UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

11 You Must Be Born Again

Today's sermon explores the implications of the message, "You must be born again." In particular, we will try to describe some of the evidence that you have been born again, and, also, some of the outwardly discernible effects of being born again.

First the scripture:

John 3:1-8
 1There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
 2The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
 3Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
 4Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
 7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
 8The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.


It will not be surprising for you to hear that there is disagreement about the interpretation of this scripture, especially the part about water and Spirit; the disagreement concerns the precise meaning of the word "water". You will hear them expounded in full as we read on, but, for now, here is a summary of the two main interpretations:

1. If we say we are born of water-and-spirit--both at once, together--then we are referring to "water" as the primary magical ingredient in the act of baptism, the ritual cleansing, the washing away of earthly residue, i.e. sin.

2. If we are FIRST born of water, THEN of spirit, a two-step process, then the word "water" refers to the earthly birth, the birth out of the water of the mother's womb.

The water birth, referred to in this second interpretation, is the birth into Earthly life, into the flesh dominated by the inherited original sin. If we adopt this interpretation, we must conclude that Jesus is saying this: to enter the Kingdom of God we must first be born of the flesh, THEN of the spirit.

One argument, that supports the idea of a two-step process, is Jesus' own words just a few lines down, when He says, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Here, He is clearly enunciating the concept of a two-stage career on Earth, beginning with incarnation and ending in transfiguration. However you slice it, the significance and the problem of incarnation, vis a vis the Kingdom of God, is a knotty one, loaded with all kinds of implications about the immortality of the soul.

And what about this Kingdom of God we are entering? It is - - - what? A consciousness state that accepts souls who have first experienced the tempering fires of Earthly passion and sin, but who have come through the fire, and attained Heavenly grace on the other side? Is it really, as it is so often represented, a final reward, or is it simply a natural consequence of the victory over the flesh represented by a birth into spirit, and therefore just one more step in an infinite number of steps THROUGH Heaven and beyond? Either way, was there a soul, a consciousness BEFORE birth, that needed tempering, that was capable of tempering? If we are indeed immortal souls, we exist outside time, just like God. There is no other conclusion to come to than that we were made by God; but how can we say, "At this one particular moment in time we were made," when we were made in a dimension outside time? And if we are immortal, how is it that we are not immutable, fixed in eternity like God? What is the real purpose of this Earthly sojourn?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. But I know God knows. Maybe one day I will know, too.

Goethe said, "To be a traveller in this world you must know how to die and come back to life again."

Before we go on, I want to spend some time with the very end of the scripture:

"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."

Spirit and wind are often associated with each other, in at least a metaphorical way. Many times, while attempting to impress upon my violin students the necessity of muscle relaxation, I have likened musical energy to the wind in a flag: when you watch a flag being blown by the wind, you can see the shape of the wind, you can see the effect of the wind, because the material of the flag is supple and responsive, not rigid and inflexible; but you cannot see the wind itself. If your body is relaxed and, thus, able to respond to the subtle pressure of wind--of spirit on flesh--the music will ever-so-gently impress its divine message on you. However, if your body is stiff, you don't have a flag, you have a weathervane--a weathervane that can reveal the general direction of the wind, but not its richly subtle, intelligence-packed undulations.

Thus, the indiscernible wind is capable of lifting the willing Spirit into ever higher levels of consciousness; and thus, the born-again devotee is endowed with heightened sensitivities to spiritual reality, as the invisible becomes visible. Furthermore, by sensing the higher reality in itself, the born-again soul, like a light bulb that has become brilliantly illuminated from within, cannot help radiating some of this heightened consciousness back into the world. It is one more of God's many blessed miracles that, by the mere fact of existing in both worlds at once, the lower and the higher, the new-born soul becomes a conduit between Heaven and Earth, and transduces spiritual power into the physical dimension. The born-again experience not only blesses the born-again soul, but it blesses the world as well.

One of the many ways the world is blessed, by the elevation of the soul's attention to the realm of spirit, is simply the moral effect it has on the devotee. The born-again Christian is blessed with a plethora of heightened sensitivities, INCLUDING sensitivity to right action. The born-again soul cannot help projecting enlightened attitudes into its daily life, translating carnal instincts into spiritual affirmations. Among other things, these spiritual affirmations inform the devotee that spiritual acts include the action of thought on both matter AND spirit. The following Steiner quote dwells on this effect; of particular interest is the idea that thoughts are just as potent ACTS as physical acts:

Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment:

"For every one step you take in pursuit of higher knowledge, take three steps in the perfection of your own character."

"A further point of importance is what spiritual science calls orientation in the higher worlds. This is attained when the student is permeated, through and through, with the conscious realization that feelings and thoughts are just as much veritable realities as are tables and chairs in the world of the physical senses. In the soul and thought world, feelings and thoughts react upon each other just as do physical objects in the physical world. as long as the student is not vividly permeated with this consciousness, he will not believe that a wrong thought in his mind may have as devastating an effect upon other thoughts that spread life in the thought world as the effect wrought by a bullet fired at random upon the physical objects it hits.

