Chapter 9 “Union With Christ” from Ed Miller’s book “Back to Bethlehem”

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As we come to study God’s word, there’s an indispensable principle, and that is total reliance on the Holy Spirit.  Don’t ever take that principle for granted.  We need to trust the Lord when we study the Bible.  Only God can reveal God.  I used to take that for granted.  So, I went through my Bible and now on every page in my Bible I’ve written an arrow pointing up to God.  When I open my Bible I remember the indispensable principle. 

Song of Solomon 5:2, “I was asleep, but my heart was awake.  A voice!  My beloved was knocking. ‘Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my perfect one!  For my head is drenched with dew.  My locks with the damp of the night.’”  The bride was sleeping but her heart was awake.  She said, “I hear a voice knocking at the door”; a voice knocking.  A voice is the word of God.  Knocking is someone wanting to come in.  Every time God speaks, he wants to come in.  His voice is an invitation and He wants to come and have us respond to His word. 

          Heavenly Father, we ask You to speak to us and enable us to open the door so that you can come in.  We know how much we need You.  Show us the Lord Jesus in a fresh and living way.  Deliver us from cold academics and show us the Living Word.  We ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen

          We are looking at these great foundations of our faith.  The foundation I’d like to look at now is called “Union with Jesus”, “Union with Christ”.  That truth is all over the Bible and especially in the New Testament.  It’s so comprehensive.  We’re to abide in Christ as a branch abides in the vine.  We’re to relate to Christ as a bride relates to a husband, and like children relate to their parents.  What the head is to the body, that’s union.  What the sun is to the earth, that’s union.  What the soil is to the plant is a picture of union.  When you read the epistles of the New Testament, the expression “in Christ” is used over and over and over. 

          The Bible says that we are found in Christ, preserved in Christ, sanctified in Christ Jesus and we are rooted in Christ Jesus and we’re made perfect in the Lord.  We’re called to think in the Lord, walk in the Lord, speak in the Lord, labor in the Lord, suffer in the Lord, and rejoice in the Lord.  Everything is in Christ Jesus.  We conquer in the Lord.  We get married only in the Lord.   Children obey their parents in the Lord.  We receive one another in Christ Jesus.  We reign in life in Christ Jesus.  We submit to one another in the Lord.  We die in the Lord.  We are asleep in Jesus.  When He returns we return with Him.  All of that pictures union in Christ. 

          I have a problem.  I want union with Christ.  Where do I begin?  There is so much in the Bible that pictures union with Christ, like eating and drinking.  I think the greatest picture of union with Christ is John 17:21, “…that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.”   The Trinity; God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit pictures our union with Jesus.  Let me tell you my heart as I present union with Christ.

          I want to tell you the two aspects of union which have most changed my life.  We’ll leave many things out but this has changed my life.  I want to show you how union with Jesus relates to His Lordship.  I always use a Bible illustration.  To illustrate that I want to use Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Then the second illustration is the head related to the body and that is the flow of His life.  Then right at the end, very quickly, I want to give the illustration of marriage. 

           We begin with the Virgin Mary.  I believe she is the first picture of the church in the New Testament.  You can tell that by her contribution to the world.  What was her contribution?  She gave Christ to the world.  That’s the contribution for the church; we are to give Christ to the world.  Colossians 1:28-29, “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete to Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”   We want to give Christ to the world.

          How did she do that?  Luke 1:35, “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.’”  The Holy Spirit formed Christ in Mary.  How did she respond?  Luke 1:38, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bond slave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.’  And the angel departed from her.”  She said, “May it be done unto me.”  She didn’t say, “What should I do?”  It was done unto her and she didn’t do anything.  In the fullness of time she gave Christ to the world.   Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman born under the Law…”

          Mary pictures us.  The Holy Spirit forms Christ in us.  Christ grows in us.  In the fullness of time we give Christ to the world.  I want to use Mary as a picture; not Mary when she was conceiving Christ or giving Christ.  We’re talking about union with Christ.  I want to share how Mary related to her son.  I want to show how she related to Him when He was a boy twelve years old and then when He began His ministry and turned water into wine.

          Mark 3:33-35, “And answering them, He said, ‘Who are My mother and My brothers?’  And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He said, ‘Behold, My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.’”  Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God, that’s my mother, that’s my sister and that’s my brother.”   John 12:26, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”  Both of these verses have to do with the will of God.

          When Jesus was twelve years old he related to His parents by obedience.  Luke 2:41-42, “And His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast;” At age twelve Jesus submitted to his mother and stepfather.  They decided where He would go.  If they went to Jerusalem to a feast, Jesus went with them.  If they went to visit relatives, like Elizabeth, Jesus went with them.  They had a relationship with their son, like any parent has a relationship with their son.  Based on that relationship, they had certain expectations.

