Spiritual Opposition 1

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.”   Matthew 7:25

 

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

Spiritual opposition to people living and walking in the Spirit is a reality previewed for us in the Bible (Ephesians 6:12).  Opposition in the form of negative situations and circumstances in the natural realm is one way that spiritual darkness sows doubts, creates fears, undermines resolve, attacks faith, and weakens trust within the active servants of God.  Spiritual darkness can even use negative situations and circumstances to retaliate against the servants of God, after the fact when God has wrought some positive spiritual work through them, large or small.

God allows spiritual darkness to operate within the natural realm of events and circumstances.  God is so intelligent He can reshape the efforts of spiritual opposition into re-directed positive outcomes for believers who are in the midst of God-composed and orchestrated walks of faith.  The reason that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) is that God is smarter than the agents of evil.  In the Bible, God always takes spiritual opposition that presents itself in the form of negative appearing events and circumstances, and turns this spiritual opposition around for good outcomes when faith and trust in Him are in operation.

Lucifer introduced evil into the world in the Garden of Eden.  God is not the author of this evil.  God has been demonstrating His divine quality ever since that time, through His ability to take evil and reshape it for His good purposes.  This is one of the most powerful lessons in the Bible.  Throughout the biblical record of God’s interaction with man, God refocuses evil in the direction He wants it to go, defeats it, creates an object lesson out of the encounter, and generates beneficial spiritual growth for His followers all in one brilliant stroke.  We see this repeated many times in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

The example of Joseph being sold into slavery to a caravan heading for Egypt, by his brothers, was meant for evil.  God took this evil action and turned it around for good on a massive scale.  Who other than God could compose such a story as Joseph’s, in which everyone, including Joseph, required hindsight in looking back at events to be able to understand and appreciate what God had done?

The cross of Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of this divine ability to shape and remold spiritual opposition into a beneficial outcome, in this case the sacrificial redemption of mankind from the curse of sin through the exercise of faith in Christ.  The cross and the resurrection tell us that God can take evil in its deadliest form, and turn it upside down on its head to perform a great work of God in complete frustration of evil’s original intent.

When God is in charge of the program, spiritual opposition loses every time.  God is so intelligent He uses the very deception that Lucifer originally devised in the Garden of Eden to attempt to undermine God’s authority, to instead illuminate the spiritually bankrupt nature of sin and thereby our deep need for God.  God is so intelligent He uses the spiritual opposition intended to trip up the Christian, instead as actual lesson-plans to divide for us the difference between right and wrong.  These lesson-plans help us to discover genuine repentance in the character areas we are deficient…short temper, impatience, pride.  God is so intelligent He can take the evil opposition that is intended to destroy us and creatively use it to help us to grow spiritually strong into Christ-like character and conduct.  God set up this physical environment called earth, knowing that this was the best possible environment for exercising faith and trust in Him through situations and circumstances that both spiritual darkness and spiritual light had an opportunity to utilize.  The God of the Bible is never intimidated, deterred, or outsmarted by spiritual darkness, no matter how deceptive or terrifying it seems in the natural realm of events and circumstances.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 9

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”  (1 Jn. 2:16)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

The gospel message has a powerful positive appeal to it, of the real hope of a life-transforming change for people, whether it is spoken by John the Baptist at the Jordan river, by Jesus to the woman at the well (John 4:5-45), by Peter to the multitudes at Pentecost, or by Paul to the Jews and Gentiles in Antioch Pisidia.  This preaching of the gospel message comes within a confident, bold, selfless, truth-piercing delivery of genuine conviction out of Holy Spirit inspired purity of heart.  This is one of the invaluable pay-offs for the Christian disciple picking up their cross and patiently following Jesus through an adventure of faith.  The ability to someday share our testimony with natural simplicity, with the power of honest conviction, with the freedom of complete unawareness of self in fearless love, and with complete mastery over the opposing spirit of unbelief, to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, is an outcome of the cross and the resurrection in our lives that is of incalculable worth.

Paul preached the cross in Antioch Pisidia.  This is still the central, key issue of our present-day Christian experience.  How do we define the person of Jesus Christ, and what do we expect in our relationship with Him?  Are we looking for a similarly unconventional, God-composed experience like that of Abraham?  Are we willing to risk everything like Joseph to discover for ourselves that God is trustworthy and true, and to be used mightily for others?  Can God call us like Moses to go to Egypt, so to speak, in our modern world context to share our Christian testimony to deliver the captives from the bondage of sin?

Can we follow God to the banks of the Red Sea, patiently looking to God in faith and trust to manufacture a miraculous deliverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenge?  Can we relate to Paul, who said that the world was crucified unto him, and he unto the world (Galatians 6:14)?  Is our personal relationship with Jesus Christ the most important thing in our lives?  Or are we looking merely for a messiah who will temporarily repair our outward world only, while at the same time allowing us to remain as sovereign kings atop the thrones of our lives?

The totally unexpected separation in the first century of the coming of the messiah as prophesied in Isaiah 9:6-7, Genesis 3:15, and Jeremiah 33:15-16, for example, into two distinct advents accomplishing two entirely different tasks, was and is one of the great issues of the first-century ministry of Jesus Christ.  This separation exposed and divided out of the body of believers those Jews who were merely going through the mechanical, perfunctory motions of synagogue worship.  It inaugurated the living new covenant relationship with God that made the journey-of-faith experiences of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, and Elijah available and commonplace for every new covenant Christian, Jew and Gentile alike.  And it created the church age that has continued down twenty centuries to our present time.

This unexpected and unanticipated split into two messianic advents had enormous ramifications for the human race.  It perpetuated the intense hatred of the Jews toward the occupying Romans, eventually resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the scattering of the Jews around the world for 1,900 years.  The first advent of Jesus Christ as Savior kept in play the adventure of faith for countless people for another 2,000 years, and produced the colorful history of the church age through the dark and middle ages, through the Reformation, and through the incredible and remarkable past four centuries of recent history.

The gospel message of the cross preached by Paul in Antioch Pisidia, leading to a biblical-quality adventure of faith, is staring us in the face today as much as ever.  This timely truth is right there in front of us…so close we can reach out and grab it for ourselves.  The best and finest life is the uniquely unconventional life of faith that God has composed and would orchestrate for us, to match the pattern and template recorded in the Bible, however and wherever that takes us.  We have all the evidence we need to step out in faith, place our trust in Jesus Christ, and begin our journey toward whatever lies ahead in the upcoming last-days.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 8

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  (1 Jn. 2:15)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

In Mark 14:53-65 and Matthew 26:57-66, during His night trial before Caiaphas the high priest and some of the scribes and Jewish elders, Jesus is asked “are you the messiah, tell us plainly?”  Jesus is the personification of Isaiah 9:6-7, the Son of God in a human body, as He humbly stands on trial before this group of religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Yet clearly He is not up to their expectations.  They wanted more.  Jesus was not out in battle with an Israeli army defeating the Romans.  Jesus was not rallying the populace toward the political and economic reforms that would beneficially change the entire world.  Jesus was not in the process of restoring the old glory and splendor of the reigns of David and Solomon, which would beneficially spill over into the power base of these religious rulers.  Jesus was not even verbally defending Himself, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:7.

Jesus instead had been out in the countryside of Israel amongst the common people, healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching eternal truths, and raising the dead.  He was eternally impacting people’s lives.  Jesus was doing in the first century what He is still doing today…beneficially transforming people through deliverance from sin, creating spiritual rebirth, and building growth in character that comes through a journey of faith actively following God.

As Jesus stands before these religious leaders of Israel, Jesus models this unconventional life-script of God perfectly (Isaiah 55:8-9).  The life-script of God for Jesus of Nazareth, the Lamb of God Savior slain from the foundation of time for the sins of mankind (Revelation 13:8), is composed and orchestrated by God the Father to perfectly match the uniquely divine capacity of the Son of God.  In rejecting Jesus, these men are not only rejecting the physical manifestation of God Himself standing before them, but they are also emphatically rejecting the God-composed, supernaturally unconventional journey-of-faith exemplified in Jesus that makes Him uniquely the way, the truth, and the life.

These religious leaders did not want the way, the truth, and the life through a God-composed, unconventional adventure of faith that would separate them from the pride of their own self-sovereignty.  These religious leaders wanted a God who would only intervene in the external world according to their partially incomplete interpretation of the messianic prophecies, while leaving in place their ability to operate as the autonomous gods of their lives.

