|Vol. 12, No. 4, July - Aug. 1983
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
WHAT do you do when a brother or sister in Christ refuses all counsels
and arguments as to guidance, persisting in taking a course which you feel
sure is mistaken? Agabus, Philip, his four spiritually gifted daughters,
Luke and others of Paul's helpers, had to face this problem at Caesarea (Acts
21:8-14). They all felt that he was wrong and they pleaded, even with tears,
that he would keep away from Jerusalem. It was all in vain. He was determined
I do not intend to press the consideration as to whether the apostle
was wrong in the course he took, though there are some strong arguments
to support such an opinion. What I ask is, 'How should we behave towards
one who takes such a line?'
Luke tells us. He writes that "When he would not be persuaded, we ceased,
saying, The will of the Lord be done." They really meant what they said.
I cannot believe that those godly people simply used a pious formula in exasperation,
as though washing their hands of Paul. On the contrary, I believe that they
knew the secret -- all too neglected in our day -- of standing together in
the prayer of faith for the triumph of God's sovereignty.
This is a lesson which I have been trying to learn in recent years, namely,
not to slacken in prayer when my advice has not been taken, but rather to
pray all the more. If I cannot agree with their course, then it is up to
me so to pray that the whole affair may be overruled for blessing by our Sovereign
The will of the Lord be done! It may sound feeble, but it was mighty
in its outworking. Think of the ensuing events. Paul was miraculously delivered
from the lynch-mob (Acts 21:35). He was saved from the band of fanatical
would-be assassins (Acts 23:12-24). He was brought safely back to Caesarea
where the saints were able to have fellowship with him (Acts 24:23). They
kept on praying though they resisted the temptation to bribe Paul's way out
of prison, which it seems they could have done (Acts 24:26). When you pray
for God's sovereign will to be done, you must beware of trying to pull strings
to help Him do it.
We must believe that after those years they kept up their prayers. When
he was sent to Rome, they would feel helpless but could still claim the sovereign
will of God. So the storm did not drown the apostle, nor did the poisonous
snake destroy him (Acts 28:5) and at last Luke could report, "So we came
to Rome" (Acts 28:14). Throughout those prison years the prayers were offered
and the answers were abundant, as witness the abiding value of the "Prison
Epistles". And Luke not only prayed; he saw the thing through with Paul.
At Caesarea they all prayed, but Luke proved the outstanding of them
all. He disagreed about the journey to Jerusalem but he "took up his baggage"
and went. As a Gentile, he would be excluded from the ceremonial formalities
in the Temple, and out of sympathy with them, but he followed Paul back to
Caesarea. When the apostle was forced to embark for Rome, Luke chose to accompany
him. He was with Paul at the end (2 Timothy 4:11). He stayed the course.
Was he not tempted to take umbrage when his earnest advice, and the advice
of all his companions was disregarded? Would it not have been easy for him
to have spent the rest of his days enlarging on that mistaken journey to
Jerusalem and insisting that he knew it would not prosper? Was he not in danger,
as we all are, of leaving his obstinate brother to his own devices and waiting
for the opportunity to claim, 'I told him so?' No, he did none of these things.
He argued and pleaded while that seemed helpful, but then he and the others
stopped arguing and turned to prayer.
"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." There is more to the
Lord's Prayer than some of us have realised. And most of all, we need to
pray positively even for those with whom we may have some disagreements
-- even for those who have rejected our advice. [61/62]
GOD'S CONCERN FOR THE NATIONS (3)
"Behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of all
tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the
Lamb. " Revelation 7:9
THE question as to whether this is a vision of the Church of Jesus Christ
in the future or at the present time is a separate issue which we do not
need to consider here. I believe that in this passage God is showing us a
vision of the whole Church of Jesus Christ of all ages, past, present and
future, as it is seen in the sight of God Himself and as it will be for ever
in heaven. In other words, we are privileged to behold all the saints.
What John saw was something which had never been seen before and has
certainly never been seen since -- by human eyes at any rate. At that particular
point of time it was shown to the apostle John for him to pass on to the
churches of his day, and indeed to all succeeding generations of the Church.
It is meant to benefit us all. It comes to us so that we can learn from
it, having our minds stretched and our hearts set on fire by the vision.
We note that it embraces all nations.
This sight of a numberless multitude from all nations, standing before
the throne and before the Lamb, seems to suggest three things.
1. How Encouraging is the Sight!
To us now the reality may seem very different. What we think about our
particular church or assembly may be quite different. Now it is quite right
for us to be dissatisfied with the Church as we know it but we must not
lose sight of this vision. As often as not we feel dissatisfied because
there seems to be so much failure, and we are impressed by all the things
which we are not doing and the targets which somehow never get achieved.
But sometimes I think that even when the Church is on the up and up we should
be dissatisfied, saying 'Yes, we have been blessed in this and that and
the other thing, but how little we have deserved it, and how much more remains
to be done.' So whether we are experiencing failure or distress in the Church
as a whole or the church to which we belong, we always have plenty of grounds
The Christians who are truly concerned for the Church of Jesus Christ
and for the honour of God, looking round at the churches as we know them,
often find it a discouraging sight. They see Christian people, genuinely
Christian people, struggling among themselves, squabbling among themselves,
presenting a very second-rate kind of set-up, perhaps a very unimportant
little group which seems to cut no ice at all in the world around. They therefore
feel discouraged and recognise the truth of the words of the hymn that "
With a scornful wonder men see her sore distressed ...".
This is specially so in our days for we are aware of so many things around
us which seem to be the fuel for discouragement, discontent and dismay. There
are the prophets of doom and gloom who say that the world is in a terrible
state. We think that it was never like this before, though it probably was
as a matter of fact, but it seems so obvious to us now. We look at the awful
tide of secularism and unbelief with the world so strong and so evil, and
the Church seems to be just an island in this great tide of evil.
We cannot shut our eyes to the world around with all its evils, but we
must not let Satan use facts and enlarge them to bring us into despair.
Although he is the father of lies, he does see the spiritual reality of
the true Church, and perhaps more clearly than some of us do, but he tries
to overwhelm us with a sense of despair and deceive us. There is a famous
quotation in C. S. Lewis's "Screwtape Letters" in which Satan speaks of
the Church as "spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity"
and he confesses that this is a spectacle which makes the demons uneasy.
Satan sees the truth about the Church and it is good for us to see the truth,
namely, that the true Church is really like this -- "spread out through all
time and space and rooted in eternity". He attempts to stop us from seeing
this but nevertheless this is what the Spirit of God through the mouth of
the apostle John shows us when he speaks of "a great multitude which no
[62/63] man could number, out of all tribes and peoples and tongues,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb".
We must not miss this. Are you discouraged? "A multitude which no man
could number." Do you sometimes fear that the missionary enterprise has failed?
"Drawn from every nation, peoples and tongues, and standing before the throne
and before the Lamb." Have a look at that sight! It is a sight of:
i. The greatness of the Church.
This is the reason why it is so encouraging. It is drawn from every nation
-- worldwide. It is drawn from China, where for a long time it was thought
that the gospel had had to die out. It is drawn from Albania, where the gospel
has been proscribed for decades. It is drawn from the decadent West and
it is drawn from backward third-world countries. It is drawn from all tongues.
Not simply from Africa, for example, but from every tribe within that continent,
and there are many, many of them. It is drawn not just from the British
nation but from each people within the United Kingdom. It is drawn from
Let us not think simply of totting up how many nations are represented
at New York in the U.N. for it is far beyond that. It is far greater than
we ever could have thought, for it is also drawn from nations which now
we have forgotten. There are people who have disappeared, the great empires
of antiquity, Assyria, Babylon and Egypt. The number is multiplied and then
multiplied again. No wonder John reported that the multitude could not be
numbered by men. So the greatness of the Church is the first encouraging
lesson which we learn from this vision. When we are tempted to think of ourselves
as a tiny minority, we need to remember God's view of His Church. We see
ii. The greatness of the gospel.
We find great encouragement, too, from this proof of the greatness of
the gospel. What is it that has brought all these myriads of people into
the new life and the miraculous new love which is the hallmark of the Christian
Church? Here are people who are totally different among themselves and sometimes
don't even like one another and yet are all found in enjoyment of the knowledge
of the holy God? What is great enough to do such an extraordinary thing,
to bring together such a countless multitude to be united around the throne
and the Lamb? The answer is that it has been done through the greatness of
the gospel. It is the "foolishness of preaching" (1 Corinthians 1:21) which
has brought about this wonderful sight. It is the gospel story of how God
has come down to men in the person of Christ, who died on the cross, rose
again and returned to heaven. This is the message which may seem foolishness
but proves to be the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.
It is amazing the way in which the gospel lays hold of people all over
the world and from every nation opens the hearts of hardened sinners and
rebellious unbelievers, even those whom we might think of as benighted heathen.
How great must this gospel be! It draws numberless multitudes into the Church
of Jesus Christ as nothing else could do. There never was a seed with such
power of growth. There never was a bomb with such explosive power. We all
have our own ways of preaching it, publicly or by private contacts, and it
is a great privilege to be entrusted with a gospel as great as this.
