Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 2004
Dear Friend in Christ:
We have access to God, our Heavenly Father, at this very moment. What a reality! Once, there was no way for us and now there is a new and living way (see Hebrews 10:18). We must avail ourselves of this unspeakable gift, especially now.
God can hear and respond to whomever He chooses. Yes, even non-Christians can be heard. Prior to the birth of Jesus, there are many recorded examples of answered prayers. Jesus Himself mentions the tax collector; a dishonest man, whose prayer was answered. In fact, all of us who have been born again were heard in prayer, prior to our spiritual birth.
So, if non-Christians can pray and be heard, why was it necessary for Jesus to descend to earth, die on the cross and raise from the dead? Apparently, there was a serious reason; in fact there were many reasons. The main reason for the work of Christ was that we were separated from God by many insurmountable obstacles. We could pray, but it was a “long distance call.”
What was standing between us and God? Was it our iniquities, our propensity to go our own way, the record of our past sins, our guilt, our conformity to a wicked culture, or something else? Spiritual forces that had captured us, and our ignorance of God and His ways, are some of the issues that prevented us from entering His holy presence (see Isaiah 59; Isaiah 53:6; Ephesians 2:1-3.) There was not a way for us to remove these hindrances by ourselves.
The word “way” has two meanings: One, it is a method of behavior; and second, it is a path or road to a particular destination. Jesus dealt with both meanings. But here I want to speak of the way to the Father (see John 14:6). There seemed to be no way, but Jesus made a new and living way.
No one on earth could deal with our human nature or the spiritual forces; that is, until Jesus descended to earth to deal with both. Prior efforts focused on “trying harder” or worshipping some ineffective “deity.” Others gave up and decided that humanity itself was the only “god” there is. In all of these efforts, we were left to ourselves and remained hopeless.
God saw our sorry plight: We were separated, dying, self-destructive, and hopelessly lost. We could not ascend, so Jesus descended to meet us where we were. We could not find God, so He found us (see Ephesians 4:8-10).
Jesus showed us His way, and His power, He died in our place, He made atonement for our sin, He changed our nature, He conquered our captors, He removed the record against us, He justified us before the Father, He bought us out of captivity, and He ascended back to the Father. He made for us a new and living way into the very presence of God in the highest heaven. We can now fellowship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the redeemed of the earth. He did it all; no wonder we worship Him!
Paul makes this statement in Ephesians 4:9, “ He ascended” – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? His journey is incomprehensible to us in how far up He was before, or how far down He went (see John 1:1-4; Colossians 1:16-18; Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus was and is God, the Son of God, and Creator of all that exists – everywhere. He humbled Himself and emptied Himself of all pre-existent glory, and became one of us, “the Son of Man,” yet without sin. He made Himself of no reputation and became a bondservant, totally reliant on the Father and the Holy Spirit. He became our sacrificial Lamb, our sin offering, and He died the death of a murderer, adulterer, thief, and a liar, though He had done none of these things.
SIN AND DEATH
The descent of Jesus led Him to identify with the worst offender, to be crucified as one accursed, for all of us who were under the curse of sin – all of Adam’s race. In Jesus’ death, He destroyed even the record of sin against those who accepted His offer of atonement – and, He pronounced them righteous before God!
But…was that His last step down? Did He go even further? Ephesians 4:9 says that He descended to the “lower parts of the earth.” Was the grave the “lower parts” of the earth? Scholars disagree, but I believe that He went lower still.
First, let me remind you that a “realm” is a sphere of dominion. There are numerous biblical references to a ruler’s “realm.” In Revelation 1:18, Jesus declares to the apostle John, “I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” “Hades” is better interpreted as the “realm of the dead and of death.” So where did He get these keys – and that authority?
He could have said, “I have the keys of death,” but no, He says, “I have the keys of the realm of the dead and of death.” It appears these are separate issues. Jesus not only conquered death, but the realm of the dead_spiritual forces in the “lower parts of the earth” (see Ephesians 4:8-10).
Ephesians 4:8-10 is a reference back to Psalm 68 and David’s description of God’s conquering army, and the dividing up of the spoils of the enemy’s kingdom. Colossians 2:15 tells us that Jesus led a parade (a “triumph”) of vanquished principalities and powers through the heavens and made a public spectacle of them.
The Lord came to provide atonement for our sin, justification, and redemption, and He came to do something else_defeat our enemy. He descended to earth, to death, to the realm of the dead, and took the keys and spoiled the enemy’s kingdom. He is now dividing the spoils with His army. He made a public spectacle of our enemy, plundered his resources, and is giving gifts unto men.
What are these gifts? And why is He giving them, and to whom is He giving them? Ephesians 4:11 says that these gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. They are given to people once imprisoned, but now released by His blood and His power. They were formerly captured by sin and Satan, and now redeemed and released to serve the Living God. And these gifts are given to the Church to bring it to maturity and victory. They are gifts from Christ to us.
The One who descended into the “lower parts of the earth,” the realm of the dead, also ascended on high and gave gifts unto men. What is His ultimate purpose? Ephesians 4:10 tells us, “that He might fill all things” (see Ephesians 1:9-10; Colossians 1:16-18). God’s intent is not just a few souls, but the reclaiming of all creation (see Romans 8:18-22). Jesus came to us on the offensive, and we who follow Him are as well.
Now you may notice that I do not subscribe to an escapist mentality or a defeated Christ. The mighty Conqueror has given us the mighty Holy Spirit, and access to all of heaven’s resources, including the Father’s ear. And, He has given to us keys also.
Revelation 12:10-11 gives us several vital messages:
- The accuser of the brethren has been cast down.
- He was overcome by the blood of the Lamb, the Word of the testimony of believers, and they loved not their lives unto death.
- Remember, Satan has already been defeated. Because of the blood of Christ that declares us righteous, he has no charge to bring. (see Romans 8:31-39).
Never allow yourself to buy into the idea that you are justified or condemned by your works; Revelation says that believers overcome by the blood. It is no wonder that Satan has worked so hard to give us a “bloodless salvation.” I heard it in seminary and have listened with disdain to those who would omit the blood sacrifice of Christ. His blood is the blood of the Covenant – no blood, no covenant. And it was not the blood of some animal – it was His own life blood that He shed for us to seal our salvation and open the way to the Father (see Hebrews 9).
Never forget your testimony; it is a key. Your testimony is what Jesus Christ did in His life, death, and Resurrection. If necessary, write it down, but never forget it. Satan hates it because it is the story of his own defeat and your victory in Christ.
Don’t love your life. We are dead; we died with Him; we were buried with Him, and praise God, we rose with Him, and we are seated with Him in heavenly places (see Colossians 3:3; Ephesians 2:4-6). If we renounce the love of our own lives, we have no fear, but we cause much fear within the defeated realm.
Many years ago, while in prayer, I had a vision. I saw small groups of people in what appeared to be a corral. They were tied up together and tied to the fence. As I looked more closely, I saw that their ropes were cut, but they continued to believe that they were tied. Then I heard the Lord say, “Why are you acting as though you are bound when I have released you? You are free: Shake off your bonds.” That came to me as a Southern Baptist pastor, baptized in the Holy Spirit, yet fearing what my denomination and church might think_40 years ago. I discovered something, I was free.
So, if Jesus purchased our salvation, defeated our enemy, and gave us keys, should we not move into His presence boldly, make our petitions known, and exercise the authority that He has given to us? Is it not time now (see Romans 13:11; Hebrews 4:16)?
I believe with all of my heart that we not only can have the power of God, but we can have power with God. If you truly believe with me that the One who descended also ascended far above all rule, authority, and power; if you believe that He holds the keys – all of them – then I urge you to go to Him by the way that He has made for us, and intercede for your loved ones, for the Church, for the ministries that are serving Him, and especially for our beloved nation.
And pray for those who do not yet know the Good News of Jesus’ defeat of their enemy. There is a way – straight and narrow – but unimpeded. If we will humble ourselves, repent of sin, and pray, we will see the glory of God.
Scripture Reference: Hebrews 10:18; Isaiah 59; Isaiah 53:6; Ephesians 2:1-3; John 14:6; Ephesians 4:8-10; John 1:1-4; Colossians 1:16-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 1:18; Ephesians 1:9-10;Romans 8:18-22; Revelation 12:10-11; Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 9; Colossians 3:3; Ephesians 2:4-6; Hebrews 4:16; Romans 13:11