Gifts of the Spirit: Pursuing the Mystery

MysteryLest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Romans 11:25

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

Ephesians 3:1-3

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27

What is this “mystery” of which Paul speaks? In all three of my examples from scripture, it seems directly related to the Gentiles being brought into the Jewish movement of “the Way.”

(I have to say before going on that you’re probably going to think I’m a little crazy for writing this. I don’t have some big theological point to make and I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I just have this rattling around in my head and I need to put it out there. OK, that’s done. Continue reading).

I’ve been rather slow in my reading this past week for a variety of reasons, but I managed to squeeze in a chapter from John Sanford’s book Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John. In Chapter 3: Christian Disciples, the First Disciples – John 1:35-51, he says (pg 32):

The call to the disciples is a call to initiation into the mystery of Christ. The idea of initiation is all but lost in our present culture, but it was an important one in the time of the inception of Christianity, for in the Roman Empire at that time there flourished a burgeoning number of “mystery religions.” The Greek word translated in English as “mystery” did not mean to the ancient Greek-speaking person what it means to us. A mystery for us is a puzzle to be solved. A mysterion for the ancients was “a matter to the knowledge of which initiation is necessary.” There are some things that can be known only by experiencing them; all in-depth spiritual or psychological understanding falls into this category. For this reason the word mysterion (mystery) is very important in the New Testament.

That statement reminds me very much of the recent First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference which was held at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. The focus of the conference was Gifts of the Spirit and by definition, a spiritual encounter can only be perceived through a direct experience, and is certainly one that reveals something of God. Yet the receiving of the Holy Spirit by those who repent and turn toward God is something that can only be understood by the person receiving the Spirit (unlike in ancient days when outside observers could actually see “tongues of fire” descending upon those whom the Spirit encountered and rested upon).

It also reminded me of something that happened a week ago when I was having coffee with my friend Tom. I won’t tell you all of the details, but at one point, Tom was telling me how important it was to him to be able to communicate to others his unique personal message of encountering God. Tom closed his eyes and a change came over him. I can’t explain it except to say that it reminded me of this:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

I actually can’t find in the Bible where it says something like “and then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he spoke…” but that’s what it reminded me of. At the conference, some of the presenters were discussing the folks who stand up in church and say stuff like “And thus says the Lord” or “The Lord gave me a word of wisdom to speak…” and then they go on to say whatever it is that they think God told them to say.

But actually, the people who are really speaking “in the Spirit” don’t typically make a preamble statement, they just speak in the Spirit.

That’s what I think was going on with Tom.

OK, I can’t prove it and maybe he was just being very passionate at that moment. He certainly didn’t report anything unusual happening to him during our conversation. But that’s what it looked like. That’s what I experienced in listening to him. It was a mystery. It was an initiation of sorts into another perspective. As Sanford states in his book (pp 32-3), “this is, one who leads the initiate into a deeper revelation of himself and God.”

light-in-my-handsI don’t want to get too mysterious here and I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that I’m selling you some sort of spiritual bill of goods. I’m not claiming to have “gotten a word from the Lord” or anything like that. I’m just saying that there’s a point at which we encounter God that doesn’t translate well into human language. It isn’t easy to articulate. Nevertheless, it’s something I believe God shares with those He chooses as He wills.

These experiences are not random. They happen for a reason, though that reason isn’t always apparent.

The experiences that now came to the disciples in their association with Jesus were deeply meaningful and exciting. They had found the Master and they followed him happily, growing in consciousness and enthusiasm as they did so. But their full initiation was not complete. Before they could really truly know, deep within themselves, they would have to undergo two more crises even more painful than the first.

-Sanford, pg 36

For the Jewish disciples of the Master, they endured his death, rejoiced at his resurrection, watched him ascend into the Heavens, and then waited. But in Acts 2 we see that their wait had ended and something miraculous happened to them. They were initiated into the Spirit of God in order to fulfill the purpose of spreading the Gospel message to Israel, Samaria, and to the world beyond. The message of Spirit and salvation. The message of repenting and bringing near the Kingdom of Heaven.

Just looking at Peter when he denied the Master and then seeing him later, after Acts 2:2-4, we encounter a totally changed man.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 2:36-39

Do you feel changed? Have you been “initiated into the mystery of Christ?” For that matter, do I feel changed?

Those who give priority to their physical selves and make the soul subordinate cannot achieve sincere brotherhood.

-Tanya, chapter 32

Rabbi Schneur Zalman states that a thorough unity is achieved between friends when their neshamos (souls) are permitted to fuse. Since all neshamos are part of God Himself, and inasmuch as God is the Absolute One, all souls can similarly be one. Separation and divisiveness among humans do not derive from the soul, but from the physical self.

The needs and desires of the physical self – the quest to satisfy one’s earthly drives – are the causes of divisiveness. The neshamah does not seek pride nor wealth, is not offended, and does not seek to berate others. All these are traits of the physical self. To the degree that one recognizes the neshamah as one’s true essence and subordinates the physical self thereto, to that degree one can eliminate the divisive factors and achieve true unity and brotherhood.

We thus see why spirituality is of such overwhelming importance. Hillel said that the essence of the Torah is “love your neighbor as you would yourself.” To achieve such love, one must eliminate the impediments to sincere love of another, and as Rabbi Schneur Zalman stated, these impediments are the non-spiritual aspects of life. The greater the degree of spirituality one achieves, the more perfect can one’s love of another person be.

Today I shall…

…seek to establish the primacy of spirituality in my life.

-Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Sivan 17”

paul-on-the-road-to-damascusParticularly in Judaism but also in Christianity, we can become very focused on studying. There’s nothing wrong with studying, with learning the Word of God, and in fact, as responsible believers, we have a duty to familiarize ourselves with the Bible and, to the limits of our abilities, to delve into its depths.

But it is going to take more than the capacities we have within ourselves, our “wetware” and programming, so to speak. In truly learning to know God we must start with the Bible, but we must continue in the Spirit. This isn’t something we can turn on and off like a light switch, and I think it’s pretty much up to God to initiate such a contact, but we have to be open to it.

True, in Acts 9, Paul was nowhere near desiring such an encounter when the Messiah came upon him in a light and a voice. Messiah “happened to” Paul whether Paul wanted him to or not.

But in our material world with our material problems and our material worries, it’s far too easy for us to put aside the spiritual reality of our relationship with God. I imagine that even some other believers reading this blog post will think I’m some sort of “religious nut” for talking about the Spirit of God. And yet, what else can I do? A.W. Tozer says that “I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus.” All we can do is look up, to gaze at Him, and like the apostles, we wait.

Messiah will one day walk among us again in our world, but his journey of return begins in the clouds.

This is the actual time of the “footsteps of Mashiach.” (The final age prior to Mashiach’s advent.) It is therefore imperative for every Jew to seek his fellow’s welfare – whether old or young – to inspire the other to teshuva (return), so that he will not fall out – G-d forbid – of the community of Israel who will shortly be privileged, with G-d’s help, to experience complete redemption.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Sivan 18, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

As Rabbi Twerski might say, today I shall strive to be open to the mysterious movement of God’s Spirit in my life through love of Him and so that my love of my neighbor is more evident in the world.

Am I pursuing the mystery or is the mystery pursuing me?

This will be the last blog post where I’ll directly reference presentations from the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference. I’ve pretty much exhausted my notes, the ones I can still read, anyway. I may, from time to time, refer to the conference or some of the speakers or attendees again, but not in any depth. I hope you enjoyed what I shared from my experiences. I sincerely meant to present my own point of view about the conference and do not represent First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) in any way. At some point FFOZ will no doubt produce an audio CD of the presentations given at the conference. I encourage you to acquire a copy if my renditions of the events there has piqued your interest.

The road

Was it something I said or something I did
Did my words not come out right

-Lyrics by Bret Michaels
Every Rose Has Its Thorn (1988)
Recorded by Poison

The Road is long and often, we travel in the dark.

115 days.

7 thoughts on “Gifts of the Spirit: Pursuing the Mystery”

  1. I always wonder what Peter was going through before his denial of Yeshua. I think he was more afraid of saving his own hide than defending someone elses. The same with Paul. After watching Stephen being stoned to death and himself being a witness to that and all the thoughts and feelings running through his mind as he was on that rode to Damascus. I think it was all ‘about them’ and not about what was going on deep inside of their souls. I feel the Spirit is always there working on us and the more we allow Him to chip away at our souls and mind the more we’ll encounter him. Notice both of these individuals were alone when they finally felt that close encounter with the Spirit of God? It’s during the most quiet times in my life that I’ve almost like a whisper from the Spirt that fills my soul. Almost like the unexpected colors of a sunrise in the morning. You know the sun is going to rise, but one never expected the beauty of it until you see it. It almost feels like it radiates within us. That is what it feels like to me. His Spirit warms my soul. .

