On a flight out of West Palm Beach, Florida, we had just become airborne over the ocean when a boy sitting next to the window grabbed my arm. "Look out there!" he said urgently. "Look!" What I saw was one of the most magnificent sights of my life. Reaching down to the surface of the ocean and rising overhead as far as I could see was the full, unbroken circle of a rainbow. The color was indescribably brilliant with the lower part of the ring seeming to float on the surface of the water. There was no gap in it-just the breathtaking color of God's beautiful sign of covenant. Genesis 9:13.
I had learned a short time before
that the complete rainbow, like the wedding band, is a continuous ring. It is
much, much more than the mere half circle we see from ground level. At best,
our earth-bound view reveals only part. To behold the bow's full circumference
it is necessary to be above the earth looking down. The spiritual application
of that truth is obvious: In this present life, we grasp only a fragment of the
wisdom and strategy of God. Not until we are in heaven looking back at history
will we be able to understand the full scope of His plan and purpose in our
lives. But there on the plane, in an astonishing way, I realized the rainbow
message also involves the operation of spiritual gifts. When you too grasp this
holy truth, seeing yourself wearing an engagement ring from Christ, already
seated with Him "in heavenly places,” it will release faith powerfully
within you (Ephesians 1:3,20).
This truth is seldom seen but will be absolutely magnificent once you grasp it. The foundation is laid in the story of Isaac’s bride. Abraham sent his servant to get a bride for his son Isaac. The young woman chosen for this honor was Rebekah. In scriptural typology, Abraham represents God the Father; the unnamed servant represents the Holy Spirit; Isaac represents Jesus the Son. Rebekah symbolizes the bride of Christ-the church. Rebekah's name means "circles" or "loops of a rope." The imagery of the rope suggests her being "inside the circle" of God's providence and grace. This is a true concept of covenant. And in keeping with the covenant tradition, as soon as the servant identified Rebekah as God's chosen one, he presented her with golden "rings." Genesis 24:22. The shape of these gifts-circles-conveyed an important message which Rebekah understood. They were the rope loops that encircled her engagement to Isaac.
And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man took a golden earring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold (Genesis 24:22).
It is important to understand that these bracelets and rings were not wedding gifts. They were engagement gifts. Even today brides frequently receive two rings: One before the wedding, the other at the wedding. So it was with Rebekah. First came the engagement gift; these were followed with wedding gifts. In a similar way, Jesus is now offering you engagement gifts; you are part of His Bride. These gifts, brought to you by the Servant, the Holy Spirit, parallel the rings Rebekah received and those given to brides today. They are the "earnest of your inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession" (Ephesians 1:14). Your heavenly wedding gifts, which are beyond human comprehension, will not be given you until the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). But please listen to me carefully about gifts which come in advance of the wedding: The charismatic gifts that the church is now receiving, by which she "tastes the powers of the age to come," are engagement gifts (Acts 1:5,8; Hebrews 6:5; Ephesians 1:21). Through them, the groom is showing His bride the "glories of His Father's house."
This parallel of Rebekah and the church is exact. While Rebekah's gifts spoke of Isaac's love, they also revealed Abraham's great wealth. Just as Rebekah had never met the man to whom she was engaged, so the church has yet to meet her royal bridegroom. The gifts Jesus is now sending through the Holy Spirit correspond to the rings and bracelets given Rebekah by Abraham's servant. I have spoken to numerous churches where members were still opposed to spiritual gifts. They did not understand the miraculous operations of God and drew back from them. I explained that Christians who reject the gifts of the Spirit are actually telling the heavenly servant, "I don't like that bracelet. Put it back in your box! I won't wear it." Rebekah's acting in such ugliness is unthinkable. Not so with modern, self-centered Christians. Many become irate, incensed, at the mere suggestion of their experiencing the Holy Spirit's miraculous gifts. The gift of tongues is the primary offender because it is the only grace-gift deliberately designed to attack ego and pride. Thankfully, many in these congregations have seen the ugliness of rejecting spiritual gifts and have come forward, repentant, saying, "I don't fully understand the Holy Spirit's gifting-but I want whatever bracelet God has for me! Pray that I will receive it!"
There will be times when ministry is discouraging, life seems unfair, disappointing, painful, and you will need reminding that the view from above is very different from the one below. In those moments, you will benefit tremendously from the assurance divine gifts bring to your life. After God miraculously rescued him from a failed suicide attempt nearly three centuries ago, William Cowper wrote a hymn that has since blessed millions. In that famous lyric, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way His Wonders to Perform," Cowper said,
"Cheer up, ye saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds you so much dread
Are rich with mercies and shall break
In blessings on your head ..."
The words of Cowper's song and the incredible beauty of God's covenant-sign were still going through my mind as our plane left the rainbow behind. Leaning back in a state of awe, a series of revelations began flooding me. First was the amazing, spiritual beauty of the bow; its colors were ethereal, unreal. Second, its endless circle, representing the complete cycle of God's loving, sovereign perfection in creation, was overwhelming. Nothing was omitted from its meaning. The smallest, microscopic sea life in the ocean below me to the largest galaxy in space were all contained in the scope of His unified plan. What I glimpsed in that fleeting moment was the glory of the kingdom of God. Wonderfully, the apex of that revelation was heaven's grace to man--man who was destined to rule and reign in that ever-expanding, unending kingdom. For a moment, I was overwhelmed with the two-fold manifestation of grace:
1. Through saving-grace, man is prepared for divine life in Heaven.
2. Through gifting-grace, man is prepared for miraculous life on earth.
In that flashing moment I understood more about the grace of God than ever before. This fact seized me: God intended that the ordinary Christian life be a miraculous life. Once grace touches us, we are transformed both for eternity and for now. My mind was overwhelmed with what seemed to be giant ripples of scientific and theological fact, coming toward me from every direction. Each ripple brought a unique message about God's covenant plan. This I suddenly knew: All truth, regardless of its rising from the Old Testament or the New, whether it comes from Scripture or true scientific discovery, points toward ultimate reality: God is one; God is love; God is power. Creation pulsates with that oneness. Jesus is the one by whom the "worlds were framed," Hebrews 11:3, John 1:1, and is the incarnation of all three. His resurrection, as an explosion of that truth, defeated every opposing principle of disunity, hatefulness, and weakness in existence.
Wonderfully, the Holy Spirit showed me the relationship between the rainbow and another biblical, covenant sign: circumcision. It too is circular. The revelation that took place that day went light years beyond everything I had understood about circumcision before. Circumcision means "circular cutting." Beginning with Abraham, every Hebrew male bore in his body this physical sign of God's covenant. Suddenly I realized that the miles-wide rainbow and the few inches of circumcision were identical. Each contained all the glory, beauty, majesty of the other.
With that realization, came an important question: "Why did God place the covenant sign on the male genitals?" The answer was awesome: God willed that the conception of every Hebrew child take place in the presence of his father's covenant-sign. Not only so, but the father's genes for every future generation passed through his covenant ring. The creative act of conception, in which those made "in His image" and "in His likeness," Genesis 1:26, takes place within the "circle of the covenant." Acts 2:39.
By a painful cutting away and shedding of blood, circumcision is the uncovering of maleness. In scriptural typology, it is the exposing of man to His God. If you study the covering-and uncovering-of tabernacle furnishings in the Old Testament, all of which came under covenant instruction, you will understand more of the parabolic teaching present here. Exodus 35:12, etc. When miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit begin operating in us it is an evidence that we have experienced additional uncovering; that is, we have removed more of the insulation separating us and God. Grace, in an ongoing, deepening revelation, is taking place.
On the plane, my understanding about the covenant sign (that is, the circle) continued widening. I thought about how it applied to the marriage act. The groom penetrates the bride's temple body, and her blood is shed as the hymen is opened. The opening of her temple veil is done precisely where his own covenant blood had earlier been shed. In the process of their being united into one, each meets the covenant requirement of having given blood on behalf of the other: The man gave his blood for her; she gave her blood to him. This parallels Jesus and His bride, the church. Jesus shed His blood for the bride in order to redeem her (Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 13:20,21). His bride, the church, gives her blood back to Him when she shows her love through martyrdom (Revelation 12:11).
The New Testament makes the covenant meaning of Old Testament circumcision more beautiful than that which Israel understood. The death and resurrection of Jesus transformed circumcision into an experience of the heart. It is no longer limited to the outer body.
1. “He is a not Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).
2. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 5:6, 6:15).
Being far more than a physical cutting of the outer flesh, it is now man's inner being, his heart, that bears the sign of covenant. No longer an earthly symbol, circumcision is now a heavenly reality, bringing ultimate relationship with the Creator-Father.
On this subject of rings, I wish to comment on the covenant meaning of the golden bells and pomegranates decorating the garment of Israel's high priest. Exodus 28:33,34. The fruit and bells on the hem of his robe undoubtedly symbolize the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5:9. As High Priest, Jesus is prophetically portrayed in ancient tabernacle worship and bears both fruit and gifts. Hebrews 3:1. To be like Him, we must bear the same. Christians who reject spiritual gifts are ripping them off the garment of Jesus. Don't do it. When viewed from the bottom, the bell is usually a round ring. In scriptural typology, that golden ring may be as wide as the rainbow or as small as the scar on a man's body. In either case, it speaks of covenant.