Above all this verse in Revelation 7:9 shows us:
iii. The greatness of our God.
John gives a sight of the greatness of the God who has done all this.
All the time while men think that He is asleep, wondering even if He exists,
He is doing this marvellous work of redemption and reconciliation. On Mount
Carmel Elijah was able to taunt the worshippers of Baal with the possibility
of their god being off on a journey or fast asleep, but our God is not like
that. He is here! He is active! He is bringing men and women into His Church,
and He is doing this not just in our land and nation but throughout the world.
He cares for every part of His creation, He cares about each and all. He
loved you and He loved me enough to bring us into His Church, but this has
nothing to do with our nationalities. When the gospel was first preached in
Palestine, we British were out on the fringes of civilisation, and it is
only of grace that any of us has a part in this great multitude.
This is a foretaste of the future, but it does not mean only that when
we look into Revelation 7:9 we are seeing something that one day will happen.
It has present meaning; we already sense the reality of it. It is so marvellous
to mix with [63/64] Christians who are so different
from us and have such different backgrounds, and to know ourselves one in
Christ. You may find yourself in a Prayer Meeting in another language; you
do not understand, and yet you do, for it is the language of Zion.
The whole Church of all ages has been brought into being by this great
God of ours. We read stories of the past and find inspiration from biographies
of those who are now with the Lord and we are struck with the fact that these
people who may have been dead and buried for 200 years are our own brothers
and sisters. In fact they are still alive; they are part of that great cloud
of witnesses. We worship the God who is great enough to do this, and who
opens it up to us and gives us a foretaste of what that great Day will be
like. We look forward eagerly to meeting and enjoying fellowship with God's
beloved people. Even now we have a foretaste of those joys but we are promised
that one day we will actually be there. We will need all eternity to enter
into what lies before us. Meanwhile how encouraging are these three greatnesses.
We are given a sight of the greatness of the Church, the greatness of the
gospel and the greatness of our God. Are you a down-hearted Christian? Is
your group a small one, humble and few in number? Do you perhaps feel that
your own personal witness is not very strong?
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph-song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
2. How Fitting is the Sight!
This vision of John's fits in with everything that the Scriptures say
about God. All the redemptive work of God is summed up in this verse. Some
people feel that the Revelation is terribly hard to understand, and so it
is, but I am quite sure that one of the ways in which God intends us to understand
it is that it provides a summing up of the whole of the rest of Scripture.
It is an amazing fact that anything you can find anywhere else in the Bible
is drawn to a point in this book.
Scripture tells us about the God who rules all the nations (Acts 17:26).
It is most fitting that the work of the God who rules all nations should
come to its climax like this. John's vision gives us a sight of how He draws
a Church from all the nations. We saw previously that God set before them
a choice; there is a choice which confronts all nations (Galatians 3:8). It
began with Abraham who is given as the prime example of the challenge to
faith. "Abraham, will you leave all that is of yourself, all your doings,
even all your good works, and cast yourself entirely on Me?" This is the
choice of faith which confronts all the nations. No-one can come to the greatest
of all blessings -- justification before God -- without making this choice.
It is the challenge to repent and believe. So God chose an international
means which any nation can understand and either accept or reject, and it
is fitting that this international method should produce such an international
result. As the choice presented, so the resulting Church concerns all nations.
Next we see the way in which God set about this task; His method was to use
a magnet which would attract all the nations (Psalm 67:1-2). We found that
God's primary means of drawing people to be confronted with the choice of
faith was by saying, "Look at My people, Israel. How attractive they are!"
The attraction was to be international, so it is absolutely fitting that the
Israelite magnet should have drawn to itself a numberless multitude drawn
from all nations.
God's methods are not hindered -- much less frustrated -- by the sin
of men. If God says 'I will bless you in such measure that all the other
nations will be blessed', it will happen. And it still does happen. This
was not just an Old Testament truth, for God blesses His people in all ages
and makes them so attractive that they are irresistible. This is His first
method of drawing in all the nations. He has also a second method of accomplishing
His purpose and confronting all the nations with the choice of faith. It is
not simply that His people may be a magnet, drawing others to Himself, but
that they should form a mission which reaches out unto all the nations: "Go
ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to
observe all things whatsoever I commanded you ..." (Matthew 28:19-20).
By this mission, this sending, which reaches out to all the nations,
our international God has an international means of drawing men into His
Church using, on the one hand, an international attraction and on the other
hand an international sending to gather men in. Is it not absolutely fitting
that, as we see the results of that mission, [64/65]
what happens when God's people are sent and obey to take the gospel to
all the nations, we are given the vision of which John speaks here in Revelation
7:9? The Bible, from start to finish, is international.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is not a thing which is peculiarly suited
to the Anglo-Saxon race. Nor is it something which is peculiarly Jewish (if
I may be allowed to say so), though originally it was that. It was always
intended, though, to have international values. It is sad, but true, that
some of the ways in which we express our faith are very peculiarly English.
Other folk come in from other backgrounds and they cannot make head or tail
of it. But that is not its Christianness; it is our Englishness. Perhaps
there are things to which we should sit more lightly, saying, "It's very nice
to do our thing, but since ours is an international gospel, there may
be some things we ought to shed, for they belong peculiarly to our background."
Nor can we say -- being disheartened as we sometimes are -- that the
Christian faith suits us and the kind of people we are, but somehow it doesn't
seem to fit into a Hindu background or a Muslim culture. As if there were
something about the gospel which didn't suit the minds of such people! It
may be that it is the way in which we have looked at the gospel through
our British spectacles which makes the gospel seem to be something which
does not appeal to others.
For example, we have become very individualistic in our Western approach,
thinking all the time of just God and me. In looking for hymns about heaven,
I have been shocked to find that although we want to sing about the joys
when we are all together in heaven, almost all of these hymns have the theme
of 'God and me'. When we take the gospel to other cultures, where for hundreds
of years they have been accustomed to think of themselves in terms of communities,
they cannot appreciate this 'God and me' faith. The gospel overcomes this
barrier and makes it plain that it is both 'God and me' and also 'God and
us'. The gospel has something which appeals to every nation.
If I may quote, 'The New Testament picture of the Church is devoid of
any nationalistic feeling.' The barriers tumble when we look at them through
gospel spectacles. This is a truth which is made wonderfully clear in Psalm
87, though this does not appear very well in some modern translations. "Glorious
things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Among them that know me I will
make mention of Egypt and Babylon, Philistia and Tyre with Ethiopia; this
one was born there." Men from these foreign nations were born there
-- in Zion! What did the Jews make of that? These were the historical
enemies of the people of God, and yet from these nations men and women were
drawn to be registered as citizens of Zion. This one, that one and the other
one, foreigners and strangers were born in her. The Lord records
as He registers the people all over the world, that so and so was born there
We find the New Testament counterpart to this in the words: "They that
say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of
their own. And indeed if they had been mindful of that country from which
they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they seek
a better homeland, that is, a heavenly ..." (Hebrews 11:14-16). This is
the glory of the gospel, that men and women from all nations turn out to
be citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. John's vision was certainly a fitting
3. How Challenging is the Sight!
This bringing in from all the nations of people who belong to Christ's
Church is a job for all of us who are already in it. How challenging is
John's vision! It will be brought into being through the agency of ordinary
people like you and me. That is God's normal method. It is possible, but
not normal, that people should be gathered in directly from heaven without
any human agency, though there are exceptions which doubtless prove the rule,
when people are converted just by finding a page of the Bible or by a dream.
Even then, though, I am sure that the Church has been behind in spiritual
influence. God's normal method is to do it through the preaching of the gospel.
The numberless multitude of rejoicing saints will be around the throne by
reason of the simple testimony of ordinary people like us.
Each of us must face the challenge. In some cases the Lord may say that
He wants us to go abroad, so we must get up and go. It may involve an entirely
new way of life, adjusting to a new culture, learning a new language. All
this is part of what the Lord Jesus meant in His command that all the nations
will provide His disciples [65/66] (Matthew 28:19).
On the other hand, it is now possible to reach other nations on our own doorstep.
The other nations have come to us. The whole subject of immigration has
been in our newspapers for twenty or thirty years now. They present a challenge.
Then there are others who visit us, foreign students or visitors. The challenge
of the gospel is international, even if we are bound to stay here at home.
There are also very practical ways in which we may share the outreach of
In some cases there are opportunities in the job we are already doing.
The gospel can be spread as we rub shoulders with our fellows. Most of all
it constitutes a challenge to intercessory prayer. This vision of the international
Church reminds us of how people so different from us are involved, people
whom we do not understand, but God knows and cares about them. There may
even be people whom we do not like, but these are those whom He loves. In
other words, it is up to us to anticipate as far as we possibly can the realisation
of this glorious vision of "a great multitude which no man can number, out
of every nation ... standing before the throne and before the Lamb". That
is the glorious prospect set before us.
