A New Passion For His Presence
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)
We may speak of the “joy of faith” at three levels.
First, there is the new spiritual taste created by the Spirit of God for the glory of God. This new taste is the seed and root of joy. This is the “joy of faith” in embryo, as it were.
Second, there is the shoot, the stem, of faith reaching out actively for all that God is for us in Christ. The pith of this stem is joy in God. It is not possible for vital, genuine faith in the Fountain of Joy not to partake of that joy. Joyless embracing of the God of hope, for who He really is, is impossible.
Third, there is the fruit of daily gladness that Paul speaks of in Romans 15:13; “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” Here joy and peace flow out from faith into the whole of life.
In conversion we find the hidden Treasure of the kingdom of God. We venture all on it. And year after year in the struggles of life, we prove the value of the treasure again and again, and we discover depths of riches we have never known. And so the joy of faith grows. When Christ calls us to a new act of obedience that will cost us some temporal pleasure, we call to mind the surpassing value of following Him, and by faith in His proven worth, we forsake the worldly pleasure. The result? More joy! More faith! Deeper than before. And so we go on from joy to joy and faith to faith.
Behind the repentance that turns away from sin, and behind the faith that embraces Christ, is the birth of a new taste, a longing, a new passion for the pleasure of God’s presence. This is the root of conversion. This is the creation of a Christian Hedonist.
In the story of the Israelites we learn a valuable lesson. We learn that it is possible to be delivered from the bondage of Egypt but still have a longing for Egypt. In their story Egypt began as a place that God was using to supply their need. See the story of Joseph in Genesis. As they lingered in Egypt, for Canaan was to be their home, promised so to Abraham, they became ensnared and eventually enslaved. This is us. Quite often the very thing that God has provided to meet our need becomes the master. After 430 years of being enslaved, they cry out to God for deliverance. You and I may never experience this length of bondage to sin, but thanks be to God, the day came when we saw ourselves hopelessly in the prison of sin and cried out for deliverance. God sends Moses, a type of Christ, to bring them out of Egypt and take them into the Promised Land. So they start their journey. At first they are happy to be free. Life’s good, things are looking up. And they face their first challenge. In view of it, they forget God. All they see is the foolishness of their choice. Much like this are those who may make a profession of faith and at the first temptation, they give up and head back into the old life that a God has delivered them from. It’s one thing to be brought out of Egypt, it’s another to have Egypt taken out of us. It’s one thing to be delivered from sin, it’s another for sin to be rooted out of our hearts. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10 speaks to this:
“For I do not want you to be unaware, believers, that our fathers were all under the cloud [in which God’s presence went before them] and they all passed [miraculously and safely] through the [Red] Sea; And all [of them] were baptized into Moses [into his safekeeping as their leader] in the cloud and in the sea; and all [of them] ate the same spiritual food; and all [of them] drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not well-pleased with most of them, for they were scattered along the ground in the wilderness [because their lack of self-control led to disobedience which led to death]. Now these things [the warnings and admonitions] took place as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did. Do not be worshipers of handmade gods, as some of them were; just as it is written [in Scripture], “ The people sat down to eat and drink [after sacrificing to the golden calf at Horeb], and stood up to play [indulging in immoral activities].” We must not indulge in [nor tolerate] sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand [suddenly] fell [dead] in a single day! We must not tempt the Lord [that is, test His patience, question His purpose or exploit His goodness], as some of them did—and they were killed by serpents. And do not murmur [in unwarranted discontent], as some of them did—and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example and warning [to us]; they were written for our instruction [to admonish and equip us], upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
1 Corinthians 10:1-11
After the dispersion of the Israelites by the Babylonians, Nehemiah and Ezra record the return to Jerusalem, the “city of God.” Once again we see the deliverance for the Israelites are brought back to the Promised Land. Further reading tells us that though they are in the Land of Promise, they are not enjoying all its blessings. They return to find the walls broken down and though they are home, they are still subject to the whims of their enemies. Again we find an application to us. We may be Christian, but find ourselves constantly defeated by sin and temptation. Our hearts may have returned to God, but they have no walls of defense.
“Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them about the surviving Jews who had escaped and survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its [fortified] gates have been burned (destroyed) by fire.” So I came to Jerusalem and was there for three days. So I went out at night by the Valley Gate toward the Dragon’s Well and to the Refuse Gate and inspected the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation that we are in—how Jerusalem is desolate and lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, and let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.” But when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious, completely enraged, and he ridiculed the Jews. He spoke before his brothers and the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Can they restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the heaps of dust and rubbish, even the ones that have been burned?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should get up on it, he would break down their stone wall.”
Finally, let us consider the New Jerusalem, again a type that can be applied to our faith life. In the city of New Jerusalem, the walls are strong. Nothing evil can invade. Those who live there are not only delivered from sin, the desire for sin has been eradicated from their hearts.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (vanished), and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed like a bride adorned for her husband; and then I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “See! The tabernacle of God is among men, and He will live among them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them [as their God,] and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be death; there will no longer be sorrow and anguish, or crying, or pain; for the former order of things has passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true [they are accurate, incorruptible, and trustworthy].” And He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the one who thirsts I will give [water] from the fountain of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes [the world by adhering faithfully to Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior] will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all] and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon to give light to it, for the glory (splendor, radiance) of God has illumined it, and the Lamb is its lamp and light. The nations [the redeemed people from the earth] will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring into it their glory. By day ( for there will be no night there ) its gates will never be closed [in fear of evil]; and they will bring the glory (splendor, majesty) and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing that defiles or profanes or is unwashed will ever enter it, nor anyone who practices abominations [detestable, morally repugnant things] and lying, but only those [will be admitted] whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. There will no longer exist anything that is cursed [because sin and illness and death are gone]; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve and worship Him [with great awe and joy and loving devotion]; they will [be privileged to] see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be night; they have no need for lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign [as kings] forever and ever.
I believe that what makes the difference in these three stories is that in the New Jerusalem is the presence of God. Note, if you will, that in the Exodus, the Israelites wanted deliverance, but they did not really wish to have God’s presence near them. In other words, they wanted the benefits of God without God. Unfortunately this describes a number of Christians. They want to be saved, to go to heaven, but they don’t want God interfering in their lives or interrupting their pursuit of worldly pleasures. God then becomes the umbrella for the rainy day. Until it rains, He stays in the closet only to be brought out when the need arises. In the return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah records that though they were glad to come home, they wanted to keep all they had accumulated in BabaLon including their idolatry. Nehemiah records that the men who had married Babylonian women were to divorce them. This might seem cruel and unkind if we only see it through natural eyes. It wasn’t about purity of race as some have thought. It was about spiritual purity. Nehemiah knew that these women would bring with them their gods and the Israelites would again commit the sin of idolatry that had caused them to be enslaved by Babylon. Again this applies to us. It is impossible to come fully to God and keep in our hearts all the things of the world. Jesus was clear, “No man can serve two masters.” One of the things I have experienced in my Christian walk is this very thing. When I first got saved, I was still holding on to some of my old ways. I think there is no more miserable state than that. When I went to church, I was miserable for the Holy Spirit was convicting me of my sins and though I was still participating in the sin habits, they had no fun any more. I couldn’t enjoy God and I couldn’t enjoy sin so I was truly miserable. Something had to change. The scripture that John Piper uses as the text gives the only true solution to have joy and peace. Let go of it all, sell all and buy the field of Treasure. Release you hold on the things of worldly living and turn fully to Christ, grasping Him with both hands. Cease trying to hold on to the world with one hand and God with the other. In the words of that old song:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full into His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”
What differentiates the New Jerusalem from the other stories is the Presence of God. In His presence, all desire of sin vanishes and our desire for Him increases. Our joy and peace are directly in proportion to His Presence in us. They are not controlled by circumstance or any outward situation. They are only the result of us having the Treasure occupying our hearts. Tired of a joyless life? Want to feel fully satisfied without the need to keep seeking fulfillment in things that leave you more empty, more used and less complete? Try an exchange. Trade what isn’t working for the Treasure that satisfies. Ask God to not only deliver you from Egypt and Babylon but to remove them from your heart so your desires will be Him and not the fleeting pleasures of sin. Expect then overwhelming joy and peace which passes understanding.
Dr. John Thompson