The Power of the Spirit

Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.

Judges 14:5-6

Samson was set apart from birth. The angel of the Lord came to his mother and father and directed them regarding how to consecrate themselves and the baby to the Lord. Samson was set apart with a Nazarite vow from the time of his conception. God had a calling on his life as one who would begin to deliver the people of Israel from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

This kind of exceptional consecration and calling resulted in an unusual level of anointing on Samson’s life. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, he was able to operate with an extreme level of power and authority. Samson didn’t always use this power wisely, but it was always available to him.

Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle.

Judges 14:19

Samson’s early life is a foreshadowing of Jesus’s birth and anointing. Jesus was similarly set apart from birth and operated in a similarly powerful anointing. And Jesus was the fulfillment of all that Samson wasn’t.

Samson is also a picture of what is available to us in the Holy Spirit. Samson had the Spirit come upon him in power. We have this same opportunity. As people who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, not only do we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, but we have access to the Holy Spirit coming upon us in power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us for our sake but often comes upon us for the sake of others. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us in power, the enemy gets torn to shreds.

I’ve witnessed what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person who is preaching. What is released in the room is more powerful than the words that are being spoken. People are cut to the heart by the word of God. People give their lives to Jesus for the first time. People respond with their whole hearts and their whole lives.

I’ve witnessed what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person in prayer. Power is released on the person receiving prayer in such a way that dramatic things happen. Demons flee. They can’t seem to get out of there fast enough. Instant physical healings take place. The person’s body conforms to the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of this world. Things are set right. Wounded hearts are repaired as the love of the Father is tangibly experienced.

Without the tangible demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, Christianity devolves into just one religion among many. But when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon us in power, and the reality of the Kingdom of God is on display, Jesus is revealed for who He really is–King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

This is how the apostle Paul describes his own ministry:

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 

Romans 15:18:19

For Paul, to “fully proclaim” the gospel of Christ meant that signs and wonders through the power of the Spirit had to be on display. Anything less than that was not the full proclamation of the gospel of Christ. We are called to daily walk in the power of the Holy Spirit!

My Portion

But to the tribe of Levi he gave no inheritance, since the food offerings presented to the Lord, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as he promised them…

This is the inheritance Moses had given when he was in the plains of Moab across the Jordan east of Jericho. But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them.

Joshua 13:14 & 32-33

On the one hand, the Levites and priests were provided for by the offerings of the rest of the people of Israel. They were to eat certain portions of certain animal and grain offerings. They wouldn’t have land to raise animals or to farm produce so they would be completely dependent on the offerings of the people.

Yet, in another sense, their inheritance wasn’t just the offerings of the people but the Lord Himself. So their dependency wasn’t primarily on the people but on God Himself to provide. This is how the Lord said it to Aaron when He first set up the priestly system this way:

Then the Lord said to Aaron, “I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion, your perpetual share. You are to have the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire. From all the gifts they bring me as most holy offerings, whether grain or sin or guilt offerings, that part belongs to you and your sons.

Numbers 18:8-9

What God was saying is not only would the priests and Levites have a portion of the sacrifices, but that God himself was their portion. God would take what was given to Him and give it to them. This is what the Psalmists meant when they declared that God is their portion.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5-6

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25-26

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
  my portion in the land of the living.”

Psalm 142:5

These Psalmists weren’t necessarily priests talking about God’s provision. They were lovers of God crying out to Him about wanting Him above all other things. Beyond what God could give them, these worshipers wanted God Himself. They were more interested in intimacy with the Lord than His provision. Nearness to Him was their primary inheritance.

As followers of Jesus, how much more is this true for us. 1 Peter 2:9 says that followers of Jesus are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” Beyond God’s provision for us–which He does have for us–we are invited to see intimacy with God as our inheritance. He is our portion. The greatest gift we’ve been given is the gift of Himself, God with us, Immanuel, Christ in you the hope of glory, the Holy Spirit.

Let us not be so focused on God’s provision and the tangible inheritance He has for us in His Kingdom that we miss the truth that He is our portion. Nearness and intimacy with Him is the greatest gift we’ve been given.

Father, we cry out the words of Moses, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here“(Exodus 33:15). We stand in agreement with the Psalmists and declare, “you alone are my portion!

Until They Enter Rest

Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go…”

Joshua 1:14-16

This is the passage of scripture that God gave me for this week. This is the life of a follower of Jesus. We have been given rest. We have been given our inheritance of salvation and continue to receive more and more of the inheritance of the Kingdom of God.

Now our role is to help others take possession of the land that was given to them. We are to fight for others so that they may enter this rest. We are to fight for others as they set out to take possession of the land that was made ready for them by God. For any part of our inheritance that we’ve recieved, we help others recieve it. For any part of our inheritance we have yet to recieve, we allow others to fight for us as we go after it and take possession of it.

And as we go our heart-cry is the same as theirs. We say to Jesus, “Whatever you tell us to do we’ll do; wherever you send us we’ll go!” This is not just the life of ministry. This is the life of every believer. This is what every follower of Jesus is called to.

The apostle Paul said it this way to the Corinthians:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Who are you fighting for? Who are you helping to take possession of the land that was set apart for them? Who can you comfort today with the comfort you’ve received from the Lord?

Humble Yourself

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:1-4

They ask Jesus about being the greatest in the Kingdom of God. But Jesus answers that just to enter the Kingdom we must become like children. And in order for adults to become like children we must change. The key to becoming like a child is to humble yourself.

It’s as if the doorway into the Kingdom of God is designed only for children. And if a regular-sized adult wants to get through the door, they are going to have to duck their head, drop to their knees, and bow low. Humility is the key–humbling oneself to engage in child-like faith, child-like trust, and child-like joy.

Love, forgiveness, faith and joy seem to flow easily for children. They are not hampered by skepticism, cynicism, bitterness or prideful self-consciousness. For adults to enter the Kingdom, we must return to this child-like heart posture toward God and toward others.

Later, Jesus reiterates this point when He tells His disciples:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12

Both Peter and James must have heard this message so much from Jesus that they repeated it in their own writings.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:10

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.” [Proverbs 3:34]

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1 Peter 5:5-6

The message is clear. Humble yourself. Don’t wait for circumstances, other people, or God Himself to humble you. Humble yourself. Become child-like. Let go of pride. Fast. Pray. Serve. Humble yourself.

It’s as if spiritual attacks are launched at us from a certain angle. And we’ll get hit right between the eyes unless we duck our heads, bend our knees, and bow low. Yet, when we bow low, humbling ourselves, we will find that we are tucked neatly behind the shield of faith and protected from the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).

How is God calling you to humble yourself?

Leave Everything Behind

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

Just when we wonder what the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus helps us see a clearer picture with parable after parable describing the Kingdom.

In this case, what we learn is that the Kingdom of God is so valuable, such a treasure, that the only proper response to finding the Kingdom is to abandon one’s old life and give up everything in pursuit of it. This extreme devotion and sacrifice is seen as “over the top” in our American, pacified Christianity.

Yet, these men in these parables didn’t think it was extreme at all. The first man was getting more than he gave up by selling all he had and buying that field. That field contained treasure worth many times more than all he had. Instead of seeing it as extreme, we could see it simply as a wise investment.

To give up everything one has in order to get a hundred times what one has is not extreme; it’s wisdom. It would be foolish to do otherwise. It would be foolish and irresponsible to leave that treasure sitting in a field because he was too scared to sell all he had and purchase the field.

The second parable reiterates this same point. This was a merchant who understood business. He understood the pearl industry. He knew a valuable pearl when he saw one. When he saw the price tag on that valuable pearl, he knew it would require him to sell all that he had in order to buy it. But, being the savvy businessman that he was, he also knew the pearl was worth a hundred times what was on the price tag. This was not “extreme” or “radical” or “crazy.” This was a sound investment. This was the only sensible thing to do.

This is what the Kingdom of God is like! The only sensible thing to do once we encounter the Kingdom is to abandon everything in our old life and pay any price in order to be in it. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us to enter the Kingdom. And so when we give up everything to follow Him, there is nothing “radical” or “extreme” about it. It’s the only sensible thing to do.

When people leave behind their pride and reputation to be outspoken about Jesus, it’s not extreme. It’s the only sensible thing to do. When people cry out in worship for what God has saved them from, it’s not “over-the-top.” It’s the only sensible thing to do. When people give up everything for Jesus, (including sexual preferences, job promotions, their good reputation, addictions, the American dream, the ways of the world, physical security, etc ) they aren’t being radical. They are simply treating the Kingdom as the treasure that it really is.

The rest of us, who aren’t willing to give up what’s comfortable for the treasure right in front of us, we are the ones who are acting foolish. We, with our “respectable” Christianity, have made a poor investment, holding on to our childhood allowance because we’re afraid to lay hold of the riches of our true inheritance.

The next time someone seems too “crazy” or “radical” in their Christian faith, it might be good for us to remember how Jesus described the Kingdom in these parables.

Immeasurably More

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31-32

Those listening to Jesus would have understood how small a mustard seed is. But they also would have understood that a mustard seed grows into a plant no larger than a small shrub. To say that what is usually a small shrub would not only become the largest of garden plants but then would become a tree that birds can perch in was quite an imaginary leap.

Those listening to Jesus who knew their Old Testament prophets would have heard in this parable an allusion to something God said through His prophet Ezekiel. Yes, Jesus was obviously saying that the Kingdom starts small and becomes much bigger than expected. But He was saying even more than that.

Listen to how God speaks about the kingdom of Assyria through the prophet Ezekiel.

Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon,
    with beautiful branches overshadowing the forest;
it towered on high, its top above the thick foliage.
The waters nourished it, deep springs made it grow tall;
their streams flowed all around its base
and sent their channels to all the trees of the field.
So it towered higher than all the trees of the field;
its boughs increased and its branches grew long,
    spreading because of abundant waters.
All the birds of the sky nested in its boughs,
all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches;
all the great nations lived in its shade.
It was majestic in beauty, with its spreading boughs,
for its roots went down to abundant waters.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor could the junipers equal its boughs,
nor could the plane trees compare with its branches—
no tree in the garden of God could match its beauty.
I made it beautiful with abundant branches,
the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God.

Ezekiel 31:3-9

Jesus was saying that the Kingdom of God will start small but will become more powerful, more majestic, more beautiful than even the great kingdoms of the world (like Assyria).

The Kingdom of God will tower higher than all the kingdoms of the world. It will become like a great cedar of Lebanon. All the nations and peoples of the earth will rest under its shade. It will be majestic in its beauty. Nothing will rival it.

Zechariah 4:10 reminds us not to despise the day of small beginnings. Things in the Kingdom of God always start small. Yet, if we are faithful, the Kingdom will grow up around us in ways that are wildly unexpected. The Kingdom grows in ways that are beyond our imagination. This is how the apostle Paul put it when he wrote to the Ephesians:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

God Is Not Your Enemy

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

This is one of the most important parables in all of the Gospel accounts. This is Jesus explaining how the Kingdom of God in the world interacts with the kingdom of darkness. More people need to spend time meditating on the truths of this parable, especially people who struggle with idea of why there is evil in the world.

One day God will end history and bring an end to evil in the world. One day all wrongs will be made right. One day God will intervene in the most dramatic of ways. There will one day be a harvest and a judgment, and no one will escape this reality.

But until then, we have to understand that the wheat and the weeds will both grow. The Kingdom of God will grow but so will the kingdom of darkness. The spread of the gospel, the bringing of justice, the power of God on display in the world will continue to increase. Yet, so will the ways the enemy sows his seeds of evil. Evil will also continue to increase. According to this parable of Jesus, God will one day remove evil from all of creation, but if He does so too early it does damage. Peter explains this phenomenon this way:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:8-9

God is not being slow as He waits for the final harvest. God is being patient. He wants more and more people to enter the Kingdom of God. The moment God removes evil from the world, history transitions into eternity. And once that happens, the doors shut on the wedding feast of the Kingdom (Luke 14:24) just as the doors of Noah’s ark shut before the rains came (Matthew 24:36-39). God is keeping those doors open as long as possible.

As we see the pain and suffering in the world, our reaction to the evil we witness should be the same as the farmer’s reaction to the weeds, “the enemy did this.” As Jesus later explains the parable to His disciples, He makes clear, “the enemy who sows them is the devil“(Matthew 13:39). God gets blamed for so many awful things because people don’t understand the truth of this parable. Satan is actively sowing seeds of evil and darkness into people and into the world. We have a real enemy and it’s not God.

As followers of Jesus, we should be encouraged that the Kingdom of God is growing and advancing. The Church will continue to prevail around the world. As Jesus said to Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it“(Matthew 16:18).

And just as we are encouraged by this truth, we need to be vigilant about the reality that the enemy will continue to try to advance the kingdom of darkness everywhere he can. As Peter says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour“(1 Peter 5:8). We need to be alert and of sober mind, aware that we will run into growing weeds even as the wheat grows.

Not every situation in your life is from God.

Have you been blaming God for something He’s not responsible for?