He will perhaps never allow himself to perform a physically visible action which he considers to be wrong, though he will not shrink from harboring wrong thoughts and feelings, for these appear harmless to the rest of the world. There can be no progress, however, in the path to higher knowledge unless we guard our thoughts and feelings in just the same way we guard our steps in the physical world. If we see a wall before us, we do not attempt to dash right through it, but turn aside. In other words, we guide ourselves by the laws of the physical world. There are such laws, too, for the soul and thought world, only they cannot impose themselves on us from without. They must flow out of the life of the soul itself."

Thus, the born-again soul, when it achieves its heightened consciousness state, not only discovers that it now has access to a vast array of spiritual pleasures and freedoms, but, at the same exact moment, it has become encumbered with a bundle of moral imperatives, the significance of which may not be ignored or even underemphasized. The law of Moses has lost its power to govern, but the law of Spirit rules with absolute sovereignty. I suggest, here, that the sovereignty of spirit is a function of a natural process of step-by-step integration of the articulate Human self into the inarticulate Divine Self; that we all go, in stages, back to God.

The role of REASON in the process of rebirth is tricky to describe. On the one hand, spiritual reality is beyond reason, beyond the Word's power to express; and yet the Word does undergo a transformation into a level of higher resonance, just like everything else in the spirit world. Reason comes from the abstract consciousness state, and must therefore contain the seeds of Divine Truth, if not the full flowering of It.

The following excerpt from The Screwtape Letters speaks of reason as a component of the higher spiritual reality. C.S.Lewis was adamant about the idea that Christianity MAKES SENSE. He was determined that all spiritual truth could be encapsulated in arguments that can, at least partially, satisfy man's need for expressions of a priori truths--concepts that are self-contained, self-evident, and rationally stable. Here, we hear Screwtape expounding on the idea of reason, and on Satan's war against it:

"The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy's own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting, He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason: and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it "real life" and don't let him ask what he means by 'real.'"



The following is a ridiculous article which I offer merely so I can ridicule it; it is a prime example of the evils of proselytizing and evangelism. The dogma wars that rage among so many Christians is indeed a Holy War, but is also as stupid as spit. It is an example of the use of spiritual language (jargon) in the service of the ego. Evangelism is really nothing more than dogmatic rhetoric run amuck. One of the things I appreciate about this place is that everybody is entitled to his own opinion. The problem is always that the idea of ONE GOD seems to imply the idea of ONE THEOLOGY--this is, of course, a cultural impossibility.


Was Martin Luther A Born-Again Christian?
By Rick Ritchie

"
Martin Luther was a Protestant. He was the father of Protestantism. Martin Luther was an evangelical. He defended the authority of Scripture and restored the Gospel to its central position in the church. Martin Luther was a Protestant, and an evangelical; but was he a born-again Christian?

Absolutely Yes! Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born-again to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). Clearly, in order to be a Christian, one must be born again in the way Jesus intended. If Martin Luther was a Christian--and he certainly was--then he must have been a born again Christian.

Absolutely No! In twentieth century America, there are many zealous Christians whose experience of the faith bears little resemblance to that of Luther. We may think that if we just strip away the cultural accretions that have attached themselves to today's born again Christianity, we might discover the type of faith that Luther advocated, but that is mistaken. When all the cultural layers are peeled back, what is revealed is, at best, the faith that Luther left behind in the monastery when he discovered the gospel. If Martin Luther was a born again Christian in the biblical sense, he was not a born again Christian in the modern sense.

Born-Againism Versus the Gospel:

The thought of pitting born again Christianity against the gospel is bound to strike some as bizarre. If it is not the born again Christians who know the gospel, who does? How many times have we heard of staunch church-goers who were converted at a Billy Graham crusade after years of spiritual deadness in their mainline churches? Are we to discount all of these stories? If not, what does it mean to say that born again Christianity is in conflict with the gospel?

It is not its emphasis on evangelistic outreach that the born again movement is to be faulted for. Its evangelistic crusades and campus ministries are probably responsible for more unchurched Americans hearing the gospel than all other means combined. The born again movement is to be commended for preaching the cross to those who have not heard, wherever it has done this faithfully. The real problem is that this movement preaches not only two births, but two gospels, and is not even aware of it.

One gospel tells us of our estrangement from God and how, while we were dead in sin and hostile to God, God reconciled us to himself on the cross.

The other gospel tells us how we can be saved by making a decision for Christ and asking him into our hearts.

Most of us were taught to think that these teachings were two parts of the same message. When we study the life of Martin Luther, we find that the Reformation occurred when Luther abandoned the second message for the first."

This little piece is richly stuffed with jargon and implied prejudices which sort of bob around its peripheries like peeping toms. The question of whether Matin Luther is born again, THE WAY JESUS INTENDED, is such a ridiculous quibble, its triviality forbids further comment. It DOES, however, in its suggestion that there are TWO GOSPELS, point to the literal disagreement I mentioned at the outset of this sermon. The implication here is that the act of taking Jesus into our hearts is somehow in conflict with the state of Grace that came into being when Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross. I really don't get it. Maybe I'm just dense and am missing something, but I tend to think that Rick Ritchie is stuck in a quagmire of contradictory verbal structures, like so many people who use the Gospel in service of the ego, and that he would do well to step back and try to let the Spiritual Word inform the literal word.

Here is Martin Luther's comment on the meaning of baptism. Of particular interest is how he affirms the same idea that I have been expressing, about the relationship of the Divine Word to the Human word; he insists that faith is the mechanism by which the human mind may apprehend the oral proclamations of spirit:

The Small Catechism of Doctor Martin Luther
The Fourth Chief Part: Baptism

The Meaning of Baptism
What does such baptizing with water mean?

"Such baptizing with water means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Where is this written? St. Paul writes, in Romans 6:4:
“We are buried with Christ by baptism into death, that just as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

People are so foolish as to separate faith from the object to which faith is attached and bound on the ground that the object is something external. Yes, it must be external so that it can be perceived and grasped by the senses and thus brought into the heart, just as the entire Gospel is an external, oral proclamation. In short, whatever God effects in us He does through such external ordinances. No matter where He speaks – indeed, no matter for what purpose or by what means He speaks – there faith must look and to it faith must hold. We have here the words, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” To what do they refer but to baptism, that is, the water comprehended in God’s ordinance? Hence it follows that whoever rejects baptism rejects God's Word, faith, and Christ, who directs us and binds us to baptism."

This is by Pastor Harry A. Ironside:What Does It Mean To Be Born Again?
[Dr. Harry Ironside was one of the most famous preachers/pastors of his era (early 1900’s); he greatly struggled with the ‘holiness’ doctrine (even to the point of being in deep Depression), but eventually came to the scriptural conclusion that even though he was indeed saved, he would still sin.  Here is a brief article on being ‘born again’ by Dr. Ironside]

"This term first appears in the Bible in John chapter three.

To understand this Biblical term, it is necessary to understand that there are TWO BIRTHS. The "first" birth is the PHYSICAL BIRTH when you were born into this world from your mother and father. When the Bible speaks of being "born of water," it is speaking about the physical birth (NOT baptism). The "second" birth is a SPIRITUAL BIRTH, which means to be born of the "Spirit" (God's Holy Spirit). Why does a person need to be born spiritually? What is a "spiritual" birth?

The Bible teaches that man is created in the image of God. God manifests Himself to mankind in the Persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Likewise, mankind is composed of a body, soul, and spirit. Our body is the "tent" you could say of the soul and spirit (the body is a temporary dwelling place). Our soul is composed of the heart (to feel), the mind (to think), and the will (to decide)."

[Sidebar: I have never before read more concise summary of the functions of heart, mind, and will.]

"Our spirit is dead in sin when we are born; that is, we are born void of God. No person is ever born with God. The only exception is the Lord Jesus Christ Who came as God in the flesh (1st Timothy 3:16). Our spirit is dead in trespasses and sin the Bible says...

"And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1,2)."

[Sidebar: This last bit about the "children of disobedience" recalls to mind the statements we made earlier about the moral imperatives that come with being born again. We see here that the state of the flesh is one of sin, the "course of this world" is an evil course, one permeated and infected by the self-centered Earthly orientation.]

Ironside goes on:

The unsaved person cannot understand God, nor His Word.
 
1st Corinthians 2:14):

"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned"."

[Sidebar: Here the "natural man" is an object of denigration.]

"The reason why you need to be "spiritually" born is because you have never been spiritually born to begin with. So when the Bible speaks of being “born again,” it actually means “born for the second time.” You were born physically into this world, but you were born without the Spirit of God in your soul (spiritually dead). Yes, God created you, but He gave you a freewill to decide for yourself where you will spend eternity.

God never forces anyone to accept Jesus as their Savior. He simply offers a warm invitation to anyone who wants to have their sins forgiven and go to Heaven. Salvation is a free gift (Romans 5:15), paid for by the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1st Peter 1:18,19). We must accept God's gift of eternal life or it WILL be forever forfeited when we leave this world (die).

God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:17, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Notice, God said they would die “the day that thou eatest thereof.” Interestingly, Adam and Eve DIDN'T die physically the day they ate the fruit and disobeyed God's command.