          On this occasion Jesus disappointed his parents.  They had expectations and He did not meet those expectations.  The way he acted not only confused them but it upset them.  Luke 2:48, “And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You treated us this way?  Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.’”  Mary said, “Why have you treated us this way?” 

          You know the story.  Luke 2:43, “…and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  And His parents were unaware of it.”  Based on their relationship Mary expected Jesus to go home when they went home.  When they didn’t see Jesus, according to Luke 2:44, they thought He was with the relatives. 

          I can understand Mary’s point.  I had six children and based on my relationship with them, I had expectations.  If I had a twelve year old son and he didn’t come home with us, I would not be happy.  My firstborn son is David.  We had a curfew to be home at a certain time.  One day David missed the curfew.  He was late and he thought, “I’m late anyway and I’m going to get in trouble, so I might as well stay here all night.”  So, he stayed all night.  He did not call us and we did not know where he was.  He figured that he was in trouble anyway and he might as well stay.  Something like that happened in this case.

          We have a relationship with Jesus and sometimes based on our relationship, we have expectations of Jesus.  I’m a child of God and I expect Him to keep me from tragedy.  I’m a child of God and I expect Him to keep me from sickness.  And if I get sick, because of my relationship, I expect Him to heal me.  I expect Him to keep me from poverty.  It’s all based on a relationship.  I have expectations but sometimes He doesn’t meet my expectations. 

          A tremendous statement was made when Jesus was twelve years old.  When His mother heard it, she didn’t understand it.  So, she put it in her heart.  The Bible says that she thought about it, she pondered it in her heart.  How long did she ponder it in her heart?  The answer is she pondered it until He was thirty years old.  She didn’t understand what He said.

          Luke 2:49, “And He said to them, ‘Why is it that you were looking for Me?  Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?’”  Let me put that in my own words.  He said, “Mother, it’s true I have a relationship with you and Joseph, but what you may not know is that I have a relationship with My Holy Father God.  My relationship with my Holy Father God is higher than my relationship with you.  My relationship with You will be in terms with my relationship to My Holy Father God.”  I hope God teaches us that truth.  Jesus will always do His Father’s will.  I must not quarrel with Him if He doesn’t meet my expectations.  My will is now in terms of the Father’s will.”

          There is a strange expression here in the words Jesus said.  The translation in my Bible says, “I must be about My Father’s house.”  Another translation says, “I must be about My Father’s interests.”  Another translation says, “I must be about My Father’s concerns.”  Another translation says, “I must be about My Father’s affairs.”  Another translation is, “I must be occupied with the things of My Father.”  Why are there so many translations about that word?  Here’s why.  In the original language in the Greek, Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s…” and there is no noun.  The translator puts the noun in.  He’s trying to help you understand.  Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s everything.  I must be about My Father’s will, about My Father’s pleasure, about His house, about His affairs, about His interests, and about His delight.

          There comes a time in life when a Christian has to learn that God relates to us in terms of His relationship to God.  The Lord Jesus will always relate to His Father first and then to me.  It’s about My Father’s will and not my wishes.  Luke 2:51, “And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” 

          After Jesus said that to Mary, He began again to submit to His parents.  He did what they asked Him to do.  He went where they went and He acted according to their expectations.  He limited Himself to whatever His parents told Him.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, I told you that I chose this because it changed my life.  I want to show you how it was and how it is now. 

          Jesus submitted to Mary.  Believe it or not, Jesus submitted to me.  I decided that Jesus should go to this program, so He came.  I decided that I would visit the nursing home, “Jesus, come along.”  I decided to go to the prison, so I took Jesus with me to the prison and He came.  I decided to take Jesus to the hospital with me, so He came.  I used to do open air preaching; I preached on the street corner.  I said, “Jesus, today we’re going to preach on the street corner and He obeyed.” 

          That was my expectation; where I am, there is Jesus.  Praise God, He showed up!  He did come!  He did bless!  He did miracles!  It was wonderful!  Jesus was listening to me.  Wherever I took Him, He went.  I didn’t understand.  John 2:2-3, “…and Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the wedding.  And when the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’”  Jesus is now thirty years old.  From age twelve to thirty Jesus obeyed His parents.  She had the expectation of that but it’s going to change right now. 

