What is an Apostle?
Knowledge Puffs Up. Love Edifies.
I have a principle, a value that influences me, that shapes me, in the area of knowledge and wisdom. The value is this: there are better tools that knowledge, than learning, to work with in accomplishing the goal of “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” This might sound controversial; hear me out.
Learning with the Sadducees
Jesus taught the Sadducees some lessons about the Kingdom. Let’s learn from them.
I’ve been fascinated with the story in Mark 12 where Jesus schools the Sadducees. They came to test him (it seemed to be the popular thing to do in those days), to try to get Jesus to agree with their heretical doctrines. Unsurprisingly, Jesus didn’t play along. But His reply is worth learning from, particularly in these “Last Days” which Jesus himself described as “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” The periphery of the Church contains so many self-appointed Guardians of the Truth, but many (or most?) of them seem to be speaking with the error of the Sadducees, or the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus’ response here is a wonderful lesson on identifying Truth.
The fact that Jesus takes the time to teach the Sadducees, rather than rebuke them publicly (he wasn’t afraid of that; see Matthew 23 for a blistering example), indicates something significant, I think. There were two primary theological camps among the teachers of those days: Pharisees and Sadducees. The interesting thing here is that the Pharisees actually had the better doctrine: they acknowledged the resurrection from the dead, they acknowledged the presence and ministry of angels, they acknowledged spirits, and therefore the Holy Spirit. The Sadducees did not acknowledge any of these (see Acts 23:8).
But it was the Pharisees that Jesus blasted publicly, not the Sadducees. Here, the Sadducees come to test Jesus with a hypothetical scenario, and Jesus responds gently, and shows them their error. I observe that when Jesus points out the error of the Pharisees (for example, Luke 12:1), he does not address their doctrine, but their hypocrisy.
I learn from this that I can be theologically sound, and completely messed up: I can have my doctrines correct, and earn the castigation and judgment of Jesus. Apparently, correct doctrine is not the highest and most valuable treasure to the Son of God.
The Sadducees must have had a more teachable attitude; they missed several key doctrinal points, but Jesus gently instructs them. Since I aspire to be teachable more than I aspire to doctrinal perfection, I suspect I can learn from his schooling of these teachable heretics.
The first thing that Jesus does in instructing these guys is that he completely rejects their whole foundation: they came to him with an elaborate hypothetical situation to convince him: he ignores it completely, focusing on the truth instead. I confess: I want to deal with the real world (as Jesus did here) more than with hypothetical situations which can only generate hypothetical theologies.
Before Jesus corrects their erroneous theology, he points out the source of the error: they’re mistaken (the word also means “deceived”) because they lack knowledge of two things: the Scriptures and the power of God.
It is an amazing thing to me that Jesus accuses the Sadducees of not knowing the Scriptures: these men spend their lives studying the Scriptures, and yet, Jesus says, they don’t really know them. Apparently it is possible to study the Word, to know theology, to earn advanced theological degrees (for that is what it meant to be a Sadducee), and still be deceived. Apparently book-learning isn’t enough.
The second thing that the Sadducees missed, which led to their deception, was that they didn’t have a working knowledge of the power of God. It makes sense that not knowing the power of God would be a contributing factor towards a theology that denies the supernatural. If you don’t ever heal the sick, or see people who do, then it’s easier to say, “God doesn’t heal the sick anymore.” I know of one seminary professor who declared, “Well, I don’t experience miracles, so God must not do miracles any more,” as he taught his poor students about the virtues of cessationism.
I believe that the reverse is also true: the reason that people come up with theologies – or excuses – to explain away the power of God is specifically because those people have not experienced the power of God in the way that Jesus expects us to.
For the scholars among us, the word “power” here is indeed the Greek work dunamis, the root word of “dynamite.” This is the same word that is used for healing (Luke 5:17), for resurrecting the dead (Romans 1:4) and for casting demons out (Luke 9:1), and which Jesus assigns, delegates, imparts to those of us who are His disciples (Luke 10:19). Jesus is describing signs and wonders when he describes the reasons for their deception: because they don’t know the signs and wonders of God, they are mistaken, in error, deceived: we must know the supernatural power of God to stay out of deception.
That leads us to a necessary corollary: we must use these two foundations in order to have our theology right: we must really understand the Scriptures – not just study, but letting the Author teach us – and we must have a working, experiential knowledge of the power of God. Indeed, a perusal of the Gospels will reveal that most of the time when Jesus taught the people, he then also healed them, or when he started with healing, he followed up with teaching. Theology teachers and Bible teachers whose ministry doesn’t include the power of God are – according to Jesus’ correction of the Sadducees – missing one of the two pillars of complete theology. Powerless theology teachers cannot teach theology well. That’s a scary conclusion, and it’s driving at least this teacher to pursue supernatural signs and wonders more passionately than ever before: I decline to fall into the deception of he Sadducees.
