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.
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.
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.”
I 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.”
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”
Particularly 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.
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.
Was it something I said or something I did
Did my words not come out right
The Road is long and often, we travel in the dark.