The reason is because they died SPIRITUALLY. Sin had entered the human race. The Bible teaches that from Adam until present time, mankind has been born spiritually dead, inherited down from Adam's sin. This is why humanity MUST be born-again. This is only possible through the Holy Spirit of God, which makes us alive again (quickeneth the Bible says) by faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Eph 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

To be “spiritually” born means that God's Holy Spirit “quickens” (or makes alive) our dead spirit. When a sinner believes on the Lord Jesus as the Christ, trusting Him alone to forgive all sins—then God the Father and God the Son come into one's heart in the form of God the Holy Spirit (John 14:23). The “Holy Spirit” is “God within us.”
I have God living in my body in the form of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 tells us that the Spirit of Christ dwells within every believer. I am not God, but I have God's Spirit living in my body. The Godhead indwells every believer. The Holy Spirit of God guides me, comforts me, teaches me, rebukes me, chastises me, convicts me, encourages me, empowers me, loves me, strengthens me, and so much more. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to do these things. This is why it is critically important for every believer to live in their Bible (and make sure you have a reliable Bible—I only use the King James).

A person cannot understand the Bible without the presence of the Author, and God is the Author. When you become born-again (or born for the second time), God's Holy Spirit comes into your body (1st Corinthians 3:16), never to leave (Hebrews 13:5), and you will understand many new things for the first time in your life…:

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
2nd Corinthians 5:17

It is ONLY through the Precious Word of God that anyone can be born-again. Surely, no one can be born into this world again physically... there is no turning back the hands of time. However, you most certainly can be born again, spiritually, into God's family through the Spirit of Christ...

"But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Romans 8:9).

The way we become "born again" is found in the Word of God...

"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." —1st Peter 1:23

We are born again by the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God.

The following statement sums it up pretty good:

If you're born once, then you die TWICE; If you're born twice, then you die ONCE.

Regeneration (being "born again") is the transformation from death to life that occurs in our souls when we first come to God and are justified. He washes us clean of our sins and gives us a new nature, breaking the power of sin over us so that we will no longer be its slaves, but its enemies, who must fight it as part of the Christian life (cf. Rom. 6:1–22; Eph. 6:11–17). To understand the biblical teaching of being born again, we must understand the terms it uses to refer to this event.

The term "born again" may not appear in the Bible. The Greek phrase often translated "born again" (gennatha anothen) occurs twice in the Bible—John 3:3 and 3:7—and there is a question of how it should be translated. The Greek word anothen sometimes can be translated "again," but in the New Testament, it most often means "from above." In the King James Version, the only two times it is translated "again" are in John 3:3 and 3:7; every other time it is given a different rendering.

Another term is "regeneration." When referring to something that occurs in the life of an individual believer, it only appears in Titus 3:5. In other passages, the new birth phenomenon is also described as receiving new life (Rom. 6:4), receiving the circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11–12), and becoming a "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

This is from Bible Tools: Commentaries: Forerunner Commentary by John W. Ritenbaugh. This piece presents arguments in support of the water-and-spirit equals baptism idea:


"John 3:8 expands on the sovereign character of God's personal involvement in each person's new birth. At the same time, Christ teaches us that we should judge what has happened in the born-again person's life by what it produces. He illustrates this by saying, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

This is another verse where people jump to a wrong conclusion, concluding that Christ is speaking of a post-resurrection situation. They do this by assuming that a person is not born into the Kingdom of God until the resurrection. At that time, they will indeed be composed of spirit and be invisible like wind. With that as their assumption, they give themselves the "hatpin test," saying, "I can't possibly be born again yet because I'm still human." We must not fall for this line of reasoning, though, because such a thought directly contradicts the exceedingly clear Colossians 1:13,

"Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:"

as well as other scriptures. Once again, people who have concluded this have not correctly analyzed another of Jesus' figurative illustrations. The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35)!

"If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;"

There is another answer, a right answer.

Interestingly, the Greek word underlying "wind" is the same as the one underlying "spirit": pneuma. This truth supplies one facet of proper analysis because wind and spirit share a few characteristics: They are both invisible to human sight, and neither can be controlled by humans. In other words, each is sovereign and independent in its actions. The wind does as it pleases. No human can direct where the wind comes from, nor order where it is to go or what it is to do.

However, even though wind is itself invisible, its effects can be seen. In addition, the sound of its movement can be heard, and the changes it produces—such as trees swaying, dust blowing, and clouds passing across the sky—can be seen. In this same manner, the invisible Spirit, by which a person receives spiritual birth and produces spiritual fruit, operates.

Notice in verse 8 that the definite article "the" appears before the word "Spirit." In this case, "Spirit" is not used as a mere general term, but Jesus draws attention to a particular Spirit—the One who causes our spiritual birth, our Father in heaven. He is spirit (John 4:24), and He is holy (I Peter 1:16). Who can order Him about and direct the course of His actions? He does as it pleases Him. His operations are sovereign, and He has power over even the most hardened of sinners.

We can witness the changes that He produces in people by noting that the formerly sinful person is becoming holy; the immoral person is becoming moral; the stubborn, obstinate person is becoming gentle, thoughtful, and helpful. In other words, just as with the wind, we see the effects of an invisible cause. The Father grants regeneration and repentance, and He reveals Himself, bestowing His Spirit and spiritual growth on whomever He will (Romans 9:15-16). He does these things at the times and in the ways that please Him.

The born-again person knows his life has changed and enjoys it, but we do not always grasp how God operates on our hearts to subdue our wills to His. However, if we take up the challenges of God's calling, understanding comes. As Paul says in I Corinthians 2:10: "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God."

It is small wonder that Nicodemus was perplexed by Jesus' instruction. He apparently had never dreamed of such a personal, intimate, and continuous relationship with the Creator God."

Regeneration in John 3:

"These different ways of talking about being "born again" describe effects of baptism, which Christ speaks of in John 3:5 as being "born of water and the Spirit." In Greek, this phrase is, literally, "born of water and Spirit," indicating one birth of water-and-Spirit, rather than "born of water and of the Spirit," as though it meant two different births—one birth of water and one birth of the Spirit.

In the water-and-Spirit rebirth that takes place at baptism, the repentant sinner is transformed from a state of sin to the state of grace. Peter mentioned this transformation from sin to grace when he exhorted people to "be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

The context of Jesus’ statements in John 3 makes it clear that he was referring to water baptism. Shortly before Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the necessity and regenerating effect of baptism, he himself was baptized by John the Baptist, and the circumstances are striking: Jesus goes down into the water, and as he is baptized, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father speaks from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son" (cf. Matt. 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:30–34). This scene gives us a graphic depiction of what happens at baptism: We are baptized with water, symbolizing our dying with Christ (Rom. 6:3) and our rising with Christ to the newness of life (Rom. 6:4–5); we receive the gift of sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27); and we are adopted as God’s sons (Rom. 8:15–17). . . . ."

The distinction between "ADOPTED SONS OF GOD, and "THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD" may shed some light on the quandary that has fretted me on the subject of our immortal soul's return to God, and our place in the Divine Hierarchy. Clearly, Jesus, as the only begotten Son, claims a distinction above all other created souls, and yet, how much less dear is an adopted son to God than a begotten one? Here Screwtape summarizes God's attitude toward Humankind:

"One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself--creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them, but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons."

Thus, the birth into spirit endows the soul with enlightenment AND bestows, in brilliant manifestation, the birthright that is every Human's implied destiny, but which is not automatic--this birthright must be claimed by an act of will--an act of ATTENTION. The blessing is always there, waiting to raise us up into Heavenly light, but we must accept it.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank You for making this birthright accessible to us, throughout your magnificent sacrifice. Give us the courage and the heart to accept the gift with open hands. Amen.

10 Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead? 


Today's celebration of the glory of the risen Christ centers on a question that appears only in Luke, "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?" The operative word in this expression, for me, is "seek"; and it is the subject of seeking that will occupy our attention for the next few minutes. We will talk about why we seek, how we seek and where we seek. We will once again emphasize that it is attention--attention of the WILL on the supernatural dimension of existence--that reveals spiritual truth to the mundane mind, raising the physical into the spiritual; the Word to flesh, flesh to spirit.

 Perhaps the linking of the ATTENTION to the WORD is of more significance than we have yet realized. Perhaps the focus of the "attention of the Will on the Word" is the defining action that calls into being a place (a place!) for flesh and spirit to meet; this attention of the Will creates a meeting place because the consciousness of the Will is super-literal, and can therefore assimilate the power of the spiritual Word with even greater clarity and precision than the mundane mind. This "place" is therefore outside time, but still connected to a kind of vaguely (or slightly) articulated literalness that offers an entry into a small corner of the human mind without submitting to the human minds' limitations. Perhaps the human mind, seeking beyond the limits of the literal consciousness, raises ITSELF to a higher plane of consciousness, and therefore can glimpse the vastness of the Divine Word through the Will, which may be thought of as Man's tiny piece of eternity? Perhaps we are talking about very small increments of increase on a continuum that stretches into infinity?

 But more on this later. Now the scriptures.

 [Notice that we have returned to the Synoptic Gospels for this, and, although Luke is the only one with the line, "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?", the other two gospels mention something else I want to consider for a bit--you guessed it: angels.]

Luke 24:1-9  
"1Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.  2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. 3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.  4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:  5And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?  6He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,  7Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.  8And they remembered his words,  9And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest."
St. Matthew 28:1-6

"1  In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Mag'dalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. 2  And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. 3  His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4  and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. 5  And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6  He is not here: for he is risen, as he said." 

St. Mark 16:1-6
 "And when the sabbath was past, Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo'me, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.   And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.   And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?   And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.   And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him." 

 "Behold the place where they laid Him." The place where they laid him is a place of death. The living would never remain amid the mouldering stench of the dead. Dead is dead. Why are you looking--because you want life too, right? because you saw something held out to you in loving hands that completed you, that gave you back to yourself, that made you free, free from yourself, free to be your own vast universe, that's why. And now you are seeking that in a place of death? Get real! Think about it. If dead is dead, let's go look for a party, let's get some light!

The following is taken from Sermon #108. The Resurrection (Luke 24:1-12) by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson:

Exposition
How do you talk matter-of-factly about an event so mind-boggling as the raising of a person from the dead, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Hollywood would use special effects to impact the viewer. Novelists would employ powerful prose. But the Scripture just tells the story of the disciples, both male and female, as they discover this unexpected and life-jolting joy. And the Scripture tells it simply, clearly, and convincingly. The historicity of the Resurrection is crucial to the Christian faith. Our own eternal future hinges on this question. Paul writes in (1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 17, 19):

"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." 

[Sidebar: Here again we see this tendency to validate the divinity of Jesus through the power of miracles. We have often extolled the power of parables, and myths, why not the power of miracles? I generally resist the attractions of phenomena, I try to take the spiritual world so much for granted that nothing miraculous, that ever happens to me, is ever surprising (however wonderful); but one possible virtue in attaching inordinate significance to miracles occurs to me: you have to have faith in tales of miracles because they are something you didn't see directly; if you had witnessed them directly, you wouldn't have to have faith; faith is the evidence of things NOT seen, not things seen. When higher reality is visible and accessible to direct experience, faith is unnecessary. Furthermore, the discipline of SEEKING higher levels of attention makes such direct experiences more and more available. I ran across this Joseph Campbell quote that says it all in a nutshell:

 “I don’t have to have faith, I have experience.” 

This reminds me of the Luther sermon about John the Baptist: he is not a prophet foretelling the coming of the Messiah, he is the herald, the very trumpet call announcing the living Human presence of the Messiah. All the little miracles of life add up into the one big miracle, all made possible because Heaven came down to Earth and delivered us from illusion.]

Back to Ralph Wilson:

"Each of the Gospel writers adds specific details to the story of the resurrection. Occasionally, it is hard to understand just how all these details fit together. But we're studying Luke's account, so I won't try to weave in everything included in Matthew, Mark, and John. For example, Luke doesn't mention the Roman soldiers who guarded the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15). We'll focus on Luke's telling of the story. Perhaps you've heard the story of Jesus' resurrection all your life. Pray now, and then seek to read and study it as if for the first time. Let its truth touch your heart afresh.

The Women Come to the Tomb (24:1)
"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb." (24:1)

The first day of the week for Jews, of course, was the day after the Sabbath -- Sunday. This is the third day (24:7, 46) since Jesus' burial. While modern westerners might measure days in 24-hour periods, the Jews measured time differently, counting each portion of a day as a whole day. The Greek adjective used in verses 7 and 46, tritos means "third in a series." Looking forward the third day would be the day after tomorrow. Looking backward it would be the day before yesterday. This is the third day counting parts of three days -- Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The women begin their trek to the garden tomb very early indeed. The Greek adjective batheos, "at the extreme of, very, exceedingly," modifies the word for "early morning."

Early that morning the women buy spices (Mark 16:1). The Greek noun aroma, refers to "any kind of fragrant substance, fragrant spice, salve, oil, or perfume," especially used in embalming the dead. Now they are prepared (Greek hetoimazo) to provide whatever additional care is necessary for Jesus' body following his hasty entombment late Friday afternoon.  

The Stone Is Rolled Away, the Body Missing (24:2-3)
 "They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus." (24:2-3) Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47) had witnessed Jesus' burial on Friday evening. They are sure of the location; there was no mistake about that. And since it is a new tomb, there is no confusing either the tomb or which corpse belongs to Jesus. But when they arrive the large stone blocking the door has been rolled away and the body is nowhere to be seen.

Two Angels Appear to Them (24:4-5a)
There may be chattering between themselves at this point or maybe struck dumb from the shock of finding no body. "Wondering" (NIV) or "perplexed" (KJV) is the Greek verb apareo, "to be in a confused state of mind, be at a loss, be in doubt, be uncertain." But, whatever the case, they aren't in doubt for long.

"While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground." (24:4-5a)

 Suddenly, two men are standing beside them. In contrast to the mournful shadows of the tomb, their garments are brilliant and seem to illuminate the sepulchre. The words "gleamed like lightning" (NIV) or "shining" (KJV) translate the Greek verb astrapto, "flash, gleam." The word is used of the flash of lightning, and a similar word exastrapto, is used to describe Jesus' clothing at his transfiguration. These are angels and their garments are shining with the Shekinah glory of God (Exodus 33:11; 34:30; Acts 10:30; Revelation 15:6; ).

The women are terrified. "Fright" or "afraid" is the Greek adjective emphobos, "pertaining to being in a state of fear, afraid, startled, terrified." Quickly they bow down with their faces to the ground in utter obeisance before the majesty of these angels.  

[Sidebar: Notice the presence of angels in these three gospel versions; none of them say quite the same words, but all three stories include angels--two of them! Does this address the question of "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?" Clearly the message being sent is "Look up, look up! What has happened is beyond your literal understanding; you must look to another kind of understanding in order to get this!" Angels exist in a supernatural dimension that is only visible to Men who look beyond the veil of physical reality into the timeless eternal. There we are more alive, more radiant, more real. That seems like a good place to look.]

