The Rock And The Hard Place

Rock and Hard PlaceHe is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He. Deut. 32:4


A night of high drama. A brotherly kiss between friends, but not all is at it seems. Eyes meet in a silent moment of raw, agonising truth. Hearts are laid bare. One man weeps hot bitter tears; another discards all hope. A bag of silver coins is thrown in the dust. A verdict, a sentence and an execution.

The various threads of that fateful night intertwine in a series of familiar stories, any of which we may follow and examine more closely. Eternal destinies were decided that night. Events were set in motion that will never be turned back. Before the coming day was over mercy would triumph over judgment and truth and grace would embrace.

Let’s turn our attention to just two of the lives eternally impacted for better or worse on that Passover night: Peter, a Galilean fisherman and Judas Iscariot, presumably named for Kerioth, the town he hailed from. Both had been chosen by Jesus as members of His inner circle, and both had been named as His apostles (Jn. 6:70; Lk. 6:13).

From the gospel accounts we understand that Peter was somewhat impulsive and, like the other disciples, struggled with personal ambition (Jn. 18:10: Mt. 18:1). A man of extremes, he could be defiant one moment and remorseful the next (Lk. 5:4-8; Jn. 13:8,9)

Satan had already asked for Peter. Jesus made no secret of this fact, warning Peter that He had interceded for him (Lk. 22:31,32). Peter was unable to believe that he was capable of denying Jesus. Until he did. He had been openly resistant to Jesus’ return to Jerusalem with all its obvious danger. He opposed Jesus’ disturbing references to crucifixion and martyrdom. Such possibilities offended him (Mat. 16:21-23).

As his eyes met the probing eyes of Jesus the truth about himself confronted Peter head on. Christ is Truth – not one of us can meet His penetrating gaze and remain in deception. To his horror Peter discovered he was not a leader, he was a coward; he was not a follower, he was a denier; he was not a friend, he was a betrayer; he was not worthy to reign with the Christ, he was unworthy to even be His disciple. There was not one thing he could bring to his own salvation. But with truth came grace, for in Jesus Christ grace and truth converge (Jn. 1:14). A hardened heart was softened and restored and a life in the balance changed forever.

Less is revealed in the gospels about the personality of Judas but we do know he had a weakness for money and was stealing from the common purse shared by the disciples (Jn. 12:6; Mt. 26:14-15). Satan did have access to Judas and even more so when Judas made up his mind to carry through his plan of betrayal ( Lk. 22:3,4 ;Jn. 13:27). Judas’ actions that night were deliberate and calculated. He had pre-arranged to receive thirty pieces of silver in exchange for disclosing Jesus’ whereabouts to the authorities when He was away from the crowds.

Judas also had his heart laid bare that night. He wanted nothing to do with any talk of dying. When it became clear that Jesus had no plan to resist arrest, lead an insurrection and unite Israel in rebellion against Rome, he was offended. He obviously had not signed up for this turn of events.

At the crucial moment of betrayal, however, he too was confronted with the naked truth about himself. ‘Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ The question must have stung to the core and echoed in his conscience thereafter. Had he really thought Jesus was unaware of his secret? He had been deceived into thinking his thieving had gone unnoticed and so would his plans for self-preservation. But none of us can kiss the face of God and not be confronted with our need for redemption.

Suddenly thirty pieces of silver meant absolutely nothing. The money was thrown in the temple, unwanted. In similar fashion the grace on offer was declined. Silver is the Biblical symbol for redemption while thirty represents fullness or maturity. But there would be no bitter tears, repentance, and forgiveness accepted by this offended heart. Rather than surrender to a grace he could not understand Judas chose to go his own way, ending his life (Acts 1:25).

Two men. One night. Both of them offended by the Cross of Christ. Both of them finding themselves between the Rock and a very hard place. Two extremely different outcomes.

Years later Peter acknowledged the One whose penetrating eyes met his that fateful Passover night as ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence’ (1 Peter 2:8). Each of us at some time will stumble over that Rock so that our need for Him can be revealed. For Peter that revelation was stark. Peter stumbled badly, and broken, threw himself on the mercy of the Rock. Judas stumbled badly, refused to believe Christ could redeem him, and was crushed by the weight of his sin.

