|Vol. 13, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1984
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
CHAPTERS 5 and 6 of Isaiah contain seven expressions of woe. If I take
the chapters in the order in which they are found (which is not unreasonable),
I note that Isaiah's personal exclamation, "Woe is me" (6:5) is the seventh
and final use of the expression. The logical conclusion then to be drawn
is that the young prophet who had so forcefully denounced the sins of his
day with the six-fold sequence of woes to others (5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22)
now found himself under the same condemnation. With the searchlight of the
divine holiness turned upon him, he collapsed under the realisation that he
was no better than his fellows.
In the blinding light of the presence of the thrice-holy God, Isaiah
forgot everything and everybody else, being overwhelmed by the shocked realisation
of his own ghastly sinfulness. According to his account, this devastating
experience was mercifully rectified by the divine application of the power
of the altar to bring him pardon and cleansing. After that he could be sent
out to speak on behalf of God in a lifetime of anointed ministry.
It is all too possible that a prophet who is ready to detect and denounce
the sins of others should need first to have a new encounter with the holy
Lord and to be brought low with a discovery of his own unsuspected unworthiness.
If he is thus humbled under the mighty hand of God, he can be God's mouthpiece
in a new and effective way. I know this because it has been part of my own
experience from time to time as God has dealt with me.
HAVING said this, I must record that the general comment on this crisis
in Isaiah's history is that it happened before the events described in Chapter
5. This seems clearly to be the case and makes it logical to suggest that
Chapters 1 to 5 form a kind of foreword to the whole book, so that chapter
6 describes retrospectively how it happened that Isaiah ever became a prophet
in the first place. If this is indeed the case, then his "Woe is me" was
the first and not the last of the seven "woes".
If this was the case, then the clear lesson to be learned is that before
we dare to criticise or denounce the sins of others, we need to be brought
to the dust in humbling about our own sinfulness. It is only the person who
has voiced the dismayed confession, 'I am undone' who is entitled to pronounce
God's woes upon others, and such a one will be able to follow them with
the Good News of cleansing and forgiveness for those who acknowledge their
need of them.
FOR me, whether Isaiah's "Woe is me" was the first or the final of his
seven woes is not of great importance for, in either case, I find this to
be one more Scriptural emphasis on the call for humility in those who would
be servants of God. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this
Christ-like but all too rare virtue of humility. Some have made a gospel
message of Isaiah 6, as though it illustrated how a sinner can find salvation.
It makes a good illustration. Others have felt that it contained a lesson
on a 'second blessing' of sanctification. This, I think, is more difficult
to substantiate, though I would never depreciate the importance of the solemn
crisis of call which it depicts. For me, though, it seems that I need an
Isaiah 6 every day. How can I help others unless I have seen afresh that
humbling vision of "The Lord, high and lifted up"? How can I serve the Lord
today if I am not newly aware of the spiritual reality behind that "live
coal ... from off the altar"? And how can I continue my humble ministry unless
I have an up-to-date hearing of the Lord's own voice of commission?
As I meditate on this crisis experience of Isaiah's, I am not surprised
that his ministry continues to be so full of blessing, even till today. I
think I see, too, the secret of the spiritual vigour and depth of the Ephesian
Church, for it had begun with three years of ministry from the man who could
claim: "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia,
after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all
humility ..." (Acts 20:18-19). There can be no doubt that the apostle,
like Isaiah before him, had constantly kept in view his vision of "the Lord,
high and lifted up". Perhaps that is the secret of true humility.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?
(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 11)
John H. Paterson
IN our studies of the characters portrayed in Hebrews 11, we have been
considering how, one and all, they had to cope with the need for faith and
patience in serving God who is eternal, time-free and, therefore, not bound
by human schedules. It is remarkable how often, in these histories, God
appeared to have left it too late to transform a situation, or redeem a
promise; how often these men must have been tempted to think, 'If it doesn't
happen now, it never will!'
We, of course, know better! We know -- at least when we are considering
someone else's situation -- that what God is really doing is to wait until
all human resources and expectations are exhausted, to make it quite clear
to one and all that the power or the glory are His alone. Let me add, in
passing, that I hope we are equally confident in asserting that principle,
next time it is we, and not Abraham, or Joseph, or our next door neighbour,
whose faith is being tried in this way!
In our present study, we are concerned with two of the characters chosen
as examples by the writer to the Hebrews, to whom the problem of time and
its solution were presented in rather different ways: that well-known father
and son combination of Jacob and Joseph. You will at once notice, I am sure,
that in citing the details of these two lives to which he wished to call
attention, this writer was at his most mysterious (Hebrews 11:21-22):
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons
of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
By faith Joseph, when his end was nigh, made mention of the departure
of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
What a curious choice! Here we have a man -- Joseph -- whose whole life
consisted of a series of adventures; who ended up as the effective ruler
and provider of the entire Middle Eastern World, and all the writer has to
say about him is that, when he was too old to do anything else, he talked
about his bones! We had better try to find out what is going on here!
And the answer in both cases, for Jacob and Joseph, is the same: what
was going on was the education of one of God's men in how to cope with problems
of timing and delay within the purposes of God.
Jacob: Trying to Hurry God
Jacob must have been an unpleasant young man. While his brother went
out, doing the things that most young men like to do, Jacob stayed at home,
close to his mother, Rebecca. From her he doubtless learned what she had
been told at the time of her twin sons' birth: "the elder shall serve the
younger" (Genesis 25:23). He discovered that God intended great things for
him: that he belonged to that special line of descent from his grandfather
Abraham to which God had committed Himself. And with the private backing
of his mother, he set out to make it all come true.
God had promised Abraham that in his seed all the families of the earth
should be blessed, and Jacob promptly took steps to secure for himself the
birthright and the blessing. God told Jacob himself that "the land whereon
thou liest, to thee will I give it" (28:13), and Jacob promptly set out to
cheat his way to wealth (30:31-43). He cheated others, and was cheated in
his turn, and became the very model of a self-made man. How unlike his grandfather,
who said, "I will not take a thread nor a shoelatchet ... lest thou shouldest
say, I have made Abraham rich" (Genesis 14:23)! That would not have worried
Jacob one bit. He was impatient for the promised blessing and, by the time
he left Laban, with his wives and his "two companies" (32:10), he was well
on the way to securing it. And into the bargain he could say, to quote a
"And what is more,
I did it my way."