MARK'S VISION OF THE KING
(Four messages from Mark 10 to 16)
J. Alec Motyer
3. THE EVE OF CALVARY (Mark 14:1-52)
AT the beginning of this chapter Mark writes "After two days was the
feast of the passover" and then goes on to speak of a party that was being
given for Jesus in Bethany (v.3). Now John tells us that this party happened
six days before the Passover (John 12:1). We conclude that Mark knew that
it happened earlier but put it in then because it was at this point that
he wished his readers to have the message concerning the Bethany feast so
that they could see Jesus as He was then displayed.
Having established a careful dating, he introduces us to certain background
material. Thus, once more, by careful selection and combination of the material,
he chose to build up the portrait of the Lord Jesus which the Holy Spirit,
by inspiration, was teaching him. And how carefully this story was put together!
The passage we are considering contains three events. There is the story
of the party at Bethany and the anointing of Jesus by an unnamed woman (vv.3-9);
the story of what we call the Last Supper (though it was really the First
Supper!) (vv.12-26); and the Gethsemane story which begins in verse 32. All
three are contained in a continuous narrative which Mark allows to flow on
and around them; the story of the plot, betrayal, desertion and arrest. See
how he does it.
On each side of the story of the feast at Bethany is a story of secret
plotting (verses 1 and 10). When Mark tells the story of the supper, he
shows the sequence in reverse; the two parts of the event (the preparing,
12-16, and the eating, 22-25) bracket the intrusive element, with Jesus
breaking in upon the happiness of the feast with the news that He was aware
that He was going to be betrayed (v.18). The third story, the account of
the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, is also bracketed round with the story
of desertion and arrest with verse 27 predicting the scattering of the disciples,
and verse 46 its fulfilment as the smiting of the Shepherd begins with His
arrest. So the narrative ends with "they all left him and fled" (verse 50).
May I repeat what I have already stated, that nothing is in the Bible
by accident? The structure of the fifty verses of this chapter is meant to
teach us how we may begin to understand the three main stories. The primary
meaning of each of them, according to Mark, is to be seen in their context.
Two nights are involved in the three stories. There is the separate night
of the party at Bethany and the single night in which the Supper was kept
and Jesus went into the garden and was arrested. These, then, are the nights:
The night in which Jesus was adored (vv.1-11)
We will give this a sub-title: 'How worthy He is!' The story is told
to give a revelation of true service. On the one hand there were the people
[66/67] of status, the chief priests and scribes,
the religiously instructed people with all their official status and the opportunity
that went with it. On the other hand there was the man of privilege, Judas
Iscariot, who -- as Mark emphasises -- "was one of the twelve" (v.10), privileged
to be picked out so that he might walk with Christ during His ministry and
teaching. And in between them there was a woman whom Mark does not name,
though John tells us that it was Mary. Mark seems to wish to draw attention
to the fact that she was unknown.
It was her act that Jesus commended (v.6); listen to this true translation
of what He said -- "She has done a beautiful thing". She received not just
a comment but a warm and delighted commendation from the Lord who added,
"Wherever the gospel goes, the record of her deed will go with it" (v.9).
What did she do? Well, she took a jar of exceedingly precious ointment,
worth about 300 pence which, according to the parable of the labourers in
the vineyard, was virtually a year's income. She took it, in its beautiful
container, the cork of which was sealed so that it could never be taken out.
The fragrance of the perfume was so preserved that the only way for it to
be released was to break the jar. She broke the beautiful container and
poured all the perfume out upon the Lord Jesus. "Upon his head" says Mark.
"Upon his feet" says John, adding that touch of an eye-witness, "the house
was filled with the fragrance. She poured it all out upon Jesus, and Jesus
said that what she had done was a beautiful thing.
How worthy He is to receive all, to receive the most precious, to be
the first in our devotion and giving, and how awful was the plotting against
Jesus and His betrayal when exposed by the generous outpouring of an unnamed
person! The Lord Jesus stated that the story will go world-wide with the gospel,
because that is the response that the gospel and the Lord of the gospel deserve.
I think that Mark might have had a second point. This chapter contains
two feasts, and it may be that he tells us of the first in order to alert
us to distinctive features of the second. At Bethany, Jesus was the object
of human giving, but it is as if Mark is saying, 'Please note that when
you come to the Lord's Supper, the reverse was true for it was those who
were at the table who were the object of all that the Lord Jesus had to
give.' In verse 9, Mark tells us that Jesus said, "that which this woman
has done will be spoken of for a memorial"; it will be remembered by the
telling . He did not command that it should be remembered by re-enacting
the breaking of the flask of ointment. When, however, we come to the Lord's
Supper, that is to be remembered by the doing -- the bread is to
be broken and the wine shared in the remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In this way the first feast prepares us by contrast for the second.
The night in which Jesus was betrayed (vv.12-26)
"How loving He is!" The whole incident gives a marvellous demonstration
of the great love of the Lord. Mark here places a very cunning touch when
he writes: "on the first day of unleavened bread, when they used to sacrifice
the Passover" (v.12). That is the force of his words, though it may not be
so translated in your Bible. When Jesus came to this feast it was the last
Passover. That feast was about to be superseded and to remain part of the
bygone workings of God.
He came to the last Passover, the first Supper, and unobtrusively, He
focused their attention centrally upon this: "One of you shall betray me".
If we are to understand the supper as Mark presents it, we must pay attention
to the central feature -- a treacherous company. Secondly, we must pay attention
to the fact that Jesus enfolded the Supper in the Passover. That was done
quite deliberately, as is shown by verses 16, 17 and 22. They were eating
the Passover when Jesus made them eat the Supper. The Supper is enfolded
in the Passover. The third feature in this narrative of the first supper,
the Lord's Supper, is that when Jesus took the Passover bread and wine and
used it for this new purpose, He used an old explanatory word: "This is my
blood of the covenant" (v.24). We thus note three things which seem to bring
out the central understanding of the Lord's Supper and to provide us with
a key to it.
1. Jesus deliberately centred the supper on the betrayal (v.18)
The Passover was a joyous occasion; they were remembering what God had
done. Into the joy, He brought a shock: "One of you shall betray me". He
took no steps to relieve them of that shock. The murmur went round, "Is it
I? Surely it is not I?" One of them will do it, but anyone of them might
have done it, and He left that thought in their minds. He did not relieve
any of them of the treacherous responsibility, but [67/68]
rather left the sense of betrayal brooding over the whole company. This
was at the centre of things, obtrusive, shocking: "One of you shall betray
me". Beloved, as we come to the Lord's Supper, we say this to ourselves
as of the first importance -- this is a supper for sinners, for those who
do not deserve it. How loving the Lord is!
2. He wove the Supper into the Passover.
He did not discard the Passover. They began to eat it and then He brought
the Supper into it. He did not suggest that they should first celebrate the
Passover and then be instructed about something else. He did not separate
the two in that way. So once more we have a key thought; the Supper belongs
in the whole scheme of thinking which is the Passover, the sharing of the
unleavened bread and the sharing of the wine. The feast focused, of course,
upon the lamb, its death and its flesh; but it was also a sharing of the
unleavened bread. As the father of the household, Jesus broke the bread. He
may well have used the traditional words: "This is the bread of affliction
which our fathers did eat".
The bread did not become that bread eaten centuries before in Egypt.
It was not a miracle but a symbol, full of the power of the reality, an
encapsulation of the potent word of God. "This is the bread of affliction
which our fathers did eat" -- when we eat it we go back and we become part
of that spiritual reality of the people to whom God came, redeeming them
and bringing them to Himself. And when the four cups of the Passover feast
were passed from hand to hand and shared, they were identified with that
four-fold reality: "I will bring you out, I will rid you of bondage, I will
redeem you, I will take you as My people." The cups brought those participating
in them into that sphere of spiritual reality. Now it was that bread and
that wine whereof Jesus said: "Eat this -- this is My body; drink this --
this is My blood." He took all that Passover significance and brought it
to its finality and completion in the death of the Lamb of God upon the cross
of Calvary. We notice three points: the Passover lamb is:
i. A lamb of substitution. Exodus 12:3-4.
It is a household lamb; it is a lamb equivalent to the number of the
people of God; it is a lamb which is equivalent to the needs of the people
of God ("... according to everyone's eating"). This was the lamb which was
to die as a substitute. Provision was made that if anything of the lamb
was left over it should be destroyed unused. It was to safeguard the principle
of exact equivalence, so that the lamb that died was the exact equivalent
of the people of God.
ii. A lamb of nourishment. Exodus 12:11.
"Thus shall you eat it ...". The lamb was food for pilgrimage.
iii. A lamb of propitiation. Exodus 12:13.
When God came in judgment, the blood removed His wrath so that He passed
over in peace. He has no quarrel with those who shelter beneath the blood
of the propitiatory lamb. When the people kept the Passover annually they
were remembering what God had done once for all, for they came out of Egypt
and they could never be brought out again. And the lamb died in their place
and could never die again, for propitiation had been made so that the former
God of wrath was now propitiated towards His people. They went on remembering,
remembering, remembering; and Jesus took up that Passover bread and wine,
embodying thoughts of substitution, nourishment and propitiation, and said,
"Look, come and participate in Me, in My body, My blood."
