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Archive for March, 2010

Rich Owen ministers here (check out his sermons!).  He has previously blogged in this series here and here.

Read Exodus 29 – The Consecration of the Priests

Whenever I read these chapters, I am utterly gripped by the intricacy and the ‘in your face’ way in which Israel were being taught through all these ordinances.  The artistry and precision over the worship of Israel must have been fascinating to witness and highly instructive.

So lets stand on the outside of the tabernacle screening and look in. What do I observe as a faithful Israelite? What do I see? What is required? Who is present in this?

First we must remember the purpose of it all. The goal of all of this ceremony and religion is fellowship with the Lord – verse 43 to 45 and this fellowship with the Lord brings personal knowledge verse 46 of the One they serve. They are brought into relationship by what occurred.

As Dr Robert Reymond says, the goal of redemption is our adoption as sons. The goal of all the visual theology here in these chapters is fellowship with the Lord and adoption into his family.

So as I contemplate fellowship with the Lord and look in to the tabernacle courtyard, the most obvious thing I observe is that I can do nothing to gain this fellowship. It is a task which falls only to one man, the High Priest. He will meet with the Living God on my behalf. He represents Israel. He represents me, but he must first be prepared for worship.

This is a chapter about the preparation this High Priest needs. Firstly then, purity is required (v1). The blood sacrifice required must be spotless and without defect and this High Priest is to be washed in water (v4).

He then has the anointing oil poured over him (v7). The oil is poured over his head and over that wonderful golden plate inscribed with the words HOLY TO THE LORD, it runs down his face and over his beard (Ps 133) and runs down onto the ground. The High Priest is given the anointing that the King would later receive. The High Priest is the anointed one, covered with the anointing such that it overflows from him.

The glorious robes, the glint of the precious stones and the golden sheen of pure olive oil must have been a sight to behold! However, all these wonderful garments and adornments are nothing with blood.

The bull is now presented and killed (vs10-11). The horns of the altar are wiped with blood and the rest (the majority – a decent bull will contain about 40 pints of blood) is poured out onto the ground around the base of the altar (v12). This is the sin offering. A vast sea of blood is needed for sin, it is a great price.

The rams are now presented and killed (vs15++).

Again, the blood is sprayed everywhere – all over the altar (v16). The first ram is then cut up and burned up, all to satisfy the Lord’s pleasure (V18). The second ram is for the ordination of the High Priest. It’s blood is poured onto the right ear, the right thumb and the right big toe (v20) of the high priest. He is covered, head to food in blood.

The High Priest having shone with glorious splendour has now descended and become a terrifying blood soaked monstrosity. He looks awful. He is then sprayed with blood and oil again (v21) – all over those fabulous robes. His hair greasy and his beard straggled as the oil on his face mingles with blood.

Here oh Israel, is your High Priest, now he is ready for his work.

The pieces of this ram are waved and I know that a portion of this sacrifice is kept by the high priest. This ram was not just for ordination but the people of Israel. By his keeping a share, I am joined to the anointed one, the blood soaked High Priest because this sacrifice, breast and thigh, represent me and guarantee that I will gain fellowship as I look on (verse 28).

I watch as Aaron eats the ram for ordination along with the bread and wine and I rejoice! A man of Israel, an Adam is eating and drinking with the Lord!

I look closer and I see that the high priest is not alone (vs27-28 & vs 31-34). His fellowship with the Lord is enjoyed with his offspring. His own sons are present with him enjoying the fellowship with the Lord. Oh to be a son of the High Priest!

The promise is made here too (vs29-20), that these glorious garments now consecrated, made holy by blood and by the anointing oil – these robes are to be given to all the descendants of the High Priest. Anyone born of the one anointed and bloody man who alone makes sacrifice will be given the holy robes of righteousness, justices and purity, so that they too can fellowship with God Most High.

So I am left to contemplate once more.

This is not adequate. Can a ram or a bull really atone? Can they really satisfy the Lord? The obvious answer is no. This is repeated, again and again and again. Is an animal sufficient to cover a man? Again, obviously no – Adam and Eve received animal covering but were still removed from that direct fellowship with the Lord which they previously enjoyed.

We need a true sacrifice. We need a man to provide a covering for man, a pure man, without defect or blemish, one which will satisfy, one which will be enough so that there is no need to repeat it year after year. We need a High Priest who doesn’t have to atone for his own sins, who enters in his own right, with his own blood, once for all.

I need to be born of the High Priest, I need to be his son to share those robes of fellowship, to wear the blood and the oil of consecration.

All this visual hope! All this graphic theology! Am I to divorce this from all that has gone before?

Surely the Seed, the promised One is such a Man.

What a day of teaching the watching Israelite has had! What amazing instruction which leads him to faith in the Promised Messiah, to a knowledge of the way Messiah would die for sin.

I have been told that my reading is anachronistic on a number of occasions.

I point to Hebrews 9 verse 8 which states that the Holy Spirit was teaching those watching people of Israel that the way into the real Most Holy Place, not the earthly copy, required something more. Here is the way, but it is not yet open. A greater and more perfect sacrifice was needed.

Here scripture affirms that the people were being taught – this is so important. This was the Holy Spirit teaching and leading the ancient church to faith in Christ – which is what He always does. They looked forward with Spirit lead visual words. I look back with Spirit lead written words.

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Dave continues his excellent blogging from here.

The priests’ garments (Ex 29, 32)


Clothes and priesthood

Why do we wear clothes?

It’s a question worth thinking about. Ritual works mainly at the level of the level of subconscious association, so to understand the rituals of the OT we have to ask basic questions we wouldn’t usually bother thinking about.

I think most, if not all, our answers to the question could be broken down into one of two categories:

1. To hide ourselves from cold and shame of nakedness.

2. To project ourselves by expressing our identity

Priests also had a dual role which correspond to this. As mediators they represented God to Israel and Israel to God.

Representing Israel to God – clothes to hide behind

The priests wore linen undergarments to cover their nakedness, particularly when ascending the alter (28:42; cf. 29:26). But that was just the first layer of clothing, in addition there was “a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash” (v.4). In any culture that is a lot of clothes, many providing layers between the body and God. These clothes acted as a barrier between God and humanity similar to the curtains of the Tabernacle. The sinful priest was hidden behind layer upon layer of clothing, as the Israelite camp was protected from God‘s direct presence by the curtains of the Tabernacle.

It is no light thing to enter God’s presence, as Nadab and Abihu found later (Lev 10). In Exodus 28 YHWH is clear that if the priests did not wear the specified clothing then they “bear guilt and die” (v.43, c.f. v.35). In a sense the priests’ clothing was their armour shielding them from God’s presence, and it is striking that the ephod had an opening for the head “like a coat of mail” (v.32, ESV footnote).

The breastpiece was the most important piece of this armour. Soldiers wore breastplates to protect their vital organs in battle, and against the wrath of God the priests relied on their breastplate. But, of course, material layers would never protect you against the consuming fire of God’s wrath against sin so the breastpiece of the priests was set with twelve stones engraved with “the names of the sons of Israel… to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD” (v.29).

When God remembers in the OT there is usually a twofold action. He turns back from judgement, and he turns towards blessing. He encourages Noah that when the clouds of his wrath gather the rainbow will appear he will see it, “remember” his covenant and so restrain from sending another “flood to destroy all flesh” (Gen 9:14-16). Similarly when God’s wrath against the sin of Israel and the priest burns, he will see the names engraved on the breastpiece and remember his covenant with Israel. His anger will be deflected and the priest will live.

But if the priests of Israel were sons of Israel by birth, why did God need reminding of their identity as individuals and as representatives of the nation? Sadly, because despite all its gifts, Israel often acted just like all the other nations. Saved by YHWH out of Egypt, Israel had been adopted by God and should reflect their Father’s character. “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44) was the central command Israel had been called to obey, and their identity was indissolubly tied to this. Sin and death had no place in the life of a servant in God’s house. But by worshipping other gods Israel traded its identity as God’s chosen priestly nation set apart for God’s service for the false-security that the allegiance of other gods and nations offered.

Israel needed to be clothed with Israel in order to be able to stand in the presence of God. What Paul said to the Romans, applied as much to Israel in the wilderness who had already scorned their identity several times, “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom 9:8). To enjoy God’s presence the priests had to be counted as Abraham’s offspring “who is Christ” (Gal 3:16). The OT priests put on the promise of Christ when they dressed in the breastpiece and the shoulder pieces with faith.

To be clothed with the true Israel is to be clothed with holiness. For the Levitical priest’s sacrifice to be acceptable he wore a “plate of pure gold” fastened to the front of his turban engraved with the words “Holy to the LORD” (28:37). The tribe of Levi (like Israel as a whole) did not choose to set themselves aside for YHWH’s service, but were chosen by God who sanctified them for the task (Lev 21:6-8). Only by wearing reminders of God’s election of Israel in the “Holy One of God”, Jesus Christ (Mark 1:24), could the Levitical priests be confident that YHWH would accept the offerings of the people (28:38).

We may worship in a different Tabernacle, but we are also God’s priests seeking to “offer to God acceptable worship“ before our God who is “a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29). Instead of the breastpiece, ephod etc, we put on Christ by being baptised into his death when we are counted as “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29). In this way we can “draw near to the throne of grace” with confidence (4:15-16) secure in our identity with Christ, the only holy son of Israel.

Representing God to Israel, clothes to express our identity

As well as representing Israel to God in the Tabernacle the priests represented God to Israel outside the sanctuary. Their many duties included teaching the law, answering questions with the Urim and Thummim they were equipped with, and judging uncleanness in particular (Deut 33:10; Ex 28:30, Num 27:21; Lev 10:8-11, Deut 17:9). Appropriately their clothing reflected this office.

The priests’ garments were made of “blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen” just like the Tabernacle curtains (26:1-36; 28:5). The square breastpiece worn by the priests suggested the Holy of Holies where YHWH dwelt. The priest in his many layers of rich clothing walked around in a mini-Tabernacle, because he was as God to the people.

The purpose of the priests’ garments as a whole was “for glory and for beauty” (28:2, 40) and “evoked the majesty of God himself” (p. 77, Wenham, 2003). They certainly had that effect on the 2nd century BC author of the Letter of Aristeas who on seeing a priest was “greatly astonished… at the mode of his dress, and the majesty of his appearance … as to make one feel that one had come into the presence of a man who belonged to a different world” (96-99). The majesty of God was never displayed in Brutalist or Fascist art. God’s art didn’t just communicate power or wealth, but also creative beauty and life.

1 Peter reminds us that we have been made “a royal priesthood” for the same horizontal purpose to the rest of humanity as the Levitical priesthood, that we “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called” us (2:9). The appropriate clothing for us is to clothe ourselves with humility and good works which will shine as a light before men and win them to Christ (3:1-5, 5:5; c.f. Matt 5:16). This adornment is our beauty and our glory.

But like the priests’ garments it is God’s clothing we are walking around in. And as the garments for priests before God were the same as the garments for priests before Israel, so our garments before the world are the same garments as those we wear before God. We put on Christ as humans standing before God, but we also put on Christ as God’s ambassadors to the world. It is his character, worked by him in our lives by his Holy Spirit, that we want to put on. A “new self…created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).

In Christ, we are holy, God-like people who speak the truth, labour, share, build up and forgive others. That is who we are so we shouldn’t hide that light, but take it out of the wardrobe and wear it so that the world will “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

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Dave’s blog is one of my absolute favourites and I’m really pleased he’s doing today’s and tomorrow’s posts.

Bezalel and Oholiab

A great commission

After YHWH had given Moses his design brief for the Tabernacle he also instructed him that he wanted two craftsmen named Bezalel and Oholiab to do the work.

The Tabernacle was not just to be a functional space, but also a work of great beauty and artistry. The God who created the beauty of a stunning sunset was going to dwell with his people in a place which would reflect that same creativity and craftsmanship. For Bezalel and Oholiab this was the greatest commission they had ever received and they must have felt immensely privileged by the opportunity to exercise their gifts to such a great purpose.

But this was also an honour for all the people of Israel. Bezalel of Judah and Oholiab of Dan were representatives of what would be most Southern and Northern tribes in the promised land. They led a team of craftsmen who were no doubt drawn from all the tribes (35:34), and relied on the materials which were contributed by the whole people (36:3-7).

God had graciously spoken his covenantal word and the people would now respond.

… but how could Israel ever provide an appropriate response to the grace they had received? How could a nomadic group of runaway slaves construct the dwelling place of the Lord of the universe?

God’s work

YHWH’s grace is overflowing. He not only graciously spoke and acted to save, but he also graciously provided the response demanded. The people were so moved to make great gifts of precious metals, textiles and wood to build the sanctuary that they had to be held back from giving more than was required (36:6), but all that they gave was what they had been given by God. He had worked wonders in Egypt so that they had left Egypt wealthy rather than not empty handed (3:21-22; 11:2-3). Bezalel and Oholiab were filled with the Spirit of God so that they also had the skills and knowledge to complete their task, and everyone involved in the work received the ability that they had as a gift from YHWH (31:3-6; 35:30-35).

Exodus can frustrate us with the almost exact repetition of God’s instructions (25-31) in the account of the construction (35-40). God said “You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. But this repetition hammers home the obedience of the people, and the creative power of God’s word. He said “let there be a Tabernacle” and there was a Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle was the obedient work of Bezalel, Oholiab and all of Israel to their glory, but it was God’s work too.

God’s starter home

But even with God’s enabling there is no getting away from the fact that this was a mere tent. As King David later recognised, it was incongruous that the kings of the ancient world lived in houses of cedar when the “ark of God dwells in a tent” (2 Sam 7:2). So soon enough another Judahite would be leading the construction of a dwelling place for YHWH, massively exceeding the first in grandeur and beauty.

However, even this was not sufficient for YHWH. When Solomon’s great temple had been destroyed, God looked forward to his dream home whose glory was “greater than the former” (Haggai 2:9). Each sanctuary of God may have extended its boundaries further and further but still we must wonder what kind of house could humans ever build for God (Isaiah 66:1; Acts 17:24)?

God’s master plan

Indeed, God’s dream home had never been a tent. He had looked forward a day when the whole cosmos would be filled with his presence. The first tabernacle/temple was the Garden of Eden, the bounds of which Adam and Eve were to extend until they filled the whole earth (Gen 1:28) and the symbolism of much of the Tabernacle and Temple looked back to this garden. It’s not coincidental that in the tabernacle instructions to Moses are structured around 7 occurrences of “YHWH said” (25:1, 30:11, 17, 22, 34, 31:1, 12), where the sixth introduces instructions about personnel and the seventh introduces the Sabbath. A garden full of fruitful life which was worked and kept by humanity was God’s dream home (Gen 2:15; the Heb for ‘work‘ and ‘keep‘ normally referring to priestly activity in the OT).

But as well as looking back the Tabernacle looked forward. The old creation was now lost and just a residual memory of all temple-builders in the world, but entering the Tabernacle people could also see the future New Creation. Isaiah 66 admits that humanity could never build a house sufficient for him (v.1), but looks forward to a day when all the world will come to the house of YHWH (2:2; 66:20) and the only way all these people will fit is if the temple/Jerusalem/Zion is actually a “new heavens and the new earth” which only God can make (v.22). And that is exactly what John sees in Revelation 21 when he is given a vision of a city shaped as a cube, like the Holy of Holies, corresponding to the new heavens and new earth which comes from God. A sanctuary where everyone, including Gentiles, will be priests and worship in the presence of God.

God’s new Tabernacle creator

Humanity (pre-fall) could have completed God’s creation mandate (Gen 1:28) to extend the bounds of the garden-temple to encompass the whole world, but they cannot re-create the cosmos. And re-creation is what is required. It would not be enough for Christians to pick up the creation mandate again because the raw-material has been corrupted. So while we can reduce poverty, we need another to make poverty history. “God’s inability to dwell in any structure on earth not only refers to the Creator’s transcendence but plausibly includes reference to the necessity for purification and re-creation” (p.138, Beale, The Temple and the Church‘s Mission). The whole creation needs to be devoted to destruction, before being brought back to life again. Only then would it be a fit Tabernacle/temple for God to dwell in.

Only God could do this and yet the task was rightly humanity’s.

The good news is that the Tabernacle has been destroyed and rebuilt, by man.

The Word of God through whom all things were made, came to complete the commission given to Adam. The Word who spoke light into being and the Tabernacle into existence, became what he had created. The Holy Spirit empowered this man, as he had empowered Bezalel and Oholiab, to do what no man could ever do (John 1:32). Again God had not only given the command, but provided the response – and this time to the uttermost.

This man built the new tabernacle, the New Creation, by becoming the old, corrupted tabernacle due for demolition; he “tabernacled among us” (lit. 1:14). His body was the temple (2:21), and humanity who had been in the business of demolition since Adam, destroyed it just as he predicted they would from the very beginning of his ministry (2:19).

Instructed by the Father and for the love of his creation, he lay down his life, knowing that by the power of the Spirit he would take it up again (John 20:17-18; Rom 8:11). The temple of his body was destroyed but he raised it up in three days (John 2:19-23). The New Creation came into being on Easter Sunday 2000 years ago, as the firstfruits of Christ’s body was lifted from the grave (1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5:2).

God’s co-workers

This New Creation is breaking into the lives of people, as they become part of Christ’s body, the temple of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:21-22; 4:12). The work has been completed and our great commission is to proclaim that to the ends of the earth, encouraging people to participate in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 28:18-20). In this way we will build up the temple of God in our generation, accompanied by Christ and empowered by his Spirit as God’s co-workers.

It may not always be pretty. The first Christian martyr Stephen was stoned for preaching this message. He taught that the old temple was to be destroyed (Acts 6:14) and this angered the Jews. They were wedded to this creation and the sin it was mired in, but Stephen saw the Tabernacle and Temple as pointing to something greater. He reminded them “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48) and he paid for it with his life. But as he died he saw the future New Creation hidden in heaven. As Moses had seen the heavenly pattern from which to build the first Tabernacle (Acts 7:44; Heb 8:5) when Stephen died he saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

That is the vision we need to see in the glorious Tabernacle built by Bezalel and Oholiab so we can follow their example of intelligent, skilled and creative obedience to our Great Commission.

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Happy Friday – open thread

Bit busy right now – so over to you.  Do you have a funny video/photo/website to share?  Go on… make me laugh.

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My friend Paul Hawkins has written a cracker on the altar of incense.  Enjoy!

Read Exodus 30:1-10, 34-38

I wonder how many of us are in something like a prayer triplet, getting together with say two other Christians to pray together?

CAUGHT UP IN THE TRINITY

Exodus 30 is a great chapter on prayer.  We’re in the middle of the tabernacle, this massive multimedia picture of heaven and earth.  And inside the tabernacle were three pieces of furniture described back in Exodus 25.  The ark, symbolising the throne of God the Father. The table of the Presence, symbolising God the Son, present with us.  And the lamp-stand, a picture of God the Holy Spirit, shining to the world.

But there was one other piece of furniture in the tabernacle, only one, which was the altar of incense.  In verses 1-3 we see it was quite small, it was made of wood covered with gold and if we look on to verse 6, Moses is told

“Put the altar in front of the curtain that is before the ark of the Testimony—before the atonement cover that is over the Testimony—where I will meet with you.”

That means it would have stood right in the middle of those other three things, symbolically in the middle of Father, Son and Spirit.

So what’s this altar, and this incense, all about – what’s it a picture of?  Well we’re told in a number of places and one of them is Revelation chapter 8 verse 3, which says an angel

came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.”

The prayers of all the saints.  That’s us!  It’s as if the Father the Son and the Spirit are at three corners of a triangle and we and our prayers are right in the middle.  Here’s the original prayer triplet, God himself, and the glorious reality is that if we’re Christians we are surrounded by him.

OUR PRAYERS RISE TO GOD’S THRONE

I don’t know what sort of terms you’re on with Her Majesty the Queen.  If I gave her a call I think I might just struggle to get put through.  But with prayer, it’s not just that we can get through to God if we call him up – if we sort-of throw up a few prayers.  No, we’re in the centre of his life, we’re family, it’s like we’re with the Queen in her living room, and she’s saying, how’s it going – what’s on your mind?

And prayer is how we live out this family life caught up in God.  Look down at verses 7 and 8 – Aaron burned incense (so think: prayers of the saints) every morning and evening, regularly before the Lord.  Verse 9, he didn’t come with a sacrifice or another offering or anything, no just incense, prayer.  Prayer is our expression of the divine life.

THE LAMB’S BLOOD MAKES US WELCOME

So how is it that we can share in God’s life – how come we’re caught up in this divine prayer triplet? Well verse 10 talks about atonement being made with the blood of the atoning sin offering, it says it’s most holy to the Lord.  Isn’t that the heart of the message of the cross, where the Lord God himself, gave his own blood to make us holy.  His passion gives us his life.

And do we see how that means we are very welcome as he brings us into the throne-room of God?  Very welcome.

OUR PRAYERS SMELL SWEET TO GOD

So what does God think of our prayers?  Well what’s this incense like?  Looking on to verse 34 we see – it’s fragrant!

What’s your favourite smell?  I was thinking mine might be fresh raspberries – gorgeous.  Well these spices here have sweet and powerful aromas and as they rise to the Lord they’re verse 37 holy to him, verse 38 they’re enjoyable – no-one’s allowed to copy them for their own enjoyment, no they’re for the Lord’s enjoyment.  So when we pray, God thinks, “… what’s that lovely smell?  Ah, the incense, the prayers of my saints, how wonderful!”

Isn’t that amazing? … Not that there’s anything in us that makes our prayers smell nice – no, it’s because we’re caught up in this sweet fragrant life of God himself – God the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and prays, for us (Romans 8), he takes our feeble prayers and wraps them up in Jesus.

SO LET’S PRAY

So what do you find hard about prayer?  I mean, we all do, don’t we?  I think for me I too often spend my time worrying, thinking, “how am I gonna cope?” instead of bringing everything to the Lord.  Maybe someone is reading and thinking “my prayers are just so rubbish” or “I’m too bad, surely God can’t accept my prayers.”

No, if we’re in Christ, the wonderful news to grasp is that God the Father is delighted with our prayers.  Next time we smell a lovely fragrant aroma, let’s think to ourselves – “that’s how God thinks of my prayers”.

So let’s pray – how often is prayer the last thing we think of, not the first thing we do – maybe it’s time to join a prayer triplet, let’s take every opportunity to pray.  We’re locked into the life of God, and the immeasurable resources of the Godhead are ready and waiting.

What a friend we have in Jesus.  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

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Got him!

Forget the rest, but at 1:25 you will see the greatest outfield catch ever.  Taken this afternoon by AB De Villliers.

See it here if it doesn’t appear above.

… and now back to the mission prep…

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When studying the Lord’s prayer it’s common to think about the character of God that’s assumed in the prayer: i.e. Father, in heaven, holy, etc, etc.

What about the character of the one praying it?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Childlike
  • Reverent
  • Expectant
  • Guileless
  • Obedient
  • No agenda of our own
  • Desperate
  • Dependent for all things
  • Confident of mercy
  • Acknowledging sin
  • Repentant
  • Merciful
  • Having a deep appreciation of grace
  • A follower
  • Hating sin and temptation
  • At war with the evil one
  • Sheltering in the Lord’s deliverance

Three thoughts:

1) I want to be this person.

2) Jesus has made me this person (John 16:23-27)  The Father regards me as this very person, clothed in my Advocate. I not only pray in and through Jesus but with Him.

3) As I pray, resting in the intercession of Jesus, I am increasingly living up to what I’ve already attained in Him.

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