Saturday, May 14, 2016

Abiding in Christ

When Daniel begins to reveal Nebuchadnezzar's dream to him (and its interpretation) in Chapter 2 of his book, he reveals a huge doctrine of Christianity, and God in general, that not only gets downplayed in the church, but when it is discussed it gets regularly misunderstood and even provokes great anger in other churchgoers.  It's a doctrine that suggests over and over in scripture that in seeking the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) we are to focus on Christ himself and not on ourselves or the apparent blessings God has bestowed upon us.  We are to seek the kingdom of God, yes, but Jesus pairs the kingdom with HIS righteousness.  We are not to seek a kingdom outside of Jesus Christ.  We are not to seek our own righteousness.

Before his revelation, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:30, "This mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be known to the king..."  In other words, don't focus on me.  I'm going to reveal Christ to you.  Pay attention.  What happens?  Nebuchadnezzar tries to worship Daniel.  He missed Christ in the dream.  Likewise, we become so wowed by God's grace in our lives, we miss Christ and instead attempt to recapture the feeling over and over again.  That's why we will have revival tours traveling throughout America and the world, and those stadiums will fill up with young people (and older) to "experience" God.  Meanwhile, you can find Christ in the scriptures every day with your small, local church.

My minimally exposited reading of Acts 3 greatly offended an "experiential" Christian once.  I read the first part, where Peter heals the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate.  When I got to the end of verse 10, I told my congregation that this is usually where the readings end, but I went on in order to share the context:

While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:11-26)

Do you see the similarity between Peter and Daniel?  The miracle is not the focus.  Peter shifts the focus away from the healing and gives a strongly worded message of faith and repentance, the people's focus needing to be on Christ himself, who restores all things.  What do modern Christians focus on?  The healing, never even bringing up faith and repentance, but turning the first part of Acts 3 into a template for how we can get some sort of healing for relationship, finances, or other opportunities--earthly happiness.  Remember, pointing this doctrine out actually makes people physically angry.  There must be something to it.

In John 6, Jesus has fed over 5000 people with a handful of food, and the crowd converges on him after that and attempts to make him king.  Jesus escapes but the crowd continues to follow him.  He then pulls out the big guns:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. (John 6:26-36)

His answer to them is to seek Jesus himself as the answer to their food problem.  This is not the expected answer.  In fact, we hate this answer today, because we want the bread that perishes.  It satisfies us NOW, and so we want it now.  We want the sign of the thing and not the thing itself.  The thing is Jesus.  We want the sign of Jesus.  We don't understand that the sign is fleeting.  It is solely to point to Christ, not to be sought as an end in itself, and yet we do that very thing.  This is, in fact, the BIG ISSUE in the church today.  Lines are drawn and sides are taken.  Jesus lost everyone after this discourse, and so we, too, lose many when we bring this biblical doctrine up. 

Nebuchadnezzar tries to worship Daniel.  In Acts 10, when Peter meets Cornelius, the latter falls to his face and worship Peter, who then has to get him up and remind him that he is "only a man."  In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas heal a crippled man.  The town of Lystra suddenly call Paul and Barnabas gods and begin to worship them.  So, this is a theme that runs through all of scripture, and it's quite important, because it shows how CLOSE we can get to the truth of Christ himself without actually grasping hold of the savior but only gathering up handfuls of temporal graces that God has given us as signs that point to Christ.  We refuse to go to the beach because we are too busy admiring our photograph of the beach in our basement.

It's hard to believe that focusing on Christ himself will actually help us resolve our earthly problems.  If we focus on the problems themselves, we are missing the source of all goodness and love, Jesus Christ, and we will keep trying and failing, trying and failing, until we've lost sight of everything.  When we focus on Christ, we discover that our issues resolve.  The truth is so close to us, but we miss it and end up denying the Son.  If we deny the son, we lose everything heavenly.  We may gain earthly blessings, but our eternal blessings have evaporated.  As John says in his first letter, whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.  To put Jesus first in this way is to ABIDE in him.  As Psalm 91 states:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge2—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Abide in Christ. It is much more than a magic act, a miracle, an experience.  Abiding in Christ is salvation, it's eternal life.  It's the difference between death and life, between knowing about Christ and knowing Christ, between enjoying the blessings of Christ and glorifying and enjoying him forever.