Our Fellowship Is Like a Wheel

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. For some time the Lord has been teaching me about the nature of true Christian fellowship. Ever since I was born of the Spirit in 1970, I have loved my time with the saints of God and have made it a priority in my life. I was rewarded openly at first because I was seeking Jesus as He abode in other believers I knew. We were all young believers with our wonderful new found love for Christ bubbling out. Our fellowship with each other and with Jesus was filled with His love.  It was like living the Book of Acts as His love freely flowed between us.

But then one day after many months, Jesus said to me, “Michael, I have someone I want you to meet.” I thought, “Who could this be?” He then said, “I want you to meet my Father.” I about freaked out. I was raised Catholic, and in my mind God was like “The Great and Mighty Oz,” greatly to be feared.  I said, “Jesus, if I were to have a relationship directly with your Father, what happens to You?”  He then said, “Don’t you understand? This is why I came and dwelt among men, that they might be restored to my Father.”

This dialogue was a turning point in my relationship with God. Shortly after that I started experiencing Him not only as a loving Father in Christ, but one who rebukes and chastens those who are His sons. Many trials and hardships were to follow. The honeymoon time with Jesus that lasted for months seemed to be over. My flesh rebelled against this new phase of my relationship with Daddy. He was now taking me from spiritual childhood into sonship, and it was not fun (see Proverbs 29:17, Acts 14:21-22, and Hebrews 12: 7-11).

After that, heartfelt fellowship with other saints, grew very thin, for the most part. I so loved those early days of such sweet times with His saints that I went on searching for it everywhere I went, but it has often been disheartening. If I found fellowship with others in the churches, it never seemed to last. Today, I can see the depths of what was prophesied in the following passage, because this is what Father was doing with me.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. (2Cor 6:16-18, KJ2000)

He was weaning me from my dependence on church going! Not all that goes by the name “church” is THE Church. There is a great unclean mixture and many conflicting voices out there in Christendom and God was pulling me away from the confusion unto Himself.  Brethren, I am not the only one He has done this with. This is not an exclusive thing that has happening only to me. This is God’s way with His elect. He has separated to Himself a called-out people all through the scriptures (Enoch, Abraham, Moses, the children of Israel, David, the prophets, Jesus, the disciples, Paul and finally the ekklesia of called-out ones — His Church). Many of us have been called outside the camp unto Him and it is a great reproach to those who are still inside the camps of Christendom (see Heb. 13:11-14).

More Fine Tuning

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Recently God has been fine-tuning me regarding this thing called “fellowship.” He has had First John 1:7 on my mind almost continually. John connects fellowship with walking in the Light as Jesus is in the Light.  During this time I have learned much by watching the example of a dear saint who I have come to know in the last few years. This person has put fellowship with the Father and the Son first before fellowship with other believers. This was so strange to me that I didn’t know how to take it. It almost felt like rejection, because at times that devotion to Christ seemed to come between us. He had become this dear saint’s first priority. All my Christian life I have rarely found such devotion to the Father and the Son as with this person.

One other time I came up against this kind of devotion to God and His calling when I asked a dear older saint to please pray for me. Their answer stunned me. They said, “No! I do not take on a prayer burden for anyone unless God puts it on my heart. I have to hear it from Him.” Well, that gave me a lot to think about! We so glibly say, “I will pray for you, brother,” without giving it much thought. For the mature in Christ, obedience becomes a matter of spiritual survival because the enemy can load us up with all manner of “good things” we should do!

We all seem to put something else first before God, even “good” things like our well being, careers, family, friendships, even our churches. He has been showing me that looking for fellowship with other believers first is a near miss if we are to truly come into real fellowship with one another. John shed light on how spiritual fellowship works when He wrote about the priority that God demands before it can happen.

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:3-7, ESV2011 -emphasis added)

Let me be more concise and paraphrase John. “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and the Son… God is light, if we walk in that light as HE is in the light we have fellowship first with Him and then with those who are also walking in His light.” John’s fellowship with the Father and the Son is what gave him the Light of Life because God is Light. John wrote to the saints from this same Light.  No one wrote about the love of God like John did. His priority was His fellowship with the Father and the Son, and that made all the difference between walking after the Spirit and walking in the flesh.

