“FREE HIM, AND LET HIM GO”

By Jim Jordal

 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" He who was dead came out, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Free him, and let him go."      John 11:43-44 WEB

You perhaps know John’s account of the overwhelming family grief at the death of Mary’s brother Lazarus, and of the miracle of miracles as Jesus raised one who had already been dead and entombed for several days.

 When I hear this lectionary passage read I think, not of physical death, but of the far worse problem of spiritual death that too often transforms what formerly were fired-up Christians into virtual corpses arranged in neat rows in the pews.

The raising of Lazarus is a metaphor for what can happen when the Holy Spirit arrives to resurrect victims of spiritual death. Earlier in our history we used to call such happenings “revivals.” They were sometimes held outdoors in big tents, surrounded by horses and buggies and later by Model T Fords. Sometimes they were run by charlatans interested in nothing but money, while at other times they evidenced great outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. Think of masses of people experiencing divine conviction for sin and praying the Sinner’s Prayer of contrition and repentance as they stumbled down the ”sawdust trail.”

 How does spiritual death overtake formerly lively Christians? Several possibilities come to mind.

Faulty doctrine contributes greatly to the problem. Some teachers believe that the Age of Miracles ended with the first Pentecost, and that charismatic manifestations like divine healings, speaking in tongues, and casting out demons ended two thousand years ago, and have no place in Christian worship today. If that’s what you believe you will certainly not be seeking such manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and will likely dismiss them if they occur in others.

 Excessive ritualism in worship is another hindrance to Holy Spirit presence and revelation. Its’ effect is to limit the spiritual experience of worshipers to what others experienced long ago. These ancient experiences may be legitimate and even useful for Christians today, but the effect of excessive dependence upon such behavior in worship often limits worshipers from gaining new insights into familiar scriptures and from being willing to adopt new spiritual practices. If you feel bound in religious tradition and ritual, remember the Apostle Paul’s advice to those Corinthians who were also inhibited by their failure to perceive Christ and his liberty in the Old Testament: “But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:15-17).

Complacency is another enemy of spiritual life and growth.  No one is beyond need for Holy Spirit leading and spiritual nourishment, and no church is beyond need for Holy Spirit anointing. God’s critique of the church at Laodicea found in Revelation chapter three (considered by many to be symbolic of the generic  Christian church today) still strikes home today: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and don't know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked…” (Rev. 3:15-17). This complacent church leaned on its wealth, status, and pride, forgetting that in God’s view they were literal basket cases.

Other inhibitors of spiritual life are wealth and unreasonable attachment to it, the fear of being considered different, and open ignoring or rejection of scriptural invitations to Holy Spirit anointing.  

Jesus ordered the viewers to “Free him, and let him go!” Whatever your hindrance to spiritual freedom in the Holy Spirit, try Jesus’ order to Lazarus, and be freed.

WHAT WAS PURCHASED AT CALVARY?

By Jim Jordal

  "Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say? 'Father, save me from this time?' But for this cause I came to this time….Now is the judgment of this world. Now the prince of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

John 12:27, 31-32 WEB

 Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn't consider it robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 WEB

Jesus had a problem: Many of the people, including some of his close followers, didn’t understand why he had to die. They thought the long-awaited earthly Kingdom of God was about to be inaugurated amid the pomp and ceremony given to earthly rulers. So why should this beloved king be crucified like a common criminal? Why should he not seize his Kingdom from pretenders and mount his throne immediately? That’s what they were thinking on Palm Sunday.

But God had different goals in mind. He wanted to initiate an eternal Kingdom covering the entire earth and conquering sin in all its forms, from false worship to outrageous arrogance to personal injuries to unjust economic systems to oppressive rulers to destruction of nature. God wanted it all, so he sent his Son to purchase it at Calvary.

Even though his fleshly self didn’t want to die, Jesus knew why this had to be. It was because forgiveness of sin could be purchased only by the shedding of blood, in this case the literal blood of God.

Because Jesus went willingly to his death, God promised him the highest  exaltation, the bowing of every knee to his majesty, and the knowledge that eventually every human tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Calvary purchased redemption, or atonement for guilt, not only for individuals who choose Christ, but also for nations doing the same. Their sin was paid for and washed clean forever through Christ’s sacrifice. This act of redemption was promised by the prophets and paid for by Christ. What else could be more powerful?

