The Temple and the Spider’s Web: Part 1

There were two interesting pictures that people in my house group had of the Holy Spirit. I wanted to write them down to remember them, so I thought I’d share them with you at the same time.

First, the temple. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We were created in three parts: Body, soul and spirit. Similarly, the Jewish temple was in three parts: The outer court (where the whole assembly could gather), the inner court (for the priests), and the Most Holy Place (which the high priest could enter once a year).

Our makeup is like the temple. Our physical bodies (the outside of us) can be seen by anyone. When it comes to the inside – our soul (our feelings, our emotions), we’re more selective about what we share and with whom. It’s a more intimate relationship. Beyond that is our Most Holy Place – our spirit communing with God’s Spirit.

Before someone’s a Christian, they’re living by their own thoughts/feelings/emotions, or in the words of my friend: “The spirit has been suffocated by the soul.” When we become Christians, God makes us alive in Christ. Our spirit can connect freely with God’s Spirit and isn’t suffocated/dead anymore.

When Jesus died on the cross, we’re told in three of the gospels (I’m really surprised John doesn’t mention this) that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The barrier between the inner court and the Most Holy Place was obliterated – a picture of what Jesus has done for us. He’s made a way for our souls to come into the presence of God to find nourishment and strength. Perhaps in his own way, John does point to it because he recorded Jesus’ famous words: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

What’s the Formula?

I’ve been thinking tonight about some of the healings that took place in the Bible, and here’s what I’ve noticed:

Sometimes, they require action. In one of my favourite healing miracles, Jesus told a blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam – a word that means ‘Sent’. The man washed, and came home seeing (John 9:7). An action on his part resulted in the healing on Jesus’ part.

Sometimes, they follow an answer. In Luke 18:35-43, again before healing a blind man, Jesus asks: “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” is the response.

Sometimes, Jesus takes the person aside and works quietly. Another of my favourite healings is in Mark 7:31-37. Some people bring a deaf man to Jesus, wanting to have him cured. Jesus starts by leading the man away from the crowd, by himself – what a lovely, thoughtful thing to do. If you were deaf and you got your hearing back, wouldn’t it overwhelm you to be in a crowd of people and suddenly assaulted by all their voices? Jesus tells us He’s gentle and He really shows it here, taking the man to a quiet place to heal him.

If you’re wondering what the formula is that ties these healings together, well … that’s the whole point: They’re all very different. Interestingly, in Luke 18, Jesus doesn’t say: “I made you well because you answered the question I asked you”; He says: “You are healed because you believed.” In Mark 7, Jesus commanded the people not to tell anyone about the deaf man’s healing, but the more He commanded them, the more they told about it! In John 9, the blind man confessed his faith after he was healed and not before.

Can we learn anything from this? Are we, perhaps, too quick to try to find a formula when Jesus might just want to treat each person differently?

Best Read in Small Doses: “Gifts from Heaven” Book-Review

I might have called this “God’s Answers to Prayer”, rather than “Gifts from Heaven”. I chose it because last year, I reviewed “Jesus Talked to me Today” (also by James Stuart Bell) and really enjoyed it. This is the same format, with numerous short stories of how God intervenes in people’s lives. I found the second half more inspiring than the first; “A Precise Prayer for Healing” and “Race to the Bottom” really stood out, but a good proportion of these stories were health-related and It can be demoralising to read so many accounts of health-problems.

I looked forward to my complementary copy from Bethany House, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend reading this from cover to cover. Probably his previous offering had more appeal because it was about children.

No, Lord

We looked last time at Peter’s encounter with God, and how the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius’ household as a result. After this, Peter had to explain to the other believers what took place. Here he is talking about his vision: “I saw something that looked like a big sheet being lowered from heaven by its four corners. It came very close to me. I looked inside it and saw animals, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds. I heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord! I have never eaten anything that is unholy or unclean.’ But the voice from heaven spoke again, ‘God has made these things clean, so don’t call them unholy’” (Acts 11:5-9).

No, Lord.

Don’t those words seem incongruous? ‘Lord’ means master, and if someone truly has mastery over you, you don’t say no to them. Earlier in Peter’s life, he famously tried to do a similar thing. In Matthew 16, Jesus gives His followers a heads-up about His suffering and death, but Peter takes Him aside and says: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22).

Jesus’ response is often quoted. “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to Me” (Matthew 16:23). Peter went from support to stumbling-block because his attitude was Satanic, pushing out God’s agenda in favour of a human one.

Are there times in your life (as there are in mine) when you’ve effectively said, ‘No, Lord’? Maybe He’s asked you to give up chasing a dream and instead hand it over to Him, but ‘No, Lord; I still want to hold on’. Maybe He wants you to do something, but you know you’ll face opposition. Two quotes come to mind – one from Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”), and something my pastor said several years ago that’s stuck: “It’s never a waste if you’re doing it for the Lord.”

What if our ‘No, Lord’ turned into a ‘You know best, Lord’?

Peter the People-Pleaser

In my last post, you heard that Peter went back to his old way of living, but Jesus met him there, talked to him and restored him. You almost want to put a little sentence after that: “And they all lived happily ever-after.” Except Peter was a human being just like us, and when we become Christians, we don’t all live happily ever-after. We can have some amazing moments; Peter certainly did. I think particularly of the day the Holy Spirit filled him, he preached a sermon and three thousand people put their faith in Jesus, but he also had a deep-seated prejudice to iron out along the way.

You see, God’s kingdom wasn’t exclusively Jewish; it was open to all. We read in one of Paul’s letters that through His death, Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and non-Jews/Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). As a Jew himself, Peter would have been brought-up with all their preconceptions. Jews didn’t associate with Gentiles (they believed doing so would desecrate them). In fact, many held the view that their Messiah’s coming would herald victory for them and judgment for everyone else, so this was a big lesson God had to teach Peter. He did it by sending him to the house of Cornelius, a non-Jew, to tell him about Jesus, but first He had to prepare Peter’s heart. He showed him a vision of animals, all of which were unclean by Jewish standards, and told him to kill and eat them. “God has made these things clean, so don’t call them unholy” (Acts 10:15). Peter soon discovered his vision concerned more than food; it was about people. The servants Cornelius had sent took him to the house and God’s Holy Spirit filled them all, Jews and non-Jews alike. Peter had learnt his lesson … or had he?

Paul later wrote about an incident in a place called Antioch. Peter had been happily eating with the other believers, whatever their backgrounds, until some fellow-Jews came along. (It’d be a bit like me ambling along at my own pace, until someone I admire pays a visit and I shift myself up a gear.) Peter wanted the approval of these men and immediately conformed to their expectations, associating only with the Jewish believers. Paul saw his hypocrisy and challenged him because he was trying to follow a set of man-made rules, when in fact he already had right standing with God through his faith in Jesus Christ. Peter was being a people-pleaser, putting the approval of men before the approval of God. It’s good to have someone like Paul in our lives, who’ll put us right when we’re going off-track.

What lessons has God been teaching you? Maybe you’re a bit like Peter. He’s taught you something, but you’ve tripped up and He’s had to teach you all over again. If that’s true, don’t be discouraged. The main thing Peter’s remembered for is being a close friend of Jesus. Stay close to Him, and He’ll make sure you get to the finish. “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end” (Hebrews 12:2).

Going Back

I wrote last time that “Peter left his old life behind in favour of all that Jesus had for him” and yes, he did, until after Jesus was crucified. This Jesus he followed was arrested, beaten, stripped, nailed to a cross, and left to die. Peter was there at the time of His arrest and even tried to defend Him, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. Clearly, Peter thought if he couldn’t escape, he would also be condemned. In that context, standing in the high priest’s courtyard, he denied several times that he knew Jesus. Some time later, he told his friends: “I am going out to fish” (John 21:3) – the ultimate rebuff. It was like saying: This new life, this being sent out to bring people close to God, it had nothing to offer me after all; I’m going back to what I knew, but as the rest of the chapter tells us, that’s the exact time Jesus spoke with him and sent him out all over again.

Harking back to your old life – the days before you were a Christian; the things and people you left behind – is generally a sign of discontent with the new one. In fact, Jesus says: “Anyone who begins to plough a field but looks back is not prepared for God’s kingdom” (Luke 9:62). I’ve had times where I’ve wanted to get away from my problems and felt God hasn’t done it for me, so I’ll escape onto YouTube to take my mind off it, but the safest place to go back to is His love. On 2 October 1999, God said in my heart: “Come because I love you.” That’s what I need to remember.

Jesus talked about this coming back to love in His letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:2-5): “I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles but really are not, and you found they are liars. You have patience and have suffered troubles for My name and have not given up.

“But I have this against you: You have left the love you had in the beginning. So remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you do not change, I will come to you and will take away your lampstand from its place.”

The first question in the Bible was “Where are you?” and it’s always one worth considering. Do I really believe God will come through for me? Am I just going through the motions? Have I forsaken my first love – stopped loving God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength? If I have, I need to go back: Back up the beach like Peter, to that time with Jesus.