Reading: Joshua 5:10-12; John 6:4,48-50; 14:1-4.
Continuing along the line of our earlier occupation, the subject in the gospel by John is the displacing of the earthly man in favour of the heavenly Man. In chapter two we saw these two men facing each other, Nicodemus and Jesus. And I think we saw enough to make it quite clear that Nicodemus was representative of the earthly man at his best, and how that man is at an impasse, utterly incapable of moving in the heavenly realm. On the other hand, there is Jesus, the heavenly Man speaking heavenly things, doing everything out from heaven. Then we saw these two meeting in the Cross, the earthly man passing out, the heavenly Man going on. So not only the gospel by John, but all the New Testament has to do with this displacing of the earthly man in favour of the heavenly Man; the supplanting of the earthly man by the heavenly.
Life by Feeding
Now our particular occupation will be with formation after Christ, the heavenly Man, by feeding upon Christ.
In that passage in the book of Joshua, we saw three feedings: the Passover, the manna, and the old corn of the land. The basic factor in feeding, whether it be temporal or spiritual, is life, and life in order to be able to go on. The Passover feeding was the principle of life in order to go out from Egypt; the manna feeding was the principle of life to go through the wilderness; the old corn of the land was to maintain position in the land by life. Feeding, therefore, on this principle of life, is governed by progress towards God's end, which end is Christ, and the progress is conformity to Christ. You need not be told that here in this gospel by John, the great principle in view is Life, and here we have three feedings corresponding to those mentioned in Joshua.
The Passover of the Jews is mentioned quite a number of times in John's gospel at least. There were three Passovers actually, with which Jesus was connected in this gospel. Chapter 6, the manna; and although feeding is not mentioned in chapter 14, we have what corresponds to the old corn of the land, as we shall see. Then let us get clearly in view that the basic factor is heavenly Life in relation to reaching God's end - Christ in fulness, conformity to Christ.
It is perfectly clear that Nicodemus cannot go on to God's end until he receives, through faith in Jesus Christ, the Life by which he will be brought to God's end, which is Christ in fulness.
We must come to these three feedings.
(a) The Passover - Fundamental and Continuous
You know the story of the Passover as recorded in Exodus 12 - the eating of the flesh, the first Passover. The thing I want to point out about the Passover is that it is fundamental and continuous. With the Passover you have something that goes on.
It was in Egypt, it was in the wilderness, and it continued in the land. It went right on through every regime of the history of Israel, excepting the exile. It was the great rallying point of the days of the division of the kingdom in the time of Hezekiah or Josiah. It is something that is continuous, that is found wherever the Lord's people are. It is basic to their very life at all times, and that is because of its supreme significance. The Passover sets forth the judgment of God against sin and the destruction of death, and that is something that holds good, and that is a testimony which has got to be kept constantly in the heart of the people. It is something which is basic to progress towards God's end. That is the point.
There is a link, of course, between the Passover and the Lord's table. It was in the night of the Passover that the Lord's table was instituted, and it carried over the basic principles of the Passover. And that is why the Lord has desired and shown that this is something to be kept in perpetual remembrance, it is something to be observed until He comes. It is something that has to be there as a testimony in the heart of His people right on through all time and in all conditions, wherever the Lord's people are. And it simply amounts to this, that you and I will make no progress at all in conformity to Christ unless the testimony is maintained continuously in our hearts that sin has been fully and utterly judged in the Person of Jesus Christ, and that death has been swallowed up in victory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus. That is elementary, but it is not so elementary as to be dismissed. The Lord says, "You must not dismiss that; this goes on from first to last, from beginning to end".
