The Gift of Friendship
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 1 March 2003
Click here to see Part 4
I wonder if, as a Christian, you have ever wondered now wonderful if would be if you could prove to an unbeliever just how rich and satisfying our faith is. How do you show to someone who does not want to know, that friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) is an exhilaration better than wine, a joy greater than pleasure, a peace better than escape, a sense of liberty better than any freethinker ever enjoyed, an answer (though not necessarily a solution) to all of life's problems, and a conquest of personal sin and depression such as the man with the strongest will in the world never dreamed could exist? How does one do this? For would not men and women make a beaten track to our door, eager to know our secret, and be passionately and vehemently desirous to enter into to if they could see this life in action?
The truth is, most of us are living on low levels of experience. Most genuine believers have had some small experience. But we are like explorers who land on some new continent and who, on fine days and Sunday afternoons, explore some of the valleys and foothills near the coast, and then build themselves bungalows and settle down on the beach and bathe in the breakers, but who never climb the mighty mountains behind them, where the resources of a continent lie waiting to be explored. The fact is, most Christians have not realised the rich possibilities of their faith. But when they wake up to them, the world will be turned upside down.
For many, Yah'shua (Jesus) is still imprisoned in history. They are quite sure that He existed - that He was - but do not yet realise that He is. They are far from realising that most liberating truth that what He was was only the translation into terms of history of what He eternally is. To them He was the sad-eyed, dark-haired Mystic who walked in the fields and woods of Galilee, watched the waves breaking in white foam on that sunny shore, picked a few wild flowers and drew from them their story of quiet trust. He was the Dreamer of beautiful dreams such as no poets have ever seen in their hours of loftiest vision. He was the Healer who laid His hands upon people's heads and cleansed them of some horrible disease; who brought forgiveness and peace to restless and sin-tortured souls. He was the Martyr who, with thorn-crowned brow, hung from a cross upraised against a sunset sky, and who, having risen from the dead, went back to heaven and now sits on the right hand of the throne of Yahweh.
And this is all true. It is all very beautiful. It is inspiring. But it nevertheless remains a picture of the past. Its hero is a ghost flitting about the tomb of the dead years. Many people - very wistful, loveable people - when they worship, worship that picture, and in their life try to be like its hero. And they wonder why it is so desperately difficult, why they fail so much, why they seem thrown back on themselves, why others seem to pass them with laughing, radiant faces, as if following Christ were the greatest, gladdest adventure in life, while to them it is so hard, so trying to nerves and temper, and so exasperating. Some of them drop out, some of them stagger all their life under the burden of a religion which, as one writer once said, "is the heaviest of all religions in the world if you have to carry it".
Some of you may have heard of a play called 'The Artist's Dream' by Maskelyne and Devant. The artist had fallen asleep in a chair near the almost completed portrait which he had been painting of his wife, who has recently died. The picture showed her seated in a swing in the garden. As the artist slept, the woman in the picture stepped down from the easel and walked across to her husband. Then she returned and the artist awakened. The dream had been so real that as he arose and took the picture down, and in front of the audience he examined it, but it was, seemingly, just an ordinary picture again.
I want to say to all who are worshipping a picture of Yah'shua (Jesus) in a frame called History - to people who are beaten in their lonely toilsome effort to be like the Hero of that picture - that there is a richer experience than they have yet known. If they will sit down quietly He will come out of the picture into their life. A little faith - that kind of effortless prayer which is the leaving of the heart's door upon the latch - and the Guest will come as often as you want Him, and you will be carried further than a whole year of fussy striving would take you: for He is not a ghost of the dead past, but a friend alive for ever more.
For many people Yah'shua (Jesus) is imprisoned in forms of words. Because what I am talking about isn't in many - or indeed any - of the creeds or confessions of faith, they are afraid it cannot be true. You see, some people feel that to go outside the language of creeds, or outside the beliefs expressed in them, is a very doubtful if not dangerous thing to do. Which is why we, as New Covenant Christians, really only have one creed - the Apostles' Creed - to keep it simple.
Now don't think I am knocking creeds. It is important to have a scriptural standard of faith. To be able to recite the Apostles' Creed, for example, is a wonderful way of focussing on the core truths of the Gospel. But it is very wrong to bind people so that they cannot go beyond a credal formula. Indeed, to do so, would be like restricting a Chemist to Dalton's atomic law or a physicist to the Ptolomaic theory of planetary movements, both of which scientists have outgrown as they have made new discoveries. What would you think of a scientist who would not relinquish a 'law' even though it no longer harmonised with the facts? What would you think of a slavish belief in atoms as being solid balls when the clear evidence we now have is that they consist of numerous particles some of which aren't particles at all but waves? Worse even than this, what would you think of a scientist who, in order not to upset the old-fashioned prejudices of the few remaining orthodox scientists, continued to speak of atoms as solid balls? This sort of attitude would reduce science to a kind of chaos ... as indeed is happening today when unbelieving scientists still insist on the truthfulness of evolution in spite of the overwhelming evidence against it.
Sadly, theology can be reduced to such a muddle too. For instance, people are still feverishly clinging to the old classical orthodox doctrine of the Trinity in spite of the fact that all the scholarship done on the Hebrew and Aramaic New Testament shows conclusively that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is female and not male! What the theologians fear is the fact that they have nothing to replace the old doctrine with, not to mention the responsibility of coming up with a new theory.
So what must we do if the facts contradict our theological hypotheses? What is the honest thing to do? We must go to the facts and reframe our beliefs. That is what Yah'shua (Jesus) would have us do. He did not say, "Believe this doctrine of Mine first ..." but he said, "Follow Me!" And men did that, and then made their creeds. Yahweh does not want us to juggle with our minds, but to love the Lord our God with all our minds. "I believe in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), the only begotten Son of the Father Yahweh, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and born of the Virgin Mary ..." These words from the Apostles' Creed may express an august truth about Yah'shua (Jesus); but if Yah'shua (Jesus) is not real to you, he will not become real if you begin there! You have to begin where the disciples began, with a daily friendship into which they entered very quietly and humbly, until the more august truths became true for them. If you begin at the wrong end because people tell you that you must believe what the creeds say, you will have a figment of imagination, a ghost instead of a friend.
There is another way in which words imprison Christ. Do we not in religion use phrases which once meant a great deal - which once were turned out red hot from the furnace of thought, but which now have lost their first meaning and their first heat? To use words which no longer mean what they say, or say what we mean, is to obscure reality and to be mentally dishonest. That is why we as New Covenant Christians have co-opted new terms like 'echad' to convey intimacy in a way that words like 'oneness' may no longer mean. My wife is my greatest friend and the greatest friend of my children, but we do not use identical language about her. If I spoke of her, I should use words that fitted my experience of her, and my children would do the same. To do otherwise would make for unreality. So I must use about the greatest Friend of humanity words which express my experience of Him. I must not make our relationship unreal by using words about Him which, however true for others, are not true for me. That is to make Him a ghost, not a friend. It is because this mistake has been made that people deceive themselves into supposing that they have had an experience with Yah'shua (Jesus), which, in truth, has never been theirs. We must ask of all forms of words what they mean, and whether they express what is true for us about Yah'shua (Jesus).
I have long taught that we are going to be surprised when we get to heaven to see who is there with us (assuming we make it). We often judge people on the basis of outer things like their use of words or performance of rituals ... or the very opposite. We have, over the centuries, invented things that remind us of Yah'shua (Jesus) ... like crosses, for example. There is nothing wrong in such things if they enable you to make a spiritual connection. Thus I love photograph albums which remind me of loved ones and friends. But if you tell me that the photograph is my friend or that the wafer on certain altars is the actual Body of Christ, a sense of unreality creeps in. The thing is: do the rituals you perform make Yah'shua (Jesus) a ghost or a friend? Are they mere connecting symbols or objects of spiritual idolatry?
