Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church
Message: The Kingdom For Keeps – 10 – Sermon On The Mount Series; Date: 22 May 2011
For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
What is the goal of the Christian life? What is your goal in life? “A Hindu Government official of high standing remarked before a highly intelligent audience: ‘Now the Hindus, after working out their destiny through many rebirths, have as their final goal, union with the Divine. You Christians after this life have heaven granted to you as a reward for following Christ. Please enlarge on this” (E. Stanley Jones: The Christ Of The Mount, London: Hodder & Stoughton 1935, p32). When a Christian missionary heard this statement, he found himself squirming inwardly at what this Hindu took for granted as the Christian goal. While the Hindus worked out their destiny through countless rebirths as the result of what they have done and been, the Christian vision – by comparison – looked cheap and less noble – far less interested in the values of morality and holiness. The Hindu thought that Christianity was some sort of short-cut – a quick getaway – to eternal pleasures and rewards.
Yet, was he right in his assumptions? Is the goal of the Christian life – heaven? Sometimes it is. There are seasons in life when you’ve just had enough and you feel like crying out: “Beam me up now! I’m done with the constant battles.” Thus, many of the older hymns express our deepest longing for heaven.
What is more – many a time – when we invite someone to put their faith in Jesus, we explain that it is important to be “saved”. This is what we teach (and if you have not heard it before, you may listen): Without Jesus you are a sinner who is under the wrath of God because – like the rest of us – without Jesus – you are under a curse which is most clearly demonstrated in your aging body and death. You die – all of us die – so the Bible explains – as a consequence of sin. We need to be “saved” and – this is the good news – Jesus did come to “save” us by dying on our behalf on a cross and offering his body as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. On his account you can be forgiven, set free, given an inheritance in heaven – in short: you can be “saved”.
Only – this is not the goal of the Christian life – at least this is not all there is to salvation. According to the Sermon on the Mount – which we have studied over the last few months – the goal of the Christian life is a little more confronting. It is perfection – becoming like God. I read – Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And there are many other Bible references backing this up – Colossians 1:28-20: “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus … ” Colossians 4:12: “ … always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Ephesians 5:25-27: “ … as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” [Christ wants a perfect bride in heaven because there can only be communion – intimacy – between us and him in holiness. Sin and purity do not mix.] 1 John 3:4-10: “ … in him [Jesus] is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning … do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil … No one who is born of God will continue to sin … ” 1 Peter 1:15: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” See also Matthew 19:21; Ephesians 4:11-13; Philippians 2:12-13; 3:15; Galatians 5:24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature its passions and desires.”
On the one hand – (we have to admit) – this goal of perfection – sharing in the holiness of God – is far more life-affirming than a simple escape into the after-life. God intends – not only to save us but – to transform us and make us good. We have (intrinsic) value as persons and – then – God has plans for this world. The kingdom of God – his dominion – is going to break into our cities and nations. God intends to heal the earth – Romans 8:21: “ … creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay … ” – and perfected Christians are his means to make a difference – (already now) – Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world … let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds [your perfection] and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:7-8: “ … preach … the kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick … drive out demons … ”
On the one hand – therefore – the goal of perfection is wonderful because it makes us Christians life-affirming and relevant in a lost world but – on the other hand – we struggle with the demands on us. Who can handle the instruction to be like God – Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Who can handle the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:17-20: “ … unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” I give you some more samples from this sermon – Matthew 5:22: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment … ” Matthew 5:28: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 6:15: “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:24: “ … You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate … small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
The goal of perfection may be a worthy cause because it makes us salt and light in a lost world but – at the same time – it seems more than we can handle. Please – put your hands up, if the current preaching series on the Sermon on the Mount is one of your favourites. (I rather enjoy a series on the glory of God and grace – gifts of the Spirit and soaking in his presence.) A few days ago I received an email from one of our members and she writes: “I am really enjoying (?) your study on the Sermon on the Mount. Thank you for your courage and determination to press in deeper to the hidden jewels/riches of the Word, it is certainly making me a better person!! I have been deeply challenged by those chapters in Matthew, but along with the challenges have come deep healing and release. GOD BLESS YOU!! I’m longing for the day when I can read those chapters in any translation without feeling significant conviction!!” There is beauty and healing in the Sermon on the Mount – there are prompts for positive life changes – but will there ever come the day when we read the words without significant conviction?