3. Jesus explained the supper as a covenant sign (v.24).
"This is my blood of the covenant" (Mark 14:24). Covenant signs are some
of the most beautiful subjects in the Bible, and represent the kindness of
the Lord in making truth easy to understand. Think of the rainbow God gave
to Noah. Maybe it had never existed before; maybe it always had. At any
rate, it was now in the sky and God attached a significance to it: "When
I see the bow, I will remember my covenant." What God asserts about the sign
comes to man with the force of divine promise. A covenant sign is the proof
that the promises are made for you and are operative for you. So that when
we take the bread and the wine we say to ourselves -- and God by His Spirit
says to us -- the promises of Calvary are made to us and operate for us now.
"This is my body!" How loving He is, to come to us with His hands full of
The night in which Jesus was enabled (vv.27-42)
Now we come to Gethsemane. And in this connection we have to remark:
'How prayerful He is!' According to verses 27 to 31 the Lord knew that His
friends were going to desert Him, [68/69] and that
He would be left quite alone. That is the preface to Gethsemane. According
to verse 41, the epilogue to Gethsemane, the Lord was delivered into the
hands of His enemies. The awfulness of it was not simply the presence of
sinners, but the hands of sinners and what those hands would do to Him. So
the Lord Jesus came to the garden with a sensitive anticipation of what lay
ahead. He came there as coming into a place of dread (v.33).
One commentator translates the verbs at the end of verse 34 like this:
"He began to be gripped with a shuddering terror and to be in anguish."
Now the Scriptures do not tell us what lay behind that shuddering terror
and gripping anguish. It could have been the extremity of suffering to come;
it could have been the loathsome reality of the presence and power of Satan,
for Luke tells us in his narrative that the Lord said "This is your hour
and the power of darkness". It could have been the anticipation of bearing
our sin, and the revulsion of a totally holy soul from contact with the defilement
and contamination of sinners; it could have been the expected alienation
from the Father. It could have been any of these, or all of them. We are
certainly told that when He came into Gethsemane, He came into a place of
We are told something else. He transformed the place of dread into a
place of prayer. In the face of the terror, He fell to praying. How inexpressibly
precious are the words at the beginning of verse 35, "He went forward a little".
Oh, beloved, the Lord Jesus has always gone farther forward into the darkness
and dread and terror than we will ever go. And He went farther forward into
the darkness in order that He might enter that darkness as into a place
of prayer. He prayed and He prayed and He prayed again.
Let me share a momentous truth with you. The Lord Jesus came trembling
into Gethsemane, gripped with a shuddering terror and an overwhelming anguish
of spirit, but when He left the garden He never trembled again nor hesitated
in the face of the stark realities which had been His terror in the garden.
Never again! The place of prayer is the place of power.
That was how He came in; that is how He went out. And all that He did
there was to pray. Luke tells us that the anguish went on and on. It was
in the second -- not the first -- period of prayer that the Lord's sweat
became as great drops of blood, so great was His agony. Then He came out of
His agony back to His followers. Why? Not to be strengthened by them, but
in order to teach them what He Himself knew, that they would fail if they
did not pray. He came to them and found them sleeping and said, "Stay awake;
pray, that you enter not into temptation" (v.38).
He longed that they should learn the Gethsemane secret, that the place
of prayer is the place of power, that by prayer they would be able to bear
the trial which they could not escape. He did not tell them to pray that
they should not have to enter into temptation, for that experience would
come to them whether they prayed or not. Nothing could now stop them from
coming face to face with their Lord's enemies, but He counselled them to
pray that the temptation would not take them into its grip and overpower
them. They were to be confronted with what would happen to their Lord and
perhaps, in principle, to them; and for this they would need to prove that
the place of prayer is the place of power.
The Lord Jesus added His comment, "The spirit indeed is willing, but
the flesh is weak". I want to suggest to you that our Lord, that Master
of Scripture, was reaching back here to Psalm 51:12 where David spoke of
being upheld with a "willing Spirit". I am so convinced of this that I have
replaced the small 's' in this verse with a capital 'S'. Previously I had
thought that what the Lord was saying to Peter and the others was that their
own spirit was willing but their flesh was weak. It was as if He told them,
'You want to do better than you can actually manage. If it were just a matter
of your "spirits" you would be at prayer, but your bodies are bringing you
down into slumber'. This is often true, but in this case I believe that the
Lord Jesus was saying something far more significant, namely, that the Spirit
of God in all His power was willing to come and help them, but that the weakness
of their flesh, which was holding them back from prayer, was also holding
them back from knowing God's power.
This matches the experience of our Lord for, when He prayed the more
earnestly and His sweat became as great drops of blood, there appeared an
angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). "You too can have the
strengthening; you also can experience the Spirit of God as your power;
but only if you enter into the place of prayer." Prayerlessness decides the
issue. So, when Jesus came back the third time [69/70]
and found them still sleeping, He used those sad words, "It is enough" (v.41).
It was as though He had said, 'That settles it; you and I are now going different
ways. You would not come into the place of prayer, therefore you cannot come
with Me into the place of power'.
The night in which Jesus was arrested (vv.43-52)
We offer here as a sub-title -- How willing He is! In the Gethsemane
passages the Lord Jesus twice referred to that night as "the hour". It was
the high moment of destiny. This can be confirmed by consulting other references
to 'the hour', especially in John's Gospel. He first prayed that the hour
might pass away from Him but, as He continued in prayer, He changed the expression
from 'the hour' to 'the cup'. The high moment of destiny was the cup, the
climax of the Father's will.
Our passage of Scripture has prepared us for that understanding of the
cross: "The Son of Man goes even as it has been written of him" (v.21).
The Father's will had been declared in the Scriptures, and now the hour
had come and the cup of wrath must be drained. At the end of the Gethsemane
passage, Jesus spoke again of the hour -- "the hour has come". The high
moment of destiny had arrived, when sin reached its peak in the deliberate
rejection, condemnation and execution of the Son of God. The passage has
prepared us for that as well, for we read of secret treacherous plotting,
with treachery right at the heart of the apostolic band. Sin was going step
by step to its climax when all of them would desert Him. In the high moment
of destiny we find evidence of the hands of sinners.
In between those two -- the drinking of the cup of wrath and the enduring
of the malice of man -- there was the solitary figure of our Lord Jesus.
He stood between the wrath of God against sin and the actual sin against which
that wrath was exerted. No-one was with Him; all forsook Him. We are confronted
with the sole figure of the Lamb of Calvary.
But, as we have already remarked, how willing He was. What was going
through His mind at that point? His only statement was that He was going
-- "Arise, let us be going" (v.42). He was neither the victim of a divinely
imposed fate, nor was He a victim of the overwhelming power of evil men.
The cross, which is to be explained as the act of God's wrath and the act
of man's sin is, in fact, the act of the voluntary Saviour. How willing He
This is the very heart of the substitutionary enterprise. If you could
ask an animal brought to the altar of God, a spotless body which could stand
in for my sin-stained body, 'Why are you here?', you would receive no reply.
For the animal which in its spotlessness could well stand in for me in my
stain of sin, could not represent me where I was centrally a sinner, namely,
that of my own will I had consented to do wrong. There would be no possibility
of consent on its part. The Lord Jesus, however, did fully consent to be
offered for us. When He came on the scene, He took the words of Scripture
on His lips, not only saying "A body have you prepared for me" but also "Lo,
I come to do your will, O my God". He brought all the perfection of His human
nature, all the moral glories of the Christ, and He chose to take them to
the cross of Calvary. He brought His spotless body to stand in for our stained
and defiled person and was able to look up to the Father and declare, "I am
content to do it. Lo, I come to do your will."
All that God had ever longed for, and depicted and worked for, came to
its climax and completion in the voluntary offering of His spotless Son.
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
(To be concluded)
THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD (4)
"Yes in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee
(Danish "we expect thee") Isaiah 26:8
OUR life here consists of hours and days. The most precious thing we
have here is time, for if we have lost that we can never retrieve it again.
It is unlike many other things we lose in this respect for, when time is
lost, it has gone for ever. Every hour focuses on eternity, for it
[70/71] will take into eternity something of what we have lived
in that hour. It involves a 'Yes' or a 'No' to the will of God, and that
'Yes' or 'No' will land with us on the shore of eternity, and will for ever
remain with us there.
But each hour leads to the next hour. It forms part of what we call
history , for history consists in what takes place in the course of
time. First and foremost it is your personal history, consisting of how you
develop and grow or stagnate and backslide. All this follows from the hours
or the time which you yourself spend. What is more, it also influences those
with whom you have contact. Our use of time affects others. The cumulative
effect of all this is described as history, and it is in this context that
I wish to speak about judgment.
Judgment in Time
It is not difficult to understand that as the hours constantly connect
us with eternity, and affect what will come afterwards, they are far from
unimportant. God is eternal, but it is He who has created the hours and
time, so He is by no means indifferent as to how we use so great a gift.
This means that He is the God of judgment, and no-one can meet God except
as the God of judgment. "In the way of thy judgments we meet thee" because
"Thou art a God of judgment". This means that judgment is already active
here in time because God is active here in time.
In our previous article we noted that although the kingdom is yet to
come, it is already here, so now we have to consider judgment not only as
a future final reckoning, but as being exercised now by the God who is the
same yesterday, today and for ever. Each hour we use goes into eternity,
with our 'Yes' or 'No', and God reacts about it, for He is holy and cannot
let it just pass and disappear.
We need to face the serious fact that as the God of judgment the Lord
is free, as He chooses, to harden in judgment even now in time. We know that
He closed Israel's eyes (Isaiah 6:9-10) and we are told that in His mysterious
wisdom "a hardening in part hath befallen Israel" (Romans 11:25) in this
present time. God is never unrighteous but He retains the right to harden
in judgment if He so wills. Romans 1 is among the most terrible chapters in
the New Testament, and seems to be finding fulfilment before our very eyes.
The wrath of God is surely revealed already over our own nation of Denmark.
We are shocked by things we see and hear around us and exclaim that they
are terrible, but may it not be more than just moral decline, for we are
told that "as they did not approve of having God in their knowledge" (v.28
m.), "God gave them up unto a reprobate mind". This is judgment. It is not
just a natural decline or weakness; it is more than chance or human tragedy:
it is God's terrible judgment on our nation. The Church does not seem to realise
this, though it observes that sin is approved and holiness mocked at. It
seems to be part of the judgment that a nation should be so hardened that
it enjoys sin, laughing and joking about it, with a complete absence of any
national conscience in the matter.
We do well to fear that this is God's silent judgment, so hardening that
those who are under judgment are quite unaware of the fact. On the contrary,
when troubles do come they blame God and angrily reproach Him for not being
"A God of love". The truth is that God has struck them with blindness and
hardened them. In this series I have stated more than once that consternation
is intimately connected with understanding. The Christian who perceives God's
silent judgments will no longer excuse depravity as mere human weakness,
and will be zealous with the gospel because he knows "the fear of the Lord"
(2 Corinthians 5:11).
Judgment unto Salvation
But God claims His right not only to judge by hardening but to judge
unto salvation. This judgment is both terrible and divine and it is also
wonderful, meaning that the awareness of His wrath has aroused man's conscience.
We do not see this happening on a grand scale very often, in what we call
Revival, but I thank and praise God that it is still happening here and
there. When that is so, Christianity is no longer a cosy, enjoyable pastime
but a marvellous deliverance. The person who realises that God is Judge
and meets Him so, knows that perdition is not a figment of the imagination
but a grim reality. Those who come to Christ in this way will have appreciated
how very narrow is the gate into life. If they see themselves in the light
of God's wrath, then they will confess with Paul, [71/72]
"In me dwelleth no good thing". Such judgment is not a subjective idea,
nor is it proof of a disordered mind. The psychologists can come and tell
a man that he is not as bad as he thinks but, having met the God of judgment,
he knows that every hour which he has contributed towards eternity has been
an offence against God. It is then that God can show him who Christ Jesus
is, and what Christ crucified means. The judgment has been unto salvation.
I fear that nowadays there are professed Christians who lack any inner
conviction that there is no other message for man than Christ crucified.
Paul would not have any other, for he had seen himself in his true state.
The one who by the free and inexplicable grace of God has met the God of
judgment, realises a little of what Christ suffered on the cross for him.
He does not need many theological explanations but he knows for himself what
the word salvation means. He has fled from judgment to the cross of Calvary
where all the judgment has been executed, and there he experiences assurance
of salvation and there comes into his broken and contrite heart the certainty
that his sin has been atoned for, his debt of guilt paid and that now he
As the Spirit of God testifies to his contrite heart that by grace he
is saved, and saved by the God of judgment, he lives for the rest of his
life under the government of that same God of judgment. God does not change.
He always says 'No' and nothing but 'no', to the old Adam. Salvation does
not mean that a person has arrived at a sensible agreement with God, so that
now he can take things more easily and obtain agreement from God on any nice
idea that he may choose. No indeed, we cannot do that. God continues to say
'No' to all that proceeds from the old 'I'. If we use our hours to send into
eternity that which belongs to the old 'I', such hours are still lost. We
are called to respond with a glad 'Yes' to Jesus Christ and all that belongs
As the God of judgment, He continues to discriminate between what we
mean to be our best and what is truly the working of His grace in us. For
this reason we find that for the rest of our days we must be prepared for
His loving chastening. We read much in the Scriptures about the need for
and blessing of the chastening hand of our heavenly Father -- who is still
the God of judgment. When we break bread together we are exhorted to examine
ourselves, to judge ourselves that we may not be condemned with the world.
This is not a mere pious procedure; it is a realisation that we are meeting
intimately with the God of judgment.
Each hour continues into history and is followed by the next, and through
it there is a judgment not only of our relationship to God and eternity but
a personal one, for all the time we are undergoing a development. The judgment
is here: what we sow, we will reap. That is the judgment. No-one can escape
it. In Denmark we have a great poet who renewed the Danish language, J.
P. Jacobsen. He was a convinced atheist, but he knew this truth, for he
"The penalty lasts for many a year
Of what was but a fleeting joy."
How true this is, even for the Christian. The fleeting joy, the yielding
to a passing temptation -- and the harvest has followed. It is a decree of
the God of judgment that what a man sows, that he will reap. Life is not
a playing-field. If you are a person who is negative towards everything and
everyone, then I can assure you that everything and everyone will give you
a negative harvest. But if you spread the goodness of Christ around you,
then you will reap accordingly.
David had to reap what he had sown, even though his sin was forgiven.
If you sow sparingly -- as little as possible -- then your harvest will be
correspondingly sparse. If you sow freely, going the extra willing mile,
then your harvest will be abundant. That is why it is more blessed to give
than to receive. The harvest follows the sowing. Can you always see the faults
of others? If so, you will find your harvest in that others see all your
faults. Every hour is included in our history. If we sow bitterness, we will
reap bitterness. If we sow backbiting, we will reap the same. God is the
God of judgment. No wonder that Paul urges us to "work out our salvation in
fear and trembling". He knew the issues which are involved.
Great importance is attached in the Bible to our being reconciled one
with the other. If we have done wrong, it is obvious that we must seek out
the other party, bring things into the light and make good in every way possible.
But we must not wait for others to do that to us. We must be prepared to
take the first step, even though the other is at fault and ought to put
[72/73] things right, for we reap and reap as we sow and sow.
Without a right sense that our God is the God of judgment there will
be a basic lack in all our Christian life. The gospel was never meant to
be a cosy, happy-go-lucky message. What it does, though, is to comfort the
one who truly trembles and re-assure him that even if he feels that he has
failed, he can know that God does not keep a hard and fast system of statements
of accounts, but by His grace is able to take even our sins and use them
as a means of life as we are humbled before Him. In the great grace and wisdom
of God, our very failures can be used to rid us of the remnants of pride
and draw us closer to Himself.
David says: "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done that which
is evil in thy sight; that thou mayest be justified when thou speakest and
be clear when thou judgest." By this he seems to mean that God had used his
sin to save him from becoming great in his own eyes and to be humbled in
a way which we cannot achieve ourselves but can learn under the mighty hand
of God. God can use the hard and painful experiences of life to bring us
low so that we may have restored to us the years that have been wasted. We
can never lightly claim that He should restore to us the years that the locusts
have eaten, but we can prove this wonderful promise as we are brought low
before Him as our Judge.
When double grace brings us low before God in this way, then there is
hope. The Letter to the Hebrews suggests that some of its readers might fear
that they were now lost, but the writer assures them that when God chastens
men it is because He has not given them up, but is for them the Father who
is working to make them partakers of His holiness. So we can strengthen
the weak knees and make straight paths for our feet; not in bombastic self-assurance
as though sin did not matter and the forgiveness of sins is some past transaction,
but in a new gratitude for grace which comes as an expression of true humility.
It is possible to seek and strive for a perfection which is really only
self-improvement, but the perfection to which the God of judgment and grace
leads us is a perfection that makes us smaller and smaller and makes Jesus
more and more glorious. So the gospel is most serious because it is part
of the glory of God, but it is also the gladdest news for it makes the power
of the cross real to us.
Judgment in Eternity
This leads us to consider judgment in eternity. Not that there is so
much difference between judgment now and judgment in eternity, for it is
always God with whom we have to do. We are told that "we shall all appear
before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things
done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or
bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). The Danish reads that "we shall all appear
as we are before the judgment seat ...". This means that the judgment
seat will reveal and disclose what we are, namely, what is genuine and what
is false, what is appearance before men and what is true as God sees it.
This only serves to make us come right into the light before Him now.
He sees through us at this moment; He knows even the thoughts of our heart;
in that day it will be no use saying: 'Lord, Lord, have we not done great
things in thy name?', because even now God knows us through and through and
in that day He will make plain what has been clear to Him all the time. No-one
will be able to hide. That Day will break with light and the judgment will
be entirely individual. Oh, live before the face of God now, for you will
certainly appear before it then.
