This brief prophetic teaching is a response to a message I heard at a gathering of pastors, intercessors and marketplace Christians here in Perth this morning. The talk was presented by the senior pastor of the church which facilitates the monthly prayer breakfast. This brother has been involved in many moves to do with unity in the city over the last 30 years. From the beginning of his address, prefaced as it was by mention of struggle and little sleep, it was evident that there would be something rather different forthcoming than what I would usually anticipate. Indeed, I commented to him at the end of the morning that it was the most mature message I had ever heard him speak. From me this is truly a significant compliment. What drew such thankfulness from my heart was that at the centre of his reflections were “the mystery of Christ” and the work of the cross. Passing through familiar passages on unity and ministry, particularly Ephesians 4 and John 17, the emphasis on Jesus was the outstanding feature. I was very encouraged by what I heard and sense that we have indeed entered into a new phase of the kingdom of God in Perth.
Along the line this pastor mentioned two things which stood out to me as of principle significance; the circumcision of the heart and the obstacle of religion. Although the former was only spoken of once, the latter was a repeated refrain. That is, we will never scramble out the pit we are caught in whilst the church is preoccupied by religious activities, such as dead traditions, legalism or an exclusive focus on growing my church in isolation from others. It is the twin issues of circumcision and religion that I felt the Lord speak to me about as I prayed into them during the meeting.
Glory in the Cross
To be Christ centred means for an apostle to be cross centred, “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14 ESV) All true glorifying must proceed from the work of the cross. Paul understood the death of Jesus in a manner which has escaped most of us, but which ties the circumcision of the heart with useless religious practices. This is what he says to the Colossians concerning the source of their deliverance from useless human traditions and evil powers, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11 ESV). The “circumcision of Christ” is best understood as a circumcision which Jesus himself needed to undergo on the cross. Let me explain.
When John teaches, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14 ESV) he means that the Son of God took upon himself weak, fallen and temptable humanity. This includes every religious form that opposes the Spirit of God; “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:2-3 ESV). Christ “became sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21) on the cross so that as he died his mortal flesh was surrounded by the uselessness of all human effort to satisfy God. This mass of fallen humanity which he took into his body on the tree (1 Pet 2:24) needed to be judged in his person by the sword of the Word of the Lord. Between him and the manifest presence of God was placed our dead works (Heb 9:14) so that the Son was cut off from the knowledge of the Father (Mark 15:34).
Zechariah prophesies concerning the judgement that fell on Christ on the cross “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” (Zechariah 13:7 ESV, cited in Mark 14:27). The “circumcision of Christ” consists of the sword of the Lord cutting off from his life all the sin of humanity that clings so closely to us and was made to cling to him (Heb 12:1).
Ascended in Glory
Quite frankly I am tired of the frequent appeals and prayers for unity in the Church and the elevation of the five-fold ministry in a manner which does honour the order of events in the life of the Son of God . (This does not refer to the remarks of the brother mentioned in my opening paragraph but to popular charismatic spirituality.) Unity is not a foundational object of faith, only Jesus is. The death of Jesus, whereby in him all of our evil is forever cut off/circumcised from the presence of God, is the source of the two great matters of biblical order and functionality in the church, glory and unity.
This is what Jesus prays in John 17:22, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one”. The basis for unity is glory, and this is the glory of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Only by passing through these phases of life, did the Word made flesh take our common humanity into the unity of the Trinity. To seek unity apart from glory is futile and fruitless, and our decades of seeking the former before the latter should have demonstrated this to us by now.
“But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (Romans 2:29 ESV). The spiritual circumcision of which Paul speaks is the cutting off of all useless religious practices that we find so often amongst the people of God. Quite frankly, there is so often such a spirit of entertainment and trivia in the house of the Lord that at times it can only be described as a “circus”. Anything at all from which we get our identity, other than Jesus, is simply “religious” – this includes finance, ministry, titles, popularity, and church-centred activities etc.
A Disturbing Omission
At the end of the monthly prayer breakfast described above a visiting minister was invited to give a brief prophetic word. He shared about Perth as a well for revival across Australia and beyond. We heard about what God was about to do in this our city so favoured by our King and the Spirit. As I listened to what was being spoken and prayed a deep disturbance entered into my spirit; whilst I share this brother’s enthusiasm about our city, there was one name which was never uttered by his lips. You have probably guessed by now whose name it is, that of Jesus! The Son of God and his sacrificial work were simply left out! As a Church in Perth we are much further removed from mature participation in the mystery of ascended and glorious Christ than almost anyone realises.
A Prayer We Must Pray
There is a prayer we must pray if we are as a Church are to enter into the glory that the ascended Lord enjoys with the Father at the right hand of power (Mark 14:62). This is that glory which alone will release genuine unity in the body of Christ and the flourishing of the “five-fold ministry” in a secure and non-competitive environment. We must ask for a visitation of the Sword of the Word of the Lord. This may sound like a scary thing, but on this side of the cross the sword of the Lord is the sword of the Spirit i.e. God’s own Word of gracious redemption, “the word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). As has been profoundly said, “What the cross cleanses the Spirit fills.” When, and only when, the Lord Christ graciously swings his sword over the Church cutting off all useless religion, can we be filled with the Spirit beyond measure so that such a fullness shall remain unto the glory of God (John 1:33; 3:34).
 Politicians in ancient Rome adopted the motto “bread and circuses” (free food and gladiatorial entertainment) as a means of influencing the populace.
 I.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers.