Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on ; Date:

For more sermons and other writings check out pastor’s homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mayeredgar

 

 

Point Of Release

 

Jesus went through towns and villages – teaching the people (Lk 13:22) – and he was asked questions like – Luke 13:23: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus answered these questions and said – Luke 13:24: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. [Make your salvation a priority or risk missing out.]” Then – one day – some Pharisees (some of those that were most serious about their faith and God) came to Jesus and said to him – Luke 13:31: “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod [the king] wants to kill you.”

So far the Bible account is matching our expectations of what can happen on any mission journey. There is teaching on God. There is opposition from those in authority (because by nature kings and governments are suspicious of popular movements and any talk of another kingdom where they don’t rule). And there is support from other believers – the Pharisees.

Yet, Jesus was not fooled and even we ourselves should have learned by now that – according to the Bible and church history (and even what happened to Martin Luther) – time and again – the greatest and fiercest opposition to mission work does not come from kings and government but comes from God’s own people – the church. The opposition arises from our own midst.

This is how Jesus reacted to the warning of the Pharisees. He said – Luke 13:32-35: “Go tell that fox [Herod], ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus felt confident enough to snub Herod (the king), saying: “Go tell that fox, I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” In other words: “Herod, you won’t stop me.” And Jesus was right. Herod wasn’t the problem. Down the track Jesus would end up as a prisoner in Jerusalem but by then Herod was no longer hostile towards him. On the contrary the Bible records – Luke 23:8: “[At that time] when Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle.” The Jesus who was driving out demons and healing people did not threaten Herod but stirred up his curiosity.

The problem was somewhere else and Jesus spelled it out precisely, saying: “I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” Jesus acknowledged that he was in danger. He knew that he would die but not at the hand of Herod. He would die as a prophet – killed by God’s own people – the church. He added these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate … “

Time and again God would try to gather his people like a hen gathers her chicks but time and again the chicks – Jerusalem – the believers – the church – would not be willing and therefore kill the messengers of God whose fate Jesus himself would share and accordingly it was the Pharisees who opposed his entrance in Jerusalem. I read from the Bible – Luke 19:37-39: “When Jesus came … the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen … [However,] some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’”

So far the Bible. The circumstances are reasonably clear but how are we now applying the message of the Bible to ourselves? How does all of this become practical? Would we also oppose Jesus and why would we do that? I want to tell a longer testimony about what happened in another church. A pastor shared what happened more than thirty years ago in his home congregation. He writes [abbreviate and retell the testimony in your own words]:

 

“A church service in which I was not present in my old church in Ashland, Kentucky, in April 1956 changed my entire life. It turned my world upside down. Dr Billy Ball, to whom I will refer below, says it was the defining moment of his life as well. This service, perhaps more than any other (including those where I was present) did not shape my theology as such but it helped me to understand how the presence of the Holy Spirit in power can by anything but nice.

I was then a student … but also the pastor … of a small church … What I shall describe was considered unusual, if not strange, even then when Nazarenes were less sophisticated. The pastor of the church had planned to hold nightly services but fell ill and asked his associate, Billy Ball, to conduct the meetings and do the preaching. My father wrote me a letter to tell me this but mainly to report ‘how wonderful Brother Ball was preaching’ and said, ‘Son, he has been preaching with more power than I have witnessed since I was a boy.’ …

My father’s letter, however, did not greatly surprise me. The letter came two months after Billy himself told me what would happen in the Nazarene church in Ashland very soon. It was almost certainly my first exposure to the ministry of the prophetic. He told me in February 1956 that: 1. the senior pastor would shortly become ill; 2. the pastor would ask Billy to do the preaching; 3. Billy would be given unusual power; but 4. something would happen that would thrust him right out of his church.

I remember when he told me this, at his home in Ashland, and how a most unusual but sweet presence of the Holy Spirit fell in the room. It was as though there was a glow in the centre of the room … What happened was this. The pastor announced that he himself would preach in a series of nightly meetings in April 1956. A worship leader, known then as a song evangelist, was brought in to lead the singing. But a few days before the meeting was to begin Billy received a phone call to see the pastor. I remember Billy saying to me, ‘The only thing that troubles me is that in my vision the pastor was in bed in a room that I did not recognize but neither was it a hospital room, so I don’t know how this will happen.’ But when he arrived at the parsonage in answer to the pastor’s wife’s phone call she directed him upstairs and said, ‘Oh, he is in the room to the right as you come to the top of the stairs, not our regular bedroom.’ When Billy entered the room it was exactly as he had seen it in a vision.