When we find a brother or sister who walks in God’s Light, what a find they are! We want to be around them all the time, but therein is the danger. We soon can put another person or persons in the place that our Father wants with us. We rejoice when we hear God speaking into our hearts by one of His servants, but the message we should be hearing from a true servant of God is to seek God FIRST (read 1 Cor. Ch. 3).

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” As a dear saint pointed out to me recently, here we see the priority our love and devotion should have–first for God, then others and finally ourselves. It is so easy to get this all turned around.

We Are Like Individual Spokes in a Wheel

About two weeks ago as I contemplated and prayed about where true Christian fellowship can be found, God showed me a picture of a bicycle wheel with its many spokes, all attached to one central hub. The hub contains the axel that every other part revolves around. He showed me that we who belong to Him are like the spokes on that wheel. We are further apart from one another out by the rim of the wheel than we are when we are closer to the Hub. Jesus Christ is our Hub we must all be attached to, just as He is the Vine and we are His branches! If we are not attached to Him, we wither up and die.  If our attachment is to one another alone instead of Him, our fellowship soon falls apart! What a parable this was for me. It explains why so many of my attempts at having fellowship with other Christians, even mature Christians, has failed. We do serve a jealous God.

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The above is a telling picture of our fellowship with one another with Christ as our Hub. The rim may be the body of Christ as the caption says, but it is also the part that is closest to the world. It is attached only to the spokes and not the Hub. No, the true body of Christ is attached directly to Him and the rim is their outreach to the world. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. Our attempts to relate to worldly people and their ways can also draw us away from Christ if we make that our priority instead of our fellowship with Him. Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.  And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:23-22 – emphasis added). Our witness to the world that Jesus is the Christ all hinges on our individual unity and fellowship with the Father and the Son, not the world. Ezekiel prophesied about the working of this unity.

Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (Ezek 1:20-21, ESV2011)

Wow, what a picture of our fellowship with the Father and the Son, the Wheel inside the Wheel and the Spirit in and among us as we follow Him. May we forever live our lives within them and do their will.

And Two Shall Become One

Two on Road to EmmausAnd that he died for all, that they who live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again. Therefore from now on know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet from now on know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:15-17 KJ2000)

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28 RSVA)

If all the forces of hell are arrayed against any one thing that has to do with the Kingdom of Heaven and the Gospel of Christ, it is to keep the saints of God divided. Everywhere, even in the churches the lines of division are clearly to be seen–male against female, clergy against laity, teens against adults, blacks against whites, conservatives against liberals, Fundamentalists against Pentecostals, organized religion against house churches. On and on the list goes.

For about four years the Spirit has been teaching me the depths of what Jesus spoke just before He went to the cross. You could say it was His last will and testament, so we should give close attention to it. He prayed,

[I pray] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:21-26 ESV)

Unity, love, perfection, glory and witness are all interwoven together in His prayer. These are part of a whole for the people of God to live and walk in. They cannot be divided and were in the plan of God for His creation from the foundation of the world.

Jesus describes His unity with the Father as God in Him and He in God. When I get up in the morning, I pour myself a cup of coffee and add a flavored creamer. With the help of a spoon, they are soon one, and as such, the creamer may not be extracted from the coffee and put back in its jug and the coffee can’t be poured back into the pot. The creamer is in the coffee and the coffee is in the creamer. They have become a whole new creation with an identity of its own that is the best of both parts. This is what it means for us to be one even as the Father is one with the Son and He with the Father. Only as we are one with the Father and the Son can we become truly one with each other. This was the witness that the church had as we read the opening chapters of the Book of Acts. They were all of one heart and one mind, no one said what he had was his own, and no one was lacking because they all cared for one another. Soon the world was saying, “Behold how they love one another!”

Paul wrote about this very same unity using the example of a godly marriage between a man and a wife to demonstrate a deeper truth.