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust (Lk. 20:18)

There is a reason Jesus Christ is called the Rock of Offence. It offends the carnal human mind that we need a Saviour. It offends us that the Saviour we need died violently, innocently, and brutally on an execution stake fashioned by human hands. It offends us that His innocent Blood is the only means of our redemption.

We are offended intellectually. The thought of a blood-spattered cross being our only means of salvation is just too humbling, and let’s face it, too unreasonable for proud human minds.

We are offended morally, because we each think we understand justice, but we don’t understand THIS justice.

We are offended emotionally. We don’t want to acknowledge that such a gruesome suffering and death was willingly undertaken purely on our behalf.

We stumble. The offending Cross either brings us to our knees or sends us running in search of a more reasonable god. We find that more reasonable god in Christ-less religion that demands we work for our salvation, or in humanism that assures us we are our own gods and we get to decide what is just and what is unjust.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face. (Ps. 89:14)

Righteousness, justice, mercy and truth are chief characteristics of God.

God gave the Law first to teach us about justice and mercy. Without first knowing Law we would not recognise mercy or our need for it. Similarly, without first being introduced to the cold stark truth about ourselves we would not recognise grace, or our need for it. But a tutor is not meant to stay forever (Gal. 3:24,25). After the Law served its purpose, in the fullness of time, came Jesus Christ, the personification of grace and truth together.

Only in Christ do mercy, truth, justice and righteousness merge. At the Cross mercy triumphed over judgment and God made just all who believe on Christ (Jas. 23:13; Acts 13:39).

A rock can be a place of safety and refuge, or it can be an agent of disaster. Peter yielded to the Rock and found grace. Judas chose his own way and found law. Law says a life for a life. Grace says His death for my life.

The greatest Offender to the fallen carnal nature of every person is Jesus Christ; the greatest offence humanity has ever experienced is the Cross of Christ.

For those of us who follow Him, falling on the Rock is not a single event, it’s a daily choice. The hard places we find all around us loom darkly, threatening to overwhelm and destroy. But we bear witness that there is a Rock of Offence who is our hope, our healing and our ever present salvation. This good news is the gift we offer to a stumbling world.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. 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 Post: Silent Encounter

Somewhere A Church

somewhereachurch

Heard the one about there being no perfect church? It goes like this: ‘Well, there’s no perfect church because churches are made up of imperfect people’, or words to that effect.  It’s one of those often repeated Christianese statements that have no basis in scripture but are frequently thrown around as if they do.

I don’t buy it.

I believe there is a perfect church. Here’s why.

This week I was preparing an article for another blogsite about a woman born 100 years before me, who died twenty years before I was born. She was a dedicated Christ follower who sacrificed a brilliant career, fame and wealth to pour out her life in His service in an unfamiliar, hostile land. And we connected. As I researched her life, which was very unlike my own, I sensed a depth of bond with her that I’ve seldom known with any other believer. Our connection was in the Holy Spirit.

How is it that Christ followers can be united across boundaries of time, geography and culture in this way? How is it my spirit leaps when I recognize the same Christ in another as dwells in me, even if we have never met, even if we have never heard each other’s voices or physically sat together to worship or talk over coffee? How is it I often feel more closely bonded to someone half a world away who has shared their hopes, fears, and faith with me through emails and blog posts, than with people I share the same history, culture and cafes with?

It’s because there is just one church (Ephesians 4:4).

It’s because this one church, this Body of Christ, is a spiritual entity. Its members have been baptized together into Christ by the Spirit of God, to whom boundaries of distance, time, language and culture are irrelevant (1 Cor. 12:13)

It’s because this same Spirit refuses to be confined within the multi-denominational structures, doctrinal boxes and brick and mortar walls that are popularly called ‘the church’ on this earth.

Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit whose members are united and bound together by the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:3). Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit that looks, loves and sounds just like Jesus Christ whose members are being continually conformed to His image by the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:18). Somewhere a church exists in the Spirit that is perfect because its members are perfected and sanctified by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Cor. 6:11; Heb. 10:14).

And when we as disciples of any colour, gender or culture connect with another by the uniting power of the Holy Spirit, we have found that Somewhere Church.   Our membership in it is guaranteed not by signing a card or regular attendance but by our faith in Christ.