We shall receive "the things done". This simply means that the judgment
is the consequence of life. As it is today, so it will be on that day, except
that then the decision will be final. If you have sown to the Spirit, then
you will reap of the Spirit in that Day. The judgment will be simply revelation,
exposure, the consequence -- and it will be entirely righteous.
We shall receive the things done "in the body". Our deeds -- or our lack
of them -- are identical with our faith. Faith can only show itself in obedience,
just as unbelief shows itself in disobedience. What will matter will not,
however, be the quantity of our works but their weight. A divine verdict
was given when God's judgment was given in the words, "Thou art weighed in
the balance and found wanting -- too light" (Daniel 5:27, Danish
). The heart of the matter is that where love is not the real motive,
then the works are like wood, hay and stubble. When love is the true motive,
then the works are weighty, like gold, silver and precious stones. Even to
give a cup of cold water to a prophet because he is a prophet, will be sure
to receive a reward. [73/74]
"According to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad", that is,
of course, good or bad in the sight of God. During the wilderness journeys
Moses counted the people twice. David counted the people once. It would seem,
then, that the action must be either equally right or equally wrong. But
no! What Moses did with his census was good in the sight of God, whereas
what David did was bad in God's sight. No deed can be judged from the exterior:
what matters is the divine judgment of God.
So much for the Christian; he must appear as an individual before the
judgment seat of Christ. But what about the unbeliever? Is there an eternal
condemnation? So far as I understand it, Jesus affirmed that there will be.
He called it "the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil ..." (Matthew
25:41). Paul describes it as "eternal destruction from the face of the Lord"
(2 Thessalonians 1:9). John writes that "if any one was not found written
in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15).
This is called "the second death", but the terrible thing about this death
is that it cannot die. It means to be eternally dead away from God -- eternal
loss. I am not able to imagine nor to describe it.
Presumably we are now approaching the close of history, when the final
harvest of what has been sown will be gathered in. There was a time when
the Flood came. This was not an isolated event brought capriciously upon
the world, but the harvest of God's judgment. Sodom and Gomorrah also reaped;
the Canaanites reaped and even Jerusalem had to reap and was destroyed.
This makes us fear for our own beloved countries. Does anyone think that
nations can offend, make a mock of God, and then escape? The harvest will
come, and when it comes, nothing can hold it back. The tide of the Flood,
the fire from heaven, the sword of God's wrath, no-one can prevent them.
What the Church can do, though, is to cry to God for salvation in the time
that is left, and to buy up every moment of time for spreading the good news
of the gospel.
Yet with all our deep concern for others, how can we but rejoice if our
names are written in that Lamb's book of life? The greatest joy that we can
have is to realise how great is the grace that has saved such undeserving
sinners as we know ourselves to be. His love is an everlasting love. His
salvation is now, every day, and we know that we fear no judgment when we
are "found in Him", that is, in Christ who is our righteousness.
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
THE WAY THROUGH THE VEIL
(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 5)
John H. Paterson
"... boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus,
by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the
veil, that is to say, his flesh..." Hebrews 10:19-20
"And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the
bottom. " Mark 15:38
"Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." Luke 13:35
LAST Easter I was reading for the hundredth, or maybe the thousandth,
time the story of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and wondering,
frankly, whether there was anything about it which might strike me as fresh
or novel. The details are so familiar that, however much we cherish them,
the prospect of gaining a new perspective on them seems remote.
However, I had reckoned without one of my favourite books, which is at
the same time one of the finest and fullest commentaries on the Gospels
ever written: Alfred Edersheim's The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
. I was following the narrative of the crucifixion in this book when I
came upon his answer to a question which, I now realise, had been lying in
the back of my mind for a long while. This is the question: Why, when Jesus
died, was the veil of the Temple torn in two from top to bottom?
Now I am sure that, over the years, you and I have both listened to plenty
of sermons on this point. And we have probably accepted the 'standard' explanation
of it, which is that God tore the veil (and since it was 30 or 40
feet high and torn from the top, not the bottom, we have no cause to argue
about that), in order to show that "the way into the holiest", as Hebrews
9:8 calls it, was now no longer closed, because Christ had died and opened
The translator of The Living Bible, for example, seeking to be
helpful to readers of Mark 15:38, adds a footnote to that verse in which
he offers this 'standard' view: A heavy veil hung in front of the room in
the temple called 'The Holy of Holies', a place reserved by God for Himself;
the veil separated Him from sinful mankind. Now this veil was split from
above, showing that Christ's death, for man's sin, had opened up access to
the holy God."
And, of course, it had! We know that Christ's death opened up that access
because that is exactly what Hebrews 10:20-22 says. But what we do not
know, at least from the text of Scripture, is that that was the significance
of the tearing of the veil! We assume that to be its significance,
because the Epistle to the Hebrews is full of symbols and parables, and this
action of God appears to be one more symbol. But a symbol of what?
To answer that, let us go back in this story and enquire what was the
role or purpose of that inner room behind the veil. It was the place where
God had chosen to live among His people. It was the exact spot where He had
promised to meet with them. As such, it was the most carefully-guarded place
on earth. Only one man, once a year, might enter this room, and he the high
priest on the great day of atonement. The safeguards surrounding God's holy
presence were so intricate, and so absolute, that the high priest himself
must have trembled to enter on his annual visit, lest some small detail
had been overlooked, for the result of negligence was bound to be fatal.
But now let us go on to realise that to the Jewish people at least, this
holy spot, this guarded entry, this particular place, were not symbolical
but real. There was a real building in Jerusalem, a real priest and,
as evidence of God's presence, there was sometimes a glory palpable enough
to be seen or felt (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). The idea behind a symbol is that
the reality is elsewhere; but that is not how Israel viewed the Tabernacle
or Temple. For them, there was a Real Presence: God was among them in His
house. It is only now, with the benefit of New Testament hindsight, that
we Christians turn our attention away from the real house and towards the
spiritual truths of which it was a parable.
And the veil that was torn was a real veil. Perhaps that tearing did
symbolise the opening of a new way to God. But in its context, the event
could not have been more real -- or more shocking. Here was a God who, after
carefully preserving His absolute holiness for centuries, suddenly threw
open the way to His presence so that any curious sightseer -- anybody, no
matter how unprepared or unholy -- could march straight into the dwelling-place
of God! Suddenly, it did not seem to matter any more!
Does that make sense? Surely not! Surely, there must be some other factor
that we have not yet considered? And here I come at length to Alfred Edersheim's
comment on the incident of the torn veil. For what he suggests is that the
tearing signified not God throwing open the way into the holiest place --
a real place, let us remember, where God was and which He had so long and
so jealously guarded -- but rather His revelation that the place was empty;
that He had gone away and that, without Him, the place was nothing. It meant,
suggests Edersheim, "that God's Own Hand had rent the veil, and for ever
deserted and thrown open that Most Holy Place where He had so long dwelt in
the mysterious gloom".
Now that makes sense, because it is confirmed by the Lord Jesus
Himself in those familiar, tragic words which both Matthew and Luke record:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... behold your house is left unto you desolate
(or forsaken )". This would mean that the veil was torn not to
[75/76] symbolise the opening of a new way to God
(and the writer to the Hebrews never said it was!) but the end of an old
one. The old way to God had been a matter of awe and mystery for centuries:
now suddenly, it was seen to lead -- nowhere. It led into an empty chamber.
Anybody willing to disregard the Temple rules and his own scruples could
push his way past the curtain into the inner room, but he would find nobody
there. He would probably ask himself, 'Is this all?'
That was all! Rather like a conjuror who, having taken rabbits out of
a hat or a body from a box, shows the empty containers to his audience, God
seems to have been saying, as the conjuror would, 'You see, there is nothing
in the hat: that is not where the secret lies'. It was because
God no longer lived there that He opened the way through a real veil into
a real place -- the place which He had abandoned.
We should not underestimate the shock of this event to the religious
Jew. So long as the veil guarded the Holy of Holies, and entrance to it
was barred to all but the high priest, it was possible for him to persuade
himself that God was still there; that, despite the long history of disasters
which had overtaken His people, God had not deserted them. At least, he
could console himself with the thought that there was no evidence to the
contrary! But once the veil was torn, and it was impossible to believe that
God was still there, the logic of the situation must have been devastating:
no veil, no Presence. The old way to God was, after all, a dead end.
This same devout Jew might well recall that passage in the prophecies
of Ezekiel where the prophet had had a vision of this very calamity overtaking
Israel and Jerusalem -- the glory of God leaving the house and moving away
(Ezekiel 10 - 11) and with the tearing of the veil, the vision became a nightmare.
As everyone could see who cared to look, God was no longer in His house.
* * *
So, where was He? Where did the glory of God go when it left the house
in Jerusalem? Ezekiel tracked it no further than "the mountain which is
on the east side of the city" (Ezekiel 11:23), and that is the last we hear
of it until, in a vision which surely points to a time still future, he saw
it return from the east (43:2) and re-enter the house. Where had it been
in the meantime?