For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; (Ephesians 5:29-32 RSVA)

Here we see tender care, love and unity between a man and a woman as they become one in marriage. Although this is something many take for granted, Paul goes on to tell us that this a profound mystery because it portrays Christ and the Church. “I in thee and thou in me that they may be one in us even as we are one.” Dear saints of God, there is a unity that can be ours in Christ and the Father. In this unity we are enfolded into one another and truly become one in the Father and the Son, just as they are enfolded into one another. “Herein God commands a blessing” (see Psalm 133).

This unity of Jesus and His Father was so profound that He could say to Philip, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” So as Jesus prayed for our unity as His body and bride (the true ekklesia of God), He prayed that she would be just as He is in this world, “That the world might know that you have sent me.” If you have seen that beautifully perfected bride that dwells in unity as members of His body, you have seen Jesus. To this fact John wrote:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2 RSVA)

We become what we behold. John wrote that it would happen when Christ appears! He appears because we are like Him in the unity He has with the Father. He becomes evident because we are in the unity, love, perfection and glory of God as a witness of Christ to the world. We have to let Him crucify anything in us that stands in the way of this divine gift of unity in His love. The scripture makes it clear that He will not physically return until He has a perfect bride to return for! “Behold the bride has made herself ready.” “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!” She is one in the Spirit of Christ.

Dear saints, I have been in many Christian groups and churches and any time that even two people started to come together in the unity of the Spirit, all the forces of hell have risen up against them to divide and conquer. Jesus warned us that Satan was a liar and a murder from the beginning, and all too often we as Christians are ignorant of his ways. We let him make us instruments of his will and become part of the problem, adding to that division. We quickly finding fault with one another and speak against one another. If this happens when only two Christians start to come into agreement in the unity of God’s love, is it any wonder that today’s 41,000 different Christian denominations and sects are so divided when the New Testament says that there is only one church and one body? We can come together in some kind of ecumenical conclave and round-off the corners of our doctrines to make them compatible with the other groups, but unless we are joined in the life and love of Christ with HIM as our Head, it profits nothing.

In reality we cannot do much about the divisive mess the churches have become. The visible church took the wrong fork in the road many years ago and was already dividing along the lines of ethnicity, doctrinal differences, and a party spirit by the end of the first century.

But if just two of us would pray and humble ourselves and ask that our Father would make us one no matter what the personal cost–if being one with the Father and the Son was more important to us than being “right” or being “over” the other person. If serving one another in the self-denying agape love of God becomes most significant, He will command a blessing to spring out of that love and unity and His great grace will go out from us unto a dying world.

One person cannot do this alone. It takes two, always a minimum of two who become one. First we have the Father and the Son becoming one as our example. Jesus sent out the disciples in twos. The idea of “one man band” ministries ended with the Old Covenant, yet what do we have today? Ministries that come from and focus on a single individual. This is travesty and a terrible sin against the heart of Christ! He told us that if two or more would agree as touching any one thing, it would be granted to us. This cannot happen by the flesh when one person is imposing his will on everyone else under him. When God made Adam, He said that it was not good that man should be alone; He made Eve so they could become one flesh. This has always been God’s requirement. The unifying of two people in one heart, one mind and one spirit is where the world sees who Christ really is, “I in thee and thou in me.” May we pray for and allow Him to put us with that other saint He has for us to grow with in Christ and knit us together in His love that the world might know that He has sent us in His Son. This is God’s synergism.

And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. And I will have regard for you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and will confirm my covenant with you. (Leviticus 26:7-9 RSVA)

If this was true of the Old Covenant how much more is it true of the New and Lasting Covenant with Christ as our Head? I would like to end with this quote from T. Austin Sparks,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations. (Matthew 28:18,19 ISV)

But who is to go? It is the Church, and His irreducible nucleus of the Church is two. It is a corporate thing, the bringing of the significance of the Body into view. When there is a functioning in the Spirit, it is nothing less than Christ risen, ascended and exalted, going on with His work through His Body, with all those limitations dismissed. That is tremendous! It is either true, or it is not true. If it is true, it is an immense thing. If it is not, well, what fools we are! But here it is, and, oh! that the Church might learn more of what it means to be in living union with a risen Christ! That there should be a company, two or three or more, though limited physically here on this earth by time and space, yet really functioning in the Holy Spirit, so that the universal Christ – all that it means that He is there at God’s right hand – is having some expression! I would to God that this could come home to you by the Spirit and that you could grasp it, for what differences it would make! We have a long way to go yet before this is appreciated adequately. But it is true.