Poor Jacob! Poor Jacob because, after he had deceived his father, left
his mother, enraged his brother, alienated his father-in-law and been
[82/83] saddled with a wife whom he did not love; after all that
he at last became aware that everything he had schemed for God had intended
to give him, and much more besides. He need not have gone to all that trouble!
All this became clear in a single night, in a famous encounter between
Jacob and "a man", which is described in Genesis 32:24-31. At the end of
it, Jacob had a new name -- Israel -- but, much more than that, Jacob was
a changed man: sadder, weaker, wiser. We know this because on the following
day, there occurred his encounter with Esau, which he had been dreading for
so long. It was to Esau that he spoke the revealing words -- words that nobody
who knew the old Jacob would ever have expected to hear him utter (33:11):
"God has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough."
"Graciously" -- that meant that God had done it and he had not.
It meant that all the effort had been pointless, and all the stratagems
were wasted. God was going to bless him anyway! And "enough" -- that
meant an end to the crafty, acquisitive life he had been leading; an end
to the drive to get rich, and to go on and on, accumulating more wealth,
more sheep and, in the process, more enemies. One blow from Esau, whom he
had so bitterly wronged, and what use would the wealth have been then?
So now let us return to Hebrews 11, and to the writer's choice from the
life of Jacob of the lessons of faith and patience. There are two, says the
writer. Firstly, Jacob "blessed each of the sons of Joseph". You will remember
the incident (Genesis 48:12-20). Joseph brought his two sons to receive
their grandfather's blessing, but Jacob crossed his hands, so that the blessing
of the right hand was on the younger boy, and that of the left on the older.
He explained that he did it because "his younger brother shall be greater
than he (the elder)".
I think that what Jacob was saying was this: 'I have learned by bitter
experience that God blesses whom He will. We may have our personal priorities,
but God will overthrow them. We may take matters into our own hands, but
He will discount all that we do, to act in His own way and in His own time.
God acts towards men on one basis and one only: the basis of grace. He blesses
because He chooses to bless. I wish I had not frittered away a whole life
time before I found that out. Few and evil have been the days of the years
of my life (Genesis 47:9), because I just wasted them trying to do God's
work for Him.'
Secondly, the writer calls attention to that oddly unimportant-sounding
detail, "Jacob worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff". (Admittedly,
there is some question here as to whether that is a correct translation of
the Greek text but, if it is, it is certainly suggestive.) Why should Jacob's
staff be brought into this recital of the heroes of faith?
I am sure that you can think, as I can, of at least two good reasons.
(1) In Genesis 32:10, we read of Jacob saying, "With my staff I passed over
this Jordan; and now I am become two companies." Like a great manufacturer
who keeps in a glass case the very first engine or appliance his firm ever
made, as a reminder of how it all started, Jacob could look on his staff
as a measure of his success. This was all he had to begin with, and now he
had family and possessions -- two companies of them. He was a wealthy man.
But then another thought must have struck him. What were his "two companies"
by contrast with what God had in store for him: "Thy seed shall be
as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to
the east, and to the north, and to the south" (Genesis 28:14)? The staff
reminded Jacob of the time when he had nothing. The two companies reminded
him of a lifetime of grasping and cheating. The dust of the earth was the
measure of what God planned to do, not with his help, but by grace alone!
(2) Then there is a second possibility, and this one particularly impresses
me as I read Hebrews 11. Why did Jacob lean on his staff? The answer is simple:
he was lame. And why was he lame? Because he met a man, and fought with
him, and lost: "and the sun rose upon him as he crossed over Penuel, and
he halted upon his thigh" (Genesis 32:31).
That encounter had been decisive. Up until that time it was upon his
own strength that Jacob had been relying. Knowing as he did of God's promises,
he had set out to achieve, by his own resources, the fulfilment of those
promises. Now [83/84] the strength was gone; now he
couldn't even run away from Esau any more, let alone run away from God! The
staff must have brought back to him this realisation: in the end, God did
it His way!
Upon this realisation, we are told, Jacob "worshipped". This is one of
a number of Bible references to worship as no more and no less than submission
to God's way of doing things. Do think about that! Recall David, for
example (2 Samuel 12:15-23), who prayed that the child of his sin might survive.
But when he knew for certain that God had refused his request; when he was
told that the child was actually dead, then "he came into the house
of the Lord, and worshipped". Or think of the words of Paul (Philippians 3:3),
"We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ
Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh". Worship is saying 'yes'
to God's way, even when it conflicts with your own.
Joseph and the Trial of Non-Fulfilment
The problem which confronted Joseph is very simply stated, even though
it must have been agonisingly difficult to live with. Joseph began his life
with a clear vision of what was going to happen to him, and then for years
and years not only did the vision not materialise, but the very opposite
happened. His vision was that he would be raised up to great importance, with
his brothers subservient to him. Thereupon his brothers (for whom one cannot
help feeling some sympathy!) got rid of him into slavery. He was no sooner
beginning to make a favourable impression on his master than he was falsely
accused and thrown into prison. There he proved again what a reliable person
he was, and how gifted, as he saw his predictions come true for others, one
of whom promised to put in a good word for him -- and promptly forgot all
about it. Thirteen years after his initial vision, Joseph was a slave, in
All of this would, of course, have been much easier to bear if he had
not had that original vision -- if he had not had those expectations
of greatness. In that case, he would just have shrugged his shoulders and
said whatever was the equivalent of today's 'You can't win them all!' It
was having the vision from God in the first place that created the problem.
The psalmist agreed: "Until the time that his word came to pass; the word
of the Lord tried him" (Psalm 105:19 R.V.) Having no word from the Lord is
bad enough for any believer. But having a clear word of promise which is totally
contradicted by events is much worse!
But Joseph hung on, to earn his place in Hebrews 11. Confronted by the
contradiction between promise and event, he clung to the promise. The Revised
Version of our Bible marvellously captures the spiritual triumph of Joseph,
by translating Psalm 105:18 as "He (Joseph) was laid in chains of iron",
and then offering, as a footnote, the alternative reading, "His soul entered
into the iron"! Not, you notice, that the iron entered into his soul, which
is our way of saying that he became disillusioned, cynical, bitter, but that
his soul entered into the iron: he did not waver.
