A Typical Saturday morning, sitting alone at a Starbucks Coffee table with a newspaper spread out in front, concentrating on an article, when I heard a hello from almost directly above. Looking up, I recognised one of my newly-made friends as he took a seat on the opposite side of the next table but still facing me.
|The actual Starbucks where I frequent.|
He was one of a group of athletes who calls at the same coffee bar after their morning park run. I have known this chap for several months, as he often makes the call here with his mates after his exercise. Presently his mate joined and being just the two of them this week (it's often as many as four) the three of us started talking. After various topics, including political issues, it was the second guy sitting directly opposite me who turned to spiritual things, stating his belief in reincarnation after death, and his Buddhist belief that many reincarnations have to occur before he can be free to enter Nirvana, their version of Heaven - even though he didn't admit to being a Buddhist himself.
To this, I made my faith in Jesus Christ known, although I'm sure that I might have said something about this some time ago. After saying the obvious, which was that there isn't a human in all the Earth who had managed to free himself after repeated incarnations. I then emphasised that this Jesus Christ is the only man ever to rise physically from the dead, there has never been anyone else to make such an achievement, and certainly by no other religious leader or founder.
I then quoted Scripture, John 14:6, and actually said,
"It was Jesus Christ who once said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No man can come to the Father except through me. Jesus himself said that, not me. Jesus emphasised that the only way to God is through faith in Jesus."
I then continued:
"Jesus himself had said that he is the only way to God. Either he is telling the truth or he was lying. Believe me, if Jesus had lied, then how can I trust him?"
I was taken back by his response. Why - I never saw it this way before.
Did I plant a seed into his heart that morning? If I did, then I long for someone to come along and water it, because only God could cause the seed to actually germinate and grow.
It looks to me that this is the crux of the matter, a heart belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which leads to salvation, together with an oral confession that if he rose physically from the dead - and the only man in all of history to do so - then he must be Lord, and Lord in a sense that he is God and the Anointed One rather than mere employer, so Paul writes in Romans 10:9-10. John backs this up by writing that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God...(1 John 5:1).
I find John's statement at the beginning of his fifth chapter intriguing. Linking this to Paul's statement in his letter to the Romans, it looks to all the world that his physical Resurrection took place because he is the Christ, the Anointed One, his rising from the dead being proof of the reality. What I have also found intriguing was that when Paul wrote those two verses to the church in Rome, the apostle didn't mention anything about the Atonement for sin having been made by dying on the cross, nor his burial either, but all emphasis on his Resurrection. By believing in the heart the truth of his rising from the dead and orally acknowledging this fact is enough for salvation.
This is what repentance is all about. Paul tells us that God wants all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Peter backs him up when he also writes that God is very patient, not wanting anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The New Testament Greek for Repent is Metaneo, a change of mind. A change of mind from thinking that this Jesus of Nazareth is some imposter or merely a Jewish teacher, to believe that he is the Christ, the Messiah by rising physically from the grave. It's so straightforward and simple. Such simplicity is the grace of God needed by every person who is otherwise completely helpless in any attempt in reconciling himself to God, his own works being ineffective.
As such, the evening before the morning meet at Starbucks, a Christian bulletin had dropped through our front door. Titled, Good News, and looking to be a free paper which dropped through all the homes in our estate. Inside was a testimony of one ex-paratrooper who cried out, Please God, No! as his parachute failed to open during one training session. Fortunately, his stand-by 'chute opened in time to give him a landing soft enough to not only save his life but also escape from serious injury. Afterwards, he believed and asked Christ to come into his heart and life. Now he is a church leader, when before he was an agnostic, if not an atheist, believing that all churches were weird.
|Parachute fails. The participant was saved by the second 'chute.|
Reading this has taken me back to that pub just off the Strand in London, on one wet December Saturday in 1972. After buying a couple of young guys a drink each, I was shown a Bible. Afterwards, I was exhorted to "invite Jesus into my heart" - sometimes known as "the sinner's prayer". It was taken from Revelation 3:20 which reads,
Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come into him and sup with him, and he with me.
For many years afterwards, I have used this verse to back the idea of asking Jesus into the heart as the de-facto, one-fits-all requirement for one to be saved, even believing that one cannot be saved without first saying this prayer. However, it does have a beautiful illustration. Even back at that pub, when I first read this verse, I was able to picture Jesus sitting on one side of the table, and myself on the other, very much like that fellow and myself at Starbucks.
It was thanking God for my good friend Dr Andrew Milnthorpe, who invited me to Encounter, the midweek lunchtime meeting at the Kerith Centre when a preach about sitting at a table with the Lord was emphasised. It was actually a video recording of an American preacher who even had a table laid among his audience as a visual demonstration. The sermon was based on Psalm 23:5, where David was promised to eat at a table with God himself even amid his enemies.
The parallel between Psalm 23:5 and Revelation 3:20, I find remarkable. Maybe that may be why, since way back in 1975, I was told that Revelation 3:20 applied only to believers and not to unbelievers. Even to this day, more than forty years later, this application of the verse for unbelievers to repent is denied by our Elders. They all may have a point. But I prefer to leave the option open as an invitation for unbelievers to repent. After all, if Jesus is a friend of sinners, then how much more would he be willing to dine with anyone willing to invite him in? Therefore, although the prayer to "ask Jesus into the heart" is so controversial, really it shouldn't be. Instead, such a prayer should be a demonstration of the faith of a new believer, which God seems to readily accept, according to the testimony of the paratrooper among many others over the years, myself included.
As for the video at the Encounter meeting, indeed it was about dining at a table set up by the Lord himself amid his enemies. Being from an American preacher, while I was watching, I tended to wonder whether he would close his sermon with an appeal for funds to pay for the hire of the auditorium or to promote some other sales tat, I would never know for sure. He might have done, which, in this case, was carefully edited out, or maybe not at all, which would have come as something of a surprise by us Brits, who tend to visualise American "televangelists" as natural-born salesmen.
But I was taken in by what he preached. The Lord sets up a table to dine among enemies. And as expected, the chief of all enemies takes his place at the table, sitting between the Lord and the believer. One of the enemy's tactics to the believer is that love and hospitality has a tag to it. And that tag is somehow is that works have got to be performed to keep this love secure, hence even subconsciously, doubting the Lord's sincerity. Or it could be something else, such as the illness or even the death of a loved one. Even the word cancer was mentioned in his preach. This hits home. My wife is going through treatment for cancer, and to see her in such a condition can be very upsetting. Indeed, I have had Christians asking how I cope in such situations.
The sermon provided the answer which was a confirmation of what I believed for a long time, to give thanks to God in all situations. Note that I didn't say for all situations. There is a big difference. To give thanks to God in a present situation is to acknowledge the greatness and the goodness of God, who is willing to dine with an undeserving sinner. Being human, there are plenty of times when I just don't want to praise God, especially if my wife is languishing in a hospital. But I also realise that by giving thanks to God in all things does open the door to praise.
The same applies to not knowing what to pray for, or as in my case, to doubt the reality of answered prayer. The sort of prayer asking for my wife to be restored to perfect health as a slim athlete I once married. But I have come to realise that such a desire remains unfulfilled, and not only that, witness the development of cancer, together with more hospital appointments. It can be a cause for discouragement, to give up on prayer altogether.
But instead, I give thanks to God for all the good things we have. First and foremost, we have each other. I always thank God for that. Then everything else follows - financial security, a roof to keep the rain out, adequate clothing and no lack of food. And even for the niceties surrounding us, items which are not life-essential but enhances our way of life. And most important of all, easy access to a Bible and our salvation. These are all to be thankful for.
It's perfectly true that when John wrote those first three chapters of Revelation, he was addressing seven churches, most likely he knew all of them. They were all believers, even though five of the seven churches had to be rebuked by the risen Christ. Then he ends by saying whoever overcomes shall not see death but will sit with him in Heaven, although each church gets a slightly different version, one appropriate for each church. Who is it who overcomes? According to Romans 8:37, which says that every believer is more than a conquerer which in itself is higher than a mere overcomer, therefore an overcomer is one who has invited Christ in to dine with him. In other words, the true believer is already an overcomer, because it's not the believer who overcomes but Christ himself who already overcame, as he finally admits in Revelation 3:21.