There are no doubt many young Christians here today who would smile if I suggested that the time might come when they would be tempted to question their very salvation, their very acceptance with God, or doubt the very foundation of their Christian life and come into clouds of darkness about the very love of God for their souls. You are today so joyful in your salvation, in your Christianity, that you smile if anybody says anything like that. You would retort at once, like Peter, "Though all men forsake Thee, yet will I not forsake Thee." You do not know your heart, and you do not know the devil. Our hearts, right on to the end, no matter how long we have walked with God, no matter how deeply we have come to know the Lord, our own hearts - that which is still of the earthly man - are still capable of questioning the fundamental love of God for our souls. Under the devil's intense pressure, under the trials to which we may be subjected, in the situations which the Lord may allow to arise for our testing and the perfecting of our faith, it becomes almost easy to raise fundamental questions about our salvation. And the most saintly servants of God, who have walked with God through long years of a long life, who have suffered and served and been greatly used, have on their beds at the end found themselves encompassed by dark clouds of question as to whether they were saved after all. That is not an exaggeration. You have only to read the life of A. B. Simpson - and who will question that he was a saintly man of God, greatly used, a channel of immense blessing to the ends of the earth? He in his last hours was encompassed by darkness, so that a brother had to kneel at his bedside day and night to fight the dark clouds of doubt about that man's very salvation. The enemy never gives up trying to undercut this fact, that sin has been fully and finally judged in the Person of Christ. The Father vented unmitigated judgment upon His Son for us, and death was conquered and destroyed. So the Lord says, "You will never go on, you will never arrive, you will never make any progress towards the full end of Christ unless this is maintained as a testimony in your heart".
We do not gather around the Lord's table just as a matter of form, just to keep up something; neither because the Lord said that He would that we should do it until He comes. Why do we do it if it is not this? There is only a short span of a week between today and on Sundays. I hold in my heart strongly to this testimony, that Jesus has met the whole sin question, and the whole death question as the consequence of sin, on my behalf; I stand continually on that ground! To come to the Lord's table and to have questions about that sin question and about the consequence question (death) is to deny the Lord's table. We need it for deliverance from Egypt, we need it for triumph in the wilderness, we need it for maintaining our place in the heavenlies. It is fundamental. We shall only make progress as we maintain this testimony, not as an ordinance, but as the basis of everything in our hearts. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
You notice with Israel, even when they were in the wilderness, out of Egypt, that Egypt was still reaching out its octopus tentacles to bring them back. Yes, Egypt pursued them not only outwardly to the Red Sea, but inwardly in their hearts. There was always this something seeking to bring them back, and the maintenance of the Passover continually testified that Egypt was cut off, judgment had been vented, and death destroyed. They were separated from all that by the Passover. And it is like that, this reaching out to lay hold of us, under pressure, trial, or adversity to nullify the great work of the Cross in our hearts. It is a spectre that follows us all the time, and the Passover is a testimony against its right to have any power over us at all.
(b) The Manna - Life Sustained in the Wilderness
As to the manna, the second feeding, which belonged to the wilderness, it was the testimony to the sustaining of life for progress in the wilderness. If they had not had food from heaven, they would neither have lived nor made progress. That, of course, is obvious. Here in John you have a multitude in a wilderness in that position, typically. They will perish, they will not come to that for which Christ has come, unless something happens. He takes up this matter of Moses and the manna. He says the type failed: "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died" (John 6:49). The type failed, but here is the true Manna from heaven, "that a man may eat thereof, and not die" (verse 50). This is Christ, the mystery, for the manna was a mystery. They said, "What is it?" (Ex. 16:15). It was something unknown, something for which there was no formula; the mystery of Christ as our supply from heaven in the daily walk where nothing whatever is offered for our succour and sustenance here, but wilderness conditions.
And this is something offered to faith. The Lord kept the manna on a faith basis very strictly. He never allowed it to go from one day to the other. He said, "This is something that you will have to anticipate by faith anew, afresh, all over again, every day. You are going to have nothing that you can count upon, nothing that you can put by and say, 'Well, at any rate, we have so much; we need not worry about tomorrow'." No, He kept them strictly on a day by day anticipation of faith. If they worried overnight, that was their fault. What happened in the morning was this - when they woke up, their attitude was either, "I wonder whether there is anything for us to eat today", or, "God is faithful, we will go out and find His provision there for us" - simple, but very definite faith every day.