And what a good thing for everybody -- in Egypt, in Canaan -- that he
stood firm! Have you ever paused to consider what would have happened if,
when Joseph was sent for to interpret Pharaoh's dream of the fat and lean
kine, he had said, "Oh no, your Majesty; it only works sometimes. I can't
really interpret dreams. I was lucky with your butler and baker, but I'm wrong
as often as I am right." In that case, there would have been no warning of
the famine, no stockpile of food, nothing for the Egyptians or for those others
who, like his own brothers, came to buy food from him. They would all have
starved. They were saved by Joseph's faith in the vision.
How important it was for everybody, then, that Joseph held to his belief
in God's word! The writer to the Hebrews obviously thought so too. Yet his
strange choice of detail in Joseph's life still has to be explained. If Joseph's
faith in his vision of God's purpose was so vital to his world, why did
the writer not say, 'By faith Joseph spoke about a coming famine, and stored
up food supplies'? Why this strange mention of his bones?
You may have your own answer to that question, but let me give you mine.
When Joseph spoke about the Children of Israel leaving Egypt, they had only
just arrived there. Do you know how long it was before they actually left
again? So far as we can tell, it was about 400 years. During those four centuries,
the experience of [84/85] Israel ran exactly parallel
to that of Joseph during his thirteen years of trials -- from freedom to
slavery, to ever more bitter and painful experience. The period during which
"the word of the Lord tried them" was many times longer than those
years through which Joseph had to live.
And that, I think, is why the writer chose this particular aspect
of Joseph's life for his commentary in Hebrews 11. Here was a man who could
look centuries ahead and say, "God will surely visit you and bring you out
of this land" (Genesis 50:25), and who enjoined it upon his descendants,
when that happened, to carry his bones with them, as a reminder of the lesson
which, in slavery and prison, he himself had learned, that if God says a thing
then, whether soon or late, He will do it. It is for us not to grow impatient
with the delay, or try to hurry things along, but to keep trusting Him for
(To be continued)
WHEN GRACE REIGNS
Reading: Romans 5:12-21
THE prophet's reminder that God's thoughts are as high as the heavens
above ours applies not least to His thoughts over the matter of salvation.
This short passage from Romans 5 gives us the impression of something quite
overwhelming. There are three matters which come to us with heavenly illumination:
they are the mixture of comparison and contrast (the 'as ... so' and 'not
as ... so'), the consideration of what reigns over us and the stress on abundance.
The Reign of Death
The passage speaks first of the reign of sin and death. What does it
mean when it tells us that the death reigned? It certainly does not mean
that men have life for seventy or eighty years and then death takes it from
them. No, it means that even while they seem to live, men are dead -- in
other words, have never lived.
Adam's fall was a deliberate transgression against the will of God. He
did what God told him not to do. So it was that sin came into the world
and, as a consequence, sin began to reign. The generations which followed
Adam were not guilty of definite transgression, for they had no commandments
or prohibitions (v.13); nevertheless sin reigned over them. When God gave
His law through Moses that might have been thought to help them but no, it
only revealed clearly that they were dead, for the good and perfect law of
God caused their sin to become definite rejection of the revealed will of
God. Dead people are not raised up by appeals of any kind -- not even when
those appeals contain definite information about the will of God. The more
that sin was emphasised, the more violent sin became, so that sin reigned
through death. That is the situation, apart from Christ.
What is born of the flesh is flesh. Even things that are done under the
name of Christian, when they come from man's ideas and suggestions, are and
remain dead. They may be friendly, well-intentioned, cosy and cheerful; they
can contain every form of presentation, drama, music, etc., and use the
name of Jesus, but they belong to death for, outside of Christ, the reign
of sin and death is complete. Persons may be young and hopeful, but that
does not mean that they are more alive or exempt from the reign of death
than others. Death reigns over all. Its reign is not only total, but also
cunning, for it allows people to imagine that they are very much alive, especially
if they have good intentions.
Christians are quick to repeat the words, "Our sufficiency is of God",
but that is a postulate without any connection with reality if it is not
based on the conviction, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to account
anything as from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 3:5). The kingdom of self is the
kingdom of sin and death.
This reign of sin and death, from the cradle to the grave and on into
eternity means that man is a slave as to his will and a slave to his thoughts;
a slave who has grown used to his [85/86] bondage
to such an extent that he imagines it is freedom. It is a tragi-comic situation
when the man who is bound tries to show how free he is. There is modern talk
about liberated youth whereas the truth is that the youth of our day is
more bound than ever. There is talk about liberation as to sex, but the fact
is that it is in this realm that the reign of sin and death shows itself
in all its hideousness. There is talk about the younger generation having
freed themselves from all authority, whereas the truth is that they are more
under the domination of sin and death than ever before. So deep is man's
wretchedness that what men call 'freedom' is really the reign of sin and
This reign means that all are under condemnation. They are not only on
their way to it, any more than they are on their way to death. No, just
as they are dead already, they are also under condemnation, so that when
eternal condemnation comes on the day of judgment, it will be the consequence
of the reign they served under all the time, that is, the reign of sin, death
and condemnation (v.16).
Paul knew what he was writing. He did not exaggerate. He had once thought,
as Saul of Tarsus, that he was alive and serving God. If anyone had told
him he was under condemnation, he would have angrily rejected such a charge.
When, however, he met the Lord and fell to the ground before Him, the truth
penetrated to his very marrow and he rea1ised his condemnation as a slave
of sin and death. Saul of Tarsus had never been alive; all his attempts at
service had been out of death and leading to death.
The tragedy is that while men fear physical death as the only kind of
death they recognise, few fear the idea that they are dead while they live.
Most would shrug off the very idea of being in bondage to sin and death,
an action which in fact proves how dead they are. It is also sad to see the
attitude of Christians who fail to see this basic truth and do not learn
to say 'No' to the flesh so that they can say 'Yes' to Him who alone is life.
Comparison and Contrast
The passage begins with the comparison "as ... and so ..." but then changes
to "Not as ... so" in verse 15. The comparison is broken off and gives place
to a contrast. The thread which runs through it all is "one man". The first
"one man" is Adam and we begin with a reference to him: "As through
one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so
death passed unto all men". There is, however, another "one man" and that
is the Lord Jesus Christ. If it were only a matter of comparison, the verse
would state that "As by one man sin entered into the world so
by this second Man, sin was taken out of the world". This might be logical
and consistent, but it would leave the human race with what it was before
the Fall. Christ has done much more than that.