          John 2:4, “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what do I have to do with you?  My hour has not yet come.’”  When Mary said, “They have no wine,” I don’t think she was expecting a miracle but I think she was expecting her son to go to the store and get some wine.  They ran out of wine.  “Jesus, you do what I tell you to do.”  All of a sudden He said, “Woman, it’s over.  What do I have to do with you?”  For the first time her eyes were opened and her heart understood.  She had pondered it all those years and finally it dawned on her.  The best thing Mary ever said is in John 2:5, “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’”  

          She understood that union is Lordship.  He doesn’t do what I say.  I do what He says.  We quoted already, and I’d like to read it again, John 12:26, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”  I had it backwards.  I thought, “Where I am, there Jesus would be.”  But that verse says, “Wherever Jesus is, there will be my servant.”  When God began to show me that, it changed my life.  This was a crossroad in my life.  It was critical.

          At this point you learn that it’s not me telling Jesus what to do but it’s learning to listen to Him, so that you can go where He is.  This is where many ministries come to an end.  When Christians learn this, sometimes they quit their church.  Pastors leave their pastorates.  Missionaries come off the field.  People who are writing books no longer write the books.  Artists who were having concerts no longer have the concerts.  For a long time Jesus cooperated with them but there comes a time when He turns it around and He says, “Now you start obeying Me.” 

          I had a hard time when I left the pastorate.  People didn’t understand.  They thought I was backsliding.  In my heart I knew I was no longer going to drag Jesus from place to place.  I was going to wait until He talked to me.  At age thirty Jesus started His ministry.  I had a great ministry but Jesus had none.  He hadn’t even started His ministry.  He started His ministry when I learned that principle.  When I look back at my ministry, I ask, “Where are the Christians?  Who is following the Lord?”  There weren’t very many. 

          When I set my heart to seeking the Lord, He started His ministry.  That’s what brings me to France.  It’s Jesus.  It’s His ministry!  It’s not mine.  I don’t tell Him what to do anymore.  I don’t try to drag Him from place to place.  I wait on the Lord so He can tell me where He is.  That’s the first principle of union.  Union is Lordship.  I am related to Him and I have no expectations.  Whatever He wants is fine.

          Let me give a second principle.  Union with Christ is not only Lordship, it’s the flow of His life.  There are two great pictures.  One is the vine and the branches and the other is the title that Christ is the head of the body.  In the New Testament the word “head” is used several different ways.  One is that Adam was the head of the race and Christ is the last Adam, the head of the race. 

          Sometimes the word “head” is like the head of a company.  Ephesians 1:22, “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”  1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”  It’s the head like an authority.  Colossians 2:10, “…and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.”

          I don’t want to talk about the federal headship of Christ.  I don’t want to talk about headship being about authority.  Colossians 2:18-19, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments grows with a growth which is from God.”  Christ is the head of the body and the body is to lay hold of the head and the members are to live in union with the head.  But in Colossians the word “head” is the word “brain”.  He’s the head of the body and it’s saying that he is the brain of the body.  His life flows like life from the brain. 

          My grandmother used to call me “Butchie” and she was always arguing with me.  She kept saying, “Butchie, use your head.”  What she meant was to use my brain to think!  My grandmother didn’t give me a lot of spiritual advice but through the years I remember those words, “Use your head,” because my head is Christ.  I want to use my head.  Jesus is my head. 

          The only thing I know about the brain is what I read.  I’m not a doctor but what I read was very impressive.  The brain and its nervous system connected to the body is the best computer on earth.  You can’t breathe without your brain.  You can’t digest your food without your brain.  Voluntary and involuntary movements are from your brain.  All of your five senses are controlled by your brain.  All your emotions are controlled by your brain.  If your brain is broken, you are paralyzed.  You wouldn’t know anything; who you are or how to relate to the world that you live in. 

          I’m not trying to impress you with facts about the brain.  It’s a picture of Christ.  Your brain weighs about three pounds.  Your brain has nine million two hundred thousand nerves.  It has more than nine billion neurons.  It’s an amazing thing that God has given us!  And it pictures Jesus in relationship and union with His body. 

          Colossians 2:19, “…and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”  The brain is a giver.  The body is a receiver.  That is the simplicity of union with Christ; His life flows. 

          Let me break that down into a couple of spiritual truths.  As my head and brain, Christ does two things.  He not only commands me but then He enables me to obey the command.  He not only gives the command but He gives the power to do it.  The brain tells my hand to move and then gives me the power to move.  My brain tells my foot to walk and then He gives me power to walk.  My ear doesn’t know it’s an ear but when God talks to my ear, my ear listens. 

          Christ is my head and He gives a command.  So, Christ says, “Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church.”  Then He enables you to do that.  “Hold fast the head!”  The head says, “Rejoice evermore!”  Then He enables you to do that.  “In everything give thanks.”  Then He enables you to do that.  My head gives the command and then the power. 