Failure to understand the purpose of Covenant and the rainbow as its physical sign leads to failure in a variety of ways. For example, Apollos was the pastor of a small, struggling congregation at Ephesus to whom he failed to provide proper Covenant teaching. While he was away, Paul came to Ephesus and found Apollos' church of twelve male disciples with their wives and children. Paul immediately recognized powerlessness in this flock. Acts 18:24-19:20. In spite of Apollos having excellent credentials for ministry, he was not fulfilling the true New Testament example. He was stung with failure while Paul was not. Both men were called of God, both equally loved the Lord, and each possessed vast knowledge of Scripture. Even so, a major discrepancy existed between their ministries. Paul had power; Apollos did not. Carefully observe these seven facts which Scripture records about Apollos: He was a Jew, an eloquent man, mighty in Scripture, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, taught accurately the things of the Lord, but, unfortunately, he knew only the water baptism of John-nothing about Jesus' baptism in the Spirit–a vital sign of the New Testament Covenant.
When Paul saw spiritual powerlessness in the Ephesians, he asked the all-revealing question, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They responded, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." This tragic ignorance existed because Apollos knew only the baptism of John. He knew nothing about the baptism in the Holy Spirit and consequently left his congregation in that same theological vacuum. Paul immediately instructed the Ephesians about the Holy Spirit's empowering and when he "laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied."
Under Apollos's ministry, the church at Ephesus accomplished absolutely nothing to awaken the city. It demonstrated no kingdom power, remained spiritually paralyzed, and except for the local synagogue, its presence was virtually unknown. In that state, the congregation had no effective witness, made no impact on the people, was no threat to "powers, principalities, rulers of the darkness of this world," etc. Instead, the dark cloud of paganism gripped the land with unchallenged control. The Temple of Diana-or Artemis-already famous as the greatest of all seven wonders of the ancient world, dominated the area. It was in the shadow of this formidable enemy that this minuscule church, virtually powerless and unknown, lay dormant.
That changed when Paul arrived. When he came on the scene, Ephesus experienced a kingdom of God earthquake. Paul was not the power, but he was the instrument for that shaking. He merely provided the window through which the power roared. Apollos and twelve other windows were already present in Ephesus but they had never been opened. Paul's first mission in the city was not to attack the goddess Diana. Not at all. His first mission was to impart to the church the power of the Holy Spirit. In the identical fashion that Ananias earlier laid hands on him in Damascus "that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit," Acts 9:17, Paul laid hands on the Ephesians believers with the same hell-shattering results.
After "the Holy Spirit came upon them," Acts 19:6, the power of the gospel blew the city apart. A riot followed. These twelve disciples and their families become spiritual Hercules that multiplied into a hundred, then five thousand, then tens of thousands. Thousands more were converted, the church exploded in power, the Temple of Diana was ultimately emptied and destroyed. In time, the city of Ephesus became a Christian citadel known throughout the Roman world. For centuries the fire of the Ephesian revival burned out of control.
What caused such a revolutionary transformation? It was not Paul. Hear me carefully: It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through Paul. And be aware of this important point of theology: That power did not come to Paul on the Damascus road when he met Jesus. Not at all. It came in the Damascus room. That day, under the hands of Ananias, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 9:17. Identically, the believers in Ephesus were already born again when Paul arrived; they had a Damascus road encounter with Jesus. But not until Paul laid hands on them did they experience their Damascus room baptism in the Holy Spirit. That event anointed them with kingdom power. From that moment on, Ephesian paganism was doomed. One destiny awaited it: It would bow its knees to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
How appropriate that Paul should write the Corinthians, "I will come to you shortly ... and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power." I Corinthians 4:19. Eloquence, might, fervency, accuracy in the things of God-these things did not impress Paul. He had already witnessed the failure of Christianized wisdom. This fact prompted him to write that God has made us sufficient as "ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life." 2 Corinthians 3:6.
It matters not how eloquent one may be, how mighty in the Scripture, how instructed in the ways of the Lord, how accurately he teaches the things of God, how fervent he is in spirit, or how many degrees hang on his office wall, he may still be spinning his theological wheels, accomplishing minimal results, until he has been filled with the Holy Spirit. That is not my word; that is God's Word. If it were true of Apollos and the Ephesians, I can guarantee, it is equally true of us today.
There is not a city on this planet, be it Ephesus, Peking, Mexico City, Washington, Cape Town, New Delhi, Hong Kong, or Moscow, that can successfully resist such a dam burst of the power of God. Fifty years ago that dam burst happened unexpectedly in Argentina under the ministry of Tommy Hicks and has since turned Latin American upside down. Daily, more than twenty thousand new believers are coming to Christ in Latin America. God grant that someone becomes the North American voice who similarly shakes this continent to its core.
For that to happen, the church must jointly pray, "God Almighty! Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth as it is being done in heaven. Holy Spirit, wake up every powerless Apollos, change each into another Paul, shake us, stir us, challenge us, fill us. More importantly, send us forth in the full power of Your Covenant, as in Ephesus, bring the nations to their knees. Glorify Jesus in every city of our land!"