The apostle, however, had hardly begun to compare the two racial heads
when he had to break off since the person and work of Adam cannot bear comparison
with the person and work of Christ. So instead of continuing with a comparison,
Paul had to make a striking contrast. The difference is enormous, for Christ
had accomplished a work by which mankind may receive much more than had been
lost by Adam's sin. Therefore Paul wrote, "Not as the trespass,
so also is the free gift" (v.15) and again, "Not as through one
that sinned, so is the gift" (v.16). There can be no comparison between
the result of the trespass of the one man, Adam, and the act of righteousness
of the "one Man" of whom, in a sense, Adam was a figure (v.14).
Adam sinned when, humanly speaking, there was no reason for him to do
so. He was in an atmosphere of purity and beauty, in the paradise of Eden,
and we may well wonder how he could transgress as he did. Jesus came into
a world permeated and governed by sin; He not only met sinners but had to
endure an atmosphere of envy, discontent, hate and treachery. Humanly speaking,
He had every reason to succumb to irritation and bad temper, but even when
He was dying on the cross, betrayed, forsaken and rejected, "He did no sin,
neither was guile found in his mouth". He who is God's free gift to us is
entirely different from our sinning ancestor. It is certainly true that "
not as the trespass, so also is the free gift".
We are reminded that the consequences of Adam's one act of sin are not
only cancelled by Christ's one act of righteousness, but are wonderfully
exceeded. The first led to condemnation; the second offers much more than
exemption from condemnation for Christ gives justification,
[86/87] that is, tried and confirmed righteousness, a righteousness
which is perfect and abiding, through time and into eternity.
In verse 18 Paul returned to comparison, for he wrote: "As through
one trespass came ... condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness
... came justification of life". By virtue of the Lord Jesus, Who is God's
free gift to us, we stand not with Adam, at the beginning of the way to perfection,
with the risk of everything breaking down because it is untested, but in
Christ, possessing a righteousness which has already been perfected (Hebrews
10:14). The phrase "not as" and "much more", are simple, but
the truth expressed is superb. Faith does not need and is not strengthened
by big words or dramatic gestures, but by the simple assertions of truth made
living by the Holy Spirit.
Exceeding Abundantly Above
The repetition of the phrase "much more" emphasises that the free
gift of God exceeds all our ideas of what salvation really is. "Much more
did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ,
abound unto the many" (v.15). From God's side, salvation is not a near thing
but generous and profuse. Moreover this theme is pursued by the assertion:
"much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace ... reign in life
through the one, even Jesus Christ" (v.17). What a glorious truth is this,
that men who were slaves under the tyranny of death are now princes in an
entirely new world which is even better than Eden!
Paul returns to this incomprehensible salvation in the closing words
of our passage: "Where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly:
that as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through
righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (vv.20-21).
If you stand on the shore of the Atlantic, look out over its mighty expanse
and listen to its steady swell, you are struck dumb, feeling that any attempt
to describe it would be meaningless and only detract from its majesty. So
it is with these verses. They are too vast for us; they are divine.
We note Paul's strong expression, "grace reigned ...". This plays havoc
with our ideas of grace, for we think of it as something which we receive.
But according to the apostle, it is a power which exercises sovereign dominion.
It is not so much that we lay hold of grace but that grace lays hold of us.
It has taken us from the reign of sin and insisted, "Now they belong not
to you but to me!" It has taken us from the realm of death and said, "You
have nothing to do with them now; I am the one who governs here!"
So it was not that we asked for grace, but that grace not only asked
for us but took us and made itself Lord over us. We belong to grace, and
grace will never let us go from under its reign. Grace has begun to reign
over us through righteousness unto eternal life. Need I say that the righteousness
is supplied not by us who are forgiven but by the Saviour Christ Himself?
The eternal life also comes direct from Him. It follows then that the grace
and the righteousness and the eternal life are unshakable and unconquerable,
for what can sin and death do against Him who has completely defeated them
and rendered them powerless? It is Himself who is the free gift, or the grace-gift
of the Father to us. He has been made Lord over us for life, that is, for
all eternity, since His life never dies.
God's Free Gift
This word rendered, "free gift" is the well-known Greek word, Charisma
. In Danish the word is translated "grace-gift" in verses 15 and 16, where
it is in the singular, and then "grace-gifts" (in 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9,
etc.) where the plural form is used. There is no difference in the actual
word used other than in this matter of singular or plural.
May I close with some comments on this matter of God's charismatic "free
gift"? We have noticed that the gospel provides an all-embracing 'No' to
everything which does not come from the free gift of life which is in Christ.
This means that if we are to live at all we must live in Him and by Him. This
again means that all true life and service are charismatic, always and only
coming from Jesus Christ who is the free gift of God. It is quite contradictory
when Christians ignore this, seeking to administer spiritual things on the
basis of natural considerations without proper concern to hear the voice of
the Spirit which, like the wind, "blows wherever it pleases", irrespective
of and often contradictory to human ideas. It is sad when no-one
[87/88] trembles as to whether he is living or acting charismatically,
that is, under the government of the Holy Spirit.
The grace of God is not given to us to use as we like but rather it is
that which assumes reign over us so that we dare not act of our own accord.
This is charismatic life for it is life in Christ under the reign of grace.
All true Christian life is charismatic life. It is common enough now, though
quite erroneous, to think that the real eternal life which Christ has given
us in His salvation is not yet charismatic, though it can become so. No,
what Jesus has given us in His salvation is in its very nature charismatic,
His grace-gift. It is the eternal wonder of life which leads from glory to
glory, even in the humdrum experiences of daily life with its many repetitions
which is the lot of most of the lowly friends of God.
Never will the charismatic life have any other interest than to know
the Lord Jesus Christ better. Nor will it have any other message than that
of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. How can it speak of anything or anyone
else, since all the fulness is in Christ alone and everything outside of
Him is hollow and empty? The true charismatic life is day and night concentrated
on God's all-embracing Grace-gift, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all the
lesser gifts are present. Obviously God does not give us anything which is
not found in Him, as though there were something extra to Jesus or in addition
to Him. As if there could be an 'extra' to Jesus!
If, in order to honour the Lord and to help His Church, we seek more
gifts, that should be because our God-given charismatic life is in constant
growth. The Lord said that "to him that hath, shall be given", but we must
be careful that we are under the reign of grace and governed by God's Word
of grace in all our seeking for gifts. There is instruction in these matters
in Chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians but in between these two chapters
we have Chapter 13 which deals with the most charismatic gift of all. Love
is God's grace-gift on the highest, most beautiful and also humblest plane.
