For Beauty and For Glory Zion Fellowship 19.6.16
In a deep but often hidden way the Lord is dynamically at work in our nation “to present…to himself…a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish.” (Eph 5:27). An earthly beautification of the people of God by the Spirit will be achieved, though it may not come in my lifetime it is the goal towards which we must all set our faces (Luke 9:51; John 16:33; 19:30; Heb 12:2; Rev 1:9 cf. Isa 60:7, 13; 62:3). Without however a prophetic insight into our time and place in the plan of God the Church always fails to spiritually grow and mature (Am 3:7). The purpose of this sermon is to prepare the church to live faithfully for the glory of Christ in her midst in the times that are upon us (Eph 3:21). “Let us pray…”
Introduction: a radically new world
I have lived through a period of religious transformation unparalleled in the history of Western civilisation. As I a child I remember singing our public school hymn and religious education was mandatory in all schools. In the 1954 census only .6% of our population adhered to religions other than Christianity and .3% were “no religion”. It is these two categories which are the fasting growing segment of the population today. 30% of the population heard Billy Graham preach in 1959 and tens of thousands flooded the churches. Crime rates, alcohol consumption and illegitimate births all showed a decline in the next few years. Then in the 60’s the moral and spiritual impact of the churches in the nation began to fall off a cliff and we’ve yet to hit the bottom. Today many Australians Christians have lost confidence about the future of the faith. In the Spirit however we can have a very different perspective and one which will mightily strengthen our witness to Christ (Rev 1:10).
Back in 2002 when I wrote an article called, “Our Governor General and the end of ‘Christianity’”; the current G-G Sir Peter Hollingworth was under attack for failing to take action against a predatory priest when he was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane. Hollingworth subsequently resigned. I declared at that time that God was at work dismantling the public perception of Christianity in Australia and the situation with the G-G was a public prophetic sign of his ongoing intentions (Amos 3:7). A few people understood what I was saying back then, but perhaps more will now that circumstances are closing in on the Church.
Almost every morning when I open my emails I find some new information about the marginalisation and corruption of Christianity in Western society. This week it was about the Church of Scotland deciding to accept pastors in same-sex marriages. People I know and respect are sounding increasingly desperate to stop the flow of ungodliness through our nation. I surprisingly received an email recently from a quite dynamic pastor containing an article from The Australian newspaper chronicling how the churches have been pushed out of the marketplace of ideas by secularisation. Today the public square and media are dominated by voices that oppose traditional Christianity.
A few days ago an email from an esteemed head of a large Christian organisation asked me to send out to my network a prayer letter from a group of national Christian leaders concerning the federal election and the disastrous moral state of our nation. This sincere approach reminds me of something accredited to Albert Einstein; “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Prayer as we are used to doing it is not going to turn this nation around, least of all in the realm of sexuality. Only the other week I was ministering into several situations where the marriages of Christian leaders had been suddenly terminated by the wives without warning. It still causes me grief but no longer surprise to find out that any particular Christian marriage is lacking in sexual activity. I am even less shocked when men confess they are not the spiritual leaders of their households. No wonder the Church has lost its spiritual authority to speak into the realm of intimacy.
Beneath the surface of laid back life in Western Australia the spiritual realm is in turmoil. A worried pastor approached me two weeks ago about a YouTube video showing members of the Australian Equality Party (pro same sex marriage) proclaiming “I am a Christian and the Australian Christian Lobby doesn’t represent me.” What are we to make of it when the present Prime Minister and leader of opposition who both claim to be Christians are equally affirmative of same-sex marriage? When Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday, “Homophobia should be condemned everywhere….at the core of…mutual respect is love. Love for our fellow humanity, that is when we are closest to God.”" is he leading us to towards Jesus or away from him? We are all in unchartered spiritual waters and no one quite knows where to turn. Preaching the gospel in a pre-Christian world is mission in the traditional sense, revivals in “Christian countries” over the centuries are quite comprehensible, but what would a move of God in a post-Christian secular world look like? An answer cannot come from looking at the place of the Church in society; we must look away from culture to have a renewed revelation of who Jesus is. This alone will bring a major spiritual shift in the Church so that we rediscover our identity in Christ alone.
The Glorious Identity of the Son of God
When Jesus queried, ““Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”” (Matt 16:13), Peter’s testimony, ““You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” stirred the Lord’s heart with great excitement, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 16:16-17). Peter is the most blessed person alive because the heavenly Father has shared his own understanding of the identity of Jesus as his Son. Jesus was so excited by this because he is 100% Father-centred. He unembarassingly testifies elsewhere, ““I live because of the Father.”” (John 6:57). Contrary to the spirit of our times Christ’s sense of personal identity is exclusively and absolutely formed through his relationship with his Father (Luke 10:21-22).
Of crucial importance for our own sense of who we are Jesus always reveals the identity of the Father as he is in heaven (cf. Matt 6:9-10). The Father, who has from the time of creation been located in another space, in heaven, is made manifest through the earthly location of the words and works the Son of God. Philip asks, ““Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”, then Jesus replies, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”” (John 14:8-9). The Father was no longer distant, absent or abstract to humanity; he had been materialised in the manifestation of the Son of God as a human being (cf. John 1:18). The Father had been, as it were, translocated into our space and time in the earthly life of Jesus; “the Father who lives in me does his works” (John 14:10). The heavenly Father lived in the earthly humanity of the Son of God (John 1:14). This saving revelation of the Father to lost human beings is however fiercely contested by a rival “father figure”. Jesus is constantly opposed by the forces of evil because Satan wants the earth as the exclusive space for his false fathering (Matt 18:38; John 8:44; Eph 2:1-2). This is a conflict which will continue until Christ comes again. The great battles of history are never about ideas, politics, morality, money, material power, or sexuality; they reflect engagements in the heavenly places about fatherhood.
All Christ’s afflictions are a test as to whether he will be a faithful human being who find his identity, his glory, in the Father alone (Luke 4:24, 28-29; John 10:31 cf. Isa 63:9). This is most clear in Jesus face to face encounter with the devil. When Christ steps out into the public eye at his baptism “a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:22). Then when famished by hunger in the wilderness he is challenged by the words of Satan, ““If you are the Son of God command this stone to become bread.”” (Luke 4:3). The afflictions of Jesus confirm rather than crush the inner conviction of Jesus that he is loved by the Father. Suffering love is integral to the Son’s sense of identity. As he himself explains, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (John 10:17 cf. Luke 2:34). There is a great perspective on such sacrificial love that the later writers of New Testament open up for our spiritual strengthening. The Son of God knew himself as the Lamb slain for sinners “before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8). To be loved by the Father as a sinless sufferer sacrificing for others has been formative of the identity of the Son of God not only in time but in eternity. Scripture teaches us that only the perfect love manifest in the cross can perfect the identity of Jesus as the Son of God (Heb 2:10; 5:7-9; 1 John 4:18).
Jesus is condemned to death not primarily because he is a political problem or a threat to a religious system but because he truly answers the question of the High Priest, ““Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”” (Mark 14:61-62). In using such intense language (apocalyptic) Jesus proclaims his proper abode is within the realm of the blessing of the Father’s heavenly love. Jesus’ enemies understand his claims to oneness with God and challenge him viciously at the cross, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross….“let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”” (Matt 27:40; Luke 23:35). Such social ostracism only draws out of Jesus words of untellable love, ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” (Luke 23:34 cf. Heb 12:2). But there is a point where Jesus sense of himself as the Son of God seems completely shaken.