To answer that question we can best draw upon the combined insights of
the two New Testament writers -- the unknown author of Hebrews and the relatively
well-known author of the fourth Gospel. In a remarkable piece of imagery,
the first of these suggests that there was another House of God and that
in it (Hebrews 10:20) the body of the Lord Jesus formed the veil. The second
offers us this broad hint as to where God's glory had gone: "The Word became
flesh, and tabernacled among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the
only begotten of the Father)" (John 1:14).
We are to understand, then, that the Lord Jesus was the new House --
the new resting-place for God's glory. And why not? Where should God feel
more 'at home' than in His Son? Where could He find a place more congenial,
more perfectly to His liking? If the house in Jerusalem was deserted, the
House in Nazareth, or Galilee, was occupied: wherever the Lord Jesus was,
there men and women encountered the glory which attested the presence of
God. He was, Himself, "the new and living way" to God.
Why, then, this strange idea which the writer of the Hebrews has, that
His flesh was a veil?
In the Tabernacle and the Temple, the veil acted as a screen or barrier
between the world outside and the holiness of God within. Such a screen was
necessary, but it concealed the reality of God. It was a splendid and beautiful
piece of workmanship (see Exodus 36:35) but it was, of course, nothing to
the glory that lay behind it. Only when the high priest moved it aside could
he see the true glory of God's presence.
As the Lord Jesus moved around during His ministry, He constantly and
inevitably met people for whom He was the object of interest. Over
and over again, He tried to divert their attention away from Himself and
towards the Father. And when John came to write his Gospel, this theme of
true glory and its whereabouts was evidently uppermost in his mind. Read again,
if you will, the twelfth chapter of John and see how the writer brings together
incident after incident of which the point is just this: have you
"beheld His glory" and, what kind of glory do you see? That of a
popular figure -- a star, a miracle worker, a possible Messiah? Or the true
glory -- not of the man but of God?
That people generally misunderstood Jesus and His mission is clear from
the gospel story. Even [76/77] His disciples misunderstood
Him. His personality, or His miracles, kept diverting people's attention
away from the Father whom He was there to represent, no matter how often He
stopped to give glory to God. In His very last speech in public before He
shut Himself away finally with His disciples (it is recorded in John 12:44-50)
there is, dare one say it, an almost despairing note in the Lord's tone as
He tried once again to divert attention from Himself to the Father.
The veil was still there. People were admiring the workmanship, not seeing
the glory beyond. The veil had to be removed and that is what happened in
the Cross. When the body and the voice were no longer there, some were revolted
or bewildered, and saw nothing but death. But for others the light dawned!
They now "beheld His glory" in reality. They said to one another, "Now
, we see the point of it all". The veil had gone.
Just two further points in closing. One is that there are plenty of people
about today for whom Jesus of Nazareth was a great figure -- a teacher of
unequalled moral stature, a man of courage and compassion whose name is to
be spoken along with those of Gandhi or Albert Schweitzer, but whose life
story is spoiled by those who will keep harping on His death. For these people,
all the attraction is in the veil; none of it is in what the veil was there
to enclose! Do they never, I wonder, ask themselves what they would see
if (as He so often asked them to do) they were to look behind the veil?
The second point is that, as all Bible students know, this is not the
end of the story of God's House and His glory. For the Lord Jesus went away
and God once again went seeking a place to live among His people; somewhere
in which to let His glory shine. His new 'home' looked nothing like the Temple
or the Tabernacle, but there is no doubt at all where it is and what purpose
it is to serve. Paul identifies it in two short sentences:
"the house of God which is the church of the living God" (1 Timothy 3:15)
"unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations
for ever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:21)
(To be continued)
IS THERE ANY WORD FROM THE LORD?
"The king asked him secretly in his house,
and said, Is there any word from the Lord?
And Jeremiah said, There is." Jeremiah 37:17
4. THE WORD OF FAITH
WE have been considering the question put to Jeremiah by King Zedekiah,
at a very critical moment of the nation's history -- "Is there any word from
the Lord?" or, according to another rendering, "Has the Lord any message
for me?" We have seen that the Lord certainly has, and that His Word is not
merely the speaking of generalities but it is timely, personal and life-giving.
Yet the fact remains that the word did not profit Zedekiah. Although
he was spoken to by an anointed prophet, and although God had a special
message particularly for him which was really a message of deliverance and
life, the king was never delivered, and finally died in Babylon, a blind
and disgraced captive. The Lord's message proved of no avail so far as he
was concerned. Even the Word of God, then, can be ineffective under certain
conditions. Our present purpose is to consider what those conditions are,
and to discover what is necessary from man's side to give fulfilment to
the speaking of the Lord.
It is "the word of faith which we preach" wrote Paul (Romans 10:8) and
the same could be said of Jeremiah. The Word of God only becomes effective
and fruitful for us if it is received in [77/78]
that spirit of yieldedness and responsiveness which is called faith. Whenever
God speaks there arises a crisis, for certain responsibilities are then passed
over to the hearers. Even the mighty speaking of the living God can leave
a man or woman unaffected, unsaved. Or perhaps I should not say unaffected,
for no-one is really the same after the Lord has truly spoken to his heart.
It is a most solemn matter to receive a direct message from God, for to hear
it in faith will bring life, whereas to disregard it in unbelief will always
bring the opposite.
As we have said, Jeremiah might well have used Paul's expression "The
word of faith", for that was what the prophet preached. The two principle
points made by the apostle in that passage in Romans 10 were that faith is
not difficult or distant, but simple and near at hand, and also that faith
is a matter of the heart. This latter point is often emphasised in Jeremiah's
In some way this prophetical book may seem complicated and difficult
to follow for some of the allusions are obscure and the chapters are not
always placed in chronological order. Running right through the book, however,
is the background of a man who did believe God and, in contrast to him, there
were kings, priests, prophets and people who doubted, argued and refused
to respond. Amidst this people and their atmosphere of active unbelief, Jeremiah
and his helper, Baruch, were men who persisted in active faith and continued
to preach the word of faith.
In the earlier chapters, Jeremiah makes great use of a word translated
"backsliding". It is not always easy to explain this English word; it certainly
means more than the common idea of a weak slipping back into sinful habits.
The N.I.V. usually renders it "faithless" or "unfaithful" (3:6, 8). Another
description of wayward Israel is found in the word "treacherous" which is
also translated "unfaithful" in the N.I.V. (3:20; 5:11 etc.). The words
suggest that Israel's fault was not a weak inability to believe (most of
us suffer at times from that!), but a deliberate turning away from God and
His Word for which there can be no excuse. So it was that the initial charge
against God's people was that they had forsaken Him, the fountain of living
waters (2:12-13). No wonder the prophet cried out to heaven to be "astonished
and horribly afraid" at such an enormity!
If we look again at Paul's explanation of the word of faith and the quotation
from Moses which he used for the purpose, we are reminded that this call
to obedience is neither hard nor remote: "the word is very nigh unto thee,
in thy mouth and in thy heart" (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). So much was this so
that Jeremiah repeatedly offered a form of prayer which he longed for the
people to pray. "Behold we are come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God
... We have sinned against the Lord our God ... and we have not obeyed the
voice of the Lord our God" (3:22-25) he suggested, but no-one took up his
confession. In a time of drought Jeremiah tried to put these words into the
people's mouth: "Though our iniquities testify against us, work thou for
thy name's sake, O Lord, for our backslidings are many ... Thou, O Lord, art
in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not" (14:7-9)
he cried, but his proposed confession and cry for help was not taken up by
anybody else. These and other quotations from Jeremiah show how the word of
faith was put -- as it were -- into the mouths of the people, but unhappily
they did not allow it to enter their hearts.
The close connection between faith and the heart is indicated in the
prophet's pronouncement of a curse on those who trust in man and depend
on flesh for their strength, by the disclosure that their hearts turn away
from the Lord (17:5). This was the tragedy of faithless Israel. It was not
that they lacked religious observances -- far from it. [Chapter] 3:16 makes
it plain that they based their false expectation on the presence among them
of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, as if that could be a substitute
for faith in the Lord Himself. Then again, Jeremiah denounced as lying words
their cry of confidence in the temple of the Lord (7:4). The fact that this
claim to immunity from judgment and expectation of God's favour was repeated
three times -- "the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple
of the Lord are these" -- shows how strong was their reliance on visible
symbols. Jeremiah's answer was brief and to the point: "Behold, ye trust
in lying words, that cannot profit" (7:8). As against these he told them
what was the true word of God: it was the word of faith.
Over against their wrong confidence in themselves or other men, he was
able to give the good news of what it means to have faith in God: "Blessed
is the man that trusteth in the Lord ... [78/79]
for he shall be as a tree planted by the waters ..." he affirmed (17:7-8).
That kind of man will survive all the surrounding drought conditions, as
he himself proved, and the verdict on his life and ministry must be that
he did not "cease from yielding fruit". Here is the word of encouragement
for us all. Our circumstances are probably not so hopeless as those of the
Jews in Jeremiah's day, but even if they are, we can be sure that we can
spread out hidden roots by God's river and maintain the green leaf of a joyful
testimony in spite of adverse surroundings.