It is at this point in the conversation that things get really interesting. Jesus has explained what they were doing wrong that led to their deception; now he goes on to correct their theological errors. I’m not going to examine the theology that he’s teaching (it is self-apparent); rather, I want to look at the way he teaches it: He corrects their theology using the same two tools, the same two reference points – the Scriptures and the power of God – that he has just accused them of lacking, though he does so in the opposite sequence.
Second (I’ll cover the “First” in a second), Jesus refers to the Scriptures, using Moses’ reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to affirm the resurrection. While he’s using the Scriptures as his foundation, his interpretation and application of the Scriptures is prophetic, rather than the usual inductive or deductive tools more commonly used both then and now.
But first, he speaks as the Son of God, whose residence and throne are in Heaven, and he speaks to a situation that neither the Sadducees nor we have any way to understand apart from either a resident of Heaven comes to explain it to us, or us journeying to the heavenly realms to see for ourselves. Jesus’ declaration cannot come from earth when says, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” He’s describing eternity from the point of view of someone who has seen first-hand what the resurrection is like. “This is what it’s like on the other side of death and resurrection.”
That knowledge, of course, is impossible apart from the supernatural. I can think of a few ways that I could have learned those things, but not a one of them comes from studying well. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:4), Jesus (John 3:13) and John (Revelation 1:10 and 4:2) appeared to travel to Heaven while on Earth, though there’s very little teaching on the topic in church today. A whole number of people had things explained to them by angels (beginning with Hagar [Genesis 16], and including Moses [Exodus 3], Balaam [Numbers 32], Manoah [Judges 3:17], Elijah [2 Kings 1:15], Zechariah [Zechariah 6:5], Zacharias [Luke 1:13], Mary [Luke 2], Cornelius [Acts 10:22], and of course, John [Revelation 17:7].
I make two applications from this fact: A) I need to get used to supernatural revelation of information – whether it’s my visiting heaven or angels instructing me. And B) I need to not be afraid of basing theology on that revelation: Jesus did, and he taught it as theology – not just as a testimony – to unbelievers, based on his own revelation of Heaven.
(Of course the usual caveats apply: don’t use personal revelation – or prophetic interpretation of Scripture – to contravene Scripture’s clear teaching [how many cults have started that way?]. But at the same time, don’t run from it either!)
Jesus, of course, has a fine conclusion to this brief teaching. Verse 27 says, “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” He summarizes the whole conversation in a single, very obvious generalization of the nature of God: “He’s the God of the living.” If the Sadducees were as open to new understandings about God as it seems, then I can imagine two or three of them slapping their forehead and muttering, “Of course! Duh! God of the living! Why didn't I see that?”
Treasure in the Wilderness
I've abandoned the vocabulary of "mountains and valleys" to describe the variations in the Christian life. It seems that the seasons (in my experience, maybe) are more of "seasons in the wilderness" and "seasons of fruitfulness." (Graham Cooke describes seasons of hiddenness and seasons of manifestation in a similar way.)
- Moses: Tried to fulfill his destiny, but it really didn’t work out, so he fled to the wilderness. Met God in a Burning Bush in the desert. Then he took three million people with him back into the wilderness, where he was led by pillar of fire/cloud for 40 years. When they got thirsty, he brought water from the rock. Twice! And they ate “What’s that?” (AKA “manna”) for supper every day for 14,600 nights! Moses is famous for making the “Tent of Meeting,” and later the tabernacle: the wilderness is where he learned how to do that, and more important, he learned how to hear God.
- David: He was anointed by God to be king, and immediately went back to tending sheep in the hills. He killed Goliath (using methods he learned in the wilderness with the sheep), served the king for a little while, and then fled to the wilderness when the king tried to kill him. There he learned how to encourage himself in the Lord, he wrote powerful & intimate Psalms, and he trained an army, and went raiding with them in order to kill Israel’s enemies and feed his friends.
- John the B: Luke 1:80: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to
.” He’s famous for eating grasshoppers, but in the wilderness, God taught him his assignment (forerunner for the Messiah) and how to recognize him. Israel
- Jesus: Jesus didn’t “flee,” but Mark 1:12 says, “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” Of course, it follows up with Luke 4:14: “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to
Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.” Something good happened to him out there.
- Apostle Paul: Here’s another guy that tried to walk out his calling, but ended up fleeing for his life into the wilderness where he was trained by God. 2 Corinthians 12: describes part of what happened there: “I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into
Paradiseand heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” He later taught doctrine both from the Old Testament and from the revelation he acquired in the wilderness (for example, 1 Corinthians 11:23).
Beware Gypsy Presbyteries
It has been fifty years since the warning was prophesied to the church in that city. It was one of the larger cities of the greater
It’s probably worth mentioning that this a metaphor: I am not suggesting that there are either individual prophets or groups of prophets wandering from town to town performing fortune telling under the guise of prophetic ministry just to make a living. I’m sure that does occasionally happen, but again: that’s not the primary warning here.