Everybody knows what I believe about Roman Catholicism. But that does not mean that I believe every Catholic is going to hell. A man once went to a Roman Catholic service in which the priest argued for the literal presence of Christ in the consecrated wafer on the altar - the dogma of transubstantiation. After the service the visitor talked with one of the worshippers and asked him if he believed all that the priest had claimed. The worshipper, who was an old man, said something like this: "When I come to the Mass, sir, I cannot follow what they do up at the altar. I just kneel down and I think about Jesus. I think of that last week with His friends, and the last supper; how He knelt in agony in Gethsemane; how they arrested Him and all night tortured Him, and how He died ..." And the old man's eyes filled with tears. "I get very near to Jesus then, sir, and when I go home I feel that He comes with me."
The old man didn't find a value in the Catholic Mass as such. He just knelt down in that quiet place and opened his heart in prayer, and his Friend came right in. Yah'shua (Jesus) stepped out from among the tombs of dead years, out of the ghostly mists of strange rites, out of the haunted ruins built of ancient language and half-meaningless words - alive, vivid, present, royal, radiant and real.
Yahweh works with such old men. And it wouldn't surprise me if many such people find their way into heaven. I cannot say what their final state would be because only Yahweh can judge such matters. I only know that I am bidden to go further - to be obedient to Torah and to ask Him to help me be an overcomer.
On the two occasions when the disciples thought Yah'shua (Jesus) was a ghost, His method of self-vindication was the same. In the first instance (Mt.14:26) He answered their terror not with the words, "Recite the Nicene Creed" but with, "It is I, do not be afraid". Impulsive Peter answered, "Lord, if it is You, ask me to come to You on the water." And Yah'shua (Jesus) said, "Come!" In the second (Lk.24:37), when "they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they were looking at a spirit", He said, "Why are you troubled? Look at My hands and feet that it is Me. Touch me and see." In both cases it is the same treatment: "Put me to the test".
The way of argument is irrelevant and impossible. The way of experience is certain. Try it. Sit down quietly for 10 minutes every day for a month. Let your mind go out to Yah'shua (Jesus). Think about Him. Believe that what He once was He eternally is. What He was for men and women years ago, He is for you today. All His followers would guarantee that you will find Him no ghost, but a Friend; no mere memory of long ago, but a living personal Saviour whose friendship will transform your whole nature. The very Christ of History who came to men across the troubled waters of the Galileean lake will become the Christ of Experience and come to you across the troubled waters of your 21st century life, with His soul-rejuvenating cry, "Courage, it is I"; and, as an ineffable mystery, you shall learn in your own experience who He is.
None of this is an excuse not to obey Torah. The disciples who went and followed Yah'shua (Jesus) were already obeying Torah and had something of an advantage over us. They already worshipped Yahweh, the true God of Heaven. Most who come to Yah'shua (Jesus) today do not have such a background but are like the Gentiles whom Paul converted. They were pagans and did not know the Living Elohim. Like them, those of us who knew no God before, must first come to Christ and meet Him as a living friend and then obey Torah. The apostle wrote:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith" (Rom.1:16-17, NKJV).
Does this mean that the Jews are more important than the rest? No, it means that they have the foundation of Torah which makes the Messianic experience ultimately meaningful. Our Friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) must have a vessel, for without it we shall drift in and out of Catholic Masses and other neo-pagan practices and never really get a Body of believers together. Individuals can meet Yah'shua (Jesus) anywhere and in any church but they cannot become the Bride of Christ unless they are gathered together on a foundation of Torah.
Do you have a foundation of Torah but do not know the Messiah? That is good and you are blessed, for the vessel is in place, but you are not saved. That makes you an unsaved Judahite. Have you found the Friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) but have no foundation of Torah? That makes you a lawless Ephraimite. When Judah receives the Messiah and Ephraim the Torah they become united as Israelites. Then Israel has the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) and the foundation of Torah, and they become echad - one. That is the great goal. For Omega Salvation is not the Alpha Salvation of one-on-one with Yah'shua (Jesus) but of all united in echad union with Messiah as His allegorical bride. The goal is to be many-in-one.
So everyone - whoever you may be - have two important questions to answer:
(1) Do you know the Friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) - is He real to you? and
(2) Are you built upon a foundation of Torah?
When these have been answered in the affirmative, then you are securely on your way home. Amen.
This page was created on 7 March 2003
Last updated on 7 March 2003
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