The warnings of the prophets were often rejected and the prophets were persecuted and sometimes killed by the people and their leaders.  After standing for 350 years Solomon’s great temple was destroyed by the invading Babylonians and the Israelites were taken into captivity for 70 years.

Now, this is where Zechariah comes in.  Zechariah was a Jewish prophet living in Israel at a time when a remnant of Israelites was returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. Zechariah symbolizes for us the second stage of Biblical history, the season of the temple. He lived near its end, roughly three and a half thousand years after Abel and five hundred years before Jesus.  The book of Zechariah is the second last book of the Old Testament.  Though Zechariah’s focus was on the rebuilding of the temple, he prophesied also of a coming age when a King who was also a Priest would build a new temple and establish His Kingdom.

“Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the Lord; yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”  Zech 6:12,13 .

Just as the alter season represents the initial stage of our journey into Christ, so does the temple season represent the next stage.  We come into Christ through the altar of the Cross when we are born again of the Spirit.  Now, as the Spirit leads us further, we learn what it means to be part of the spiritual Body of Christ on earth.   We join with other believers in a physical building to worship and fellowship together.  Our Christian identity becomes closely tied to the activities of our local ‘temple’ and we often begin to look to the ‘temple’ for our spiritual, emotional and social needs.  We have entered our ‘temple season’.

The temple is not the final destination however.  In Old Testament times the temple season was all about law keeping, hierarchy and continuous sacrifice.  It was about a limited, very specific priesthood, a geographical meeting place, and works based religion.  In other words, it was earth bound.  Sadly, this is where many believers currently find themselves, trying to live life in the Kingdom while confined to the boundaries of the ‘temple’.  But something greater is here among us.

Over 4000 years of Old Testament history, from Abel to Zechariah, “between the altar and the temple”, God was progressively revealing His Son and His coming Kingdom.

And then God moved the goal posts.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Altar, Temple, Kingdom.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Featured Poem for March: How Long?

Photo Copyright Wallaroo Images

Photo Copyright Wallaroo Images

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Matt. 8:20

How Long?

 

Nowhere

To lay His head

Is what He said

 

 

As usual we misunderstood

Thinking only

As we do

Of warm soft bed

Four walls

A home

 

But what do we know

Of the weariness

That besets

A Soul so pure?

The loneliness endured

By One

From outside time and space

Lifting longing eyes

To another place

He called His Father’s house?

 

“How long will I be with you?”

 

 

Not long enough

As it turned out

 

 

How long, Beloved,

Till we see Your Face again?

For here we find

Nowhere….

To lay our heads.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012,2013, 2014.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

 

© Cheryl McGrath 2012