Monday, 13 December 2010

Open and Closed Doors

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open, Rev 3.7

In His letter to the church at Philadelphia Jesus presents Himself as the one who holds the Key of David. Whatever else this means, it conveys the idea that He has Kingly authority to open and close doors. This is a powerful metaphor. We all know what a door is. It is the place where we enter or exit a building or room. To those who have the key, entrance is easy; to those who don't, the room or building remains off limits to them.

Scripture uses the door as a place where many things were transacted. It was at the gates (doors) of a city that the elders would meet to make important decisions, Ruth 4.11. Likewise the threshold of a doorway held great significance. Jesus reminded the church in Laodicia that He was on the wrong side of the door. They had pushed Him out and He wanted to come back in, Rev 3.20.

Doors don't just keep things in, they help to keep things out. In that sense they are a door of protection. We see this in Ex 12 when the Israelites were instructed by Moses to take a lamb less than a year old that had no blemish and to kill it. The blood from this lamb then needed to be applied to the lintel and doorposts of each home. Only by doing this could the firstborn from each family be protected from the angel of death.

God's instructions were clear; "And when I see the blood, I will pass over you", Ex 12.13. In other words through their faith and obedience, the life of that innocent lamb counted in place of the eldest born son. Think of the shock and impact this would have on each family. The lamb was taken in on the 10th day of the month. This marked the beginning of months for the Israelites. A new beginning; a new birth. The lamb was kept 'til the 14th of the same month, five days.

On the first day it would have been seen by all the children as a cute pet. By day two it would have been named. By day three the children would have argued who should feed it. By day four it was now part of the family. Then on day five the father in each home had to take the lamb and kill it. Imagine the horror on the faces of all the small children. Imagine the protest; "Why must it die?" And then the father must explain that an angel of death will pass through the land that night and if there is no sign of blood on the door then their oldest brother would die.

How powerful this picture is. It points forward to Jesus whom John declared to be, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world", John 1.49. Like the lamb in the Exodus story Jesus was spotless, innocent and pure. Nothing about His life deserved the death penalty. Yet He willingly gave Himself as a sin offering to save those would trust in Him. For when we believe in Jesus, it's as if we too put the blood on the door posts and lintel of our life. Judgement passes from us and is taken by Jesus. We are safe behind the door, John 10.7.

Unlike the lamb in the Exodus story Jesus is a willing victim. Love compelled Him. He surrendered His life in order to give us the opportunity to begin again. It's a compelling story. For all those safe inside the homes, with the blood visible from outside they were protected. The door became a door of security, a door of protection. Death could not cross that threshold. It held no power over those within.

This is why the NT takes such a different view on the death of a believer to that of a non-believer. For the believer is said to have passed from death to life; taken out of the kingdom of darkness and placed in the kingdom of God's dear son, Col 1.13 and sealed with the Spirit untill the day of redemption, Eph 1.13. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, Rom 8.1. Judgement has passed over. They are protected.

So the NT language for a believers death is 'falling asleep, John 11.7, 1Thess 4.16. Woody Allen once said; "I don't mind dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens". Clever. Funny! But none of us can escape 'being there'. However for the believer, death is like falling asleep. For when we die we go to be with the Lord, 2 Cor 5.8; Phil 1.23. And we are with Him till the resurrection!

This sense of protection was emphasised by Jesus when He sent out His disciples to preach in Matt 10. They were sent out as 'Sheep among wolves', Matt 10.16. In other words they were walking into hostile environments. So Jesus encourages them, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna", Matt 10.28. Finally He reminds them that even the hairs on their head are numbered by the Father in heaven, Matt 10.30. They are watched over, they are protected, they are valued, Matt 10.31.

I find this inspiring. I think this truth lies behind the great boldness that the early church demonstrated in its witness. Jesus had removed the sting of death - sin, 1Cor 15.55-56. So they did not live in fear of having to pay the ultimate price for their faith. To use Paul's language; "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain", Phil 1.21. They really did see it as a gain, not a loss. So when brothers or sister died they did not mourn in quite the same way. There was a natural grieving process to go through, but there was also a sense of joy, even victory.

This protection extended to God watching over the health of the Israelite nation, provided they learned to walk in His ways and obey His commands, Ex 15.26. They were in covenant relationship with Him and so their deliverance included the promise of health and healing. The Levitical laws prescribed the kind of food to eat, how to prepare it and sanitation rules that ensured good health for the nation. Add to this the rhythm of Sabbath rest and Holy days of celebration, we see a nation that was given a prescription for life that would ensure good health. It was a holistic approach.

Much of our treatment of sickness today focuses on symptoms. The Biblical approach always goes to the root of the problem. So in the scriptures healing begins with dealing with the human heart. For out of the heart proceed all the things that lead us into sinful practices. It is this exchange of heart that the new birth promises. With a new heart comes the possibility of re-ordering our lives so that healing can flow into every area; including our relationships.

Another important door I want to look at is the door of promise. In Gen 18 we have the account of God meeting with Abraham to confirm His promise of a son. Only this time the meeting is to tell Abraham very specifically when it will happen. Interestingly the meeting takes place at the door of Abraham's tent. He is on the outside eating and talking with the Lord, while Sarah remains the other side of the tent door, but within earshot of all that is being said.

Now when she hears the Lord renew His promise to Abraham of a son she laughs; not out loud so she can heard, but within herself, Gen 18.12. It's a mocking laugh. It's a laugh of unbelief. But God heard it. And His response was simply to ask a question; "Is anything to hard for the Lord?" How is it we can believe in a God that has created such a vast universe with the power of His word, but we find it difficult to believe He can intervene in our world; our situation; our need?

Rom 4.19-20 tells us that when Abraham heard this promise he was strong in faith. I find it significant that Abraham was one side of the door and his wife was on the other. One side was faith, the other was unbelief. It was the same Lord speaking at the same time to the same couple. But the response of the heart was different for each of them. We could say she was on the wrong side of the door. For the door here represented an entrance into the promise. It simply required faith.

What promises has God given you that you have almost given up on? Which side of the door of promise are you? Do you want to stay there? Jesus challenged Thomas not to be faithless but believing. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Can He do what He has promised? Human weakness and frailty does not limit the power of God; only unbelief. Remember it was a burning bush that housed the fire of God, but it did not feed the flame; it housed the flame.

This is why Paul could say "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.", 2Cor 4.7 NIV Through our weakness God's strength can shine. This ensures that He alone gets the glory. Faith does not look to human ability before it embraces God's promise, rather it embraces God's promise, even in weakness and boasts in God's power to do what He says.

Finally consider the door of provision. In Luke 11.5-8 Jesus tells us the parable of the man who comes to a friend at midnight seeking for bread to give to a late visitor. He is teaching about prayer that releases God's provision. Jesus goes on to tell His disciples to ask, seek and knock. Some doors appear closed, but when we ask the Father in heaven He can open them to us. The point of the parable is that God is eager and willing and we can trust in His nature. When we ask for something good we won't get something bad instead! He knows how to give good things to His children, Luke 11.11-13.

Doors of provision require us to knock on them. They will open to us, but not without some perseverance on our part first. God had provision for Israel in the wilderness; but they had to ask for it. Most of the time they complained before they knocked on God's door. Somehow they believed He had brought them there to kill them, Ex 16.3. That's crazy thinking in the light of all He had done for them. The Bible calls this kind of crazy thinking unbelief.

The teaching of Jesus in Luke 11 clearly shows that this provision of 'good things' even extends to receiving the Holy Spirit; Luke 11.13; Matt 7.11;. God has all that we need and can supply it when we need it; if we ask! I remember in the eighties some of the controversies surrounding the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. People warned me that I might receive a demonic tongue if I opened up in this way. How contrary to the words of Jesus in this parable this is. Our Father in heaven is bigger and better than that.

25 years ago I distinctly remember beginning to knock on the door of provision for spiritual gifts. Over the next two years I came into contact with leaders who helped me experience more of the dynamic of the Spirit. The person who probably had the biggest impact on my life in this area was John Wimber. He had what I call a relaxed spirituality. It lacked pentecostal hype. It was down to earth. I could connect with the way he used spiritual gifts and knocking on that door opened up a new level of faith and ministry to me.

What area of your life do you feel some lack? Where do you need God to close a door so you can know His protection? Is there a promise that awaits you to move to a different side of the door? Or perhaps you need Him to open a door of provision for you? Asking and knocking are expressions of faith. They position us to walk through doors into new places of freedom, blessing and protection. And if you knock you have the promise of God's word - the door will be opened.