I was reading through Acts 6, and my attention was drawn to verse 6.
The story is the appointment of the first deacons. Our verse:
The New Testament Model
2. Healing the sick. In fact, Mark 6:5 suggests that healing is easier if we lay hands on in the process.
3. Commissioning people to an office, or consecrating them to that service or office. This one appears to be more dangerous than others (see below).
4. Imparting an increased manifestation of Holy Spirit’s presence and gifts. See also 1 Timothy 2:8 and 2 Timothy 1:6.
The Danger of Laying on Hands
The Invitation to Lay on Hands
Multiplication From Laying on Hands
The Hidden Goodness of God
God accepts the blame.
At no point in the book does Job learn that it was not God's hand that killed his family and destroyed his livelihood. God's answer can be boiled down to two arguments:
1) Job, you aren't big enough to understand, and
2) as a sovereign God, don't I have the right to take sovereign action?
It was only when Job understood those points that his fortunes were again reversed.
I conclude that I, like Job, am not big enough to understand all that goes on in the heavenlies. I know my Father is good. I know that He will bring something that His omniscience defines as "good" out of the tragedies that hit my life and the lives of the Cassie Bernals of the world. And I know that no matter what goes on, I can trust Him, even if I don't understand: justice will one day be done.
Oh yeah: I also know that when Satan steals from me and from mine, he owes me at least double for that theft. I don't need to stand there and suffer: my Daddy and I can fight back, and because we win when we fight, we can grab all the plunder I can carry from Satan's stinking, twisted fingers!!
Whose Spy Are You?
Now [the 12 spies] departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of
Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”
-- Numbers 13
Twelve spies were sent to spy out the inheritance God had provided for them. Two returned with good news, ten feared the worst. I see this kind of division in our day.
It’s apparent: God is on the move; Aslan is on the prowl. He’s saying to his people something very like he said to Abram in the beginning: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 1:21)
God is clearly calling his people into action, and he’s saying very little so far about what he’s bringing us into. He’s clearly following the principle of Romans 14:23: “whatever is not from faith is sin.” If he were to tell us too much, we could not respond in faith. So he says, “Come to the land that I will show you. Eventually.”
One of the key principles for the day is that we must follow what he is saying now, not what he has already said. By way of illustration, we look at Abraham again: God gives him a son, then some time later he commands, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22) Had Abe held onto that word, a true word that God truly had spoken, Zack would have been a corpse on top of the mountain; but because Abe did listen, he saw the ram, the provision from God, and sacrificed the animal instead. Zack’s life depended on Abraham listening for the “now word” of God.
Likewise, if we follow what God has said rather than what he is saying now, we will miss what he is doing now, and we will suffer great loss. Therefore one of the day’s key lessons is to learn to follow his still, small voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) It’s time for us to live up to those words.
It goes without saying that we listen to his voice; any other will lead us badly astray.
A second opportunity for growth comes this way: many believers are reporting that the season in which we live is an intense season; the pressure is heavy and is increasing, the pace is fast and picking up. The pressure is a temporary phenomenon, but the completion of the lesson is different than what many of us have experienced or hoped for. I believe that the season will end, not with the lifting of the pressure upon us, but with our growing to the point where the pressure is no longer a hindrance to us. It is we who will change, not our circumstances.
So our second lesson is about responding to difficulties. The lesson is about how we respond to pressure: do we respond with growth or with complaining? Do we notice what God is up to? Do we celebrate where we see his hand, where we hear his voice? Or do we notice the difficulties first? Do we fix our eyes on the obstacles in front of us? Do we notice the growing darkness more than we see the growing light?
If we recognize the darkness first, then whether we mean to or not, we are aligning ourselves with the ten spies that spoke out against what God was doing, who led the people in the rebellion that cost every last life in the community except Josh and Caleb.
Those ten had no expectation that they were condemning an entire people to death with their words; they believed that they were simply reporting the truth as they was it. But the truth that they saw, the spirit that empowered their words, brought three million people who believed them to an early grave.
The question is about what we speak about, what we meditate about; it’s about the words we use with each other. Jesus said, “… those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (Matthew 15:18) If our words are about darkness, then our lives will be defiled by the darkness about which we speak.
Does that mean we should bury our head in the sand and pretend that there is no evil? Come on, you’re smarter than that: of course not. We don’t pretend the evil is not present; we simply don’t give it our primary attention; we don’t talk about it, we don’t empower it.
When we measure the darkness, we fail the great test of our day. When we celebrate the Kingdom and it’s King, we pass the test, we overcome the darkness, we fulfill Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
So what are you reporting about?
The Revival at the End of the Age?
The end of the age will involve Jesus doing some things and it involves the Church doing some things. If the Church will focus on the person of Jesus rather than that part of the work that is His responsibility - if instead we will focus on doing the things that are OUR responsibility - then the work will be done sooner, and better, than it has been over the past couple of millennia.