When you touch these things, human language is a vain instrument for expression. “The exceeding greatness of His power” – the superlatives in this realm! Oh, for this enlargement by a new apprehension of the greatness of Christ in His Person, in His death, in His resurrection! Well, then, the supreme thing the New Testament shows is that the Church on its true, spiritual basis corresponds to Christ risen. Not “the Church” that we know here on earth, for it does not. But God’s thought about the Church is not an impossible and merely idealistic one. It is a practical thing. Two saints, simple, humble and unimportant in this world, but really meeting together in the Spirit, can be a functioning instrument of Him to whom has been committed all authority in heaven and on earth. With them all these old limitations can be dismissed and they can at one moment touch all the ends of the earth. Do you believe that? That is really the meaning of our glorying in Christ risen. It has to be something more than emotion, and more than glorious doctrine; yes, more than a truth to which we give some assent…. If it is true that we are one with a risen, enthroned Lord, it ought to have tremendous repercussions. May it be so! ~ http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002021.html

“What is Christianity… about?” by Michael and Susanne

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Photo by Susanne Schuberth)

Good grief, that is a strange question, don’t you think? 🙄
Okay, okay, if someone said Christianity was all about Christ, then we would wholeheartedly agree and could stop writing at this point. Nonetheless, that was not what we wanted to talk about here. Instead, we have often wondered whether we as Christians are more known for what we stand against than for what we stand for.

We could say, for example, that Armenians are against Calvinists and vice versa; fundamentalists are against gifts of the Spirit; Pentecostals tend to depend on what they “feel” regarding divine matters; house-church people are against organized religion and most Christians are against abortion, homosexuality, getting pregnant outside of wedlock…the list goes on and on.
It seems that all too often our identity is not in Christ, but in what we cannot tolerate. It is so easy to be against something. That is human nature! But to be moved by the love of God, THAT is a miracle of God that causes us to transcend our old adamic nature! Jesus told us to love those who hate us and do good to our enemies, yet is that an earmark of Christians today? If our identity is not Christ and His love for all, especially among those of us who believe (cf. Gal 6:10), what witness do we really have as being any different from those in the world without Christ? The Bible tells us that the (unbelieving) world will only believe that God sent Jesus when we are one in God and Jesus, just as our heavenly Father is in Jesus and as Jesus is in His Father (see Jn 17:21).

So, back to our question, “What is Christianity about?” Jesus Christ said, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Are we as believers in Christ really about our Father’s business? Or have we made a business out of what we believe? When we take a stand against a perceived evil in the world, we as Christians want to organize. We make a business out of the stand. But is that what Jesus did when confronted with the woman caught in adultery or the needs of a hungry people? He just kept it simple and dealt with each need as it arose and did not dehumanize people in their individual needs by turning it into “a ministry.” In fact, our human nature tends to get so focused on the forest that we cannot see the trees any longer. Jesus, instead, never missed out on a chance to reach out to the individual, even when being pressed on by the crowd. While surrounded by a vast number of admirers, he focused on a hated tax collector, Zacchaeus, up in a tree. While being pressed in upon by sick and needy people, He focused on one woman who touched the hem of his garment because she had faith that she could be healed by Him in doing so.

Well, one might argue, aren’t we called as Christians to take a stand for what is right and what is wrong in our world today – by any means? Yes, you are right, but maybe not so much by telling the world what is still wrong, but rather by doing what is right. Or in other words,

Never look for justice in this world, never cease to give it.― Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

That You Might Be Children of Your Father – Part 2

letthechildrencomejesusAnd [Jesus] said, “Verily I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 KJ2000)

“I am sure nothing is going to be done unless we have a very large heart to look over and in and through and beyond, refusing to be held by the thing that is glaring at us, striking us and hurting us, and reaching through to that which is true in the heart” T. Austin-Sparks – “Abounding in Love”

As I read this I was reminded of how Jesus looked at all men. Even on the cross He looked beyond those men who were striking, hurting and mocking Him, praying, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” That is what HIS divine love does. God’s love looks into the hearts of every man, woman and child on earth to see what is behind their actions. But not only that, but to see what HE has foreordained that they should walk in IN His Son, Christ Jesus. From the foundation of the world He had a plan for each of us and we know that we all have spent most of our lives walking out a life that has fallen short of that. BUT He is not deterred. Paul wrote,

 

We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children. God then accepted the people he had already decided to choose, and he has shared his glory with them. What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? (Romans 8:28-31 CEV)

Do we always know who these chosen ones are? No. Even they often do not know they are His until He divinely starts working in them to reveal Himself. When those evil men took Stephen out to stone him to death because he dared to tell them the truth, there was one man who watched over the cloaks of the ones who murdered him, Saul of Tarsus, whom we now know as Paul. Paul was one of the Jew’s henchmen who also sought to kill the chosen ones of God and HE was even one of the chosen himself! But Jesus made a divine appointment with Paul on the Damascus Road and he was never the same. There is a saying that a dear friend of mine who is no longer with us had, “When a prostitute falls in love, she no longer has a job.” Paul fell in love with Jesus that day, the very One he had been persecuting in the name of the prostituted religion of the Jews (read Hosea). He would never go back to that twisted life again. Jesus did that day what no one in the church could do… He saved Paul and put a new heart in him Later he would write,

 

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,” says the Lord. Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:17-21 NLT)

You seed, this is “reaching through to that which is true in the heart. To be about our Father’s work we must ignore “the thing that is glaring at us, striking us and hurting us” and follow Jesus’ heart and words,

 

You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust… Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 KJ2000 – emphasis added)

I am not sure what was done by the US government in its “war on terror” since 9-11 has been all that godly. What would have happened if we had fed them and gave them to drink instead of water-boarding them and conquered evil with good? Now all we have is an ever more vengeful enemy that is consuming the whole Arab world with its hate more and more. For each one of them we kill in the name of “homeland security” ten more vengeful relatives take his place.

Can you see that we who are carnal do the same thing on an individual level as well? How many of us have unresolved disputes with our neighbors and relatives because we would rather be “right’ than be God’s lovers in Christ? It should not be this way if we are truly IN Christ and are “children of our Father who is in heaven.”

Dear saints, pray for that “very large heart that can look over and in and through and beyond… reaching through to that which is true in the heart,” the heart of Jesus in you.

 

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another…” (1 John 3:22-23 KJ2000)

 

Part one by the same name can be read at https://awildernessvoice.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/that-you-might-be-children-of-your-father/

The Glory of the Lord in His Living Temple

Stoning of Stephen

And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue… disputed with Stephen… But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke… and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses… And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:8-15 RSVA)

And Stephen went on to say,

 

“Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’ “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:48-60 RSVA)

 

Stephen was the infant church’s first martyr and there is much to be noted here in this story that lead up to his death. . First, note that God had done a great work in Stephen and he was filled with the grace and power of God. It was not of him! Stephen’s message for the Jewish leaders was straight from God and they refused to hear it. If those who live a lie can’t refute the message, they often will kill the messenger. And what was that message? That God does not live in temples of stone and wood, but in one that is made of Living Stones (See 1 Peter 2:3-5). And that the carefully orchestrated system that the Jews had built up around the teachings of Moses was NOT what God had in mind. That those who saw themselves as keepers of the law were the worst form of law breakers, killing the very Messiah that the Father sent to them, just as they killed the prophets that were sent before Him to show them the way. God had even warned them that because they broke the old covenant, He was about to do something altogether new and that it would be founded on His own Son, NOT Moses (Read Hebrews chapters 7 and 8). But these lawless ones plotted to kill the Heir so that THEY could posses the vineyard of God for themselves (See Matthew 21:33-40).

What is interesting to me is that God spoke through Stephen with great wisdom and power, and emphasized what he was saying by changing the way he looked, making his face like that of an angel! These people were without excuse! God did all He could short of sending Jesus back in His resurrected body to warn them! But they already refused to hear Him!

