Redeemed Christian Church of God, 19.10.2012
It would be easy to teach on my given topic “divine intervention” in a standard way; that is, to give examples of people who were sick, broken, lost and so forth, and then share how the Lord dramatically broke into their circumstances and delivered them. There is plenty of precedence for this approach, the great act of the exodus from Egypt, many stirring psalms (e.g. Ps 107) and the resurrection of Jesus come to mind. As I prayed God’s intervention in my own experience I quickly thought of times when the Lord intervened in our financial affairs. There was the time when I was studying for my PhD in Brisbane living in rented accommodation that took half my total student income while we were also raising four small children, someone rang us one day to say she had been awakened by God’s Spirit in the middle of the night and led to give us money. Then there was the occasion when I was out praying and sensed Christ say, “Settle your base.” which meant that the time of living in a home provided by the church was over and we need to purchase our own house. Sure enough in a very short time, without us saying anything, a friend gave us $10,000. More recently I received a phone call from a businessman who said, “We’ve heard you’ve been having some car problems, we want to give you $20,000 for a car; the next day my car stopped and no-one could get it started. Praise God, the words of Paul, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 ESV) are surely true. I think this sort of emphasis on the prospering hand of God is one that many Christians and most Australians are quite comfortable with; at first glance we might think this is the sort of “divine intervention” that can bring national revival to Australia.
I should not have been surprised than that as I prayed about the theme of “divine intervention” I became aware of the Spirit leading me in quite a different direction from a focus on visible blessing; one that is more in tune with the type of ministry I exercise these days, which may broadly be called “spiritual direction”/mentoring. I am in regular contact with a very wide range of folk, actually from every continent, some are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, others are business people or those who hold other forms of employment. The point of connection I have with all these folk is that they all share with me what they sense God is doing in their lives. This is much broader than simply being more effective in ministry or increasing in prosperity and happiness. In each case what these believers are looking for is greater clarity and insight into the divine purposes so that they might become more like Jesus. The results of our discussion and prayers are often surprising, to quote one such person, “It’s always different from what you think.”
Jesus said of us all, ““You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV). It is plain for all to see by the state of Australian society that the Church is failing to fulfil its holy calling. For his words to find fulfilment, so that the people of God are a preserving and illuminating presence in a nation that is increasingly morally corrupt and in deepening spiritual darkness, we must first have a much greater awareness of what the Lord is doing in our own lives.
The Greatest Intervention
The greatest and most surprising divine intervention is the Incarnation, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV). For all their inspiration none of the prophets fully understood that God the Son would become a human being. This is an intervention so offensive that it led to surprising and shocking responses from humiliated beings. That God had to come down to our level in order to get through to us and redeem us was a scandal!
When the Word who created the world first preached personally to his creatures in Nazareth (John 1:3, 11; Luke 4:16-30), he was in the presence of friends, companions and neighbours who knew him by name, instead of gratitude he was greeted with venom and attempted murder. The up close and personal intervention of God in Christ was so unwelcome that when Jesus identified himself with the Father “the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him” (John 5:18). On another occasion, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”” (John 10:31-33 ESV cf. 8:59). Jesus was so hated by the powers of his day because he was an authentic miracle worker and the true Son of God; the intervention of God in Christ was so intense that it stirred up a demonically inspired fury (cf. Acts 7:54-60)! Have you ever had a response like that to your witnessing? In our “civilised and laid back” Australia it is almost unthinkable. (The nearest I can think of was when healing evangelist Oral Roberts’ revival tent was burnt down when he tried to preach in Melbourne.) The rejection of God’s intervention in Christ was phenomenal; it is said quite blatantly, “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5 ESV).
This is what we read at the climax of Jesus’ public ministry in John’s Gospel, ““While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,” (John 12:36-37 ESV). Just as the generation which was delivered out of Egypt saw countless signs of God’s power yet perished in the wilderness through unbelief, the generation that witnessed the mighty acts of divine intervention through Jesus’ personal presence failed to believe (cf. John 2:23-25; 6:26).
Jesus own disciples, who had seen every one of his mighty acts, and shard in them themselves (Matt 10:1), never properly understood his identity until after his resurrection. At the end of Matthew we read, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me….” (Matthew 28:16-18 ESV). Thomas was one of the twelve, but his doubt was so strong that that he declared, ““Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”” (John 20:25 ESV). When he did actually see Jesus in the flesh he worshipped him with these wonderful words, ““My Lord and my God!””. Jesus however mildly rebuked this sort of visibly informed faith, ““Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””(John 20:28-29 ESV).