This is one of the powerful motivating forces explaining the reason why these religious leaders went to such extreme lengths to unwittingly, unknowingly, and personally fulfill the messianic prophecies by having Jesus the Messiah crucified.  It is ironically fitting that through their dual rejection of Jesus and a God-composed journey-of-faith, they themselves directly provided the very means by which God opened up the way of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.  This is why the cross is such a deadly serious issue, surgically dividing truth from error, and demonstrates why God our Father cannot successfully be fooled with, outwitted, or outmaneuvered.

Jesus was indeed offering more, but it was on a higher level incomprehensible to these religious leaders.  Jesus was offering to them, to the nation of Israel, and to us today, a life-experience comparable to that of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and what was to be experienced in the very near future in the lives of Peter, Paul, and the early church.

The “more” that Jesus was offering rises above the unsatisfying possession of an abundance of material objects, that will rust and decay here on earth.  The “more” that Jesus was offering surpasses the fickleness of worldly applause and acclaim, which can quickly fade from memory and turn overnight into jeers and rejection.  Jesus was offering no less than the personal working and moving of the Almighty Creator of the universe in our lives to craft us into people who can exhibit and enjoy the benefits of unselfish love, forgiveness of others, the satisfaction of commendable industry and excellence in our work, and the rock-solid confidence of elevated character that nothing and no one on this earth can overturn.

Jesus was offering to these religious leaders and to us, a transformed new life that can be elevated up into the unconventional, supernatural workings of God that can craft Joseph into the governor of Egypt, David into the king of Israel, and can completely change a person like Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle Paul of the book of Acts and Romans chapter sixteen.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 7

“And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.”  (1 Jn. 3:19)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

If we are looking for a soft and malleable God who will stay safely within the boundary limits of conventional religious normalcy in His participation and impact upon our lives, then we are looking for a God who is not the God of the Bible. 

Modern Christians must choose Jesus Christ for the same correct reason the Jews and Gentiles received Paul’s message in Antioch Pisidia in the first century.  Paul preached the cross and the resurrection because it is the power of God to change a person from a life of sin to a life of righteousness, faith, and holiness.  Paul could preach with bold conviction the transforming power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, because Paul stood before the crowd of people in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia as a living example of this transformation.

The message of the cross leads directly to an unconventional, individually scripted adventure of faith following Jesus Christ, to match the journey of faith that Paul was personally experiencing and preaching about in Antioch Pisidia.  The same separation from the worldly conventional in the first century exists today, with the precise details of our new-covenant Christian lives varying to match our own individual God-given talents and modern-day callings.

People who are justified in their own self-estimation, who think they are just fine the way they are, who have no interest in pursuing an adventure of faith in fellowship with the living God, will look for a God who will fix their outer worldly circumstances only.

Adam and Eve had everything in the Garden of Eden.  They were in idyllic surroundings of incomparable beauty, and they enjoyed daily fellowship with God Himself. But when they were tempted with having more…to become “as gods, knowing good and evil,” they disobeyed God and fell into sin.  They succumbed to the enticement of having more.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 6

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (2 Cor. 4:6)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

There were tens of thousands of first century Jews in Jerusalem, in Israel, and in the Mediterranean world who did accept Jesus as Messiah and believed in Him as Savior (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 21:20).  But there obviously was a large difference in the first century between the backgrounds, cultures, and expectations of the Jews and the Gentiles.  The Gentiles had no expectations about any messiah whatsoever…world ruler or suffering servant…because a gospel message regarding the fulfillment of age-old biblical messianic prophecies was entirely unknown to them.

The Gentile Christians of the New Testament era therefore had no reason to be offended by a crucified and risen Jesus Christ as Messiah.  The Gentiles in the first century Greco-Roman world, who were moved by the Holy Spirit preaching of Paul, gladly received the gospel message by faith because they recognized their personal sin and their need for a Savior.  The Gentiles in Antioch Pisidia believed the message of Paul, wanted to become new creatures in Christ, and recognized their need to discard their past lives of sin through the cross.