Calvary purchased reclamation from the power of oppressive leaders and organizations such as that of the present predatory capitalistic system that now so afflicts the earth.

Calvary purchased restoration, or a return to the perfect moral state existing before the fall of man under the deliberate sins of Adam and Eve.

Calvary purchased restitution, or the return of something lost or taken in a monetary or moral sense, in this case the restitution of the rightful place of God’s people and nations as full members in the kingdom of God.

Calvary purchased reconciliation in some future age of every created being back to God through Christ. Ephesians 1:10 puts it this way: “that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ.” Philippians 2:10 says: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” And Colossians 1:20 completes the process of reconciliation with the statement: “and by him [Christ] to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross.”

All this was purchased and guaranteed by Christ’s act of willingly enduring death followed by his miraculous subsequent resurrection on the first Easter.

PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD

By Jim Jordal

 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.  Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.  The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Isaiah 40:1-6 KJV

These verses from Isaiah were repeated by John the Baptist in Matthew 3 as he announced the coming of Christ. Along with speaking eloquently on the arrival of Christ, both Isaiah and John voiced many of the goals Christ would accomplish, both during his initial 33 years on earth, and again during his millennial kingdom reign. It is my purpose today to look at these goals in the light of what now transpires upon earth.

First, God’s people are to be comforted because their iniquity is pardoned and their warfare completed. Even though this passage is addressed to Jerusalem it applies to much more than the existing city in Israel. It is an indicator referring to all God’s people from the Israelites scattered abroad  to Christians whatever their race or location. The passage indicates clearly that the warfare and trouble faced by God’s people is in retribution for their sins with the ultimate purpose of bringing them back to God. That process of sin, suffering, repentance and restoration was repeated many times during Israel’s history, and in fact seems to happening again today as we find ourselves almost continuously involved in some police action or military incursion somewhere in the world. But this scourge will soon end as we awaken to our national sin and seek the forgiveness already paid for at Calvary.

Secondly, the cry of Isaiah and John was to “Prepare…the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The term “desert” refers not just to dry climates, but also to wild, unsettled places set aside for the restoration of Christ’s earthly kingdom. As you perhaps realize, I consider the United States to be one such place. A careful reading of our history (not the kind found in highly-edited textbooks) reveals a certainty among many early leaders that our nation has a Divine destiny to create a New Order of freedom and justice able to move far beyond the old European structures of repression and hopelessness. To them and to me this literal revolution in righteousness, freedom, and justice was the beginning of God’s earthly millennial kingdom.

 Thirdly, both prophets announce a redressing of inequities---economic, political, social, and ecological as they speak of the “crooked being made straight,” “every mountain and hill….made low,” and the “rough places plain;” all symbolic of retribution and restoration to the suffering people of earth. Valleys (places populated by the common people) will be exalted, while mountains and hills (prominent nations and cities) shall be made low. This is literally an upsetting of world economic, political, and social structures that for centuries have subjugated human beings to the whims of various powerful domination systems aimed mostly at transferring the fruits of labor by common people to the coffers of the rich and powerful.

And lastly, the “glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” This upsetting will not be quietly hidden from public view but will be broadcast from every available source, including the normally silent pulpits of today. The entire earth will know that God rules in the affairs of men and, as Isaiah 55:12 so eloquently says, “the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

JOY TO THE WORLD

By Jim Jordal

“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.”                                                    Psalm 98:4-9 KJV

It was Isaac Watt who arranged these powerful and beautiful words from Psalm 98 into the words of one of our favorite Christmas carols, Joy to the World. Today I’d like to bring into the present time even a small amount of the majesty that the writer of the Psalms attempted to bring us.

Notice that the joy surrounding the Advent is universal: It’s not just Christians, but “all the earth” singing for joy. The joy is expressed not only by singing, but also through other types of musical instruments. So next time you hear trumpets, tambourines, and stringed instruments in the House of God, rejoice, for your redemption draws near.

Consider also that it’s not only people singing for joy, but even the sea, the floods, and “they that dwell therein,” or the flora and fauna of creation. The prophet Isaiah was so overcome with this revelation of peace and joy that he exuberantly exclaimed, “the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

 And why is creation singing? It’s because “he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the earth, and the people with equity.” Some more doleful Christians view the term “judge” as being entirely negative in meaning and application, implying judgment before a tribunal and the imposition and execution of a sentence for sinful behavior. But the term also implies vindication for those falsely accused by rulers or religious authorities; strong litigation and pleading for helpless victims of tyranny;  and a government that contends, governs, and defends the vulnerable and powerless. So judgment has both negative and positive aspects.

In the same verse where Isaiah sees the overjoyed trees clapping their hands, he also indicates the source of this overwhelming joy: “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; for the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and the trees…” (Isa. 55:12).

So the source of this awesome joy is the long-awaited deliverance of God’s people, followed by the freeing from oppression of the entire creation. The greatest gift of all, which we celebrate and commemorate at Christmas, is the gift of God’s only Son and the deliverance he brings as he returns to take the throne of his kingdom. And all this was purchased at Calvary!

We are “going out” from oppressions of all types---sickness, abuse, poverty, injustice, crime, psychological, spiritual---all forms of oppression and affliction. And the last enemy that will be destroyed is the greatest---death itself.

So it seems we have much to rejoice over at this season of deliverance and joy. The gifts we give to each other are symbolic in nature. They are not Christmas, but symbols of it. So let’s think about this as we attend worship services, join with our loved ones in praise and thanksgiving, and ponder anew the majesty and power of the one God capable of providing “new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).

Whether this new earth will be literal or figurative, I don’t know. But whatever it is, it will be exactly what creation needs. If we define “righteousness” as right relationship, then the new earth will be filled with right relationships between God and humans, man and the earth, and people with people. Sounds like heaven on earth, doesn’t it!

NEW EARTH COMING

By Jim Jordal

 Therefore since all these things are thus to be destroyed, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire will be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness. Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found in peace, without blemish and blameless in his sight.

Second Peter 3:11-14 WEB

Christian eschatology (the study of ends or final things) poses several different interpretations of this scripture passage. Taken at face value it seems to indicate total destruction of both heavens and the earth by fire preparatory to God’s new creation of justice and righteousness. Others think it’s figurative in that the destruction will not be of the physical earth, but of the evil systems now controlling the earth. And some take a sort of middle road explaining that the destruction will be in the atomic building blocks of the universe in such a manner as to create altered relationships that will allow the kingdom of God to reach full fruition here on earth.

Whatever your view there are some points that we might agree on. First, that massive destruction of earthly systems in some form was promised and is now occurring. Virtually every newscast gives further evidence of this truth as these systems---physical, social, economic, political, and religious---disintegrate into various stages of collapse. Whether this is the Great Tribulation mentioned in Matthew and Revelation I don’t know, but I suspect that what we’re seeing is at least the beginning of something threatening to worsen into regional conflict, if not world war.

Second, something new is being born out of the ashes of the old. As we’ve said before, crisis creates opportunity. When it finally becomes clear that institutions and structures of the Old Order have dismally failed, then we might begin to think in terms of new possibilities. Do we really need massive global corporations stronger than most governments and capable of robbing the public of decent wages, retirement, political freedom, and economic justice in all forms? Or could we develop other forms of business organization like worker-owned cooperatives and socially oriented businesses that exist for the benefit of society, not to enrich plutocratic CEOs and owners?

Scripture indicates that what is now being born is the long-awaited Kingdom of God on Earth headed by the returned Jesus Christ. Righteousness and justice, not human hubris and oppression, are key values for this New Age. Humans will have more value than gold and the souls of men will cease to be sold as commodities in the market. It will truly be "heaven on earth."

Third, there is both peril and promise for all humankind in this paradigm of massive change. I don’t believe we have it in us to find our way out of the environmental, technological, and human chaos we have created. So there exists great peril. But there is also opportunity to begin to see things God’s way and to operate human institutions like they were intended to be--God’s gift for our use and pleasure.

Fourth, puny human effort is worthless unless harnessed to God’s will and word. I have little doubt that disaster will transpire if humans alone rule this earth. But God is sovereign and rules in the affairs of men, although he does allow us great opportunity to prove our utter inability to rule ourselves.

There is still opportunity for human change. Scripture contains thousands of passages revealing what we can do to make our lives and our human structures more useful and more meaningful to us and to our society. We could end poverty if we seriously wanted to. We could distribute the wealth of the earth more equitably if we wanted to. And we could turn to God as 2 Chronicles 7:14 says so that God could heal our land. Think on it!