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...the Time of thy Visitation
& Believing from the Inside-Out

F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Audio Version

11/08/21 Trinity 10
Joshua 24:14-28; Ps. 145; I Cor. 12:1-11; Lk. 19:41-47a

We prayed in the collect this morning: “Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee.”

There is something in each of us, I suspect, that resents being able to obtain our petitions only if we ask for what God already wants for us. That part of us resents not having total freedom to ask for what we want, not what God wants. That is why at least some persons do not want there to be a God – because, as one English philosopher of the early 20th century quite candidly admitted in print, “I do not want there to be a God because that would get in the way of my political and sexual aspirations.”

Political aspirations are about power struggle and domination. Sexual aspirations are about “feeling-good”, even at the expense of other persons. Other persons are merely materials and tools to be used for one’s own aspirations. If your aspirations happen to coincide with the aspirations of others, well and good, at least for the time being. But sooner or later, in such a value system, the aspirations will move in contradictory directions, and your erstwhile friend will become your enemy, your target, your next meal.

If there is no God, if there is no moral order given by His purpose for our existence, then the law of the jungle will prevail, dog eat dog. Nature red in tooth and claw. The vendetta law of retaliation. Lamech, fifth level descendent of Cain, put it well: “...you wives of Lamech, hearken to what I say: I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged seven fold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold.” (Gen. 4:23)

Hebrew history weaves an often bloody trail for two millennia, climaxing finally as Jesus and the disciples are gazing at the city of Jerusalem with its magnificent Temple, the House of God.

And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.

If you had known... at least in this thy day, the things which belong to your peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.

God had been teaching His people for centuries those things which belonged to their peace, those things which would restore them to fellowship with God and each other. His recent triumphal entry into Jerusalem was not just symbolic. It really was an offering made to the city of Jerusalem, to all those who ruled over the city, to those who led the worship and taught the law. Here was your chance to welcome your Messiah, the Son of God. But it was hid from your eyes.

Hid from your eyes...” is a tragic and frightening comment. It could be said of probably any age in any civilization, including much of Christian civilization. St. Augustine wrote The City of God to show how that was true of Rome, and of every culture which refuses to submit itself to the law and grace of God. It is true of the formerly Christian West which has rejected God, it is true of America, even, I think, of most Christians.

Jesus says that “thine enemies shall... lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another... because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”

You have been looking for centuries for your Messiah, your savior, your deliverer. But when He comes, He is hid from your eyes. The visitation will come and go, and you will not even know that it happened. Utter and unrelieved devastation will come because you did not know the time of your visitation.

Among the early Hebrews, the difference between good and evil was fairly obvious. The evil ones engaged for the most part in open power struggle. But with the increasing sophistication of society, with the new literacy based on the Torah and the growing emphasis on moral and intellectual truth, evil itself also became sophisticated. Those in charge of Temple worship did not merely steal portions of the offerings from the worshipers, as the sons of Eli had done, they began to reinterpret the word of God itself to fit their own more sophisticated power struggle.

The new ranks of interpreters of the law, Pharisees, Sadducees, and others, learned how to interpret the law to benefit themselves at the expense of the people at large. They learned how to redefine right and wrong so as to position themselves at the top of the religious power pyramid, and to manipulate their alliances with their Roman captors so that the might of Rome itself could be marshaled in their favor – as they did against (of all people) their Messiah. They knew not the time of their visitation. The reason they killed their Messiah was that He did challenge their position at the top of their religious pyramid. He who came from the top of all pyramids, the throne of heaven, was working, serving down at the bottom of all pyramids. Those at the Jewish top did not like that.

Muslims say that the crucifixion of the Son of God would dishonor God, so they reject the crucifixion. But it all depends on how you measure greatness. If you measure greatness by power struggle, like jihad, you measure by how much control you attain for your own pleasure. If you measure by the love of God and of one’s neighbor, you measure by the truth and love expressed.

Jesus made it quite clear how He measures. “...he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” Lk 22:26. God first does Himself what He requires of us. We are able to love only because He has first loved us. So we only hurt ourselves when we resent God’s asking us to be servants of others. We are thereby rejecting His service to us.

The Jewish leaders did not know the time of their visitation because they had already rejected the kind of life lived by the Visitor. They were not interested in what He had to offer. The possibility of His actually being the Messiah apparently did not enter many of their minds. Or perhaps they would have killed Him even if they had known. In their eyes, the law was not made for man, man was made for the law – that was what gave them, the definers of the law, such power over the people.

We read in Joshua, “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.

The gods beyond the River were the pagan gods whom Abraham’s family had served beyond the Euphrates River. But the Hebrews had wandered even in Egypt, some serving the Egyptian gods. We have no direct reference to their apostasy, perhaps because it was not yet taken very seriously. It may be that their religious heritage did not come together as a distinct worship, with commandments clearly separate from the pagans, until the Exodus, Mount Sinai, and the giving of the Law.

There is the story of a fellow who, on St. George’s Day, walked into his church, lit a candle to St. George, and then started walking out. Then he turned around, went back to light a candle to the dragon also – just in case. Many Hebrews must have felt like that.

That is called “hedging your bets”, trying to create a no-lose situation. The Decalogue put an end to all that. It was all Yahweh – or no Yahweh and on your own. Joshua is making just that point – You Hebrews make sure you know what you are signing up for, because if you become apostate, God will not take it kindly. You will be severely disciplined by Him. Joshua forces the people to say out loud that they want to sign on with God’s plan, even if they will be punished for their betrayals.

Abraham had been told that what God was doing through him would be blessing to all the world, but I suspect the people at Mount Sinai were not much thinking of that. They were just anxious to get to this Promised Land, out of the desert, and back into real homes, farms, and some kind of civilized comfort. They had no idea that this Yahweh who was leading them through the desert would one day visit us in the flesh, a Messiah who would draw the children of Israel to Himself and make them children of God – a “time of visitation...”

Joshua rolled a great stone to their place of making the covenant, under an oak tree. “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, let you deal falsely with your God.”

Then followed the granting of the kingship and the building of the Temple which gave their worship a grand and public space and a new majesty.

But their worship was not yet pointed down the corridors of history to something in the future, a visitation, until they began to sense that God would be sending a special king, a son of David, whose family-line God has chosen – if they would remain faithful.

It is debatable just how faithful the line of David remained, but God was able to work His will, and the intended Messianic visitation did happen. The Messiah came quietly in the back door as an infant, and began His ministry in His late 20’s.

St. Paul, in this morning’s discourse on the gifts of the Spirit, says to the Gentiles, “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”

He seems to be encouraging the Gentiles to not doubt their conversion. Paul does not, of course, mean that someone cannot use those words, either mistakenly or in lying. But he is asserting that one cannot say those words from the depth of their being without prompting by the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can touch us at a level deep enough to convert our inner being – against all the objections of our own rebellion and of the fallen world around us.

Paul was addressing some of the same issues with which both Jesus and Joshua addressed with their people, the depth, permanence, and trustworthiness of their faith commitment. Three different cultures (the Old Testament Hebrews as they took possession of the Promised Land, the Christians at Corinth, and the Jews in Jerusalem) wrestled with the same problem: How can we hold our faith without apostacising, wavering, or wandering?

Which leads us right to home... If the Lord showed up in our lives, would we recognize Him and obey Him? I occasionally wonder what I would have done had I been living in Palestine at the time of Jesus. What if I had grown up with Jesus in Nazareth? Would I have responded like some of them did? “Well, we know who this is, just the kid who grew up on the other side of town... Nobody special.

We today are not likely to deal with a literal appearance of Jesus, unless He comes back permanently. But we nevertheless have to respond to the question, “What make you of Jesus? Who do you think He is? Whose son is He?”

There are all kinds of good reasons to believe that the Christian faith is the truth about life. The outward and objective evidence is quite overwhelming. But that is different from believing in Jesus from the inside out. That comes, as Paul indicates, from the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, an objective, real, but inner event, a presence which cannot be explained other than as God Himself, the guarantee for future things.