But I keep hitting up against a problem. The latest example of this problem occurred recently when a local pastor implied we (husband and I) should be attending his church. Bear in mind he has not met either of us, we have not been to his church and have no indication from God that we should do so. We had simply contacted him by phone in connection with a practical matter to assist a close relative who does go to that church.

The problem? The problem is an almost blind assumption that those of us who choose to opt out of traditional organized Christianity are somehow spiritually less than those who do. The problem is others automatically presuming they know better than I how, where, and when I should worship. And the problem is friendship offered not on the basis of faith in Christ, but on condition of conformity to another person’s specific Christian tribe.

Seriously, if someone truly believes that Christ cannot sustain me outside the walls of their own church setting, then even when that church is the biggest in town, their church is too small and their God is too inadequate.

I know, it’s easy to label Christians ‘backslidden’ when they are less than enthusiastic about church involvement, or dismiss them as those pesky ‘perfect church’ seekers: easier, that is, than deal with the uncomfortable fact that there may actually be something missing in our local church that people are desperately seeking. I can’t blame anyone who chooses to think that way: we’ve all known people who are serial complainers, who are always more focused on the problem than the solution. We’ve all breathed a secret sigh of relief when they move on in search of whatever it is that will satisfy them.

But the largest percentage of non-church-attending Christians are sincere Christ followers who are non-attenders because the hierarchical, controlling atmosphere of many local churches has become toxic to them. And for many, institutional Christianity has become irrelevant. They are searching for, and often finding, other ways to assemble together, deeper more authentic ways of connecting to fellow believers and more diverse expressions of corporate fellowship than traditional settings offer. They are following a living Christ they have not been able to find within the hyped or stifled environments of their local church experiences.

If my words offend you, that is certainly not my intention. I bless my Christian brothers and sisters who acknowledge there are serious problems in organized Christianity and have nevertheless chosen to serve Christ from inside the institution. I would never question your ability to hear for yourself where and how, or in what setting, you should express your Christian beliefs. But I would ask that the same level of respect be given to those of us who worship Christ outside the walls of the local church by choice because that’s where we believe He has led us.

For the record let me clear up a few general assumptions often made about we ‘outside’ Christians:

*We are not all wounded, angry and bitter. Each of us as individual believers, whether attending a local church or otherwise, is on a journey into wholeness in Jesus Christ. It’s true many do cease regular church attendance because they have been deeply wounded or spiritually abused, but many find their healing through following Christ outside the institution rather than inside it. Wounded, angry, bitter people are just as often present within the walls of local churches as outside them.

*We are not spiritually dysfunctional or less of a Christ follower because we no longer find the atmosphere of a local church relevant to our Christian walk and growth. You don’t have to be an active member of a local church for Christ to meet you, heal you and lead you. If this is something that is incomprehensible to some readers may I gently suggest you leave aside what you do not understand rather than judge it as aberrant. God does not need to fit into our understanding of Him or give account to us for how He works with His own.

*We have not ‘left’ the church. It is no more possible for us to leave the church than it is to shed our natural skin. If we are in Christ we are church. Period.

*Finally, we are not your mission field. It is not your God-given calling to get us back into your church just so you can feel better about us. The mission field is anyone outside Christ – let’s all focus our evangelism there.

I share as one who spent over forty years in organized Christianity before God called me to follow Jesus outside the local church system. It came as a surprise and has certainly not been an easy path, but I have no regrets. Bread for the Bride is primarily a ministry to my fellow ‘wilderness dwellers’ – those who for whatever reason have not found Christ in His fullness within the walls of organized Christianity, or who have not found the local church scene to be the safe, nurturing environment it should be. I could hardly minister to this ‘congregation in the wilderness’ in the small way that I do without walking alongside them.

Whether someone is actively engaged in a local church, or has been called to another expression of the Christ Life that is in them, should really not be an issue. If we are in Christ we are the Church. Our connection to one another as Christ’s Body is in the Spirit, not within temporary structures, shared traditions or specific sets of doctrines.

I read something this week by a great teacher from a former time, T. Austin Sparks, that articulates the true nature of the church far better than I can:

You can only really see what the Spirit presents when you occupy a heavenly position. To see the Lord and His Church, as we have it in Ephesians, you must be in the position that is there: “He hath raised us up together with Him and made us to sit in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” It was from that position that Paul gave us the revelation of Christ and His Body.’