The pastor asked Billy to preach in the services. Billy did so and preached night after night with unusual power. That is when my father wrote the letter to me. The thrust of Billy’s preaching for four nights was based largely on two verses:

“How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only” (John 5:44, AV)? “And he said unto them, ‘Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15, AV).

But the pastor showed up on Thursday evening and said he would preach from now on. This decision would have pleased everybody since the pastor was regarded as one of the greatest preachers of the denomination. But people noticed a difference in the atmosphere. The pastor, though greatly loved and respected by all the people, did not seem to have his usual power in his preaching, certainly nothing like what the growing congregation had witnessed when Billy did the preaching that week.

Three men, members of the church – Ed, Jack and Howard – approached Billy to see if he would join them for a time of prayer. The four men began to pray on that same Thursday evening after people went home from church. They ended up praying for almost the entire night. I later talked with some of these men and asked them what it was like. I wanted to know because the fall-out of this prayer meeting would have a major effect on my own life. Two of them said they felt a burden for one man in particular but did not discuss it with each other; it turned out to be the same person each felt led to pray for. One of the men told me he had a vision of hell – or what he assumed must be hell. He said he saw only faces, or heads, of people floating in what looked like burning sulphur. Their faces were contorted and in despair. He recognized them as people he knew and was shocked since they were regarded as strong members of the church. The four men did not talk with each other during the night but prayed until about five o’clock in the morning. They returned to their homes in order to go to work that day. Billy assumed he would not be asked to preach on the Friday evening since the pastor had returned to the pulpit the evening before. But he was asked during the day to conduct the Friday evening service and preach.

The four men met at church at seven o’clock on Friday evening to spend more time in prayer. The service began at seven-thirty with congregational singing. Billy left the three men in the room in which they were praying and took his seat on the platform. During the congregational singing the three other men burst into the service and began to exhort the people. Two of the men took their seats after a few minutes, but Ed kept it up – walking up and down the centre aisle of the church ‘like a wild man’, according to my dad. The singing came to a halt while Ed addressed the shocked congregation. The organist, who happened to be my Aunt Ruth, began to play with the hope that Ed would take the hint and sit down. But he didn’t. He even told Aunt Ruth to stop playing. She did. Ed continued to speak to the people, shouting with all his might. My dad, who witnessed the whole episode, bowed his head and prayed that Ed would please stop ranting and raving.

But he didn’t. As for my father, he was quite out of his comfort zone. Ed continued, urging the people to repent. He then began to say that someone present was seriously grieving the Holy Spirit, that this person was holding back what could be great revival. Different ones present later told me they thought it could be them – as if to say in their hearts, ‘Is it I?’ Ed kept exhorting the congregation of about 400 for nearly thirty minutes and then stated that ‘Ichabod’ was written over the door of the church. The Holy Spirit was being quenched. The pastor, who had asked Billy to take the service, unexpectedly turned up and took his seat on the platform. Ed did not see him but continued, ‘I see a coffin, the person in it is holding up revival. I know this man. I love this man. I love him very much. I know his address. I fear for this man.’

My dad continued to plead with the Lord that this would end. Whereas some sensed great fear and personal conviction, my father and grandmother, who was also present, only wanted Ed to stop his unreasonable if not irrational behaviour. At some point during Ed’s shouting to the people a haze settled on the service. Not all saw it. My dad didn’t see it. Ed saw it but thought that something had gone wrong with his eyes since he could not see past the haze. He kept rubbing his eyes to see better and had no idea what it was or what it meant.

The song evangelist decided to stand in the pulpit and ask the people to sing a well-known song called ‘The unclouded day’. At this point Billy walked to the pulpit and motioned for the song leader not to proceed since Billy wanted to say something. My dad was greatly relieved to see Billy take charge because it was assumed Billy would bring a sense of sanity and order to the service that had become completely out of control. The service was almost like a nightmare to some. But all were pleased that Billy would take over.