This sort of conflict between faith built on visible things and faith that pleases the Lord continues into the life of the early church. The Corinthians were not lacking in any spiritual gift, including healings and miracles (1 Cor 1:7; 12:8-10) but they were spiritual infants (1 Cor 3:1ff.). Likewise, whilst acts of power were happening in the churches of Galatia they wee in danger of falling under the curse of a false gospel (Gal 3:5; 1:6-9). The only thing that can make sense of all this is to understand that God’s intervention is only truly effective when it comes in the shape of the cross. Some years ago I was preaching in a church that met in a public hall- I looked over at the wall and the Australian flag was there; with the crosses of the Union Jack in the corner and the Southern Cross below; it was the power of the death of Jesus which imprinted itself so forcefully on our culture that our national emblem carries the sign of the cross. The Lord went on to say to me; “Until the cross goes through the heart of the Church there can be no lasting revival in Australia.” I still believe this to be true.
The Intervention of the Cross
The great stumbling block in being able to discern exactly where God is most deeply and permanently intervening in human life is the cross (1 Cor 1:23). Jesus predicted ““You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matt 26:31), this is exactly what happened; they all deserted him. For as Christ said to the soldiers who arrested him, “But this is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Then most incredibly, Jesus himself was engulfed in a cloud of gloom.
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Matt 27:45-46). This is the moment when Christ’s own soul is plunged into that outer darkness where men weep and gnash their teeth (Matt 8:12; 25:30). The only true crisis of Jesus’ life comes when it seems like God has abandoned him and is no longer intervening through him for the salvation of the world. In such a case, God ceases to be known as “Father”. But it is at this very time, when the disciples have given up the cause of Jesus’ kingdom as a lost one and the enemies of God gloat in victory, that the intervention of God to redeem the world is most intense. “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV). This is the work of God at its deepest and most invisible; hidden from the eyes of sinful man, hidden also from Jesus as the cost of bearing our blindness to the ways of the Lord.
The Hidden Work of God
The apostles were “men who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) because they understood the true nature of the power of the cross. “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20) Paul says, and goes on to explain what this means. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Paul was not afraid of suffering nor of dying; his anguish was for a totally different reason. The apostle was so united to “the fellowship with Christ’s sufferings” (Phil 3:10) that like Jesus he felt forsaken for it seemed like God was no longer intervening through his life for the salvation of the nations.) However, as Jesus was raised to life so was Paul, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”(2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ESV). All men and women of God come to learn that the dark night of the soul must precede the light of resurrection morning.
Hebrews teaches, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”(Hebrews 12:11 ESV). It is the gap between the pain and the peace that decides whether a believer grows or not. If the vine is to bear fruit that lasts, it must first submit to the pain of being pruned (John 15:2). The time of pruning is often a time when God seems absent but he is in fact very present.
I remember one brother’s eyes opening and he said, “I’ve been trying to resist the devil about a situation, but it’s God who’s trying to change things in me.” The “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Cor 2:7) is constantly at work in our lives to refine us into the likeness of Jesus, but it is so often so deep, so inward and so subtle that many believers feel as though God is not intervening in their situations; they sulk, sin or simply give up the cause of Christ’s kingdom. The deep truth however is this, when God seems not to intervene in your life, then he is intervening in the sin-cleansing power of the darkness of the cross.
Peter speaks of “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Pet 3:4) and what we need for a genuine biblical revival in this appallingly godless nation is a work of the heart. It is time that the Church in Australia came to terms with the fact that only the incisive inner pain of divine discipline and the repentance it invariably brings is adequate to change the character of a nation that has turned its back on God (Jer 2:27; 32:33). Peter declares, “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet 4:17). He is quoting from Ezekiel 9:6, where the hand of God “goes out” from the temple sanctuary before the land can be cleansed of its evils. Despite the orphaned spiritual culture in Australia, God is an ever-active Father who never ceases intervening in human lives (Acts 17:26-28). This is the crucial revelation our nation needs and he will bring it to pass in a definite way.
The Lord is working to raise up spiritual fathers and mothers in our land who shall willingly bear the anguish of felt forsakenness where it seems like God is no longer intervening through their lives for the salvation and sanctification of others. Those who like Jesus persevere in faith through darkness and into resurrection life shall see the promised restoration ““Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:6 ESV). This is the sort of divine intervention that can save Australia. May I ask you, as I must ask myself, are you willing to yield to the sovereign intervention of God that is totally hidden except to faith alone, in order that others might live (Mark 14:36)?
 “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”(John 2:23-25 ESV cf. 12:37)