THE FOUNDATION RESTS ON REPENTANCE
I can think of no more sobering way to usher in the Kingdom of God, in the New Testament, than in the person of John the Baptist. Would my guests at a dinner party have enjoyed his presence?
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ….. Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:1-4). The two, great brass columns, guarding the entrance to the Holy Place in the Temple of Solomon, signified that entrance demanded a repentant heart.
This, together with the description of John and scriptures, such as ‘ruling with a rod of iron’ (Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15), conjure up in my mind a picture of austerity and discipline which, no doubt, greatly influenced the rise of puritan churches and the strict codes of silence, including the absence of musical instruments, in many seemingly sincere congregations. We experienced some of that many years ago when one of the church fellowships met in our house. After starting off well we were mysteriously forbidden by the church a year or so later to use our electronic organ or sing hymns for the next two years despite having a couple of fine musicians in our group. Our meetings felt a little empty after that.
Loud instruments and temple choirs were the rule in ancient Israel. The illustration shows King David dancing in his ephod as the jubilant priests led the Ark of the Lord into the city with great fanfare, “And it happened, as the ark of the covenant of Jehovah came to the City of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out through the window and saw King David dancing and laughing. And she despised him in her heart” (1 Chronicles 15:29, LITV).
Therefore, the Lord struck the king’s wife barren. Jesus had no reservations attending the wedding at Cana which, according to Jewish custom, would have been celebrated with great mirth, dancing and wine flowing. Joy is part of the abundant life that Jesus promises, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). God is not against joy or loud celebration, not at all, in fact, we are exhorted to rejoice and praise Him throughout the Old and New Testaments. The question is how we do it.
As I awoke this morning, together with the material I have just written, the Lord gave me a picture of heaven with deep and solemn angelic voices rising deep from my belly crying “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is the Lord God almighty”, emphasized with capital letters in my mind, to remind us that He is not a God to be trifled with. What brought the ministry of John the Baptist to an end? The queen became infuriated by John calling King Herod an adulterer for marrying his brother’s wife. She deviously made use of her daughter’s sensual dancing before an intoxicated Herod and contrived to have the king chop off John’s head. Immorality constantly pits itself against a call to repentance. When Jesus took over He resumed with John’s initial call. “From then on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”’ (Matthew 4:17).
So what is our response to be today? It is with dismay that I watch concerned pastors denouncing the excesses of others on YouTube for allowing a watered down gospel spearhead a disorderly house. An atmosphere of orchestrated entertainment and overly loose discipline or prophecies to tickle the ears is surely going too far. Though Jesus thought praise and jubilation appropriate, having watched the given examples on screen, I truly wonder whether John the Baptist or even Jesus would have felt comfortable in their midst.
“When He reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. ‘Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven!’, but some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, ‘Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!’ He replied, ‘If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers”’ (Luke 19:37-40).
Exuberant joy, reverence and awe, coupled with repentance and suitable attire leaning towards modesty, is surely acceptable before the Lord. However, finding the right balance can only be discerned by wisdom through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. As individuals we are just as accountable as our leaderships are. May God give us the ability to discern that which pleases Him and prevents us from being ruled by carnal desires to grow numbers in the church, remembering the scriptural principle of quality before quantity or income.
The Foundation of the New Jerusalem is firmly based on our remembrance of the purpose why the Father sacrificed His Son on the altar, beginning at the Garden of Gethsemane. Taking communion is our constant reminder. The majority of the Romans and many of the Jews treated Jesus on the cross as their entertainment for the day. Let us therefore not forget the true foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ nor become irreverent in our worship, but also resist any tendency to quench our joy in the Spirit; all at the same time! How is this to work out in practice? With man this is not possible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
CHRIST LOOKS FOR FRUIT
Why did Jesus curse the fig tree (Matthew 21:19) and cause it to die? Why will Jesus spew the luke warm out of his mouth? In the case of the fig tree Jesus was hungry for fruit but there was no fruit to be found on the tree. Jesus is hungry to see us living fruitful lives. Many of His parables make that abundantly clear. When God forgives and gives the gift of life He expects us to multiply the kingdom by whatever means within our means and abilities. On pages 264-268, in my Kindle book, I discuss three parables dealing with degrees of reward in heaven. Two of the parables, Luke 19:11-27 and Matthew 25:14-30, reveal the Lord’s great displeasure for those who bear no fruit in their lives.
I recently felt great compassion and concern for those who will expectantly gather before the Lord to be welcomed into heaven, only to be told “I know you not” (Matthew 7:21-23; 25:11-12). I pictured the horror that will contort their faces. “But I thought I served You”, but they didn’t; they obviously had served themselves or had made fatal compromises with the ways of the world. How very tragic and unbearable even to ponder about! I prayed seeking how I could reach such people and snatch them from the gates of hell before its too late.
The next morning I awoke with a few lines from a Sunday School song running around in my head, “If you know that you’re saved say Amen,…then your life will surely show it”. It contained the answer I was looking for. Those truly born again and walking in the Lord reveal the life of Christ in their lives. They shine in the world and make no secret about it. They not only live righteously and humbly, without thought of financial rewards, but boldly testify of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, they are living fruitful lives, some 30, some 60 and some 100-fold. If we live accordingly and trust in Jesus we should have no fear of hell. One of our goals in life will be to warn others whom we see living rebelliously presuming upon the grace of God. Let’s snatch them from the gates of hell into the kingdom of the Son.