Last week Chris shared how he has always been struggling with rejection. Moments would come where he would receive God’s love and acceptance but these moments never seemed to last. Before long – because of a wounded heart – he would always revert to his default position of expecting and feeling rejection. Now – if rejection is your default position – and we all struggle with sensing that we are not good enough – (not good enough as husbands and bread-winners, not good enough in the way we look, not good enough in our dedication to God) – then the words of the Sermon on the Mount seem to make things worse because they seem to confirm and spell out more and more reasons for our rejection. We are angry, when we shouldn’t. We have a roving eye, when we shouldn’t. We hang on to a grudge, when we shouldn’t. We chase money, when we shouldn’t. We read and hear all these reasons which validate our rejection – utterly depressing.
Yet – today – this morning – the time has come for us to read the Sermon on the Mount from a different perspective. God give us fresh eyes to delight in Jesus’ preaching. While there are warnings in the Sermon on the Mount about the consequences of disobedience, Jesus never meant to preach an angry God – who is just poised to burden us with more rejection. In fact – Jesus – on purpose – showcased the love of God for everyone when he healed all of the sick among the large crowds that were listening to him. Just imagine: If you came to a service with chronic back pain and Jesus healed you of the pain, you would have to conclude that he means well with you. The evidence is in a pain-free body. If you hear one testimony after another of the blind receiving sight and the deaf receiving hearing – and the joy is contagious – then you cannot – at least not easily – be depressed by Jesus’ preaching. He is preaching from a good and loving heart.
Therefore, read the Sermon on the Mount with the healings in mind – (the healings also in our midst) – Matthew 4:23-5:2: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds … followed him. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down … and he began to teach them.”
The Sermon on the Mount are the words of a healing God and – try this exercise – you can read the words – not as damning instructions but – as a character study of God himself. Jesus told us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect and then he spelled out perfection which – first and foremost – as our goal – is the Father’s perfection – toward us. If you want to hear the Sermon on the Mount as a declaration of love (to you), then read the words as a description of the Father’s character. He already is what we are to become.
Why feel condemned and suffocate in endless remonstrations, when this is how God feels and acts towards you – Matthew 5:21-22: “ … anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, … anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” This means that God is not going to be angry with you – his child – and God is not going to call you names. Words like “you fool” or “you rotten scoundrel” are destined for the fires of hell and he belongs to heaven. He loves you. Matthew 5:28: “ … anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This means that God is committed to the highest standards in his love for you. He will never regret his choice for you and even his eyes are for you only. Matthew 5:38-42: “ … do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” This means that the evil in us will never deter God from loving us. You can slap him with your behaviour and he will respond to you with love – turning the other cheek. We may abuse him with our requests but he will seek to win us over with love – handing us his coat as well – going the second mile with us – not turning away anyone who wants to borrow from him.
Matthew 5:44: “ … love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This means that no matter how far we have fallen into rebellion, God’s heart towards us remains unchanged. He loves us even then. We may rail and rant against him – spit at the Christian faith – but he prays for us and longs for us and pursues us – with love. And if we don’t believe Jesus’ preaching, we only have to look at the cross of his death. His actions speak even louder than his preaching. He died for love. We – our sinful human race – put a crown of thorns on his head – mocked his kingship – watched him die in long-lasting agony – heaping insults on him – but he – nevertheless – with compassion – died for us with the result that the curtain in the temple – the one that kept people from the holiest place and intimacy with God – tore from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). Jesus proved that – this side of eternity – God will always love his enemies and pray for those that persecute him.
This is practical. Just consider the following testimony:
Reinhard Bonnke: Living A Life Of Fire, Orlando: E-R Productions 2009, 49-51: … Herman had been in this prison camp for 279 days and nights … Still . his confinement … seemed small payment for the mega death and suffering dealt by the German army over the last few years. The trials for Nazi war crimes were even now beginning in the city of Nuremberg. He would not have to stand trial because as an officer in the Reichswehr, he had never joined the Nazi Party. But he had served their cause in a terrible killing machine. He thought that if he were given the death penalty as a prisoner of war now, it would not be too severe. But alas, it could not atone for so many sins. The war’s sweep was too massive and its evils too many for any court to ever set right …
As he lay there, in his imagination, he saw a pair of scales weighed down to the floor with an impossible debt. A tank, a bomber, a field helmet, a bayonet, an Iron Cross adorned with swastikas. Then, placed on the opposite side of the scale, the old rugged cross. Under the weight of that cross the scales were balanced. This alone was the equation of divine justice. God placed on Him the iniquity of us all.