I have had several experiences which I have never doubted to have been of God Himself. But I have also had other experiences inter-mixed with those, in which I doubted that God was in any way interested in me or loved me. I could get depressed, fed up, angry, resentful, and come to that state of affairs. I also have no doubt that Satan was using those times to try to convince me that God was unreal, or that He despised and rejected me. Remembering those times of the Presence of God was often what prompted me to discount the sense of the absence of God. If I did not know where God was, He knew where I was, and would again become present to me. And I would wait.

Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, He makes me tread upon my high places.      Habakkuk 3:17 ff.

Just so, God showered evidence after evidence upon the Hebrews that He was the true and living God, doing things that clearly only God could do – the Exodus event, the entry into the Promised Land, miracles of victory over enemies, miracles of healing, Elijah on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18), and on it went.

But that kind of external evidence, believing from the outside-in, is only the beginning, the attention-getter. It is not itself sufficient to create the community of sustaining faith and faithfulness which God seeks, through which to reach out to the world. That which many times in the Old Testament God promised to do, to put His spirit into their inner being, to write His law in their hearts, He gave in a manner available to us all at Pentecost.

 

But that gift required first our receiving His visitation in the flesh, so that He could draw those disciples close to Him and each other, preparing them for that gift of the Holy Spirit, by the inner man dying and rising with Christ – as Paul relates in Romans 6.

That Pentecost event of the indwelling Holy Spirit then led to the community of faith and faithfulness which could carry the Good News forward into a disbelieving and often hostile culture, the community fortified not only by objective but external evidence of the reality of God, but also by that objective and internal evidence of the presence of God as both Creator and Sovereign in one’s own inner being. Believing from the inside-out.

The Incarnation is thus the link and tie between the two ways God speaks to us, the two kinds of evidence. The physical and historical miracles of the Exodus required the power of God, nevertheless God was not Himself embodied in those miracles. But in the Incarnation, God is as physically embodied as any human person. Jesus is both an external and objective physical reality, and at the same time is the very presence of God Himself. You could shake hands with God, hug God – or crucify God in His human self-expression. God brings His presence into our from-the-outside-in way of knowing.

The next step was for God to bring His presence into our own inner spiritual center, to our from-the-inside-out way of knowing, to ourselves become temples of the Holy Spirit, and so corporately to become the Body of Christ on earth. With the inside-out way of knowing, the data of knowledge comes from within our own selves, not from the outside to the inside. It is an personal, original fact of experience and knowledge, not mediated from the outside evidence of life. It is spiritual, metaphysical knowledge, one-to-one with God, not empirical knowledge in the normal sense of the empirical sciences.

Asking such things as shall please God, as our collect urges, is then a very natural thing to do. The gratitude we feel with the presence of God almighty supporting and guiding us propels us in that direction, like the cheer that bursts forth when your team from behind makes a last minute touchdown to win the game.

There was a pivotal Visitation in Jerusalem about 30 AD. But there are numerous other visitations for all of us as we grow in the life of Christ, living in the Light.

God can then visit us from the outside-in, as through an incarnation, or through a fellow Christian, or through a scientific experiment (see Elijah on Mount Carmel in I Kings 18). Or He can visit us from the inside-out, by the power of His Holy Spirit with healing, nurturing, personal inner support, or moral direction and forgiveness, all from within. In a sacramental cosmos, both are necessary.

When we are doing both of those, believing from the outside evidence and from the inside evidence, that is the sign of a mature Christian community which knows the times of its visitations and which will be impregnable to assault.  It will wield the two-edged Sword of the Spirit with the outside-in evidence, bringing down strongholds and raising up righteousness.  And it will be itself impregnable because of the indwelling Spirit of God, supporting and guiding from within -- from a place untouchable by the world, the flesh, or the devil. 

Audio Version

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Date Posted - 08/28/2011    -   Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012