The Gentiles who believed the preaching of Paul were open to the idea of a new adventure of faith following Jesus Christ according to the new covenant model of a personal relationship with God.  In this sense they were no different from the Jews in Antioch Pisidia who also believed and accepted this message of salvation through the preaching of Christ crucified and risen, introduced by Paul and Barnabas.  From this moment forward, both Jews and Gentiles entered into the new covenant adventures of faith that God would compose and orchestrate for each one of them.  This fulfilled the prophetic promise of God to Abraham, and is described by Paul in Romans 10:12.

The preaching of the cross by Paul in Antioch Pisidia in Acts thirteen, to begin his lifelong ministry of evangelism to the first century Mediterranean world, divides and separates forever the difference between the unconventional nature of a God-composed life-script entered through faith in Christ, and the empty and lifeless performance of perfunctory religious practices not having the intimate participation of the living God in the events and circumstances of our lives.  If people are indeed made complete in our new covenant relationship with God, if being “in Christ” is the truest form of rational existence, then the preaching of Paul in Antioch Pisidia is a demonstration of the component of pure, divinely unselfish love intended to seek and to save that which is lost (Matthew 18:11).  This extends down through the centuries as the love-filled component of the high standards of God for the soon coming end-times.

Christians living today in the developed nations of the world are in danger of falling into a subtle variation of the same mistake the Jews made in the first century in rejecting Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah.  If our vision is worldly horizontal only, if we are looking for a Jesus who will fix our outward world by providing a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car, better vacations, and more economic wealth and prosperity, based solely on performing religious observances and church attendance, then we are once again repeating history and looking for the wrong messiah.  If we are going through the motions of attending church solely for the benefits of fitting-in and conforming to the social and cultural expectations of our immediate family and/or our local community, then we are in jeopardy of being left behind as were the Jews in Antioch Pisidia, who were exposed by Paul’s message of a new covenant adventure of faith through Christ (Acts 13:39).  We are in jeopardy of likewise being identified as merely a lukewarm religious person participating in the synagogue for all of the wrong reasons.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 5

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”  (Jn. 4:24)

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

Christian philosophy and apologetics has rightly clarified a key distinction about faith in the existence of God.  Real faith in God does not exist in a world in which the existence of God is an absolute observable fact like the existence of the noonday sun, or an undisputable truth like two plus two equals four.  Over the previous six thousand or more years of human redemptive history, God has skillfully maintained a delicate balance between the evidence for His existence and the ability of humans to exercise unbelief.  This keeps in play the critical element of free-will choice, which adds value and meaning to our choice to trust and follow God in faith, in this broken world.

The key point that many Jews in the first century blindly missed in evaluating Jesus of Nazareth as a candidate for messiah, is that Jesus ruling and reigning on earth in the fullest sense, starting sometime around 30 to 33 A.D., brings to an abrupt end the exercise of free-will choice and the experience of a journey of faith.  They missed this key point because they themselves had not experienced a personal journey of faith with God in their own lives (John 7:17).  God’s ability to compose and orchestrate brilliantly original life-scripts to reveal Himself to people who choose to follow Him through the medium of an adventure of faith, ends abruptly in this current broken world environment when Jesus permanently assumes His place on the throne as King and Savior according to the second advent half of the messianic prophecies.

Gideon’s experience of an Old Testament challenge of faith, recorded in the book of Judges, would have had no further context to play itself out in Christ’s glorious reign…there will be no Midianites or anyone else attacking the New Jerusalem then or forever after.  The type of brilliantly creative journey of faith of Joseph’s rise in Egypt, recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis, would have no further context to actualize in Christ’s glorious rule and reign upon earth…there will be no more famines in Egypt or anywhere else from that time onward.  If the messianic prophecies of the first and second advent of Jesus Christ are fully combined in the first century, the powerful conversion and subsequent ministry of Paul has no continuing context…no one, including Paul, would mistakenly be persecuting the early church during Christ’s rule and reign in the first century.

The fulfillment of the second-advent portions of the messianic prophecies regarding Jesus Christ, and all that they entail, would have been totally premature in the first century.  The human race was not ready for the fulfillment of these final messianic prophecies.  Many of the chosen people of God…the Jews in the first century…did not at that time understand the concepts of grace, a journey of faith, or the Old Testament verse that “the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4) that Paul clarified in his New Testament writings and that Martin Luther rediscovered at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  Even to this day, contemporary Christianity has still not fully recovered an understanding and worldly-free application of the second half of the cross in the lives of individual born-again Christians, which was partially lost during the dark and middle ages of history.