Tears ebbed from his eyes as his heart reached out to this infinite God in prayer. My heavenly Father, I am Yours for the remaining years of my life. No more military service for me. It is my heart’s desire to preach Your gospel and to serve You alone, until the day I see You face to face.
Across the empty barracks he heard a door quietly open and close. Someone began walking softly across the floor. The flooring softwoods creaked beneath every step. Hermann thought perhaps it was a British guard coming to check on him. Or a doctor coming to see why he had reported feeling sick.
He rolled from the bunk and stood up to face him, and to his utter shock it was a man in white, wearing a seamless robe and Middle Eastern sandals. He was smiling as He moved toward him, hands extended as if to embrace him. His hair was long and His beard full, and when Hermann reached out to take His hand he saw that it was torn completely through from the force of a Roman nail.
“Hermann, I am so glad you are coming,” the Master said, then vanished into thin air.
Hermann fell to his knees. He could do nothing but weep for the rest of the day and night. How could the Savior be made glad by one so guilty? Returning to his bunk, he lay down, his soul overflowing with the peace of God that passes understanding. Until this moment it had seemed inconceivable that an imprisoned soldier of the Third Reich could receive the smile of the Lamb of God, and that the Savior could express God’s pleasure at his desire to serve Him as a minister of the gospel. The treasure of this encounter burned like a warming fire in his heart until the day he died.
Do you get a sense now that you are not required to squirm in response to the Sermon on the Mount? This is not God’s intention. The goal of perfection is bathed in his love – even love for his enemies. He is not going to squash us under intolerable burdens. He is not going to flare up against us when we are still on “training wheels”. Even before he began preaching, Jesus healed the sick and then his first words were reassuring – Matthew 5:3-10: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled … ”
There is more good news. After Jesus finished preaching, the crowd’s response was unanimous – Matthew 7:28-29: “ … the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Jesus’ words came with the authority and power to accomplish what was required (see Matthew 8:8). Jesus set out before us the goal of perfection but his words were not simply demands but empowerment. Before he ascended to heaven – he explained to his disciples – Matthew 28:18-20: “ … All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me … obey everything I have commanded you . surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” According to Jesus’ promise here – he did not just preach the Sermon on the Mount and then left us struggling with the consequences. He assured us that he would always be with us and with him would be all authority in heaven and on earth – more than enough power to act on his preaching.
How does this work in practice? How are Jesus and his authority – his power – always going to be with us? There is clue in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said – Matthew 7:7-11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you … If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” We can ask for good gifts and – according to another Bible book which is picking up on the same teaching – the best gift which we can receive from God is the Holy Spirit – consider Luke 11:9-13: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you … If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus intended to remain with us – to the very end of the age – through the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist – who prepared people for Jesus coming – had already announced him with these words – Matthew 3:11: “I baptize you in water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus would plunge us into – immerse us in – drench us with – the Spirit of God. When he ascended to heaven, he poured out his Spirit on his people and – on account of him and Jesus’ power through him – the Sermon on the Mount would lose its sting. The goal of perfection would become easy as Jesus promised – Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest … my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [For more information on the Holy Spirit see the seminar “But Wait There Is More” at http://www.livinggracetoowoomba.org/Words/seminars.htm.]
Let me illustrate to you how this may work in practice. Just one example.
Reinhard Bonnke: Living A Life Of Fire, Orlando: E-R Productions 2009, 90-96: … As I returned home, filled with vivid images from my experience, it suddenly came over me that something was terribly wrong. All my brothers and sisters were seated solemnly around the room. They were quiet and not looking at me. Mom emerged from the bedroom. I could see she had been crying. But on her face was not sorrow or pain. It was the rage I had seen earlier at the circus poster.
“Get in this bedroom. Now!” she ordered. I knew better than to say anything at this point. I went obediently and silently into the bedroom. She shut the door firmly behind us. “After I warned you, how could you go near that place of sin?” “Momma, I just went to see the animals.” “You were seen by Sister Krueger. She said you were there all day watching the tent being put up. I told you the circus was a worldly pleasure. The Bible says we are to avoid the very appearance of evil. Did you do that?” I couldn’t deny it. “No, Mother.”
