Church on Fire from 28.10.16
The contemporary Western Church fulfils the prophetic warning of Isaiah; “Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.” (50:11). Instead of being a lampstand for the light of Christ we are self-enlightened about same-sex marriage or politics or prosperity or church growth or….The only test of whether a claim to truth is from our own brilliant minds or of the Lord is, “Where is Jesus?” Clearly in a “homosexual marriage” to ask which one of the partners symbolises Christ is meaningless. Whereas in traditional marriage the husband stands for Christ and the wife for the Church (Eph 5:22-33). This is what Paul calls a “great mystery”, a mystery he assumes the Ephesian Christians “can perceive” (Eph 3:4; 5:32) because “the eyes of their hearts have been enlightened” (Eph 1:18). This type of illumination of mystery is incredibly rare in our days. So whilst the exalted Son of Man walks “in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” of the churches we are not at all dazzled by his glory (Rev 1:20; 2:1). This teaching seeks to deal with the lighting of the false fires that blind us to the light of Christ.
Losing the Light
The satanic mindset is clearly articulated in this image, ““How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of Dawn!….I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Isaiah 14:12, 14). Intoxicated by his own glowing splendour this creature sought to be in the highest place like God. Whoever sees themselves as the source of their own glory wants others to see them as they see themselves. This was the seducing spirit which entered Eden as a serpent (Gen 3:1). That the snake was a deceiver should have been easy for Eve to spot. Whenever she had looked at the heavenly bodies or other creatures in the Garden she had seen through their beauty to the glory of the immortal God (Ps 19:1-6; Rom 1:20, 22). If the serpent had been a true son in submission to God as Father then Eve would have seen through his words a revelation of the wisdom of the Lord. Powerful forces however blinded Adam and Eve to the absence of God’s glory in the counsel of the devil. Firstly, as hearers of the word they were called to live by the obedience of faith (Gen 1:28; 2:17; Rom 1:5; 16:26). The snake promised to replace believing with seeing; “the woman saw that the tree…was desired to make one wise” (Gen 3:6). Whereas the life of Adam and Eve was conditional on ongoing obedience to their Creator the serpent offered an unconditional immortality of being “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). The immediate consequence of sin however was not ascension to godlike status but that Adam and Eve could no longer see the glory of the LORD reflected in each other. This was their mutual shame (Gen 3:7). Since a creature can only be truly illuminated by its Creator, and such revelation is lost to fallen humanity, fallen men and women have been lighting their own fires of self-revelation i.e. religions, philosophies, idols and ideologies, ever since (Isa 50:11; Rom 1:22). Self-convinced pretension is in itself a torment divorced from the glory of God. Only the radical mediation of Christ can truly illuminate and save us (John 1:4-5; 1 Tim 2:5).
From Radiance to Reflection
In “emptying himself” of his glory as the eternal Son of God Jesus became like one of us “in every respect” (Phil 2:7; Heb 2:17; 4:15). In becoming flesh the eternal Word laid aside “the radiance of the glory of God” and became a mere reflector of the Father’s glory (John 1:14; Heb 1:3). To illustrate Christ’s condescension using a natural analogy, Jesus moved from being incandescent like the sun, the “Light from Light” of the creeds, to be like the moon, a reflector of a true light source. As a human being the glory of Christ was to refuse to have any other glory emanate through his life than that of the Father. This means, for instance, that Christ’s miracles were done by the power of the Spirit and not by his divine nature (Matt 12:28). His refusal of the satanic temptations in the wilderness is a reversal of the Fall because it is a refusal of Jesus to be seen in his own right (Matt 4:1-11). Understanding that the glory of the humbled Son is to reflect the Father illuminates his terrible cry of dereliction; ““My God…why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). Jesus enters into the torment we deserve because in refusing to light any fire of self-illumination he sees nothing at all. The complete agony of the Son is the experience of not seeing that he is totally illuminating the love of his Father. In the fullness of his sacrifice Jesus was prevented by God’s grace from seeing that we would be able to see the Father’s love through him. This is the first half of the gospel. The second is that “our Saviour Christ Jesus…abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). Through resurrection from the dead Jesus has re-possessed the human glory of immortality which fully reveals the brilliance of the Father (John 17:4-5). With a revelation of this mystery who needs ever light their own fire again! What then is the Church problem today?
Humbled to See
When the apostles preached the gospel men and women could see through their humble and sacrificial lives the glory of God in Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. The medium of their lives truly reflected the gospel message. “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:5-6). Unlike preachers today whose vision is a big church and a global ministry these men were seeking “glory, honour and immortality” in the life to come (Rom 2:7). Which Christian leaders today speak of seeking immortality??
The contemporary Church has largely failed to obey Paul’s exhortation to “test all things” (1 Thess 5:20). We do not ask the Spirit of discernment to enlighten us as to whether a speaker is primarily testifying to themselves or to the crucified Lord (1 Cor 12:10). We urgently need to “test the fires” to see which ones are from God (1 John 4:1). At a foundational level the sure way to genuine spiritual enlightenment at the personal and corporate level comes in the way of lowliness. We must not miss the order in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians; “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…” (Eph 1:17-18). The fixed order of precedence is that the Father’s glory passes through the humble submission of the Son and is imparted to us by the Spirit. Our spiritual eyes will be opened to the degree that we desire all the glory to go to God and none to us (Ps 115:1). This challenge to humility is immensely difficult in an age when men and women inside and outside of the Church crave celebrity status. Today the glorious Son of Man is still “walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” of the churches and still wills to dazzle his Bride with his glory (Rev 2:1). I cannot take responsibility for the fires ignited by others, but I can ask the Lord to extinguish every spiritual flame I have lit in my own heart. Few will go this way for it means painfully entering into the darkness of the cross on the way to the resurrection light of immortality. May the Lord grant us wisdom to obey him in the way of the cross so his promise will be fulfilled; ““You are the light of the world”” (Matt 5:14).