Jesus said that He had more lost sheep, not of this first century fold, to seek and to save (John 10:16).  This meant that God had many more individualized, unconventional life-scripts to compose and orchestrate as only God can do, to personally reveal Himself to the people of faith to come into existence during the centuries of the church age.  Christianity moves out from the purity of doctrine and practice in Judea into the paganism and classical philosophy of the Greco-Roman world, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., so that mankind can work through the eternally important issues of truth for the next 1900 years or more.  This all-important task is still ongoing.

The Two Advents of the Messiah 4

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”  (1 Tim. 1:15).

From The High Standards of God for End-Times Christians

Paul was God’s chosen mouthpiece based in large part upon the huge gulf between the true and the false in Paul’s own past experience in mistakenly persecuting the early church.  The outpouring of God’s forgiving grace upon Paul at Damascus translated perfectly into the gospel outreach to the equally misguided polytheistic pagan culture of the Greco-Roman world.  Paul’s new covenant message contained a very large dose of giving up our old misguided way for God’s correct new way.  Back then as today, this was not clearly apparent, understood, or welcomed by everyone in Antioch Pisidia.

By contrast, the few Gentile “God-fearers” listening to Paul’s opening message in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia (recorded in Acts 13) about Jesus the crucified and risen Savior for the remission of sin, had no interest in the political and economic fortunes of the small and obscure Roman-occupied nation of Israel.  To the Gentiles convicted of their sin nature through the Holy Spirit preaching of Paul, the immediate concern was not the restoration of Israel, but the restoration of their lost souls.

This same condition persists to our day.  Many Jews today reject Jesus of Nazareth as a viable candidate for messiah, based solely upon a mistaken belief that He failed to fulfill the Old Testament messianic prophesies regarding the setting up of a glorious earthly rule and reign in Jerusalem, to end disease, evil, suffering, and sin in our present world.  Many of the Jews in the first century were deeply disappointed in Jesus of Nazareth because they mistakenly combined all of the promises and expectations of the  messianic prophesies into one single advent (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Many of the Jews of that day did not comprehend, accept, or practice personalized belief in God as patterned in the Old Testament examples of journeys-of-faith based upon God’s intimate participation in our lives, in contrast to their more familiar experience of pursuing righteousness by the works of the law according to their own self-directed religious observances (John 5:42; Romans 10:3).  Paul’s message of deliverance from the bondage of self-sovereignty through the liberty of the cross of Jesus Christ was just as foreign sounding to some of the Jews in the first century as it is to worldly-minded people today.

As recorded in the Old Testament, God asked Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Samuel, Gideon, Esther and Mordecai, Elijah, and Daniel, to name a few, to do the difficult and hard thing, often at the risk of their lives.  If Jesus had commenced His full reign in Jerusalem in the first century, without any personal sacrifice of His own, He would have assumed an elevated position of power on top of the backs of other people’s self-sacrifices.  With the benefit of clear hindsight today, the basic management principle of leading by example should have been obvious to the Jewish scholars, theologians, and rulers in first century Israel as they attempted to interpret messianic prophecy.  But this true spiritual insight requires a personal experience following God equivalent to the positive journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, to be able to see and understand this fundamental leadership-based prerequisite.

The first advent of the messiah had to conform to the Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53 picture of a suffering servant, according to the universally recognized virtue of a leader never asking people to do something they themselves would not do.  Jesus setting up His earthly reign in Jerusalem in the first century would have been disappointingly inconsistent with what God had been doing in Israel through the lives of people of faith, during the previous two thousand years.  Jesus beginning His reign prior to experiencing the cross would have been below the high standards God sets for Himself, and below the high standards God had asked of people up to that point in time.

Jesus was about to ask his disciples over the next two thousand years to also do the hard and difficult thing, often again at the risk of their lives.  Perfect divine virtue required Jesus Christ to go before us in this aspect of choosing the hard and difficult way for the advancement of truth.  Most of the people in Israel missed this logical separation of the two advents of the messiah, because they themselves were not personally engaged in a biblical journey of faith following God’s lead that might have illuminated this basic leadership principle.