‘This is the greatest demonstration of the Holy Ghost I have ever seen’, Billy said. My dad said to himself, ‘Oh no, Brother Billy is condoning this wild fanaticism.’ But Billy began reading aloud the account of Ananias who lied to the Holy Spirit. He read the first five verses of Acts 5 and sat down. A number of people got out of their seats and came to the altar. Six or seven were reportedly converted or, at least, got spiritual help. At this point the pastor took charge and asked if anybody else wanted to come forward for prayer, then dismissed the service.

There were mixed reactions to the service, which turned out to be historic in many ways. Some felt a great conviction of sin and feared they were the person Ed had in mind. From all accounts it was no time for laughter but a great sense of fear and sobriety. One old lady, highly respected for her godliness, said, ‘I thought the days of Holy Ghost manifestations like this were over but this is the best I have seen.’ Others, however, were horrified and upset that such an undignified service was allowed to continue. No one thought it was very nice.

On the Saturday evening the pastor was feeling better and did the preaching. After the service he asked to meet with the four men – Howard, Ed, Jack and Billy Ball – and said to them, ‘Who are you men after?’ They were taken aback by the question and did not know how to answer. They all said, ‘We are not after anybody.’ Then the pastor focused on Ed, ‘Who are you after?’ Ed replied he was after no one but admitted that he had a burden to pray for him, that is, the pastor who was questioning them. The pastor then asked Ed, ‘Who did you have in mind last night when you exhorted the people like you did?’ Edward replied that it was the pastor himself he had in mind on the Friday night.

The pastor then turned to each of them to see if they agreed with Ed, asking Billy first. Billy said that he had a burden to pray for the pastor during the all-night prayer meeting that began Thursday evening but had not said this to a single soul. Each man then said that they felt in their hearts that Ed had the pastor in mind during the Friday service but none of them discussed this among themselves. This very moment, then, when the pastor called the four men for this meeting, was the first time they actually spoke to each other on the subject.

At this point the pastor asked them, ‘What have I done? What sin have I committed?’ No one knew what to say in reply. The pastor then knelt at the altar – they thought he did so mockingly – and said, ‘I am the penitent, now you men pray for me.’ The men felt helpless and were not able to pray at all. They did not believe the pastor was really sincere. But they did their best to pray but felt no liberty in doing so. After an hour or so they all dispersed and went to their homes.

The next morning, Sunday, the pastor phoned each of the members of the board. My dad was on the board and told verbatim what happened. ‘I now know who the men had in mind Friday night’, he said to my father. ‘Who?’, my father anxiously asked. ‘Me.’ ‘No, it can’t be you, surely not.’ ‘Yes, I am the man.’ My father was disgusted with the four men, including Billy Ball. How dare they question the pastor, Dad thought. This pastor was not only regarded as one of the greatest preachers of the denomination but also as very humble and godly.

Within forty-eight hours Billy Ball was dismissed as the associate pastor of the Nazarene church and immediately had to find a place to live and get any kind of a job.

It will be recalled that I was not present at this service. But I received a letter from my father a few days later. Whereas the previous letter from my father sang Billy Ball’s praises, this letter said: ‘Son, have nothing to do with Billy Ball. Do not write him, do not call him. Something terrible has happened in our church. Billy Ball has been asked to leave and resign as associate pastor. Nothing immoral. But have nothing to do with him.’

I was puzzled. Sobered. As I drove in my car after reading the letter I had a clear witness of the Holy Spirit – as clear as an audible voice – to turn to Philippians 1:12, not knowing what it would say. Nothing like this had happened to me before. I stopped the car, opened my Bible to read it: ‘Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel’ (AV).

I knew at once that it referred to Billy Ball. To me it meant that Billy had not done anything wrong, whatever had happened, but had been led by the Holy Spirit. But it would equally refer to me, as I would see later. For that verse held me more than anything else over the next several years. All this led to the first break with my dad, the most godly and sincere Christian I have ever known …

Who was right? Was the pastor right to phone the key members of the church the Sunday morning after confronting the men? Was the church board right to dismiss Billy Ball? Or do it so soon? Was Billy Ball right to walk to the pulpit, endorse all that had happened and then read Acts 5:1-5? Was Ed right to interrupt the service as he did – and then cry out, ‘God has written Ichabod over this church’? Was my dad right to order me to break all connections with Billy Ball? … And was I myself right to stand with Billy Ball and take the view that the service – strange and terrible as it seemed to be – was actually orchestrated by the Holy Spirit? Would God really be in this? If so, how could such godly people miss it?