Only in the charismatic spirit of love can we use all our gifts to the glory
of the Lord and so avoid the tragi-comical situation of men using spiritual
gifts to draw attention to themselves.
"HAIL, ABRAHAM'S GOD AND MINE!"
(Names by which Abraham came to know God)
2. EL SHADDAI -- GOD ALMIGHTY
"WHEN Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram,
and said unto him, I am God Almighty ..." (Genesis 17:1). This is the first
mention of the name El Shaddai, which is translated 'God Almighty'. We remember
that through these names Abraham is speaking to us. It is he who tells us
how he learned to know God and the names and titles by which he came to
call Him. In this, as in so much else, Abraham is the prototype. His learning
of the things of God is a pattern for all the ages and the experience of all
God's faithful people, so that what he came to know of his God is similarly
what we can come to know of our God.
We began with YAHWEH, the LORD, which is the only real name of God, and
now we turn to this wonderful title of El Shaddai. We shall find any number
of possible meanings of El Shaddai in the commentaries, but we will leave
these and learn from the Word by considering the circumstances in which the
name was used, so finding what apparently its users meant by it. Why in
these circumstances of Genesis 17 should Abraham think of his God as El
Shaddai in distinction from any other of His titles? Why is it used here?
We must try to put ourselves in Abraham's place when this name first appeared
and see what it meant to him to call God by this most comforting of names,
1. The Length of His Reach
First it becomes plain to us that El Shaddai is God Almighty in the length
of His reach. The first vital clue to this chapter is implied in the
[88/89] opening verse of Genesis 17 where we are told that Abraham
was ninety-nine years old, but the link between this and the name El Shaddai
only becomes clear in verse 16 where this Almighty God tells Abraham that
He will bless his wife Sarai and give him a son by her. He was told that
there would be a child born into his family who would be both his and Sarai's
and not like Ishmael who is mentioned at the end of chapter 16. So the Lord
is God Almighty in the length of His reach.
Abraham was then ninety-nine years old and childless, for Ishmael did
not count, though Abraham had rather hoped that he might (v.18). God, however,
said, "No! That is not the child I am talking about. So far as I am concerned
you are still childless". Now for a man to be childless in those days was
a tragedy in itself. It might be thought so in any case, but certainly it
was so then, and even more of a tragedy in view of what had gone before.
When Abraham was seventy-five years old God had promised him that a great
nation would come from him (12:2) and that promise had not begun to be fulfilled.
Then when he was eighty-six God had renewed the promise (15:5) and yet Sarai
still had no son. Now we find El Shaddai making the same promise a third
time, and Abraham might have been forgiven if he had questioned the whole
thing. We are told that he "fell upon his face and laughed, and said in his
heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall
Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?" (v.17).
The truth was that old Abraham and barren Sarah had come to the place
where the promise seemed literally ridiculous. Like Abraham, Sarah laughed
at it (18:12). "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." We may be sure that
the laughter that went up from Abraham and Sarah was a very bitter laughter.
The one thing worthwhile was still eluding this greatly blessed couple, and
they rightly felt that this would have been the thing which would not only
have pleased them but would have vindicated the promises of God. And the
thing was impossible!
Now it is in this chapter, where the impossibility of their situation
and their own total incapacity is shown to us, that God reveals Himself as
El Shaddai. He is indeed God Almighty in the length of His reach. There is
no incapacity to which He cannot reach. In Abraham's and Sarah's case it
was childlessness, but we may well think of what is the equivalent incapacity
in our case. Is there some thing which has reached the point where we say,
'I just cannot do it'? Is there some matter about which we are totally helpless?
There probably is in most of our cases, and sometimes it is not very far
beneath the surface. The answer is in El Shaddai.
This impossible situation of Genesis 17 was not undesigned. The whole
thing was part of the plan of God.
Glory to thee for strength withheld,
For wants and weakness known;
For need that drives me to Thyself
For what is most my own.
This is where El Shaddai comes in, and the lesson was well learned because
the name reappears all down through the stories of Genesis. Abraham's son,
Isaac, sent away his son alone into desert country on a long solitary journey
with the words: "May God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful ...
and give the blessing of Abraham to thee, and to thy seed with thee" (28:3-4)
and when that son, Jacob, returned, he was able to affirm that it was God
Almighty who had met with him at Luz and had indeed blessed him (48:3). In
his later years, when he sent his sons down into Egypt in that last sending
when he was pushed to the ultimate and compelled to send all of them, even
Benjamin, down into the care of the unknown ogre who turned out in the end
to be his own son Joseph though he did not know it, his words of commendation
appealed to El Shaddai: "And God Almighty give you mercy before the man ..."
(43:14). Joseph, who was that man down in Egypt, who had in fact been the
most hard done by of the lot, he it was who received the blessing that El
Shaddai might "bless him with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the
deep beneath ..." (49:25). It was these people who had known what the depths
were, who had gone so far away into the desert, who had been found in such
positions of helplessness, whom El Shaddai could reach.
So when we think of our own depths, of our equivalent in this matter
of extreme need, we must remind ourselves that our God is Almighty in the
length of His reach. He can reach even you; He can reach even where you
are. You, like these men of old, can learn in such circumstances to come
to a new knowledge of El Shaddai. Those who feel self-sufficient and who
are able to cope [89/90] with this and that and
the other, are indeed in a perilous situation; but those who are made aware
of their own helplessness can enjoy the wonder of El Shaddai. If, like Abraham,
we become aware of our equivalent of all those fruitless years, of all those
empty hopes and of the impossibility of what is most important in our life
with God, then we will find that this is just where we are met by El Shaddai.
We see the parallel to this in the story of the Good Shepherd, where we are
told that He goes seeking the lost sheep, "until he finds it" (Luke
15:4). He is God Almighty in the extent of His reach of love.
2. The Greatness of His Plan
Genesis 17 reveals to us God in the greatness of His plan. We note the
promises: "I will make my covenant between thee and me" (v.2); "I will make
thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee ..., I will give
to thee and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the
land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God" (vv.6-8).
We have already seen the great promises of Genesis 12, where the prospect
of blessings for Abraham were opened up in such a way as to make the name
Jehovah clear, and we have seen how that name was revealed to the generation
of the exodus (Exodus 6:6). The name Jehovah tells us what sort of God He
is, whereas the name El Shaddai tells us what sort or things He does. Jehovah
tells us that He is a God who is faithful to His covenant, and the central
feature of the revelation of that name is to be found in the verb 'I will'.