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). The only answer as to why the Son is totally unconscious of the presence of his Father is that as part of suffering the penalty of our sins Jesus cannot see what the Father is doing (John 5:19 cf. 8:35; 2 Cor 5:21). Here Isaiah 42:19 is prophetically fulfilled in the suffering of Jesus; “Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD?” Blinded and deafened by the weight of our sin since unable to see the works of the Father and hear the words of the Father Jesus cannot receive the witness of the Spirit that he is the Son of God. He becomes like lost men and women fallen away for the glory of being children of God (Rom 3:23). The death of Jesus however is a necessary step in a stairway that will raise him to the heights of heaven (Luke 24:26).
Jesus is “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father… declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,” (Rom 1:4; 6:4). The resurrection is not primarily an act of power that defeats Satan, sin and death but a reinstatement of Christ’s identity as Son of God. The resurrection is of crucial importance but a merely resurrected Christ is still an earthly Christ. Something happened to me 22 years ago that radically reoriented my spiritual perception of the greatness of the Son of God. At the end of a week of prayer I had an experience of the ascended Jesus in heaven restoring order to all things on earth (Acts 3:19-21). The eyes of our understanding must follow Jesus in his journey beyond this earthly plane into a revelation of him as one “who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Eph 1:18; Heb 4:14). The ascension of Jesus into heaven is an indispensable dimension of the New Testament revelation of his identity that must come to us if we are to be matured through the trials of today.
The book of Acts begins with Jesus talking to the disciples about “the promise of the Father…. (then) he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:4-5, 9). Paul describes this as Jesus being “taken up in glory”, for by his ascension Jesus re-entered the glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:5; 1 Tim 3:16). Every stage of the story of Jesus is for us. In the person of Jesus human eyes see, human ears hear and a human heart envisions what God has prepared for those who love him (John 1:18; 1 Cor 2:9). Today in heaven the humanity of Jesus is radiant with the glory of God (Heb 1:3). Having dealt with our sin fully and finally on the cross Jesus is the Son who remains in the Father’s presence forever on our behalf (Heb 7:28). His heavenly dignity is our absolute security and identity. This revelation of the ascended heavenly Lord is not distant, absent or abstract but holds an abiding insight to heal the spiritual crisis of vision and identity crippling Christ’s body in the Western world. If the identity of the Son is to image and reveal the glory of the Father through suffering and glory (Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:15; 2 Cor 4:4) the identity of the Church is to image and reveal Jesus in precisely the same way (Phil 3:10; 1 Pet 4:14).
Sons of a New Creation
Talking with a culturally savvy younger pastor during the week he passed the comment that conflict between the world and the Church would only come to an end when Jesus returned. To which I replied, “Very few Australian Christians (cf. in Iraq, Sudan etc.) want Jesus to come back in their lifetime.” Where could you go in this country where a congregation earnestly wants these final biblical words of Jesus to come true; ““Surely I am coming soon.” (Rev 22:20). Who today, to quote Paul, “long for his appearing” (2 Tim 4:8). Most Christians want their best life now whereas the one thing we really need is a greater revelation of Jesus.
This is where we must return to the disciples’ experience of the ascension if we are to see what the Church is not seeing today. The angels are speaking to the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:11). If the Church lacks revelation of who Jesus is for us in the presence of his Father in heaven (vertical dimension), it will fail to be grasped by the importance of his return (forward dimension) when he “comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26). Without spiritual insight into the present and future glory of the heavenly Lord the people of God will constantly be shamed and intimidated by the world (Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 4:16; 2 Thess 1:7). Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16), but the present loss of confidence amongst Australian Christians about our spiritual future reveals the fear of being shamed as a follower of Christ. You may have watched the ABC’s current affairs show QandA which in April had a session on Church and State with a completely Christian panel. What amazed me was that none of the panel spent any time at all talking about Jesus as if he was a live person today.
The ascension of Jesus to the Father is not just about a transformation in his human identity, it is about a revolution in our identity, it lifts the human story onto another plane. In Christ there is a “new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:16), the Father has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Eph 1:3), the Father has “raised us up with him (Jesus) and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). Our elevation with Jesus means a radical change in identity few believers appreciate. Without insight into the whole history of the Son of God we have it all out of balance. I get concerned when various Christian celebrities are constantly labelled as ex gay activists, ex addicts, ex prostitutes, ex New Agers, ex bikies and so on. Whereas the one thing the Father says to all of us is, “You are my son.” Every Christian has two histories, one on the plane of sinful fallen humanness and the other on the level of heaven, and the second is much greater than the first. We must learn to think and live in ways that are beyond the boundaries of the discussions of the moral rights and wrongs set by the secular progressives of our society.
In its own way everything is prophetic. The Orlando massacre at a LGBTIQ nightclub last week when 49 people were killed speaks at two levels. On the natural level this is another tragic gun killing in America, but on the spiritual level it appears like a master stroke of Satan releasing sympathy for the same sex lobby. Bloggers on the internet are saying, “This is what homophobia, by which they mean any opposition to homosexuality, leads to.” That in response to Orlando the Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up in rainbow colours was an unsurprising political statement, but that the media was reporting a “rainbow prayer chain” on site in Orlando was much more revealing about the spiritual turmoil of our times.
I was praying about some of these things during the week and was led to Revelation 12:15, “The serpent (Satan) poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman (Church), to sweep her away with a flood.” and I saw a spiritual tsunami breaking on our shores in all the colours of the rainbow. On the natural level all this seems like an unmitigated disaster, but in the light of the life of Christ God is about something uniquely glorious and beautiful.
After centuries of privilege and decades of prosperity Western Christianity has forgotten that the normal state of the people of God is to suffer persecution. Jesus prophesied; ““Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” (Matt 24:9). Paul testified, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). As it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and enter into his glory the Church must be persecuted to realise its identity and grow into maturity (Luke 24:26). There are depths of wisdom here that few seem to appreciate.
The Lord started speaking to me through the colours of the spectrum when I was in Argentina years ago in answer to a prayer to understand the meaning of “the mystery of God”. The colours of the rainbow are not just pretty sights they are a deep prophetic sign testified to in scripture. Paul explains in Ephesians 3:10 that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” The Greek word translated “manifold wisdom” is related to Joseph’s coat of many colours (Gen 37:3). Living in the likeness of Christ the Church is always called to mirror to the evil heavenly rulers in the heavenly places the rich wisdom of God’s bringing many sons to glory (Eph 3:10; Heb 2:10). Despite all appearances the ultimate struggle in which we are engaged is never about morality, sexual or otherwise, but about who is our father. The death-resurrection and glorification of Jesus the Son of God revealed the excellence of the Fatherhood of his God in the spiritual realm and exposed Satan’s false fatherhood as an evil failure. God’s plan for the Church to manifest his life as a Holy Father always involves suffering love in the way of the cross, something of which the Western Church has largely been deprived of for many years. (John 17:11; Heb 12:5-11).
The more the Church lives in the wisdom of the suffering love of the cross the more it will be hated and persecuted by the powers of evil (John 15:18). This suffering is exactly what matures the people of God and so God’s command to disciple nations progresses across history (1 John 5:19). Our national prosperity and ease of life have blinded our eyes to the plan of God to beautify the Bride of Christ through affliction (Ps 73:12; Rev 3:17). Outright persecution in our land seems totally “un-Australian” but it must come whether the Church is ready or not. Suffering for the sake of the gospel is God’s only way of bringing us to the point where our total identity and glory is found in our sonship in Christ, (Acts 9:16; Gal 3:26; Phil 1:29).
We must with shame confess that the churches have utterly failed to communicate Christ’s glorious identity to Australians. Nothing else can explain the absurd fact that at our last national census (2011) 61% of the population still put “Christian” under the religion box? Our indescribably tragic it is that the preachers across the churches in so many ways have failed to be true to “the testimony of Jesus which is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10). Despite the convenience of the KJV translation of this verse Proverbs 29:18 accurately reads; “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint”. Whether it be marriage breakdown, sexual immorality, power struggles, disunity, biblical illiteracy, prayerlessness, boredom with Church life and so on the restless spiritual confusion of Australian Christianity witnesses to a lack of prophetic vision. Jesus knew he was the Son because he saw what his Father was doing but the people of God today are suffering from an identity crisis because they do not know what their Master is doing. The spiritual eyes of our hearts desperately need to be opened by the prophetic teaching of the Word (mea culpa). We desperately need the illumination of God’s Spirit to lead us through the agonies of Gethsemane and the cross through the resurrection into ascension and our seating with Christ in the heavenly places…..(Eph 1:18). There is however a message of great good news.
God’s jealousy for his own glory in the Church will not tolerate our backsliding for much longer (Joel 2:28; Eph 3:21). The Lamb who holds sovereign sway over the powers of evil has not forgotten us (Rev 6). In the decades to come things must go from bad to worse so that the people of God will begin to look upwards to the heavenly Jesus and forwards to his looming return bringing a measure of spiritual maturity to the Church like this nation has never seen before. Here, even in Australia, the one who was slain will have a Bride radiant with glory and beauty.
This is what God shall surely do, but what response does the Lord seek from us today? First, we must believe in his Son, trust in the glorified and returning heavenly Jesus who is no longer the “bearded and sandalled one of Nazareth” (John 6:28-29). Second, stand. Refuse to compromise with the prevailing secular culture in thought, value or lifestyle (Eph 6:11, 13, 14). Third, and perhaps the most difficult, worship. By the Spirit participate daily in the adoration of the victorious Lamb, as outlined in the worship scenes of Revelation, precisely when Satan and the powers of evil seem triumphant on the earth (Rev 5; 7 etc.). If we are faithful in these three things, believing, standing and worshipping, we may be assured our God and Father will do the rest so that Jesus might be glorified in our midst.
“I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Rev 3:11 cf. 2:25)
 This seems to be a paradox, but God moves history forward through his ongoing prophetic Word.
 I am not surprised by the accelerating exclusion of God from culture. Where did all those Marxists and socialists go who were so prominent on university campuses back in the 70’s (my time there); they became leading academics, heads of government departments and so on.
 For a Christian love is defined by Jesus’ sacrifice for his Bride (Eph 5:25).
Prominent Evangelicals across the Western world are becoming so desperate they are turning to traditional Roman Catholic philosophical arguments to stem the tide of the rise of same sex marriage http://www.anglican-mainstream.org.za/2016/05/same-sex-marriage-is-uniting-evangelicals-and-catholic/
 Even if this identity is mediated to him through being an Israelite, a man, a prophet etc.
 Knowing the only way to return to this realm is through sacrificial death.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Your_Best_Life_NowYour Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential is the bestselling book by pastor Joel Osteen
The fact that we have churches called Perth Chinese Christian Church or Romanian Pentecostal Church or Perth Korean Presbyterian Church or such and such Indigenous Church shows that we do not yet understand the glory of God is all about who he is as a Father. When Paul testifies “I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” he teaches us that if we are followers of Jesus, whatever our culture, language, race or colour we have the one and the same Father and the Church to which we belong in Christ is as heavenly as it is earthly (Eph 3: 14-15). All this is true, but none of it is likely to be made visible apart from suffering for Christ (cf. Heb 2:10-11).
 Unusual experiences of rainbows have followed me across the world since then (Middle East, Cambodia).
 This is the fundamental message of the book of Revelation.
 In practice, as in Revelation 2-3, the Church in Australia will split between the faithful and the compromised.
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0main+features902012-2013 Hopefully this year’s census will see an increase in the “No religion” category.
 “Without a vision the people perish.”
 i.e. through my fault
 See Juan Carlos Ortiz’ book, https://crossingtheriver.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/livingwithjesustoday.pdf