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What is your ‘Instead’?3 months ago
Revd Canon Tim Montgomery takes a look at the word ‘instead’ as a word for this season. Tim dives into how the body of Christ is being shaped and anointed for a new season of disciple making and growing, equipped for works of service, built up in the unity of our faith, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ
I wonder what you would rather be doing instead. Maybe going for a walk in the sunshine instead of being in a zoom meeting, or eating dinner with friends instead of watching another Netflix film, or even working in the office instead of at this desk in the back bedroom. It seems that ‘instead’ is growing in its significance as a word in this season – a bit like ‘unprecedented!’
I have been drawn to this word as a ‘God-word’ for this season and digging into it in a bid to discern what God might be saying to us as we face a very different future as Church together.
The Lord will provide
We come across ‘instead’ first in the story of Abraham in that awful test of his obedience in the near sacrifice of Isaac. Just as Abraham was about to slay Isaac, the angel of the Lord called out to stop him and “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.” (Genesis 22:13) Interestingly, Abraham calls the place where the sacrifice of his son nearly happened ‘Yahweh Yireh’ which means, ‘The Lord will Provide.’
But the book in which this word turns up in most is in the book of the prophet Isaiah. As early as the third chapter we see it used in the context of the coming judgement of God on his people who had turned from him.
To the ‘haughty’ women flaunting their ornamented bodies comes the dreadful prophecy that all this will be snatched away by the Lord: “Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of fine clothing, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding” (Isaiah 3:24).
By the end of the book – in which we encounter the severity of God’s judgement in the exile of his disobedient people – we find the use of the word in the context of resurrected hope for those who seek the Lord while he may be found and turn to him to receive his mercy and free pardon. We glimpse a picture of these repentant people going out in joy and being led forth in peace and in the last verse of that wonderful chapter 55 we read: “Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign that will endure forever.”
The hope we hold onto as people who sit in heavenly places but walk each day in the earthly reality of this broken world, is summed up in Isaiah 61, the exact same prophecy Jesus applied to himself as he came out of the wilderness in the power of the Spirit. Here we encounter ‘Yahweh Yireh’ again providing for the broken-hearted, the captives and the prisoners, and proclaiming the Lord’s favour on those who grieve the current situation.
Here we find the provision of a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of despair. Hope then and now is found in the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord anointing and proclaiming good news through God’s servants.
The sacrifice of instead
The New Testament reveals God’s greatest ‘instead’ in his substitution of his son in our place – there was no alternative ram for this one – as Jesus submits himself to the undeserved punishment and death that enables us to receive forgiveness and eternal life instead of judgement and banishment from God forever.
It is this Jesus whom Paul calls us to be like in being united with Christ and sharing his Spirit. Instead of being selfish and conceited we are called to be humble and value others above ourselves, looking to the interests of others.
Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; Instead, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!
The stand out ‘instead’ is surely here in sacrifice, serving and joyful obedience. The first disciples left everything to follow Jesus, to learn how to do life his way instead of their own. They heard the teaching of instead which loves enemies, raises up the poor, forgives the adulterer, empowers the weak and turns the world the right way up.
What is your ‘instead’?
The disciples of Jesus are still journeying the great adventure of this ‘instead.’ This season of ‘instead restrictions’ is highlighting who we can be and must be as Church now and in the future. This is no longer about our traditions, our preferences, our needs, our wants or even our church. The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon us now to proclaim afresh good news to the poor, to look after the heartbroken, to comfort the mourners, to free those bound up by anything, and provide for those who grieve all that is lost.
This ‘instead’ way of being Church – out of our buildings, out of our services, out of our comfort – is refreshing the body of Christ as we rediscover the real tradition of our commission to go and make disciples, to love others more than ourselves, to serve rather than be served, to bring healing and hope in the midst of fear and despair.
The body of Christ is being shaped and anointed for a new season of disciple making and growing, equipped for works of service, built up in the unity of our faith, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. This is now the time to call out this great ‘instead’ over the whole body of Christ as we are matured for this season and the next.
“Instead,” writes Paul to the Church, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)
What is work is the Holy Spirit anointing you for in this new season of ‘instead?’