“I am going to give you the hiding of your life!” And she did. I will never forget it. I was literally black and blue in places. It was the most terrible punishment I ever received.
Perhaps the real effect of the hiding was much more than skin deep. I felt that something was truly wrong with me. I had failed to understand my own attraction to the circus. I had flirted with sinful activity when I should have fled from the very appearance of it. Mother had warned me. I had thought that after the chocolate incident I had really given my heart to the Lord. But now, I felt far from being a new creature in Christ. It was like I had to start all over again. Like I had to repent and be saved again …
… at the time I did not have enough life experience to see over this setback. When Mother left that bedroom I felt as if God Himself had left the bedroom. My mind knew better, but feelings can be very powerful persuaders. Her disapproval, and God’s disapproval, seemed one and the same. It lay heavy on me.
As I lay in my bed I recalled the day Mother had come home from Hamburg after receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I recalled how she had hugged me and how the fountain of love had poured from her very soul into mine. Until that bright day, I had felt that she would rather give me a good hiding than give me a hug. Suddenly, she had loved me without condition, and I felt that God must have loved me in the same way. I wept at the memory of it. Now, I had betrayed that outpouring of love. I no longer deserved it, from Mother or from God. How would I ever rise above my own sinfulness?
The first day of the rest of my life happened in 1951 … I was still eleven years old. A special guest speaker came to Glueckstadt from Finland. His name was Pastor Arthur Kukula, and he was well known for leading people in receiving this gift [of being filled with the Holy Spirit] … the local believers decided to have him come to a smaller gathering held in a home in the rural countryside. I had been to that house many times for Sunday dinner after church. It was one of my favorite places on earth … because the family had rigged a rope swing with a spare tire on the end … I couldn’t get enough of it …
“Reinhard, you said you wanted the baptism like your mother. Why don’t you go with me to this meeting?” I was shocked. Immediately, I felt condemned by my worldly thoughts. Instead of thinking of this meeting as my opportunity to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I had been fantasizing about riding the swing. It was so typical of my naughtiness and my unholiness.
“No, Hermann,” Mother quickly spoke up. “I hardly think Reinhard is ready for such an experience.” “Mother is right,” I agreed. “I will stay home.” For some reason, Dad did not accept this answer. Maybe God was beginning to speak to him about me. I wonder.
“This does not sound like my Reinhard,” he said. “He is always talking about needing the baptism for his calling in Africa. Reverend Arthur Kukula is here, Meta. We should not ignore this opportunity. Besides, the Lord Jesus Himself is the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost. If He desires to baptize Reinhard, who are we to stand in His way?”
And so I went with him. As we walked toward the farmhouse, I struggled with my feelings of unworthiness. How could God stoop to fill such a wayward boy like me with the Holy Spirit? I was surely not to be trusted with His priceless gift.
When we arrived at the house we could hear singing. Outside, the great swing in the oak tree swayed silently in the breeze, accusing me of my tendency toward worldly thoughts. I turned away from it, fervently asking God to forgive me, and followed my father into the house.
As soon as I entered the room with those saints. I felt something begin to tingle inside of me. Incredibly, it was a growing expectation that I would receive the gift of the baptism this evening. My heart trembled to think that God would do such a thing. Reinhard the null boy, the worldly boy, the naughty boy, would be visited by the power of the Holy Spirit! I began to be excited, and I felt broken inside. It was a good feeling because I felt broken before God, and I began to sense His love for me as a broken boy. Surely this gift would lift me above the string of failures I had wracked up.
As Arthur Kukula spoke, my faith leapt up and shouted “yes” within me. The words of Scripture seemed to come alive in my chest. Suddenly the entire experience was no longer about me. It was about God and His great love for His children. When Arthur invited those seeking the Holy Spirit to kneel and pray I did so immediately. No sooner had I reached my knees than I was overwhelmed with an incredible sensation. No one needed to lay hands on me to pray. I received the gift of speaking in tongues spontaneously and burst out in a heavenly language.
How can I describe it? Let me say first of all that there are many who have experienced the Spirit baptism in a quieter and less dramatic fashion. What follows is not a “how to” receive. It is a description of how it happened to me at the age of eleven.
It seemed to come from beyond me and from within me at the same time. My mind began to receive a stream of pure light and love from the very throne of God. It flowed over me and went straight through me at once. This was far more than a mere bolt of electricity. It was as if every cell in my body was being saved, healed, and invigorated by a surge of divine power.