It is essential, though, to avoid trusting in our own ideas or emotions
for, as Jeremiah was so swift to confess: "The heart is deceitful above all
things ... who can know it?" (v.9). Even the most confident messenger of
faith needs to keep his heart open to the searching eyes of the Lord, for
unfaith is all too possible if we slide away from our heart allegiance to
And how important it is to look beyond the visible to the unseen. Over
against the Israelites' vain confidence in the earthly temple of the Lord,
the prophet kept his faith focused on the heavenly and eternal reality:
"A glorious throne, set on high from the beginning" was the place of his
safety and sphere of worship. He himself was a priest. He could easily have
become involved in the general preoccupation with the earthly form of service
to God, but he wisely found deliverance from the passing, empty and outward
observances by fixing his attention on the spiritual and eternal.
We need to do the same. That is why I felt led to select this very verse
from Jeremiah to be on the back page of this magazine throughout 1983. This
was no passing observation of Jeremiah's, but his statement of an abiding
basic truth. Earthly expressions of God's presence may come and go. That
which has carried sacred significance in the past may now become a false basis
of confidence. Where is our sanctuary? Have we begun to rely on history --
our own or somebody else's -- for if we have, we will not be able to rise
above the downdrag of earthly forces and influences. How many years or even
centuries of the existence of what we trust in will give us re-assurance?
What we need, and what God has graciously provided for us, is the security
and spiritual values of that "glorious throne, set on high from the beginning"
(17:12). To Jeremiah and to us, it is more than a throne, for it links us
with the King of glory Himself who is on His gracious throne. We must centre
our heart's faith on Him.
* * *
ALL of us who are learning to walk by faith are aware that sooner or
later the Lord presents us with a practical opportunity to demonstrate that
ours is a genuine trust in him. This is in harmony with Paul's demand not
only for belief in the heart but for confession with the mouth (Romans 10:9).
Jeremiah was obliged to face such a challenge; not only to speak but to act.
The story is told for us in Chapter 32. The prophet was in prison because
he had constantly warned Israel of the coming captivity of Babylon. In fact
his message had always looked beyond that tragedy to the divine act of recovery
and restoration, though that had little interest for his unbelieving hearers.
He had, however, a relative -- a cousin or a nephew -- who was sufficiently
influenced by the threat of invasion to try to turn it to his own advantage
with this kinsman of his who liked to speak of a long invasion and yet of
a final recovery. Would he show his faith in that recovery by availing himself
of his right of purchase of the family property? The crafty Hanamel must have
thought he was on to a good thing. Although Jeremiah's family at Anathoth
had plotted against him (11:21), this young man felt that it might be safer
to have ready money than land, especially as that land was already overrun
by the Babylonians, so he gave the prophet his kinsman's right of purchase
and was perhaps amazed to find how readily Jeremiah agreed to the transaction.
The whole affair was out in the open, for Jeremiah was a prisoner and
the deal was made and witnessed in the court of the guard. So the young man
went off cheerfully with his seventeen shekels of silver and Jeremiah was
left with apparently worthless documents. As a man of faith, however, he
knew that God had told him to act in this way and so he was able to use the
name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel in his instructions to Baruch
to secrete the deeds in an earthen vessel -- to put them, as it were, in the
safe deposit. "For thus saith the Lord", Jeremiah affirmed, "Houses and fields
and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land" (v.15). The cousin
doubtless derided him as stupid; the witnesses must have marvelled at his
simplicity, and he himself was so bewildered that he [79/80]
could only take the matter to the Lord in prayer. "Behold the mounts,"
he prayed, "they are come unto the city to take it ... what thou hast spoken
is come to pass; and behold, thou seest it. And thou hast said unto me, O
Lord God, buy thee the field for money, and call witnesses ..." (vv.24-25).
It may be that Jeremiah was suffering from one of those reactions which
often follow a step of sheer faith. How wise of him not to puzzle about it
or discuss it with Baruch but to turn at once to prayer. In doing so he
had recourse -- as God's tried servants of both Old and New Testament times
often did -- to a reminder that his God had been the Creator of heaven and
earth (v.17). Perhaps many of us tend so to concentrate on God as Redeemer
that we rather overlook this basic matter of our faith, namely that He is
the one who made the heaven and the earth by His great power and by His stretched
out arm. This is in fact a foundation stone of our faith, this realisation
that the Lord made it all and governs it all. Nothing can get it out of His
From this follows, as simple logic, the reassurance voiced in Jeremiah's
prayer that "There is nothing too hard for the Lord". The Lord seemed to
have liked this phrase of Jeremiah's, for He took it up at the very commencement
of His answer to the prayer: "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh:
is there anything too hard for me?" (v.26). The man of faith was not acting
foolishly but was pioneering ahead of the rest for, as the Lord assured him:
"Fields shall be bought in this land, whereof ye say, It is desolate ...
it is given unto the hands of the Chaldeans. Men shall buy fields for money,
and subscribe the deeds, and seal them, and call witnesses ... for I will
cause their captivity to return" (vv.43-44).
Why had Jeremiah worried? Why do any of us worry? We have to learn to
disregard our own misgivings or perplexities and stand firmly on our assertion,
"There is nothing too hard for the Lord". We may speak the words tremblingly,
we may continue to enquire of the Lord what it is all about, but so long
as we give Him prompt obedience, even if we cannot understand, then we have
grasped the significance of the fact that the Lord's word to us is The Word
In a symbolic way, Jeremiah was laying up treasure for a future day.
In his case he never claimed that land or used those documents, but his
actions point us on to the command of the Lord Jesus that we "lay up treasure
in heaven". And, as always, the obedience of faith leads on to fresh discoveries
of God's greatness, so we read that this experience of Jeremiah's was followed
by a further speaking of God when "the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah
the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the guard ..." (33:1).
It was surely a sign of His pleasure and it was also an offer of yet further
blessings, for the Lord offered to show him "great things and difficult"
which would provide a new experience of how right he had been in asserting
that there is nothing too hard for the Lord.
After these thrilling incidents we may find it rather irksome to work
through following chapters which speak of the inevitable captivity and the
trying experiences through which God's servant had yet to pass. The story
of the man of faith is no cheap success story. Sometimes the Lord only seems
to reward our victories of faith with further and more acute trials. But let
us never forget, He is not only the Creator but He is "the faithful Creator"
(1 Peter 4:19). Is there any word from the Lord? Yes, there is. It is a word
of blessing to those who have not seen and yet have believed. May the Lord
help us not only to preach it but to live it.
(To be concluded) [80/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (4)
"(I know that ye have much cattle)" Deuteronomy 3:19
WHETHER or not the two and a half tribes were justified in settling down
East of Jordan I do not profess to know. There were obvious perils in their
request to do so, but it does not seem that Moses had any strong feelings
in the matter once he was assured that their intention was not divisive.
Their bold proposal to make temporary provision for their families and possessions
before the whole of their fighting force would be available for the conquest
of the land was accepted and they were granted the area of Transjordan on
this condition. They became committed to place themselves at the disposal
of Joshua and support the rest of the nation in its possession of the land.
SIHON and Og had been defeated, and their rich pasture-lands were most
suitable for Reuben, Gad and the others who had such a great multitude of
cattle (Numbers 32:1). The Lord appreciated this. Our present parenthesis
has an understanding and a re-assuring note about it -- "I know that ye
have much cattle". Not only the wives and the little ones, but the herds
and flocks also were not forgotten.
THERE was a long campaign in prospect before these fighting men. During
the time when they were away on active service over Jordan, their families
and their possessions would be virtually untended and unguarded. It needed
some considerable confidence in the Lord's sovereign providence to leave
them in this way. Perhaps that is why these words of sympathetic appreciation
were interposed in the charge which they received from Moses.
GOD knows! He knows all our circumstances! He knows the natural qualms
and fears which can disturb and distract us when we are called to devote
ourselves to His interests. Who watched over the cattle while the fighting
men of the two and a half tribes committed themselves to Jordan, Jericho
and the rest of the territory to be conquered? For that matter, who watched
over the flocks near Bethlehem when the shepherds hurried to see the new-born
Babe in the stable? God must have done so. And will He not do the same for
us if we put ourselves at His disposal to fight His battles?
WE know the end of the story. The warriors continued faithfully until
the whole campaign was over, and during that time no harm came to their cattle
or to their dear ones. When they were ultimately demobilised by Joshua, they
received a special blessing from him as a reward for their services. What
is more, they not only had their possession preserved but acquired much
extra wealth as their share of the spoils of battle (Joshua 22:7-8).
GOD knows all about our personal concerns. And He knows what is in our
hearts too. When the two and a half tribes were criticised by the rest of
the people for the altar which they built, their reply was: "The Lord, the
God of gods, the Lord, the God of gods, he knoweth ..." (Joshua 22:22).
Their explanation of why they had erected the altar pleased the others (v.33),
so all was well.
WHAT a comfort to be assured by the Lord that He knows it all!
A GLORIOUS THRONE, SET ON HIGH FROM THE
BEGINNING, IS THE PLACE OF OUR SANCTUARY.
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