  2. Actually, I think Peter and Paul were both men who were doing the best they could under the circumstances. Peter really thought he had it all together, but when Jesus was arrested, like most other people, he became frightened. Paul felt that he was doing God’s work and being zealous for the Torah by persecuting “the Way,” which he authentically saw as a threat to the other “Judaisms” of his day.

    But their perspectives were completely human. The Spirit of God would enable them to do more.

    Notice both of these individuals were alone when they finally felt that close encounter with the Spirit of God?

    If you mean Peter and Paul, actually Peter was with the other apostles (Acts 2) when they all encountered the Spirit. As for Paul (Acts 9), he was with traveling companions on the road when he had his vision, although his companions only saw a light and couldn’t understand that the noise they heard was a voice.

    I agree that it is in those quiet times when we often encounter God, but that’s not to say it always has to be that way. Last week, my friend Tom and I were in a coffee shop and I believe the Spirit was tangibly present as well.

  3. Thanks for bringing this subject up, James… I’m fascinated by this subject of “mystery” as it is used by Paul … I’ll go out on an “exploratory limb” here and just say what I’m thinking… not dogmatically, just a moving of thought… There is a kind of spirituality, that I can’t fully explain, which seems to move about the more “charismatic” elements of Christianity, laying claim, indirectly, at least, to having some sort of access to a mystical “initiation” of some sort. When reading about the Pentecostal movement and E.W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, et al, for instance (and I am by no means an expert on the subject), there are, as I understand it, claims of “divine visitation” by Jesus leading to teachings that have became known as the “prosperity doctrine,” etc., that seem to be at odds at numerous levels with the biblical content and context of the gospel. I think of this as a kind of “gnostic expression of Christianity” as it claims to have some sort of “secret initiation” into previously unknown “mysteries” that only “the initiated” can manipulate or distribute. This seems not altogether different than when I was growing up Roman Catholic in the 1960’s wherein the priesthood was “initiated” into the mysteries of “the Holy Catholic Church” and we were taught as children that we must get absolution of sins from the sacrament of Penance rendered by a priest, etc., receive the Body and Blood of Christ only after the “Consecration” of the elements by the priest, etc. … except the priests were not on television requesting money…

    On the other hand, I relate to your story of Tom as a kind of “normal” experience of communication… wherein the “initiation” has taken place at the time of one’s coming to know Messiah’s redemption and gladly receiving it. I have seen and experienced this existence of a kind of, to put it crudely, “download” occurring. It is “real” without being “ostentatious” … a whisper rather than a shout… a wonderful communication that is intimate, sometimes to be shared, sometimes not; over coffee or during prayer, in a chapel or a forest or a busy street… a kind of soft “shepherd’s crook” that gently “moves” one’s thought in the desired direction… often to a new level of knowledge and awareness of our Father’s existence, always consistent with His teaching through the Son… something that words do not tend to do justice to, hence, my ceasing to try… Thanks for exploring the issue, however… it is a wonder that is, like air, a critical element of inner life for the believer… not to be exploited or boasted of, etc., but to be grateful for as one is grateful for having air to breathe.

  4. “divine visitation” by Jesus leading to teachings that have became known as the “prosperity doctrine,” etc.,

    Yuk. That’s exactly what I’m not talking about. Yet I do believe that God doesn’t leave us here as “orphans” once we become believers, and that there are those rare times in our lives when we do have a direct experience of the Spirit that is difficult or impossible to articulate. A whisper and not a shout.

    1. Interesting article by Eric Metaxas in Christianity Today: “Is it possible for one’s life to change literally overnight? In 1988 I had a dream in which God spoke to me in what I have come to call “the secret vocabulary of my heart.” The next morning, all was new and newness. Perhaps even newness-ness…. It was as though a window had been opened onto another realm and I’d felt the faintest touch of some heavenly breeze. When it was over, I opened my eyes. What was that?”
      And it concludes in a dream he had… Whereby God makes Himself known to Eric Metaxas.

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