Back to Ralph Wilson:

"He Has Risen (24:5b-6a)
Now the angels speak:
"But the men said to them, 'Why do you look for (Greek zeteo) the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (24:5b-6a) 

The angels ask a startling question: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" They are in a tomb looking for a dead man. But a grave is no place to find the living Christ, the angels declare with some irony. A grave is the last place to you look when you are seeking Life.

He is risen! "Risen" is the Greek verb egeiro, "to cause to return to life, raise up" or "to enter into or to be in a state of life as a result of being raised, rise."

To followers who have been stunned by his crucifixion, hearts heavy with dejection, and eyes puffy with tears, these words are like an explosion. Risen! Raised to life! Their emotions are now wrenched again with the news. It must be true, coming from angels! But how can it be?

Jesus Foretells His Resurrection (24:6b-8)
The angels continue:
"Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again (Greek anistemi).' Then they remembered his words." (24:6b-8) A second Greek verb is used to translate "be raised again" -- anistemi, "rise up, come back from the dead" -- though the sense of both anistemi and egeiro is very similar.

The angels recite to the women Jesus' own prophecy that this should take place, which we read earlier in Luke:

"The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Greek egeiro)." (9:22)

"He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again (Greek anistemi)." (18:32-33) 

The angels speak as if the women have heard these words personally. Though on some occasions Jesus communicates this to the Twelve alone (9:18; 18:31), it is quite possible that these women heard him say it, since they also traveled with the disciples on some trips (see Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32). At the very least they have heard of the saying from the Twelve.

The women have a glimmer of recognition. "Then they remembered (Greek mimneskomai) his words" (24:8). "To remember," says commentator Joel Green, "consists of more than cognitive evocation, but includes the nuance of understanding or insight." It is clear that the women now believe that Jesus is risen." 

The expression, "nuance of understanding or insight" is interesting. Always, trying to figure out how to look for Divine Truth in the mundane world is a trick. The world is filled with so many illusions, (so many things that look like fun on TV but really aren't), that eluding deception can take one's full attention. Again, I invoke direct experience as the prime authority in any spiritual matter, but, to be sure, we cannot always distinguish certain subtleties between various levels of experience. My teacher Herbert Brun insisted that any act, that owes it pedigree to some earlier act, is invalid--only the truly anomalous is true. Of course, this idea languishes in the virtual impossibility of the human mind ever coming up with anything that has never been thought of before; nevertheless, the main point is that: an act must be pure--an act must spring from the Divine Will which is not encumbered by time or causality--which therefore bears few of the trappings of physical reality, the signifiers of a reality fixed in time, and therefore, by definition, DEAD.

The following is from: Organic Faith – Searching for intimacy with God in a postmodern world

"A handful of women (Luke 24:1-12) dealt with their grief the only way they knew how. They sought to honor Jesus through service. They brought spices to treat His body. And they were stunned by what they found – an empty tomb. These women went to the tomb expecting to find the dead body of their Messiah. Instead two men in shining garments met them and asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” It can be easy to miss the significance of this question. How many times do people have preconceived ideas about God and His plan only to discover that their first inclinations were wrong? Our expectations can get in the way of understanding God’s plan. We frequently look for God to move in the wrong places. We seek living fruit in places where there is only death. Nothing works out like we had planned and then we begin to doubt God’s promises."

[Sidebar: The idea that "Our expectations can get in the way of understanding God’s plan," deserves comment. As mentioned above in regard to artistic originality, our acts must be pure. So, too, must be our expectations; the visions we project into the future are very much the realities we get back in the present. Thus, just as there are many levels of consciousness, so must there be just as many levels of expectation, that is: expectation understood as an act of Will, a reaching of the divine into mundane principalities. Expectation also serves as an index of WHERE we are looking for the living. Are we looking with physical eyes in physical places, or are we looking with spiritual eyes in spiritual places?] 

Back to Organic Faith:

"The angelic messengers reminded the women of Jesus’ words. He talked about his suffering on the cross. But his followers missed the point. God wants us to understand His plan. Prophecy has existed for years to guide those who would have ears to hear. But frequently we miss it because we look in the wrong place.

The one thing we think could never achieve God’s plan is the exact thing that God uses. To the Jews, the idea of a king conquering through dying as a common criminal on a cross seems completely absurd. Kings conquered through conquest not suffering a shameful, barbaric death.

If you are faithful to serve despite the pain of your circumstance, like the women at the tomb, you will see the power of God materialize. It may not happen in your timing or how you would do it. But God rewards those who are faithful by visiting them with His presence and power."

The following is from the: Daily Exegesis Bible Commentary:

"Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.'" And they remembered His words. And the good news really begins! The messengers in the shining garments are angels, messengers with a message for them. Indeed, such a message is this! "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" Forever we remember these words, and the angels begin the task that starts this day: the words of Jesus are recalled and illumined for them. And my study bible adds, "He is risen! The news of great joy, heralding the new dispensation, resounds throughout the whole world, transforming the creation and the lives of millions of men and women." 

The following is: Publication #00.128 WHY SEEK YE THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD? by Elwin R. Roach

"...Why seek ye the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5). Indeed, why would anyone seek the living among the dead? The cemetery is not the place where heart-beating bodies are generally found. You might find the gravedigger, the groundskeeper, a preacher or two, or perhaps people in a funeral procession; but all in all, the graveyard is not the best place to look. Life does not abide therein. Any place but among the tombs would be where life is generally found.

Even so, people of the world scout every avenue and back alley of death, looking for some form of life, hoping to stave off the hunger pangs of their empty souls. Eating husks along with the pigs is not a good diet for anyone, and this concerns us greatly. We are pained until they are all delivered from those dead places of futility.

It is obvious to anyone with any insight at all that the worldly masses are looking in fruitless places for life, and such vain attempts are expected of them. But we would not expect our brothers and sisters also to look for the living among the dead, but they do. Christians of all faiths spend much of their time exploring catacombs, digging in graveyards, musing through lifeless tombs, and admiring whited sepulchers. They are like the archeologists who scour the earth for evidence of the dead past, who search and dig with much interest and vigor. It is their life and livelihood. For some reason, death fascinates them. However, should that be the lot for those called by the name of Christ? We should say not! For there is no value in death, not one breath. Only with the living is there truly anything of worth."

I've saved John for last because he gives us the answer to why, how and where all in a single paragraph:

The Gospel according to John 20:11-16

11  ¶ But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12  and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13  And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. 14  And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. 15  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 16  Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabbo'ni; which is to say, Master."

"Master." The moment of recognition--epiphany. This is such a moving and resonant moment in the story for me. The moment when the veil of illusion is lifted and the truth of spiritual life spills over into human consciousness. I believe this to be a moment of realization that all Christians have had, because a Christian is someone who has met Jesus face to face. Without that personal experience all our theology is sounding brass. We must meet Jesus face to face in His Transcendent Form. It is so beautiful to think of Mary Magdelene as the very first human to have that experience; as such, she becomes the heroine of her own myth, and a model for us all.

All this talk about recognition, "epiphany" stuff, reminds me of a passage in the Screwtape Letters, the part at the end where Screwtape describes how the human hero dies, and how, at the moment of his death, the hero sees, in a single moment, both the demon who has been working for his damnation, and his Savior:

"How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you! There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognized the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer. Just think (And let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like teeter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment. By Hell, it is misery enough to see them in their mortal days taking off dirty and uncomfortable clothes and splashing in hot water and giving little grunts of pleasure-stretching their eased limbs! What, then, of this final stripping, this complete cleansing? . . . .

 As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation! -- that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange. He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realized what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not "Who are you?" but "so it was you all the time." 

Jesus was to be found among the dead after all. Mary was the first to find something we all seek.

The "why" was Mary's great grief, her longing to be filled by the One whom she had come to need as the fulfillment of her highest self;

 the "how" was in the pursuit of the familiar, with attention focused on the super-familiar;

and the "where" was--ANYWHERE, even among the dead. 

 If the message of Jesus is "there is no death", then the answer to the question, "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?", is that there are no dead--if we look beyond to the perishable dimension into the eternity of spirit that denies the claims of death on anyone who merely turns his face toward the light of life and embraces the gift of grace.

 Earlier we read the words, "Behold the place where they laid Him," and we suggested that the place where they laid him is a place of death. And yet, there He was not in a place of death but in a dimension above death, such that a place of death becomes yet another place of rebirth.

You see, the presence of Jesus in the tomb directly contradicts the implication that Jesus is not in the tomb. I can just imagine the arguments between John and Mark: "I can so too remember Him saying, "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?"" "Did not!" "Did so!" But the beauty is this: even after the crucifixion Jesus can do this thing He does of getting a saying or action to mean more than one thing. Multiple layers of meaning and spiritual power run all through Jesus' message to Humankind. No, He is not in the tomb, but yes He IS in the tomb, but this tomb reaches beyond the tomb of earthly death into the glory of eternal life.

And thus, we need to face the world, the evils of the world, the death of the world. LOOKING THROUGH AND PAST the articulate surface features of the world to the heart of the world wherein beats the warm, loving, protective heart of the Christ, speaking words of power, reaching out to us with cleansing hands.

Let us pray: Jesus, we thank you every day of our lives, for the gift of grace you have made available to us, through great sacrifice. We thank You for your messages, of word and action, which grow and are magnified in us every time we experience them. Please direct our eyes to the proper level of consciousness, for the proper day, and bless us with reminders of your presence at every hour. Let us find you wherever we look for you, and let us look for you in all things. Amen.