The word love is inadequate to describe it because that word has been so abused and misused. Yet that is what the power and Spirit of God is – His pure, selfless agape love poured into us. It has nothing to do with transient human love. It reminds me of the prayer Jesus prayed at the Lord’s Supper: … that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26b). All of my disappointments, feelings of unworthiness, and condemnation were swept away and forgotten.
The heavenly tongue cascading from my lips was the outer expression of something flowing within me that was too wonderful for normal language. Between my spirit and God’s Spirit great mysteries were being exchanged. Paul spoke of the peace of God that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). Some blessings from God are beyond intellect. Spirit baptism is one of them. People who limit God to mere human rationality will never know this power and this ecstasy. As the Spirit flowed, I was being transformed from my human limitations to a place where all things were possible …
… Reinhard, the worldly boy, could never live up to them. I could never be that brave. But now I understood instinctively that the first-century martyrs were not brave. Rather, they were believers like me who had been swept from the natural to the supernatural on a flowing fountain of the Spirit. During my baptism, I could have easily swung in the flames with the martyrs; Not by might, but my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts (Zechariah 4:6).
As my experience continued, it was as if I received a “mind transfusion.” My thoughts were being replaced by an infusion of pure and heavenly thoughts that were simply not my own. Under their influence, I held nothing against anyone who had ever wronged me … Forgiveness was as easy as breathing, and it flowed from me on a tide of tears. Believe me, this was a mind-expanding experience for a boy of eleven. Every form of fear, self-consciousness, and natural self-centeredness was blown away like chaff as God poured His love through me. Once I experienced it, nothing else compared.
I immediately recognized the source of this blessing. It could only come from God. This was because the Spirit of Christ, which already lived inside of me, was programmed to recognize Him. Abba, Father (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)! The Scripture informs us that if the Spirit of Christ does not live in us then we have not been born again. I had already entered a relationship with Him by accepting Jesus as my Savior. Under the influence of the baptism all doubt was erased about the validity of my salvation. I had been truly born again when I prayed with Mother after stealing money from her purse to buy chocolate. Spirit Baptism was not the same as the new birth that had happened then.
The Bible tells us that after new birth, the Spirit of Christ comes to live within us. Yet we may not feel its effect, and we cannot see its essence. Still, we are told that one day this same Spirit will raise our dead bodies from the grave (Romans 8:10-11). Yet, day in and day out after my new birth I had not been able to see evidence that this powerful Spirit was living in me. Nor did I readily see it in other believers. I needed a Helper.
Under the experience of Holy Spirit baptism the Helper became fully alive to me. The reality of the Spirit’s presence sprang up in me like a fountain that became almost unbearably wonderful. Suddenly love made it easy to believe. Neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities – nor even my mother leaving the room in strong disapproval – could separate me from the source of this love. I was lost in loving God and being loved by Him. This was life eternal. By the Spirit I instantly knew that we are all null, we are all zero, until we leave our reality and enter His.
At the age of eleven, the Spirit baptism began to lead me on an adventure of faith that has not ended. I literally took off like a rocket ship, and no one could stop me. I continue to be empowered by it to this very day …
Reinhard Bonnke was frequently in trouble as a boy and the disapproval from his mom made him feel that there was something truly wrong with him. He felt like a null – a nothing boy – naughty and worldly – certainly undeserving of God. Yet – at the age of eleven – entering worship with his heart on the swing outside – God took hold of him and overwhelmed him with an immersion in the Spirit of God. He became excited, was broken inside, his faith leapt up, the words of Scripture became alive in his chest, then he knelt and – before he could even pray – was overwhelmed with the incredible sensation of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit. There came the gift of tongues, a stream of pure light and love from the very throne of heaven – “it was as if every cell in my body was being saved, healed, and invigorated by a surge of divine power” – agape love (which swept away all disappointments, feelings of unworthiness and condemnation), readiness even for martyrdom, forgiveness as easy as breathing and continuous empowerment to this day.
If you don’t know the experience of the Spirit baptism, let me tell you: This is what you want. This is what makes reading the Sermon on the Mount a joy because you will (easily) reach the goal of perfection through the Spirit.
