LONG STORY SHORT - part two
These are the notes for my teaching at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, May 12, 2019.
INTRODUCTION: THE BIBLE STORYLINE
We're trying to get a grip on the Bible storyline. There's various ways to do this, but here's the one we're focused on in this two-part series: Throughout history, God has been making a way for us to experience his Presence and to know him as our Friend. The Bible is God's account of heaven coming to earth.
Last week, we looked at the Old Testament's story of God's presence on earth. This week, we're looking at the New Testament account of heaven coming to earth. And we'll finish with a frank discussion about hosting the presence of God in our lives.
Remember: this is so much more than a history lesson. This is a revelation of God's plan to meet with each of us - personally and powerfully - and to fill us with his life and heart and direction. We'll get to that at the end.
OK. So, let's take a very brief look at what the pages of the New Testament tell us about heaven joining with earth.
A. JESUS WAS THE PRESENCE OF GOD ON EARTH.
Heaven touched earth in and through Jesus. All four Gospels portray Jesus as the visible presence of God on earth. For example:
(Matthew 4:17) From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
How near? As near as Jesus, who is the King come to advance his Kingdom in Israel or on earth.
(Luke 17:20-21) Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.'
In what sense is the kingdom in their midst? It could mean that it is within them and, therefore invisible. However, these people showed by their opposition to Jesus that God was not ruling in their lives. It is better to say that the Kingdom was among them because Jesus was present among them as their King.
John described Jesus as the presence of God on earth:
(John 1:1, 14) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
"Dwelling" is the Greek verb from which the noun for tent or tabernacle is derived. It is the same word for the tent where God's presence was visible in the Old Testament. John believed that Jesus was the new place (tabernacle or temple) for the visible presence of God on earth.
Jesus believed it too. He said,
(John 2:19-21) “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
In light of all that, Jesus taught his followers to pray for the Kingdom - that is, for God's presence in Jesus to rule on earth and to manifest more fully:
(Matthew 6:9-10) “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
When we pray that way, we're asking for the ways of heaven to infiltrate every place and person on earth. We're asking for God's presence to take dominion resulting in life over death; blessings over curses; love over hate; abundance over poverty; healing over brokenness; health over disease; mercy over condemnation; truth over lies; beauty over horror; and on and on.
Have you ever thought, "I can't change the world." Wrong! Pray, "Your kingdom come."
B. WE HOST GOD'S PRESENCE ON EARTH.
Does the teaching of the New Testament ever shock you? It should. I think it was written to rock our world. Let this knock your socks off: The NT teaches that all the followers of Jesus - individually and together - are his temple. For example:
(Ephesians 2:19-22) You are ... members of God's household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
We are the place where God lives on earth. Jesus has made us into a house where God feels at home. You are hosting the Presence of God - his Spirit in you.
Ephesians even goes on to tell us what that looks like. The Presence becomes "visible" through the lives we live:
3:14-19: We experience God's love in profound ways.
3:20-21: We worship God. What is a temple for? 1 Peter 2:4-10.
4:1-2: We treat people well, in ways worthy of our calling as temple.
4:3-6: We fight for unity in the church. God's temple divided?
4:7-13: We accept our anointing for service in the church.
4:14-16: We become the mature body of Christ.
There's more (keep reading in Ephesians 4-6), but we won't look into it today.
The New Testament book of Acts also gives us some ideas what it looks like to host the Presence of God. Acts 2:42-47 tells us God's Presence brings revival and awakening:
(Acts 2:42-47) They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
When God is at home with his people, this is what happens: We can't get enough of the Word and prayer. Signs and wonders break out. We look out for each other. We celebrate God. The neighborhood likes us. Spiritually lost people turn to Jesus. That's awesome!
Keep searching Acts and you'll find that the Presence empowers us so that we:
We catalyze spiritual awakening: (Acts 2:37) When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?
We ask for physical healing: (Acts 3:6-7) Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong.
We speak with boldness: (Acts 4:19-20) But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
We drive out demons: (Acts 16:18)) Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
These examples are repeated over and over in Acts along with the self-sacrifice and selfless service of the Jesus-followers, even under pressure to reject Jesus.
CONCLUSION: HOSTING THE PRESENCE OF GOD
Sometimes, I read all that and I get discouraged. My expectations don't match my experience. God's Presence doesn't seem that present in our lives. Are we missing something?
First of all, I need to look more closely since there are signs of the Presence all around us at the Cornerstone. I need to open my eyes a little wider and slow down enough to see. Maybe you do too. Don't be discouraged. God is HERE!
Then, it's OK to say that we'd like to see more. The Lord wants us to want more and to ask him for more. Maybe that's what we're missing: a great hunger for more. I'd like to see us raise our expectations and to storm the throne of grace with prayers for more; "Lord, we want more of your Kingdom here, now."
Even with the best will in the world, we won't see the Presence of God manifest as fully as we'd like. The Kingdom is here, but the Kingdom is not yet fully here. Don't despair; God has a plan. One day heaven will return to the earth - just as in Eden (see the river, tree of life, etc., in Revelation 22):
(Revelation 21:1-5) Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Things are not the way they're supposed to be. But they're also not the way they're going to be:
(Revelation 21:4). "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
If you want to see that happen, then pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Ultimately, that's a prayer for heaven on earth.