Thursday, September 17, 2009

Knowing God

There is not a baby born on earth who knows its mother or father when it is born. Typically, the newborn quickly learns by smell and touch who the mother is, and a strong bond is quickly formed there. But there is no newborn who quickly learns its father’s thoughts or understands his work or will. It takes years of normal growth for a child to attain to that knowledge.

Likewise, there is not a soul born of God who has ever known God when he first was born of the Spirit, including the very disciples of Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, when they were born of the Spirit, not one of Jesus’ disciples really knew their heavenly Father. They obviously knew things about Him. They had walked with Jesus, the very image of the Father, for several years, and they loved him dearly. But when they received the Spirit, they did not yet know God for themselves. On that day, they began the process of receiving the true knowledge of God. “The day you receive the holy ghost”, my father used to tell us, “is your first day in school.”

Think about it. If you had suggested to Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost that God was going to allow Gentiles to enter His kingdom, the disciples would have considered you mad. That would be contrary to everything God had done from the time of Abraham, and most certainly since Moses. Besides, Jesus plainly and firmly commanded them not to carry the gospel to Gentiles (Mt. 10:5). On the day of Pentecost, not one of those disciples dreamed that God would ever allow a man into His kingdom who was not circumcised after the manner of Moses. The uncircumcised were excluded from covenant with God, period.

Furthermore, if you had told the disciples on the day of Pentecost that the ceremonial worship of the Law would become sin, as Isaiah prophesied in the last chapter of his book, they would have been indignant. Why, even the Lord Jesus observed the Law’s ceremonies while he walked on earth. The disciples did not understand that God would bring ceremonial worship to an end, that the time was at hand when such things as physical circumcision and animal sacrifices would mean nothing to God, much less that the observance of such things would become sin, a stench in God’s nostrils and a reproach to the name of Jesus.

If you had told those disciples that when the door by which Jews entered into Christ was closed, the holy baptism that John the Baptist preached would be holy no more and that having a genealogical connection to Abraham would mean nothing to God, they would have considered you a blasphemer, worthy of death. Even Jesus was a Jew, they would have contended. Didn’t that mean something?

Yes, it meant something. But what did it mean? When Paul returned from his visit to the third heaven, he had the answer:

Romans 15
8. Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,
9. and so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto your name.
10. And again he said, Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.
11. And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; and laud him, all you people [the Jews].
12. And again, Isaiah said, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
13. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the holy ghost.

This revelation to Paul about the Gentiles is something that the disciples, on the day they were born of the Spirit, did not understand. They did not know that God was making a New Covenant in which the only true worshipers on earth would be those who worshiped the Father in spirit and in truth. The disciples were very good Jews. They had watched Jesus be a very good Jew, too, as he observed all the carnal commandments of the Law. They did not yet comprehend the ramifications of what Jesus told the woman at the well: “God is a spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” The phrase “in spirit and in truth” means that ceremony is excluded, but they did not understand that. It means that communion with God is a matter of the heart, that baptism is a matter of the spirit, that robes of righteousness have replaced robes of earthly material. But the disciples did not yet understand those things, either.

What God accomplished in Christ is so great, so far beyond the thinking of even the best people on earth, that even Jesus’ disciples did not expect what would happened. They would not have believed it even after it was done, had God not had mercy on them and raised up Paul to teach them.

That is the greatness of Paul’s work. He was taken up into the third heaven, heard things unlawful to speak, and then returned to earth to educate even those who were apostles before him concerning what God had done in Christ Jesus. Paul is the man who broke the yoke of the Law off the back of God’s people, not Peter, not James, not John. Those good Jews continued observing the ceremonies of the Law even after the Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. Paul unlocked the shackles of the Law’s carnal ceremonies and holy days and set God’s people free indeed!