This is the mystery of daily sustenance when there is nothing whatever upon which to rely here; it is Christ sustaining in wilderness conditions. You must read into that phrase - 'wilderness conditions' all that you know of heavenly life here, which has nothing in this world to maintain it, but everything against it - your conditions, your circumstances, your position, and nothing to help, and yet the mystery! I feel we are very slow to learn this lesson. We again and again come up against situations and circumstances where once more there is nothing to go on. It may be in ministry - nothing to go on. The Lord has not stored you up with messages and material a long way ahead. It may be in life today, or the immediate future offers nothing, and the need is so great. How are we going to face it and get through? It is like that in many ways. Just how are you going to get through?
We can see nothing, and we are so slow to learn this lesson. Do we not have enough history behind us to say that the Lord did not fail? Every time He met the need, strangely, mysteriously, we hardly know how He did it, but He did it. I am talking about the spiritual life being maintained from heaven in a world where there is nothing but what is contrary to that heavenly life. How shall we go on towards God's end? Oh, just in this way, the way of the manna: "Well, here is a new situation; we have nothing whatever in ourselves with which to meet it, there is nothing around us at all that can stand up to this situation, but the Lord who has in the past, will on this occasion also, see us through". Although that sounds so simple, it is not so simple, because it seems that the trials, the situations, become more and more exacting as we go on; more difficult, more impossible. Faith is being more sorely tested; but we may feed on Christ, the heavenly Manna, by faith. What do we mean by faith? Why, "Here is another day to be met, and there is nothing with which to meet it, but Lord, I take You for this situation, for this need. Faith lays hold of You to see me through, that I go on and do not come to a standstill by these conditions". That is feeding on Christ by faith.
(c) The Old Corn of the Land - the Lord Jesus, the Firstfruits
In spiritual experience of course, there is not such a precise break between the wilderness and the land as there seems to be in Joshua, and that is quite in keeping with the New Testament. You know Peter's writings were for pilgrims and strangers; Paul's were for citizens of a heavenly country. We have an earthly side of testing and trial, of the perfecting of faith. But then there is that which corresponds to the heavenlies in Christ. John 14 brings this in. The Lord is going and He is saying, "Let not your heart be troubled, but you are being called upon now to live on a much higher level of spiritual life in the heavenlies. You are going to meet forces of evil in high places", all that corresponds to the book of Joshua.
You are going to find that it is not only earthly trials and difficulties, but you are going to meet the forces of evil. These are two experiences common to Christians. There are the earthly trials, the wilderness experiences, things common to us down here, but there are other things as well. Some of us know those sheer forces of evil in the heavenlies, the extra realm of spiritual adversity, and we are going to be called upon to live in that realm, in the land, in the heavenlies. What food will get you through? What is the old corn of the land? I understand that it means that which is already there, waiting. It is last year's harvest, not something that has to be brought in. It is already waiting for you there, and, as I see it, it is this - the Lord Jesus is there already, He has gone on before, He is the firstfruits, He is already ahead of us in the heavenlies, He has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. We must feed on that, that Christ is enthroned above, that Christ is victor and has sat down, that principalities and powers and all these forces are already under His feet, subject to Him. That is something secured already in heaven by His having gone there. That is the old corn of the land, that is the food.
In this spiritual conflict, this spiritual warfare, in this situation so difficult to maintain a heavenly position, because of all that belongs there we need sustenance to go on. What is the sustenance, what is the food, what is the old corn of the land? It is Christ exalted, Christ enthroned, Christ already there. "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19). 'I reign - ye shall reign.' Feed on it, believe it, take it by faith that you are not going to be brought to a standstill, it is not necessary for you to come to a halt. It is not necessary for you to die under the pressure of the enemy; Christ is there in the land, already in possession of the situation. Feed on that by faith, and you will go on in the realm which is the most difficult realm of all.
Temporal trials may be great, earthly situations may be difficult, but these intensely spiritual ones of the heavenlies are far greater. But God has provided for every situation in order to get us through to His end - full conformity to His Son. This is how the earthly man is supplanted and the heavenly Man takes his place. Conformity to Christ, formation after Christ by feeding upon Christ, Christ in this threefold meaning - the Passover, the manna and the old corn of the land.