I am beginning to see the Church as Jesus sees her, from a heavenly perspective. I am beginning to perceive that great crowd of witnesses from every age since Adam whose individual testimonies of the living Christ are the organic cells that make up the Body of Christ. And I am beginning to understand why buildings, creeds, traditions, doctrines and organisation can never equal or contain this spiritual ecclesia whose members can only ever be knitted and held together by the Spirit of God.

If you are one who chooses to worship Christ from within a local church congregation, be blessed, and welcome to the Church. If you are a fringe dweller, seeking to follow Christ but unsure where you fit in, be blessed, and welcome to the Church. If you are following Christ outside the traditional venues, again, be blessed, and welcome to the Church.

I’ll meet you in Church….Somewhere.

*The Persistent Purpose of God, Chapter 8 “The Glory and The Spirit”, T. Austin-Sparks 

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. 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 Vine And The Grain

vineandgrainSix years have flown by since we moved into our current home. The recent anniversary of our move came with a jolt. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the home we left six years ago: a huge two storey brick and tile on 1.4 acres near the edge of our town. We lived happily there for seven years.

When the time came to leave the hardest thing was saying goodbye to the orchard and the garden. Both the house interior and exterior grounds had been severely neglected and were in a sorry, run down state when we arrived. I am not much of a gardener, but my husband is. Often assisted by our youngest daughter he expended untold hours of hard, sweaty labour on making the grounds both beautiful and productive.

Tiny citrus trees were planted out the back of the house during our first year there. Various varieties of lemon, orange and lime were hunted down and the baby plants lovingly placed into well-prepared ground …… in the middle of a cruel summer in one of the worst droughts our region had seen in many years. Wiser, more experienced heads scoffed at our apparent foolishness for planting in such an unkind season and declared we would lose every one of our little saplings within months.

Whether it was stubbornness or faith I don’t know, but every morning of that summer would see my husband gently hand watering the saplings, tending each one with loving care, willing them to live. Every evening would see me just as determinedly circling our little orchard, blessing, praying and calling forth the hidden life and fruit I knew each one carried.

Gradually a garden arose around us. In place of dry grass, weeds and dead plants, colourful beds of roses, azaleas and gardenias emerged. A verdant, green lawn was nurtured and maintained. And best of all, our citrus orchard flourished, producing sweet, succulent fruit so abundant it was gladly shared with friends and neighbours. Much to the surprise of some, not one of our little saplings succumbed to the drought. The ugly, uninviting grounds that had greeted us a few years earlier had been transformed into a peaceful, lush, life-filled environment, even providing an appropriate venue for our daughter’s wedding.

That lovely transformed garden and the fruitful, healthy orchard we left behind when it became clear God had plans to move us on have been on my mind lately. The developer who bought the old home didn’t dream of juicy orchard fruits or fragrant roses on his dining table. His mind was set instead on dividing the grounds into multiple lots to build profit-producing dwellings for young couples needing their first homes.

The gardens were ripped up by bulldozers, making way for builders’ trucks and materials, and ultimately new houses. The sturdy native trees we planted to border the property were replaced by metal fencing. And our cherished citrus orchard, a waste of good building land, also had to go.   In place of attractive gardens and a prolific orchard brick and mortar homes now stand, where people return each night to rest their weariness before tackling the troubles a new day will bring.

We had known this would happen when we left. And there was not a thing we could do about it. You can’t dream, plant, nurture, and bring forth something beautiful and fruitful without experiencing sorrow, sometimes even deep sorrow, when that which you’ve carried in your soul and built with your own labour becomes seemingly annihilated, as if it had never existed in the first place.

Today when I stand on the verandah of this present home of six years I look out on young, thriving new plants that are growing steadily into a beautiful, established garden. And this year we had our first crop of citrus. Sweet juicy oranges sit alongside newly picked lemons and limes on my kitchen bench. A vegetable garden too has been planted and I hear plans are afoot for apple trees. Life is flourishing around me once more, but it didn’t come without cost. The former had to be relinquished so that something even more fruitful and productive could be birthed.

This principal of death before life is one we must wrestle with in our spiritual walk too. Jesus spoke of Himself as the Vine and we as the branches that are pruned in order to bring forth abundant fruit.

‘I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.’ (Jn. 15:1-2).

At another time He gave the example of a wheat kernel that is buried in the ground and subjected to death for a season, so that it might emerge and multiply into a harvest of grain.

‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.’ (Jn.12:24-25).

We pass through seasons in our spiritual lives. There are seasons of pruning, when that which is unproductive, diseased or simply an impediment to the healthy flow of life in us is revealed and removed.

There is another kind of season also where our dreams, hopes and labour suddenly come to naught. It is a season of obscurity, of burial if you like, where all that we have been building, all that we have identified ourselves with sometimes over many years, is brought to death. In such a season we may even see the hard-earned fruit of our labour placed into the hands of someone who has a different vision or purpose.

To our dismay, the pall of death hangs over all we have expended our lives on. What’s more, there is nothing we can do about it. It is taken out of our hands. Furthermore, we seem to be cocooned in a dark, barren place, stripped of all we thought we knew and left with nothing but raw, naked faith that there is a God, that He is good, and He will not leave us alone in this place of burial. Apart from that, we cannot say we know anything, nor can we say we are anything.

Whether we find ourselves in a season of pruning, or a season of death and burial, God’s purpose in us is always Life.

As branches, we are not sent off to be pruned while He waits indifferently. He will never leave or forsake us, but will sustain us during every season. His grace is sufficient for the pruning season.

Nor will He abandon us to the cold, dark soil of our grain season, for He is Lord of both the light and the darkness (Jn. 1:5; Job 12:22). He will do that which is true to His eternal nature of Love and Life, He will complete the work He has begun in us – He will bring forth Life both in us and from us.

Both the Vine season and the Grain season are integral to our Christ-following journey if we are to be reduced and Christ is to increase (Jn. 3:30). Perhaps you have already discovered this. But these are not the only seasons we will encounter on this journey. The branch is pruned only in preparation for the coming season of Fruitfulness. The grain is buried into death only in preparation for the coming season of Resurrection Life.

God’s purpose is always Life. He cannot be otherwise. Life must bring forth life. His intention and plan for us is always fruitfulness. Where Life is present, fruit must be evident.

This principle of death before life is something Jesus’ first disciples had to experience also. All that they had worked towards, envisaged, talked about, planned for, hoped and dreamt came to a thundering crash at Calvary. It was a shocking, sudden and brutal end to their expectations. It tested their faith to the utmost and nearly broke their spirits. Only a handful of disciples, one male and several female, could even bear to witness the crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41, Matthew 27:55-56, Jn. 19:25-26).

Those first disciples experienced a crushing to their very core, yet, revived by the same Spirit who raised Christ from death, emerged to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Christ-less religion conditions us to call many things ‘life’ that are not Life, to settle for far less than the vibrant, thriving Christ-Life which is the lifeblood of the true Body of Christ.

Religion produces  undernourished, tasteless fruit instead of the abundant, Life-filled fruit that is pleasing to our Father. Religion will attempt to rescue us from the pruning shears and snatch us from the Cross of Christ. Religion is death masquerading as Life. And religion will never allow us to emerge from the grave as overcomers fit to reproduce the resurrection Life of Christ.

Choose Life, even if the way to Life is through the valley of death. You will never be left in the grave.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond.   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.

What’s Mine is Yours

rings-182980_960_720pixabayTwo friends did everything together. The greatest happiness for each of them was to be in the other’s company. Day and night, whatever they were doing, they sought to be doing it in the companionship of the other one. Hours were spent talking, laughing, confiding, sharing, trusting one another. For each of them this rare and treasured friendship was precious beyond words and its nurture was their greatest priority. The woman held this friendship above all other relationships and was only ever fully alive, fully free, when in the company of her friend. The easy flowing freedom they found with one another, the deep and abiding companionship that bound them regardless of whatever else may be happening, was for her a constant source of joy and refuge in a rapidly changing and unstable world.

Then came a day when, feeling her friend’s eyes gazing at her, she looked up and suddenly became conscious of some deeper longing within him she had not previously perceived. Almost at the same instant she knew, for the first time, that the same intense yearning she saw in him also lived in her.

In that moment ‘friendship’ became too limited a word for the magnitude of what was now being unveiled between them. As beautiful as their friendship was, something even deeper was evolving. What was now beckoning was a complete, unhindered belonging – one to the other. She his, and he hers, an unlimited communion where the over-riding identity would not be I and he, or he and I, but We.

He was inviting her into a perfect oneness* with him beyond anything they had previously known. Surprising herself, she found she too desired this with all her being. A great sigh of relief, as of one who has stepped across the threshold of a long-sought home, escaped from her being. With a sense of total restfulness, she moved towards him so that she may lay her head down softly on his breast.

And at that moment everything took an unexpected turn. A familiar fear took hold of her. Drawing closer her gaze became fixed on the pure whiteness of his silk shirt, its exquisite fabric and its pristine condition, more immaculate and spotless than anything she had ever seen. ‘But how can I think of laying my head on such perfection?’ she asked herself. ‘What if my hair is not clean enough? What if I crease that beautiful pure white silk? That unsullied fabric is too good for me to just sink myself into. He deserves to wear such a fine garment, but I will spoil it if I touch it.’ And she hesitated and then stopped herself abruptly, holding herself back just inches from his chest. There she remained in her doubt and misgivings, while he waited, heartbroken at her reluctance.

What I have just related is a powerful prophetic dream I had very recently. It was one of those dreams that leaves its impact for many hours after waking. From past experience I knew the Lord was sharing something precious and important for which He wanted me to seek His meaning.

What can I say? As the dream’s message unfolded I was allowed to taste in just a small way the strength of His longing for a Bride who will grasp all He yearns to share with her in its fullness. This ‘belonging’ – we to Him and He to us – is something we, for the most part, simply do not get. And yet He longs for us to get it with an intensity that is staggering and almost impossible to convey here.

In John 15:15 Jesus surprises His disciples by telling them they are more than His servants, they are His friends. This was not what Jewish disciples were used to hearing from their rabbis. But Jesus wanted them to understand He was no normal rabbi and they were no normal disciples. They were proving their willingness to be His servants by doing what He was commanding. Obedience was the proof of their servanthood. But their willingness to share His Kingdom plans and purposes with Him would be the proof of something beyond servanthood. It would be proof of their friendship. His desire was for them to see themselves as more than servants – as friends.

Christ our Bridegroom King is both Friend and Beloved (Song of Songs 5.16). As Friend He shares His plans, eternal purposes and desires with us. As Beloved He elevates us to a place beyond even friendship, a place where all that He is, all that He has and all that He wills becomes as much ours as His, because this is what He has chosen. We belong to Him, but the greater mystery is that He and all He is – His Kingdom, His righteousness, His authority, His divine nature, His Oneness with the Father and the Spirit – also belong to us, along with our share in the fellowship of His sufferings.

But. We. Don’t. Get. It.

When the woman in my dream identified her beloved’s unsullied garment as his, not theirs, she was unable to step forward into the oneness he longed for.

We draw so close, then pull back with niggling doubts about being good enough, clean enough, gifted enough, while all the time He hungers for nothing more than a Bride who no longer questions her right to stand with Him.

We tell ourselves it’s not about us, it’s all about Him – then make it all about us by judging ourselves not quite up to scratch.

We tritely remind each other that we are ‘joint heirs’ and ‘partakers in Christ’, then nibble at crumbs and leave the feast on His table untouched.

This Oneness that the Bridegroom King craves for us to embrace, this mutual belonging to one another, is without limitation. We miss the point when we focus on how much we don’t deserve what He’s offering instead of how much He deserves to have His greatest desire responded to without hesitation or question.

Listen, this is important. The fullness of our healing from who we have been, where we have walked, what we have seen and experienced, lies in our ability to lay our heads down upon Him without hesitation, fear of judgment or questioning of our right to do so.

He knows it, and He is aching for us to know it.

In the midst of this unfolding revelation one riveting statement was whispered quietly like thunder into my spirit:

What’s Mine. Is yours.’

I don’t mind admitting I am still unravelling the implications of that simple but profound utterance and will be for a long time to come. And the implications are as overwhelming as they are astounding.

Within that statement are innumerable yes’s and immeasurable amens, but no exceptions.

And should anyone be wondering, this is not about prosperity in this present world. Jesus did not promise us temporal things that are passing away. He bestowed on us an eternal, unshakeable Kingdom (Luke 22:29).

What’s Yours is mine? All of it? And this is what you want us to move forward into Lord, no more questioning, no more hesitating, no more one step forward, two steps back?

Yep, I know right?

But this is what it means to belong to our Beloved. And this is what it means for Our Beloved to belong to us. We need to start ‘getting it’. We need to start seeking to walk in the fullness of our oneness with Christ. It’s our final frontier, and our only true destination.

It is what He desires. And that’s enough for us to desire it too.

*To clarify my use of the word ‘oneness’, I am not referring to the ‘oneness’ with creation, the universe, a higher power or unspecified supreme being promoted by New Age belief systems. I am also not referring to the oneness espoused by certain Christian denominations who do not believe in the tri-une nature of the Christian God, (i.e. Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three divine personalities in One God), commonly known as the Oneness Movement or ‘Jesus Only’ doctrine.

I believe in the Trinity and I believe that the God of the Bible is One (Deut. 6:4). Unfortunately the concept of oneness, or perfect unity, has become associated with cults and heresies and many believers have become afraid of the concept as a result.

Jesus spoke of being one with His Father and prayed for His disciples to become one with each other and with Him and the Father (Jn. 10:30; 17:21). Spiritual oneness is a sound Biblical concept taught in both the Old and New Testaments. It is to this Biblical oneness between God and humanity that I am referring in this article.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond.   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

Dear friends of Bread for the Bride:

I am currently away taking a short break. Thankyou for your continued support for the Bread for the Bride blogsite since I started it in April 2012.  And if you are a new subscriber, welcome!  There are 193 articles and poetry for you to explore while I am away and I encourage you to take this opportunity to read and absorb some of the earlier Bread for the Bride posts that you may have missed.

In the meantime the subject that continues to burn in my heart at this time is The Kingdom of God.  I’ve scheduled the three part series Alter, Temple, Kingdom to be posted in my absence.   I believe the message shared in these specific posts is important and relevant to the Bride of Christ more than at any time in history.  I hope you will read or re-read Alter, Temple, Kingdom and share these articles among those who hunger for God.

It is still possible to comment, but comments will not appear or be responded to until my return.

I expect to be back posting again around the middle of July. Until then, keep shining.

Cheryl McGrath


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

temple

Dear friends of Bread for the Bride:

I am currently away taking a short break. Thankyou for your continued support for the Bread for the Bride blogsite since I started it in April 2012.  And if you are a new subscriber, welcome!  There are 193 articles and poetry for you to explore while I am away and I encourage you to take this opportunity to read and absorb some of the earlier Bread for the Bride posts that you may have missed.

In the meantime the subject that continues to burn in my heart at this time is The Kingdom of God.  I’ve scheduled the three part series Alter, Temple, Kingdom to be posted in my absence.   I believe the message shared in these specific posts is important and relevant to the Bride of Christ more than at any time in history.  I hope you will read or re-read Alter, Temple, Kingdom and share these articles among those who hunger for God.

It is still possible to comment, but comments will not appear or be responded to until my return.

I expect to be back posting again around the middle of July. Until then, keep shining.

Cheryl McGrath


The 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

temple

Dear friends of Bread for the Bride:

I am currently away taking a short break. Thankyou for your continued support for the Bread for the Bride blogsite since I started it in April 2012.  And if you are a new subscriber, welcome!  There are 193 articles and poetry for you to explore while I am away and I encourage you to take this opportunity to read and absorb some of the earlier Bread for the Bride posts that you may have missed.

In the meantime the subject that continues to burn in my heart at this time is The Kingdom of God.  I’ve scheduled the three part series Alter, Temple, Kingdom to be posted in my absence.   I believe the message shared in these specific posts is important and relevant to the Bride of Christ more than at any time in history.  I hope you will read or re-read Alter, Temple, Kingdom and share these articles among those who hunger for God.

It is still possible to comment, but comments will not appear or be responded to until my return.

I expect to be back posting again around the middle of July. Until then, keep shining.

Cheryl McGrath


The 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.