I want to make a further point which picks up on what we have established earlier as God’s character in the Sermon on the Mount. The God that turns the other cheek and loves his enemies is not quick in finding fault and punishing you with rejection. We are reading the Sermon on the Mount – secure in the favour of God.
This is also what Reinhard Bonnke had to learn in order to enjoy the full benefits of his baptism in the Holy Spirit. Let’s learn this lesson with him:
Reinhard Bonnke: Living A Life Of Fire, Orlando: E-R Productions 2009, 102-103: … As time passed, I fell into a degree of anxiety in my Pentecostal beliefs. I was not aware of it as such. It is something I can see looking back from the perspective of years and experience.
This anxiety arose from hearing repeated teaching at church about a difference between the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit and other subsequent “fillings” with the Spirit. This teaching was an attempt to deal with the way such a powerful encounter with the Lord could fade and perhaps be renewed again. We grew anxious to keep our Holy Spirit “topped up,” as we called it.
Ironically, this teaching tended to downplay the element of faith. Rather than trust in the gift that had been given, the insecure believer would storm heaven to obtain a “refilling” of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, this was our heritage. A great deal of responsibility for seeing the power of God at work in our lives rested squarely on our own shoulders. Thus, a degree of anxiety was present in our worship.
Unscriptural ideas crept into our language, into our prayers, and into our singing. Oh, for a new anointing … But I thought, the gifts and calling of God were without repentance [meaning: he would not take them back (see Romans 11:29)]. Give us another Pentecost … I did not find it in Scripture that the first-century church ever returned to the upper room once they had received the initial experience. Lord, be with us … He had said that He would never leave us nor forsake us. Fill my cup, Lord … How could a mere cup contain the rivers of living water He promised to pour through us? As I grew up with these contradictions, I began to know that errors were present in our fellowship. Still, none of these errors seemed fatal to me. Rather than turn my back on the Pentecostal movement, I sought God to clarify these issues for me.
Our Pentecostal prayer meetings sometimes became times of deep introspection. The influence of the holiness movements was seen here. There was much preaching about “keeping short accounts with God.” That meant that we must confess any and every sin to God in prayer, not to mention our sinful thoughts, so that all of it was “under the blood” and not “hindering” our relationship to God. Going back to Azusa Street, I have read that there was teaching like this at the very beginning. Some had held that total sanctification enabled and preceded the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It became something someone had to earn, or deserve, through holy living. [Compare this with Bill Johnson who also struggled with too much critical introspection – Kris Vallotton & Bill Johnson: The Supernatural Ways Of Royalty, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2006, p51-59.]
This part of the Pentecostal tradition explains why some seekers “tarried” for so long, as in the case of my mother. She felt great pressure about having not spoken in tongues as the wife of a Pentecostal preacher. The longer she tarried, the more it seemed to indicate that she had some “unconfessed sin” in her life that was holding her back. This kind of peer pressure actually kept her from receiving the gift until she was at home alone in her bed …
God’s love for us is not fickle. The perfection of God – according to the Sermon on the Mount – never withholds favour from anyone. Thus, the filling and refilling with the Holy Spirit – remaining topped up – is not hard. God is not perpetually frowning at us but delighting in us and giving us what we need to be like him – through his Spirit in us.
Our wake-up call this morning is to snap out of self-condemnation in our series on the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t put yourself down. Heads up. He loves you and – as Jesus promised – more so than human parents that are evil – he is willing to give good gifts to us – his children. Exercise faith so that you will receive.
The Bible instructs us to – Ephesians 5:18: “ … keep on being filled with the Spirit”, which means that permanent fullness of the Spirit is possible and demanded – from us. Exercise faith – not self-doubt.
There is one incident in the Bible which can serve as an object lesson on how this works in practice – Acts 4:23-31:
“On their release [from prison and persecution], Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
The disciples had been filled with the Holy Spirit; therefore impacted an entire city with their preaching and healing and driving out demons but this led to persecution which – in turn – discouraged them. They lost faith and courage. In their need they came together for a prayer meeting where they stirred each other up with the stories of God’s power in creation and the prophetic design and foreknowledge of Jesus’ own suffering and death according to the Scriptures. Faith comes from hearing the word and truth of God and these first believers kept retelling and sharing with each other the truth of salvation until their faith level rose again with the result that they prayed for renewed boldness – renewed power to work signs and wonders in Jesus’ name – (rather than descending into self-pity and remonstrating with themselves) – (rather than seeking the reasons for persecution in their sinful selfs). Then the refilling came. By faith – they remained topped up.
This morning – let’s be more robust in our confidence that God is for us – rather than against us – even when we read the Sermon on the Mount. I close with how Reinhard Bonnke applied this lesson in his life:
When a woman had died soon after she celebrated the first anniversary of a miraculous healing, some people suspected sinister forces of evil fighting back but Bonnke wrote: “In all things there is a perspective of cursing and a perspective of blessing. I choose the way of blessing” (p280). The woman had another year of vibrant life which – according to her own words – exceeded all the previous years she had lived.
When someone warned him of the ruling demons in a certain area, he declared: “We are going to put our tent up right here.” Subsequently, the 10,000 seat tent was battered in a storm – with of the main masts bent and the tent fabric slashed – which prompted some Christians to say that Bonnke had – recklessly – thrown down the gauntlet to the Enemy. Some even suggested that he should watch his words because Satan was listening and responding to them. But he said: “I will not allow the words of my mouth to be governed by a fear of Satan. Not fear, but faith should govern my speaking” (p294). He stood his ground – trusting the Bible promise: “All things are possible to him that believes”, relieved the tent master of all responsibility and finished the crusade with the battered tent. At one time 1500 people were swept to the ground en masse speaking in other tongues.
When – at one time the crowds – were “only” 130,000 in Malawi – in 1986 the largest attendance there was 150,000 – someone said to Bonnke: “Reinhard, perhaps the CfaN wave has crested. If fewer people have come for your return to Malawi, perhaps your best days are behind you” (p504). Yet, he rejected this kind of negativity: “I cannot tell you how I reacted against such thinking. There were many reasons beyond our control for the size of the turnout in Malawi. Times had changed. We had perhaps some negative political fallout from the favor of former President Banda. Nevertheless, all of the greatest days for CfaN were still ahead of us. Of that I was sure ... ” (p504).
Over time Bonnke’s meeting tents became bigger and bigger. After he had outgrown a tent for 10,000 people, he dreamt about constructing the biggest tent in the world. It was a structure that would seat 34,000. [50,000 people would manage to be squeezed under its canopy (p396).] This was a massive undertaking: “It was eight times larger than the largest circus big top. Twelve masts supported the fabric. They were big enough that a man could climb up the inside of each of them. Each mast was seven stories tall – that’s 27 meters, or 88 feet. They had to be put in place by a crane and held in place by a network of supporting cables. The masts were planted on underground cement bases. They jutted into the sky at precise angles that would offset the force of gravity as the high-tension fabric pulled between them. Finally, the fabric itself, under high tension, stabilized the masts so that a man could walk on it like walking on ground.
Sections of the fabric would be fitted to huge rings that would rise up around each mast on a pulley system. The rings alone weighed nine tons. Each section of fabric weighed 6 tons. There were 80 shackles to tie the fabric to rings. Each shackle weighed 500 pounds. 17,000 square meters of fabric had to be laid out on the ground and then hauled up the masts and locked into place by hydraulic jacks placed under the base of each mast. A steel mesh cable went around the perimeter tying all of the fabric down. This main cable alone weighed 28 tons. Valley cables crossed the top of the tent in parallel, each weighing two tons. All of the pieces of the tent were so heavy they had to be manipulated into place by crane or some other form of heavy machinery …
The problems of engineering this monstrosity grew more challenging each day. Some of my team members despaired that they would ever see the huge tent erected. A few of them quit, overcome by discouragement. The job seemed unending, and the challenges grew each day. It would be another year and a half before the team could be given a green light for the first test installation of the world’s largest mobile structure” (p331-332).
On Saturday, February 18, 1984, they prepared for the dedication service for the world’s largest tent in Soweto, South Africa. Television camera crews from all over the world moved in and around the tent during the dedication meeting. Then, the tent was erected in Cape Town but in the night a rather mild storm managed to destroy the super-structure: “Suddenly, at 4am, they were awakened by the sound of ripping fabric. As they rushed outside, winds were ripping the tent to shreds. It was not a hurricane. It was not even a wind strong enough to cause normal alarm. The damage they were seeing seemed supernatural, as if evil demonic forces in the wind were violently attacking the structure. They watched helplessly as pieces came loose and flew across the surrounding city of Cape Town … ” (p356).