I return to the matter of the haze. During the Friday service when a haze filled the auditorium, Billy Ball was one who saw it. He has commented to me many times that he never knew such power in all his life as he had in the pulpit as he read from Acts 5:1-5, that it is even difficult to imagine any ancient prophet having more power than he felt as he read those verses … The haze was the kabodh (Hebrew), meaning the shekinah glory of God. It was what disrupted the priests in their work in the temple. ‘Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God’ (2 Chronicles 5:13-14; cf 1 Kings 8:10-11) …

My old church in Ashland continued for years as if nothing happened. To me it was not unlike the temple in Jerusalem continuing on after Jesus’ death on the cross. Though the veil inside the temple was torn from top to bottom, the priests went back to business as usual. There was no outward sign or even hint that God wrote ‘Ichabod’ over the temple. In much the same way, those who continued to worship at the Ashland church, as far as I know, sensed nothing different … But from that time, slowly but surely, the spirit and power of my old home Nazarene church went down, down, down. Within a generation it had lost its strategic influence and the numbers dwindled to the size of a small church. As for the pastor, he soon lost the support of many who had defended him at the time – even those who were most indignant against Billy and the three other men. He continued on until, a few years later, he died a premature death.

… As for Billy Ball, he felt forced to leave his old denomination in 1956 but went from strength to strength in another church. … he became the pastor of a church that grew to be the largest church in the state of Ohio. He became one of the most popular and respected preachers in his movement and has been honoured by many thousands from all over the world for his faithfulness to God and his Word” (R.T. Kendall: Out Of The Comfort Zone, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005, p157-169).

 

Now – can we see how this account ties in with the Bible account of Jesus’ own mission journey? King Herod (the government) was not the problem. The good people in church were. On the one hand they recognized that unusual power came into Billy Ball’s preaching – they appreciated it and wrote raving letters acknowledging a move of God – but on the other hand they were quick to dismiss, reject and oppose the preacher and proceedings when one of the prayer people raised his voice in worship and shouted a message of repentance and Billy Ball endorsed the action with the Bible reading of Acts 5. For days the congregation had enjoyed the preaching on repentance with Bible verses like Luke 16:15: “Ye are they which justify yourselves … God knoweth your hearts … “ but when the message became too personal – was driven home in an unusual (offensive) way – the mood changed and the atmosphere became hostile.

It was the same with Jesus. On the one hand people enjoyed the healings and the driving out of demons and also the preaching. Even the Pharisees sought him out but then Jesus became too personal and insistent. For instance, I read from the Bible – Luke 11:37-39: “When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness … you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces … you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it … “ This did not exactly endear Jesus to the Pharisees. The call to repentance became too personal and blunt – not unlike someone shouting in church. Therefore, the Bible says – Luke 11:53: “When Jesus left there, the Pharisees … began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions … “

What Jesus was doing and what God keeps doing is that he cuts through the pride of his people – our pride. The church where Billy Ball upset the members was regarded as one of the best churches of the Nazarene denomination. They had one of the best preachers, strategic influence and a proud heritage – just like the Pharisees were honoured for their godliness and zeal. Yet, those that have been most favoured by God are most at risk. They are set in their proud ways – overconfident in spiritual matters – and therefore they are the ones that keep killing the prophets and stoning the messengers of God.

Now to Living Grace. As a church we are becoming free. We know that we have been on a journey and presently we rejoice in what is possible among us – words of knowledge, joy, spiritual gifts, conversions, soaking in prayer, acts of mercy, a giving spirit. We have a sense that we are going somewhere. We have a sense that the promises of God in the Bible will come true in our midst. But – in the midst of all this excitement – are we in danger of becoming proud? Do we begin to look down on other Christians because they are not as free as we are – because they don’t pray as long as we do – because they don’t trust the Bible as we do? Do we begin to think that we have it all figured out? Two weeks ago at the Wednesday outreach Peter Grieshaber shared about pride. His confession was that many a time we choose to remain angry because we are too proud to forgive each other and then there were others that shared along similar lines. Yet, whoever is proud is all too easily missing the next visitation of God. When someone among us begins shouting or doing anything else in a strange way, we need a lot of wisdom and a lot of humility to discern whether this is crazy or of God. [And what I find scary is that the good people of the Nazarene congregation and also the Pharisees did not realize how much they were in a desolate state – not at all right with God.]