El Shaddai, however, tells us what sort of things God does, and it centres
upon a couple of nouns, and they are 'people' and 'land'.
We look at the promises of Genesis 17:6-8 and have to admit that their
context was quite outrageous. Here was a man who had nowhere to live, and
no children to make a family, yet God said not only that He would give him
a son, but that He would make of him a great nation. He also said that He
would not only give him a home but would give him a land. It was outrageous,
and yet within months it had become true. 'How can I possibly have descendants?'
Abraham might have asked, 'I haven't even got a son. I am not allowed to
count Ishmael, so I am childless.'
Very soon, though, God gave him the foretaste, the first fruits, of that
harvest that was to come, for the son was born (21:2). That was the beginning
of the realisation of the promise so that he was not left with the mere promise
but was given its first instalment. And the land? Well, in Genesis 12 it
was just words, for he did not own a square yard of it, yet within a short
space of time we read of his bargaining with the Hittites for a place to
bury his wife, "And Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named
and the field and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for
a possession ..." (23:16-20). That was the first little bit of the land of
promise that Abraham ever possessed. True it was the burying place of his
wife but it was his. Over that cave which was a burial place might
have been written: "This is the beginning of the land of promise". And as
the principle of the first thought that God is El Shaddai in the length of
his reach comes down through the generations so that Abraham's descendants
knew that He could reach even down to where they were, so this part of the
name is also valid for the generations as well as for Abraham, namely, that
God is El Shaddai in the greatness of His plan. It was not simply that Abraham
could know God in this way, but his son, his grandson and the rest of them
could come to know Him.
Again and again and yet again, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob trusted Him as
El Shaddai, and found His promise to centre on the people and the land.
God reached down unto the dark present of Abraham's experience of "no son"
and "no home", and pointed forward to a great future, telling him that one
day he would have a whole nation and have the whole land for an everlasting
possession. He knitted the two things together, for both ends of the spectrum
are within His grasp, as if saying: 'What I am promising you in the future
is not pie in the sky when you die, for I want you to have a foretaste of
it now. Here is a son, a real son, a baby on Sarah's knee. Here also is a
land, and now you have a piece of that land as a foretaste. It is the grave
of your wife, but it is yours!"
In the greatness of His plan God has all sorts of things stored up for
us, but what we can ask from Him who is El Shaddai is not only the vision
but also the foretaste. "Because I believe in the coming multitude, will
You now give me a son? Lord, I believe in the promised land, will You give
me an acre of it for myself now?" God [90/91] answers
that kind of prayer. He gave the son amid Abraham's laughter and He gave
the land amid his tears -- but He gave it. And the God who promises for the
future shows how real is His promise by giving something of it right now,
and He does so because He is El Shaddai, God Almighty.
3. The Depths of His Working
Our passage marks the place in the story where names were changed, the
name of Abram becoming Abraham and Sarai becoming Sarah (v.15). What is
more, the name of Abraham's son is replaced entirely, for Ishmael turns
into Isaac. As with God, so with men, a name is significant, but what is
more significant in this chapter is the fact that the character goes along
with the name, so that it is character which is changed. We need not here
go into the actual meaning of these names; what matters is not so much what
these people were called, but that it was at this point that God decided
to call them something different, indicating that they were different people.
God was saying, 'Up to this point you have been Abram, but henceforth
you will be a new person because I am El Shaddai.' This comes out most clearly
as the generations roll by and we come to the experience of Jacob. The person
that Jacob had been was emphasised several times, not least in his experience
with the angel at Jabbok, but then God put it into words for him, saying
to this man -- a bad lot if ever there was one -- "Thy name is Jacob; thy
name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name" (35:10).
So it was God who called the man by his new name, Israel.
We know all about the character of Jacob, and what a scoundrel he was,
but what I think we have to see out of this story is what happens to people
when El Shaddai gets to work in their lives. The heart of the matter, the
depth of His working, is seen in the way in which He brings about His plans
by changing people. Whatever situation they may be in, God's answer is to
bring about a basic change in them. El Shaddai, God Almighty, reaches to
all the lengths of men, bringing about the greatness of His plan by changing
men rather than their circumstances. When He says, "I am El Shaddai", he
dos not do so to make us admiring spectators. That is not His purpose. The
Lord is keen on audience participation; He wants to draw in folk so that
they shall know themselves to be involved in what He is doing. That is the
object of His exercise. He says, 'The working out of My purpose depends on
all of you taking part in it. I can't fulfil My almighty plans and all these
magnificent things while you just stand and watch. I need you, and I need
to change you into the sort of people who will forward these plans; and to
do that, of course, I have to work at a very deep level. You have got to
be the right sort of people if I am going to succeed in My purposes.'
The plan is brought about and the promises begin to come true, not by
changing our circumstances, my dear brothers and sisters, but by our being
changed. The circumstances may or may not alter as the time goes by, but
what will certainly be true is that as we seek to follow El Shaddai, He will
do things in us. He goes to all lengths to reach us where we are. He has
in mind to bring into being the greatness of His plan for us, which includes
a whole load of assignments and testing, which may seem frustrating and
make the future appear dark. The whole thing, however, is part of the working
out of His plan as He draws us into it and does things in us, making us the
right sort of people to be incorporated into it. These are the depths of
His working and it is all because we come to know Him as El Shaddai, God
(To be continued)
FURTHER STUDIES FROM MARK'S GOSPEL
J. Alec Motyer
3. Mark 9:30-50
AS we read this passage we are struck by the marvellous skill of the
Lord Jesus as a teacher -- He is the Prince of Teachers. He knew how to
use Visual Aids (vv.36-37); He was supreme in providing a memorable phrase
(v.40); He knew how to make His point by sheer exaggeration (vv.43-47) and
He finished by bringing His lesson to the point and driving it home (v.50).
These [91/92] verses bring before us most vividly
the mastery of the Lord Jesus in the art of communication.
Lessons on Fellowship
He gathered His own in the privacy of His company to minister to them
the great truths of fellowship. All the time He was leading them to Jerusalem,
although they did not know it. First he had taken them [on] a long walk,
going north from the Sea of Galilee (8:27). It was in Caesarea Philippi, far
from the milling crowds, that He had the conversation with them about who
He was. Having elicited the great confession of faith from His disciples,
taken a few of them up into a mountain for His transfiguration and then come
down to the valley and dealt with the demon-possessed boy, He led them on
their way south: "They went forth from thence, and passed through Galilee"
(9:30). Mark gives us some route marks:
9:33 "They came to Capernaum." Back on home ground.
10:1 "He arose from thence and cometh into the borders of Judea beyond
Jordan," making His way south and crossing over the Jordan.
10:32 "They were in the way going up to Jerusalem." At last the destination
is mentioned, and with that turn to Jerusalem, Mark notes an increasing sense
of foreboding as the Lord takes up again what we read at the beginning of
our present passage, His death and resurrection concerning which we read:
"But they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask him" (9:32).
10:46 "They come to Jericho." The journey goes on.
11:11 "He entered into Jerusalem." Step by step Mark has been bringing
us on the way to this destination of Jerusalem and the cross.
In our remaining studies we will divide up our subject matter according
to these route marks, following the Lord not just as a traveller but as our
The verses under our present consideration [9:30-50] continue the personal
tuition of the disciples so we are informed that "He would not that any man
should know it". The period of private instruction ends with this chapter,
for 10:1 tells us how they went forward and the work of teaching the multitudes
was taken up again. We see, then, that at 10:1 the private time with the
disciples has ended. This seems to me to underline the importance of the passage
which lies before us. The Lord Jesus had put a fence around His disciples
because He had particular things to say to them, the subject being fellowship,
how to enjoy being in the company of those who love the Lord Jesus.
No sooner had the Lord Jesus intimated to them that the end of their
journey was to be the cross, death and resurrection, than fellowship becomes
imperilled. "They came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked
them, What were ye reasoning in the way?" They kept silent, for in the way
they had been disputing as to who was the greatest. One commentator, perhaps
imaginatively but rather helpfully, pictures the Lord Jesus and His followers
coming along a single-file path where it was evident who was coming first
and who was bringing up the rear. He imagines them jockeying for position,
arguing all the time as to who was more important than the others with the
right to be at the head of the procession which followed the Lord. It makes
the matter very clear to us if we put it that way. So we begin with the matter
of fellowship imperilled by jockeying for position and desire to have the
pre-eminence, but happily the chapter ends with a fellowship that has been
found: "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another" (v.50).
Fellowship and the Cross
In teaching the disciples about His own career, the Lord's central emphasis
is death: "They will kill him; and when he is killed ..." (v.31). But the
end of the matter is not the stone-cold tomb for "after three days he shall
rise again". We then notice the comment which Mark here injects: "They were
afraid to ask". They were not afraid of getting it wrong or being stupid
but rather, I believe, their fear was such that they would rather not know
the whole story. There was something about this statement of death and rising
which stopped them in their tracks and their intuitive response was that
they [92/93] did not want to know any more. Matthew
says that they were terribly afraid. It was to such a condition that the Lord
Jesus referred when He later said, "I have many things to say to you, but
you cannot bear them now"; they would be a crushing weight on you for the
full reality of the cross and its meaning would be more than you could bear.
At this point Luke notes: "it was hidden from them", no doubt mercifully hidden
and their inner intuition kept them from inquiring about the matter.
Every time the Lord Jesus speaks of His cross, He goes on to speak of
the cross in the experience of those who follow Him. We have already seen
how that He did this earlier: "If any man will come after me, he must take
up his cross ..." (8:34). The course is set for every believer in the example
of his Lord. Of course the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are fundamentally
much more than an example to the Church, for there is the objective factor
in that He died to deal with our sin which He bare in His own body on the
tree and so for us made peace With God. But in the actual carrying out of
those great objective targets of salvation, the Lord Jesus set us the example
of perfect living. Peter is the foremost to stress this aspect of the redemptive
work of Christ: "He gave us an example, Who did no sin neither was guile
found in his mouth" he wrote, and then went on to add how the Lord bore our
sins in His own body on the tree. For him it was clear that Christ has set
an example to His followers.
The example here is of one who went down into the full reality of death
and then entered into the reality of resurrection but, as Mark makes quite
plain, the disciples did not understand the meaning. All the Gospels, however,
are written with the benefit of hindsight and of the full teaching of the
Holy Spirit. When the Lord Jesus told His disciples that He could not divulge
the whole truth to them then, for it would crush them, He also promised that
when the Spirit of truth came, He would guide them into all the truth that
had been necessarily kept back for a time.
True Greatness in Fellowship
In verses 33 to 37 the Lord Jesus took the disciples on a further step,
explaining what it is that constitutes true greatness in His followers. They
had been arguing in the way as to who was the greatest and now He took a
little child and put him in the midst and said, "Look at that!" The dispute
of the disciples is put in such a way as to make us marvel at its childishness.
How childish they were, to jockey for the position, not for the honour of
being closest to Jesus but to be recognised, so that passers-by could see
who was first and who was last. How childish! Beloved, all self-importance
is childish. The Lord Jesus calls us to give up being childish and to become
The Lord Jesus took up the child and made use of a double visual aid.
The first is a visual aid of greatness in fellowship and the second is a
visual aid of greatness in service. "He sat down, and called the twelve;
and he saith unto them, If any man would be the first, he shall be the last
of all, and minister of all" (v.35). He then took a little child symbolising
what is small and insignificant, something that is right down at the bottom
of the heap, and putting it in the midst He said, "Now that is greatness in
the fellowship, the one who is the servant of all". Just as Jesus Himself
took the lowest place, and by taking that lowest place came to the highest
place, in accordance with what He had already told them of His death and resurrection,
so He called His followers to be governed by His example. It was by going
down into the reality of death that He came to the glory of the resurrection.
The lowest place and the highest place coincide in His experience. In the
Greek there is a little bit of a pun involved in this visual aid, for it
so happens that the word for a child and the common word for a servant are
the same. This is not the word used in verse 35, for there the word used
is 'deacon', but the implication is the same. Greatness in the fellowship
is for the one who takes the servant place. Within the fellowship we are
to serve one another; as soon as self-importance leads us out of the servant's
place, then we have become childish, and we have lost any true golden greatness
in the estimation of Christ.
The Lord then proceeded with His second visual aid, taking the child
out of the middle of the group and identifying it with Himself: "taking
him in His arms". We might say 'folding him in His arms' or better still,
'wrapping His arms round him'. We don't know who this child was. They were
in Capernaum and it could well have been in Andrew's or Peter's house and
this one of Andrew's or Peter's children. We don't [93/94]
even know if it was a boy or a girl. What we do know is that His enfolding
arms give us a glorious sight of His gentleness and love. And since we are
all children, we can all put ourselves into that privileged and comforting
position, with His arms around us.