Is it any different today? How many of us have run up against that same spirit that hates God and resides over HIS vineyard, the church, and always resists HIS Holy Spirit? How many of us have been cast out of the synagogues of church men because we spoke the words of the Holy Spirit? The more things change without the changing power of God, the more they remain the same. The church system that has evolved is the same bloody system that rejected Jesus and killed HIM. As long as they resist the Spirit of God, they will be controlled by that same evil spirit that took control of the first covenant and its temple system. Remember, it is the builders who reject the Precious Stone that God selected to be the Head of the corner (read Matthew 21:42-44).

 

The Witness of a Shining Face

 

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 RSVA)

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49 RSVA)

 

Here we have this extraordinary witness of Stephen as the glory of God showed on his face. What a contrast he must have been to those authorities that had the darkness of Satan on their faces as they were filled with hate! God does that. He loves contrast. Where there was darkness and chaos upon the deep He said, “Let there be light!” Where people were the social rejects of Israel, He sent His son to be a friend of harlots, publicans and sinners! Like one dear brother said to me, “If you want to find where Jesus is working today, it is the same place He has always been, among the sick and the rejects. Get out of your churches and mingle with the outcasts of society and you will find Him there.”

 

But what I want to address here is not where it is NOT at, but where it IS. Consider the following passage:

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Since you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ toward God: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also has made us able ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministry of the Spirit be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation be glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, who put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly see the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remains the same veil not taken away in the reading of the old covenant; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their hearts. Nevertheless when one shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:2-18 KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Actually, this whole passage is very enlightening. We know that the Old Covenant had the glory of the Lord in the form of the Shekinah that was over the mercy seat of the Ark. Moses’ face shown with that glory because of His visits with God on Mount Sinai. When that glory began to fade, Moses hid his face with a veil because he didn’t want the people to see that the glory was passing away. Because of the rebellion against Him, God had Moses take the tent of meeting outside the camp. As that rebellion grew, even Moses’ testimony was affected until he entered into it himself and was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. The glory of the Lord was rapidly fading because of the sin of unbelief. Dear saints, it is this same sin that we, the very church of Christ, are warned about in Hebrews chapter four which can infect us!

Now, imagine what was going through Saul’s (Paul’s) mind as he watched the glory of God reappear on the face of the first martyr of the NEW Covenant! The very man that he was partaking in the murder of! The old system had been Ichabod (the glory has departed) for hundreds of years! Even the Ark where the glory once rested was lost during the Babylonian captivity and in the temples that were built later, the Holy of Holies was just an empty room.

Now ponder these two verses:

“But if the ministry of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministry of the Spirit be more glorious?” (2 Corinthians 3:7-8 KJ2000).

YES! How can the ministry of the Spirit in the New Covenant not be MORE glorious on the faces of those who minister IN the Spirit and Life of Christ?

What changed my heart and got my attention when God captured me in 1970 was this very thing. I saw the glory of the Lord on the faces of a handful of young Spirit filled Jesus People. It was a glory and life I HAD NEVER SEEN in any church building or congregation I had ever been part of. Here was the witness that God used to change my life forever!

Did everyone see what I saw resting upon these kids? Probably not, no more than everyone sees what I have seen on the faces of the precious saints I have met since then and have come to love so much. Why doesn’t everyone see it? There is still the problem of the veil.

But their minds were blinded: for until this day remains the same veil not taken away in the reading of the old covenant; which veil is done away in Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:14 KJ2000)

The veil of empty sin-filled lives and empty religion must be taken away as we abide IN Christ and refuse to abide in anything less than HIS fullness and glory! As Paul put it, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” If we are truly abiding IN Christ and not just in dead religion, we will be beholding the glory of Jesus as Moses did. His glory will change us into that same glory as the Spirit of Christ continues to work in us. What a precious promise we have been given, dear saints!

May we all seek HIS face and never settle for anything less until the fullness of Christ is formed in and on us! And may Jesus’ final prayer be fulfilled at last, “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:21-22 KJ2000).

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon you, and his glory shall be seen upon you. And the Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3 KJ2000)