Another parallel between the testimony and Jesus’ account is that both times God gave prophetic foreknowledge. Jesus knew beforehand that he would die as a prophet in Jerusalem and that at the same time he would reach his goal there. In the same way Billy Ball was told beforehand – even with a precise vision of the senior pastor lying sick in bed in a specific room – that he would be asked to preach and then preach with unusual power but then be thrust out of his church. Just when the ministry became powerful he would be rejected. Then his friend who wrote down the testimony also received a prophetic word – the strong impression to look up the Bible verse of Philippians 1:12 – which explained that God intended to use the rejection for good. I read this verse again – Philippians 1:12: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”

Prophetic insight was absolutely important to Jesus, Billy Ball and his friend because without God’s prophetic assurances it is very easy to get confused. Am I really on the right track when so many good church people keep rejecting me? We don’t despise the prophetic – we need to be hearing from God – and in due time as a church we are going to learn more about the prophetic gift and by God’s grace come to have it released more in our public worship. The Bible encourages us – 1 Corinthians 14:1: “ … eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.”

One last point: Jesus and Billy Ball received the same prophetic word which points to a common strategy of God. God is amazingly persistent with his love, saying – Luke 13:34: “ … you kill . and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather you [original: your children] together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” God loves us with a kind of love that does not give up easily and that is willing to make sacrifices – even the death of his only begotten Son. [Expand on the good news of Jesus’ saving death on a cross.] But then the time comes, when the long-suffering patience of God has been exhausted and the very climax of rejection becomes the release for something new in God. As much as Jesus knew that he would be killed in Jerusalem, he also knew that there he would nevertheless reach his goal and that there would be people welcoming him with the words that he requested – Luke 13:35: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (cf. Luke 19:38). Only those that later welcomed him were the outsiders and then the Gentiles (non-Jews).

When Jesus entered Jerusalem he wept – Luke 19:41: “As he approached . and saw the city, he wept over it.” The bulk of the people were missing it when he came in person and even later when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the city, they ended up killing the first Christian and persecuting the entire church with the result that the entire church left the city (Acts 7-8) but in the process they brought the good news to the Gentiles (non-Jews) and they received the truth.

In the same way Billy Ball suffered the ultimate rejection when he was dismissed as the associate pastor (without a home and job) but then this released him to rise up in another church movement. God used the rejection to release him to others. [Martin Luther also suffered the ultimate rejection at the Council of Worms and then had to go in hiding but this released him to translate the Bible into German with the result that the Word of God came to the common people and worked the reformation of the church.]

There is comfort in God’s strategy. First of all he is patient and does not rush in with judgement. If we miss the first few messengers, there is still time to humble ourselves and listen. God does not turn his back on us but keeps wooing us. And even when the ultimate rejection has happened, there is still time to undo the mistake. Jerusalem was only judged forty years after the people crucified Jesus. Billy Ball’s church only gradually lost its influence. God is always giving us enough time. He loves us.

But when his people remain stubborn, he nevertheless finds a way. It is comforting that God won’t be delayed and stopped forever. The time comes when rejection turns into release – the release of something new going down a new track (new wine in new wine skins). The rejection may hurt but the release is going to be wonderful.

Let’s be part of the release. This church of Living Grace – by the mercy of God – remains humble. We do not reject those that God sends to us. On the contrary we join them and share in their rejection because we want to see the release. Jesus was asked  – Luke 13:23: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” And he answered – Luke 13:24: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” This is worth it. We will make every effort of not missing what God is doing among us so that we experience the release of salvation in our city and region. The release is coming.

I repeat what we have covered in this message: 1) Those that have been most favoured by God are most at risk because in their pride they keep rejecting the messengers of God. 2) God gives prophetic foreknowledge to assure his messengers that despite the rejection they are on the right track. 3) God does not rush in with judgement but in his love keeps sending messenger after messenger to his people. There is time for repentance. 4) The ultimate rejection becomes the very point of release for something new. There is something new coming for us. Amen.