          Why could Jesus say to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand?”  It’s because He enabled him to stretch out his hand.  Why could Jesus say to the crippled man, “Take up your bed and walk?”  It’s because He enabled him to take up his bed and walk.  That’s the ministry of the head and brain.  Why could Jesus take a humped over woman of eighteen years and say, “Stand up straight!”  It’s because He enabled her to stand up straight!  Why could Jesus command, “Lazarus, come forth?”  It’s because He enabled him to live again. 

          Christ is our head.  My hand does not know that it’s a hand.  My foot doesn’t know it’s a foot.  My ear doesn’t know it’s an ear but if my hand lives for the pleasure of my brain, and my foot lives for the pleasure of the brain, there will be no problem in my body.  Christ is not only the One who gives and provides but as the Head He is the unifier.  When the members receive the life from the Head, they have one life.  There is no life center in my hand and no life center in my leg or in my foot. 

          My paternal grandmother had sugar diabetes and a very severe case.  They had to amputate her right arm.  She still lived because there is no life center in her right arm.  Then it got worse and they had to amputate her left arm.  She was still alive because there is no life center in her left arm.  Then they had to cut off both her legs.  She was just a stump but she was still alive. 

          The body has one life and that life is Christ.  As the body gives life to the members, the members are united to the brain and they are also united to each other.  If you are rightly related to Jesus and I’m rightly related to Jesus, we are one.  When I get up in the morning I don’t have a committee meeting with the members of my body.  I don’t say to my hand, “Alright hand, take the covers and pull them off.  And right foot, you get out of bed first and then left foot, you make sure you follow.”  Imagine if my right hand had a will of its own and my left hand had a will of its own and my foot had a will of its own and my right foot wanted to go one way and the other foot wanted to go the other way?  There would be chaos. 

          My nose might say, “I want to go out and smell flowers.”  My back says, “I want to go to bed.”  My mouth says, “I’m hungry.”  My hand says, “I want to throw a ball.”  What confusion!  That’s the confusion in the church today.  It’s because they don’t have One Life.  Every Christian has his own life.  One wants to go one way and one wants to go the other way.  That’s why He says, “Hold fast to the head because then there is one life in the body.”  If one hand is related to my head, and the other hand is related to my head, it’s perfect unity.  If you are related to Jesus and I’m related to Jesus, we are one. 

         We don’t need to have unity in the church by having many programs.  The way to be one is to hold fast to the Head.  I want to show you the difference between light and life.  The strength of unity is in life.  Different Christians have different light.  Some see it one way and some see it another way.  When you base unity on light, there is division.  The Calvinists see it one way and he goes that way.  The Armenians see it another way and he goes that way.  The dispensationalists see it one way and he goes that way.  Those in the Covenant Theology see it another way and they go that way.  One person says, “We need all the spiritual gifts.”  Another says, “The gifts don’t exist anymore.”  Another says, “We need a baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  Another says, “We need to baptize babies.”  Others say, “No, it’s only for adults.”  So, everybody has their division on light.  Churches split and seminaries split but every split is based on light. 

          I’m embarrassed to say that when I was a pastor, my church split.  You’d be amazed at what they split over.  They were arguing over whether we should put gravel in the driveway or seashells in the driveway!  If we had gravel, we had to pay for it.  If we had seashells, it was given to us as a gift but it would smell like fish for one week.  So, there was a big argument.  People started to get angry and began to cry.  Some left the church and never came back because we were based on light. 

          It doesn’t matter what your light is.  We can disagree.  If we have Christ, we’re one.  We wouldn’t split.  If you are looking to Christ and I’m looking to Christ, we’re one.  A team of mules couldn’t pull us apart.  Christ is Lord and I’m going to obey Him.  Christ is Life and I want His Life to flow.

           Union is not only Lordship and Life but it’s intimate relationship.  The illustration is marriage.  2 Corinthians 11:2, “For I am jealous for you with a Godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”  Romans 7:4, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.”  We are married to Him who rose from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God. 

           I didn’t want to leave you with something technical; that union is obedience and that union is receiving.  Union is relationship with Jesus.  He not only loves you but He’s in love with you.  It’s a romance.  He just can’t get enough of you.  Genesis 4:1, “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a man-child with the help of the Lord.’”  Hosea 6:3, “So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.  His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth.”

          The way the Bible uses the word “know”, Adam “knew” his wife and she conceived; it’s a relationship.  I have six children.  Everyone was born out of a private, secret, wonderful union with my Lillian.  What is union with Christ?  Union with Christ is submitting to His Lordship.  Union with Christ is receiving His Life.  Union with Christ is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. 

          Our heavenly Father, thank You for the wonderful truth of union with Christ.  Set us free, we pray, from expecting You to follow us.  Teach us what it means to follow You.  As members of Your body, teach us to hold fast to the head.  We ask that we might enjoy the intimacies of the marriage bond in our union with You.  We ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen