God is far greater than our natural mind’s understanding. In Christ there is always more than we can ever ask or think. His ways are higher than ours; His understanding is far beyond our limited comprehension. Although we try so often to figure God out, He simply will not be put in a box.
God hates boxes; He always breaks out of them. They tried to put Jesus in a box once. He broke out. It’s called The Resurrection.
God is more than we can figure out and this essential Nature therefore challenges all of our mental, emotional, theological and religious boxes. He changes us from box-making to box-breaking. True apostolic ministry reflects His Nature. It does not focus on form or programs, but reveals a five-fold pattern to help believers recognize, confront and break out of these boxes, affirmed in their new Identity in Christ, equipped in His Word + Spirit, and released into their true Destiny!
Scripture provides our model:
‘And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ (Eph 4:11-12)
God gives gifts to equip and release the saints to do the work of ministry and increase the body’s effectiveness. To this end, there is a need for the Lord to raise up more than Bible schools and seminaries in our day. Our Western church has unfortunately focused lopsidedly on the intellectual side of faith and therefore teeters on irrevelance. By teaching academic and theological decision-making rather than modelling apostolic and prophetic disciple-making, we overlook His call to personally walk with God and vitally impact our communities. Just as Jesus trained His 12 disciples and the Early Church mentored its next generations, so our vision must be to raise up a responsive, radical generation in our day, filled with His Word + Spirit, confident in who they are 'in Christ' and passionate to fulfill His purpose.
There is so much more in Christ’s Person + Purpose than we have grasped. Purpose is good, but it doesn’t drive the Church. When I read the Scripture: it was the Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness, not just purpose. We have to get our priorities clear: Christ must be in the driver’s seat, not our vision, desire or any other nice-sounding religious substitute. He has given us the tools and now we need to learn how to use them. We need the Word + Spirit together in our lives to break through into new and greater realms of knowing Him and obeying His will. Together, the Word + Spirit lead us into a greater reality and awareness of His Presence and Power, the fullness of His life.
God has called us to this cutting-edge lifestyle with Him which will also challenge and equip the next generation of disciples.
I see Training Centres rising up: not degree-granting institutions. Christians: true disciples and apostles, don’t get their identity from special letters in front of or behind their names: they receive it by the Father's name written in their hearts and on their foreheads.
I see Equipping Bases helping disciples answer the call of God on their lives, discovering who they really are in Christ, and then releasing apostles to His harvest fields.
But those who would be sent first need to be discipled. You may jump into an envelope, but you can't lick it. Apostles are simply 'sent ones'; they cannot send themselves. Someone else needs to lick your envelope to send you. It’s not enough for you to just want to run; you must have the message burning in your heart before you race into the fields. Otherwise, you will be like young Ahimaaz who wanted to run to King David with news of the battle, but didn’t have the message. When he arrived, he had to step aside in favour of another who did. The Lord wants all of us to be ready to carry His full gospel so we will not be disqualified in the day He would use us. (2Sam 18:19-32)
Young race horses need to be trained.
To carry this gospel, we need both the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of His Word. The Pharisees prided themselves on knowing God's Word, but Jesus reproved them for twisting their knowledge of God into vain traditions and producing dead religion. All their study and formulae for righteousness only brought them to where they did not recognize the Word Himself when He appeared before them in the flesh. Jesus admonished them, ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.’ (John 5:39)
They declared and believed in the concept and doctrine of a Messiah, but when Jesus The True Messiah actually came, they said,
‘You’re not Him! Your ministry does not line up with our understanding of who Messiah should be. The real Messiah will come to set Israel free from Roman political domination. He would not break the law by healing on the Sabbath like you do; and He definitely would never call God His Father!'
Jesus offended them (John 5:18).
He did not fit the Pharisee box, so they rejected Him.
‘He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.’ (John 1:11-12)
When Jesus’ disciples left all to follow and serve Him, He began their training by revealing His identity. They needed to clearly know who He was in order to know who they were. Effective leaders know who they follow.
Matthew 16:13-27 recounts how Jesus brought His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, the Jordan River's source, to reveal and release this truth in their hearts and minds.
He asked them, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?'
And they responded by giving others’ opinions: 'John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'
Then He challenged them even more directly: 'But who do you say that I am?'
Simon Peter spoke out: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!'
Jesus commended this confession of faith as the very foundation and life of His church. It is absolutely clear: membership in the body of Christ comes through first identifying and confessing Christ, not reciting some doctrinal creed. Regarding salvation, the old saying is true: 'It’s not what you know, but who you know that counts!' Just like a river, salvation flows from the source. The gift of Salvation opens only by clearly recognizing and acknowledging The Saviour – Jesus! A Christian's personal identity is inextricably linked to who Jesus is in us and who we are in Christ.
Having clarified His identity, Jesus then proceeded to further reveal His destiny and purpose: He was going to Jerusalem to suffer, die and be raised to life again on the third day. However, this second revelation proved more difficult for the disciples to grasp. Peter once again spoke out, but this time he sternly rebuked the very One he had just moments before confessed to be God! The Greek here actually conveys the sense that he physically grabbed and forcefully shook Jesus!
'Far be it from You, Lord,' Peter declared, 'this shall not happen to You.' (Matt 16:22)
Peter and the other disciples could not understand how Jesus’ death could possibly be God’s plan. Jesus directly confronted this confused mind-set. He not only rebuked Peter, but the spirit at the heart of this opposition – Satan, the opponent and adversary of every one of God’s purposes.
Scripture clearly describes Jesus’ ministry mandate: 'For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.' (1John 3:8)
The disciples could not fathom Christ’s kingdom and how it was to be established and administered. Their worldview and kingdom mind-set were very much akin to that of the Pharisees: an earthly government with earthly means and methods. Having just confessed Jesus as Messiah, their understanding was that they would now triumphantly turn toward Jerusalem with Him to receive this kingdom, not to die.
Jesus and His Way were challenging their boxes again and this made them uncomfortable.
But God is always bigger than our box and a large part of fulfilling our purpose (ie. plundering the devil's goods) comes only through our hearts and minds being freed from reasonable unbelief and rebellion, so that we follow Christ wherever He leads, regardless of our earthly expectation. This applies especially when He leads us to 'our Jerusalems' to die.
Jesus dealt similarly with this identity/destiny issue when John the Baptist sent two of his disciples from prison asking, ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?' Jesus first answered John’s disciples by pointing out all the miraculous works He was doing, signs confirming that indeed that Coming One had Come. John had also come to a place where his expectation of who Jesus was and what he understood concerning His identity did not coincide. There were gaps in his understanding. Had he missed something? Christ answered John’s questions concerning His identity, but then revealed even more about John's.
'Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!' (Matt 11:7-15)
Jesus not only informed His listeners about His true identity, but also John's; and then gave even further revelation about what actually constitutes the kingdom of God!
Jesus identified John the Baptist as ‘a prophet… and more than a prophet.’(v9)
John had a greater ministry than we understand; probably even greater than John himself understood at times, as evidenced by his apparent doubts about Jesus at this point. Jesus said that none ‘born of woman’ came close to being as great as John: who he was or what he did. In other words, no ordinary, natural-born person compared with him. No one born until that time, including such Old Testament heroes as Moses, David, or Elijah, was greater. John was the greatest!
Did Jesus mean that John did greater miracles? ...but not one single miracle is recorded in John’s ministry!
Did John preach better sermons? ...his words definitely hit their intended target, but what truly singled him out as the greatest and even more than a prophet?
Prophets under the Old Covenant were raised up and commissioned by God to call Israel back to His holy standard of righteousness that had been revealed at Sinai. Israel’s entire history from Sinai to their Babylonian Captivity had been a continuous cycle of rebellion, repentance and short-lived restorations. God hated this idolatry and even told Jeremiah to stop praying for them at one point! 70 years in Babylon cleansed them from their idol-worshiping once for all and after they returned to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah, idolatry never again raised its ugly head.
God broke their idolatry box.
However, the scribes and Pharisees then led Israel astray by their religious traditions, legalistic interpretations and additions to the law. Essentially, they created a god out of their own concept of the law! They missed the law’s true purpose. They couldn’t comprehend that it was never meant to save anyone, but rather intended to convict of sin, drive them to their knees and bring them to Christ.
'The law was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made;
... confined all under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
The law was our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.' (Gal 3:19-24)
When John the Baptist came out of the Judean wilderness preaching, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,' (Matt 3:2) he was therefore calling Israel back into covenant relationship with their God. He confronted sin in whatever shape and form it was present, especially when it wore religious, Pharisaical garments.
John knew his call and God’s purpose for his life. At his birth, his father Zechariah had prophesied, 'he will be great in the sight of the Lord… filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb… and turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord.' (Luke 1:15-16)
Even more essentially, John knew his own identity. When priests and Levites came from Jerusalem asking, “Who are you?” he denied he was Christ, Elijah or ‘the Prophet,’ but simply quoted Isaiah 40:3:
'I am the voice on one crying in the wilderness,
Make straight the way of the Lord.' (John 1:23)
John knew both who he was and who he wasn’t.
John was the watershed marker for the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New.
He was not ‘the Prophet’ foretold by Moses (John 1:21), but John pointed to Him.
Even more, Jesus revealed that, if they could receive it, John was the Elijah prophesied to come in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5. Therefore, for those who are willing, this Scripture has indeed been fulfilled (Matt 11:14). There was definitely more to John than he himself, or Jesus’ disciples understood then, or than most believers even today understand.
John’s ministry exceeded that of any Old Covenant prophet before him. He had called Israel to return to God’s standard of righteousness and virtually the entire nation responded! Yet he saw even further. He witnessed the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descend as a dove and heard the Father’s voice mark Jesus as His Beloved Son.
John called Israel to behold Jesus Christ their Messiah and receive the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
Only the Lamb could forgive Israel’s sin once for all.
Only the Lamb could break the cycle of religious idolatry, fulfill the Old Covenant and bring in the New!
John knew who he was and so he was able to recognize Christ and proclaim what God was doing through Him. What a privilege!
No other Old Testament prophet had been given such honour to fully reveal the identity of Israel’s promised Messiah.
However, after stating the true greatness of John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus reveals an even greater truth to believers: our identity today ‘in Christ’ and His subsequent call on our lives surpasses even what John the Baptist knew!
Oh, it just keeps on getting better and better!
‘But he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.' (Matt 11:11-12)
Once the Cross came into effect, our sins were forgiven and washed away by Christ’s Blood. The Holy Spirit’s presence and power was poured out at Pentecost to confirm we are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, no longer slaves or orphans. What were once merely vague, mysterious shadows is now clear revelation light.
And God is on the offensive through us! Jesus is building His Church: a passionate, zealous army that will march against the gates of hell. Those called, filled and released in the power of the Spirit dispossess the enemy, take the kingdom and possess the land. Hell’s prison gates will not prevail.
'The whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.' (Habakkuk 2:14)
John had not been able to fully comprehend this prophecy, nor did he live to see it fulfilled. However, even the least in the kingdom of heaven now has this privilege: to know Him and walk in His Spirit. A dwarf on a mountain sees further than a giant in the valley. Jesus has enthroned us with Him on Mount Zion, given us His view of the whole earth and called us to fill it with His glory. In Christ, we truly are greater than John or anything he ever imagined!
Unfortunately, many believers do not clearly grasp their identity in Christ Jesus and consequently are not released into their destiny.
We often continue to perceive God’s call and provision through Old Covenant glasses and fall short of our fullness in Christ. We fail to take hold of all that has now come into effect through Christ’s Death, Resurrection and Ascension to the throne of the universe. Too often we do not enter the full, abundant life Christ has purchased for us, but continue to live far below what is already ours, passively accepting the lies, half-truths and condemnations of the enemy and false teachers. We remain ignorant of both who we are in Christ and what His call and plan is for us!
In God’s timetable, 'The law and the prophets were until John.' (Luke 16:16) The law fulfills its purpose when it leads us to the end of ourselves where we see our total incapacity and admit we need a Saviour. We cannot save ourselves; we need Christ. The Old Testament law then becomes obsolete, and must give way to the ‘law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.’ (Rom 8:2)
We are called and empowered to ‘walk in the Spirit’ (Gal 5:16); the counterfeit religious crutches of either legalism or license are not options for believers. We do not overcome lusts of the flesh by substituting a new system of religious principles and formulae for the true, simple gospel. Having begun in the Spirit, God calls us to continue in faith, releasing the life of Christ in us! However, we are often like ‘foolish Galatians,’ who lack understanding and revert to dead forms of religious behaviour. Since Jesus announced, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand!' (Mark 1:15) the Holy Spirit has been empowering believers to believe the whole gospel, break the box, step out of the boat and walk on the waters of life, trusting God to move in and through them!
Apollos was such a man in such a boat. He was highly educated, fervent in spirit, gifted to speak powerfully, but living beneath Christ’s standard –below the spiritual poverty line. He knew only the baptism of John and therefore he needed Aquila and Priscilla to take him aside and 'explain the way of God more accurately.' (Acts 18:24-28)
Apollos had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. So he humbled himself and received scriptural instruction from the Holy Spirit through others. He went through God’s Bible school. After receiving ministry of a fuller revelation of the kingdom of God, he was able to refute even those Jews who resisted the gospel, 'showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ-Messiah, the very One the prophets had foretold, the goal of all Old Covenant prophecy.
Apostolic ministry goes beyond John’s revelation of 'baptism of repentance for remission of sins’ (Luke 3:3). John himself prophesied that the Messiah would bring a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16). The saying,‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven’ might make a catchy bumper sticker, but it is bad theology. This statement is only a first part of a whole truth and by itself incomplete. There is more than a ticket to heaven in Jesus! Sins are forgiven and reckoned buried through baptism in Christ, but the power of the Holy Spirit also releases Christ’s very life in and through us. Christ Himself lives through us! And His divine fire burns through us to pull down opposing gates of hell and set even more captives free!
Paul later met another group of 12 disciples in Ephesus who knew only the baptism of John and had not ‘so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 19:1-10) He preached the whole gospel to them. They believed, received and were not only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but, when Paul laid his hands on them, they all spoke in tongues and prophesied.
What did they prophesy? Rev 17:19 says 'the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.' I believe they prophesied about Jesus, the New Covenant He fulfilled, and the kingdom of God that He established as a present reality, not just a future promise. They became witnesses to the Holy Spirit’s outpouring in and through them. I am sure they no longer questioned whether the Holy Spirit existed. He had filled them and they overflowed with His power!
Paul was greatly encouraged and returned to the synagogue in Ephesus where he
‘spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.’ (Acts 19:8)
But when some of the Jews, unable to make the transition from the Old Covenant to the New, did not believe but hardened their hearts, Paul moved his Training Centre into Tyrannus’ house. This became the base for an equipping and releasing ministry that spread the gospel throughout the entire Roman province of Asia in the next two years!
Our prayer is that God will raise up such Training Centres throughout our land: equipping and sending bases, truly apostolic centres to the nations, not just forms with the fashionable 'apostolic' buzzword attached. As with Jesus and His 12, our heart’s desire is to affirm disciples in their identity and release them to their destiny in Christ. Because we need the full function of the five-fold ministry to bring the church to maturity, we must raise up and release the equipping ministries of the apostle, evangelist, pastor, prophet and teacher:
Evangelists like Philip who will be so led by the Spirit they will leave their multitudes to minister to whomever God directs.
Prophets like Stephen who will preach the good news with a full anointing even if it cuts their hearers to the heart and costs them their lives.
Teachers like Aquila and Priscilla who will ‘explain the way of God more accurately’.
Pastors who will have a heart to shepherd God's flock and not flee like hirelings.
Apostles who will not just call themselves so, but will, like Paul, disciple both individuals and entire churches to know and follow the Lord's leading.
Like Apollos and the Ephesus 12, we need to welcome and embrace each one and take to heart all that Jesus is and has for His Church.
Let us yield to the Holy Spirit as He brings more of His New Covenant truth to light and be ‘established in the present truth.’ (2Pet 1:12)
Church history teaches that many who have been part of previous waves of revival unfortunately resist God’s next waves and do not move with Him from glory to glory. We can only move into the next glory when we have left the last one behind. God has worked in the past and undoubtedly will move again. We must be led by His Presence, rather than comfort-seeking, people-pleasing pressures.
Christ has given us His Word + Spirit, truth + grace, faith + love, as well as charisma + character in right balance. He calls us to mount up with these wings like eagles – the wings of His Word + Spirit. They always agree with and witness to one another. The Holy Spirit gives life to the Word’s truth and the Word gives substance to the Spirit’s power.
Flying on only one wing is not an option! We need both wings in balance. Only when we fly with both wings will we begin to see God's kingdom come more fully here... on earth as it is in heaven.
He is so much more than we can fully comprehend and just when we might think we have Him figured out, He breaks out of 'the box' again, moves on ahead and looks for us to follow. His sheep know His voice and follow The Lamb wherever He leads.
The Father freely reveals our identity to release us into our destiny in Christ.
Are you ready to step out of your boat and walk on the waters?
Will you stick with your 'box' (come on, admit it: your old ways are leaking and ready to sink!) or break out and live the Jesus adventure?