“Some of the crew were reduced to uncontrolled weeping. Five years of focused labor was destroyed in five hours. The atmosphere became like being at a funeral” (p357). However, Reinhard told his crew chief that God had given him a great peace about this event. He was to encourage the crew and to clean up the site and wait for his return.
But he had his critics: “From the beginning I had dealt with the normal array of critics. Many people criticized the size of the tent. They said it wasn’t practical. It was too risky. The project ate money like a gambling machine. It was not good stewardship. The entire endeavor was ego driven.
With this disaster, those people had much more to say. ‘This is God’s judgement on you.’ ‘You’re out of the will of God.’ ‘You’ve moved out from under the umbrella of divine protection.’ ‘There is sin in your camp.’ The one that hit the lowest came from a dear Pentecostal sister back in Germany. This lady had supported our work faithfully and substantially over the years. She wrote to tell me that she had seen pictures of the tent dedication in Soweto. The pictures showed Anni had cut her hair. This sin, she said, had led to this disaster. She pledged that she would no longer send money to CfaN. She would only pray for our repentance. I must confess, that fiery dart of the Enemy got through my armor for a few days” (p358).
“Even some of my co-workers lost heart. They felt that we’d been overcome by the Enemy. This was one of our darkest days. A rumor circulated that Muslims from Valhalla had marched around our tent site and had called down a curse on it. No one could offer me proof, and I gave no credence to this report … ” (p358-359).
Bonnke chose to recover in a few days and fixed his eyes on Jesus with the result that the crusade in Cape Town ended with 75,000 in attendance – far more than the tent could have accommodated. The world-wide media coverage of the tent destruction had not hurt the cause.
The tent needed to be fixed. Another company was found to manufacture the tent top which had been faulty. However, an insurance settlement with the previous company looked like being locked in court for years. Bonnke’s team was in a general state of unbelief. Yet, he wanted to encourage them, saying: “I don’t know what to do. I simply know that I’m not worried about the tent.” From the looks in their faces he knew that they suspected him of having lost touch with reality, but he said to them: “If you can’t trust God today, trust me, and I will trust Him” (p363).
Finally, the team was ready. The big tent had been dismantled in Harare where it had been used for the first time and packed into 58 shipping containers, ready for the road. They trucked the containers across the narrow strip of Mozambique. After crossing the beautiful Zambezi River, they entered the southern tip of Malawi at Blantyre, a city of 300,000 residents. However, they soon discovered that even the biggest portable structure in the world would not be big enough for the crowds at this place. Therefore, the tent remained in the containers. In fact – after all of the years of heart-ache, struggle, challenges and pain – the tent would never be used again in Bonnke’s ministry. He donated it to Peter Pretorius in South Africa who used it for the permanent installation of a medical clinic.
Then he writes in his book: “At this time, I had a visit from some of my German Pentecostal overseers, among them Pastor Reinhold Ulonska. As many men in his position might do, he found it entertaining to needle me in one way or another. After all, the denomination had never found a way to equal CfaN’s success.’
‘So, the big tent was used once, heh?’ he said. ‘Yes, just once, at the Harare crusade.’ ‘What a shame.’ ‘No, why would you say that?’ ‘Well, it was a huge investment for nothing.’ ‘Oh, not really. I am not in business to demonstrate the latest tent technology. I am in the business of saving souls. The tent helped us to do that.’ ‘Well, the world’s largest tent had to be the most expensive billboard in the history of evangelism, don’t you think?’
I could see that his comment was a double-edged sword. I would not tolerate the implications of it. ‘I think you chose the wrong analogy in this case,’ I replied, remembering something Peter van den Berg had said to me. ‘The world’s largest tent was a Saturn 5 booster rocket. The rocket has served its purpose and has fallen into the sea, but it was not an expensive billboard. It was the vehicle that launched CfaN into high orbit. Praise God!’ (p414).
There will always be naysayers who – all too quickly – interpret set-backs as judgements from God who is not pleased with how we are doing. Do not go there as your default position. 1) Jesus healed all the sick among those that listened. 2) The Sermon on the Mount is perfection but – first of all – it is his perfection of love for us. 3) Jesus preached with an authority which will remain with us through the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit – the best gift from our Father in heaven – to use Reinhard Bonnke’s words – is for null people – nobodies – naughty eleven-year olds. Receive him and remain topped up; then read the Sermon on the Mount with joy. Amen.