This is not a visual aid about being kind to children. If you want that
truth you can find it in other Scriptures. The Lord is honestly not talking
about setting up orphanages, adoption societies for waifs and strays, but
what He is saying is that in this realm where the same word means 'a child'
and 'a servant', He is talking about one who takes the lowest place for His
sake, by serving within the fellowship and saying that wherever he goes,
he takes the Lord Jesus with him: "Whosoever receives one of such little ones
in my name, receives me". More than that, where Jesus goes the Father goes
so that "whosoever receives me receives him that sent me". That is the effective
service, the carrying of the message of Christ which is so winsome, so apt
and so winning, that it wins the heart of the person to whom it is brought.
The Lord Jesus is saying that whoever is willing to be at the bottom
of the heap within the fellowship, to be the servant of all, that person
has the arms of the Lord wrapped around him, being locked into the same
unity so that wherever that person goes, Christ goes, and where He goes,
the Father goes, and wherever that person's ministry is received, the Son
and the Father are received. Isn't it worth coveting to have the lowliest
place on those terms? Isn't it worth eschewing self-importance and taking
care to be delivered from it? Is it not worthwhile searching out for those
occasions on which we may serve within the fellowship, for Jesus wraps His
arms around those who serve; the individual life becomes a true sacrament
to the Father and the Son.
True Membership of the Fellowship
John wanted to exclude someone: "Teacher, we saw someone casting out
demons in thy name and we began to (tried to) forbid him, for he was not
following us" (v.38). The Lord said to him: "Stop forbidding him, for there
is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name and be able quickly to speak
evil of me, for he that is not against us is for us. For whosoever shall
give you a cup of water to drink because you are Christ's, he shall in no
wise lose his reward." The literal translation is more effective, though
not good English, for it reads, "in the name that you are Christ's". Although
it is an expression used in the general sense of 'because', one cannot help
feeling that in this case it was deliberately chosen because it contains
the word 'name'.
This unknown man was evidently a very committed person. When the Lord
Jesus said, "He that is not against us is for us", He was not talking about
someone who is unconcerned to criticise because he is equally unconcerned
to be identified. Taken out of its context, the statement could mean that
it concerns a man who is unconcerned to oppose because he is unconcerned
to help. Here that was plainly not the case. We are told quite a lot about
this exorcist. First of all, he was one with Jesus in His crusade against
Satan; he saw the work of demons with the eyes of Jesus, that is, as something
that should be fought against and banished, something that blighted people's
lives and should not be allowed to do so. Secondly, he was persuaded of the
personal power of Jesus to deal with the situation. The name of Jesus involves
all that Jesus is in His own reality and identity, all that He is and has
shown Himself to be. This man found the name of Jesus to be effective in
It is rather remarkable, and a great rebuke to any who has a denominational
spirit, that john wanted to excommunicate this man for succeeding in something
that the apostles had failed to do. When the Lord Jesus had come down from
the mountain, He met the father who told Him that he had asked them to help
but they couldn't do it. It was not because they lacked the gift, for earlier
the Lord had sent them forth with this power. Now, however, they could not
do it, yet now they wanted to excommunicate the man who could. There, in
one sentence, is the condemnation of a denominational spirit. Thirdly, this
man is described by Jesus as the humble servant of Himself: "Whosoever shall
cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble" (v.42). "Woe
to you," the Lord said, "if you offend one of these little ones, who are like
the ones I have used as a visual aid of the true servant."
The Lord Jesus here enunciates three principles of fellowship. The first
is that the name of Jesus is the principle of association. A person may not
belong to our company, but he can [94/95] belong to
our fellowship because he belongs to Jesus. It was to this effect that Paul
wrote to the Philippians as he looked out through his prison bars and saw
people who were trying to stir up trouble for him. He didn't use any apostolic
authority to excommunicate them, he did not say that because they had departed
from him they were to be treated as outsiders; he simply said: "Christ is
preached, and therein I rejoice". We pass from the principle of association
to the principle of reward: "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to
drink in the name that you are Christ's ...". The simplest act of loyalty
is recognised in heaven. Thirdly there is the principle of retribution: "Whoever
shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it were
better for him that a great millstone were hanged about his neck ..." (v.42).
There is a condign punishment awaiting those who offend one of Christ's little
ones. So fellowship embraces all those whom God recognises as belonging to
Him, that is the human end of it, but then there is the far more important
divine ending that God looks down into our lives and says either 'Yes' or
'No' according to how He sees us acting and reacting in the name of Jesus.
Personal Commitment to Fellowship
It is one thing to know theoretically where our fellowship extends, but
it is quite another thing to enjoy the actual fellowship where we are. Is
it not the case that we find it easier to love the brother whom we have not
seen than to get on well with the brother whom we do see? We rejoice and
are thrilled to think of a fellowship that embraces all those of every colour
and every clime, but at the same time find little enjoyment in the fellowship
to which we actually belong. The Lord Jesus is so wise and practical that
He turns from the wide-ranging fellowship of all those who acknowledge His
name to the local fellowship in which the individual lives and moves. He
challenges us with the matter of personal commitment to fellowship.
The facts are easy to grasp: "If thy hand causes thee to stumble, cut
it off ...". You are not watching somebody else stumble now, you are not
making one of the little ones to stumble, you are doing your own bit of stumbling.
"If thy foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is good for you to enter
into life limping, rather than having two feet to be cast into hell. If
thine eye causes thee to stumble, cast it out. It is good for thee to enter
into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be
cast into hell" (vv.43-45). Man's hands, feet and eyes. For them Jesus proposes
here two alternative destinies: on the one hand, the kingdom of God, and
on the other hand, hell.
And to whom is He talking? It is all quite individual as shown by the
words, "Thou and Thee". At the beginning of our study we laboured the point
that in this passage the Lord Jesus was talking privately with those who
were His own. How then could He speak in this way? Well, we are all too painfully
aware of the fact that Judas was among them, and it may well be that Mark
was inspired to record this because in church circles there are always those
who are not real. If the question has to be asked as to how we may know the
difference between those who are real and those who are not, we must look
into our own heart to be sure that we are real. For notice how personal and
individual this is: "if thy hand offend thee ...". We may well
be past-masters at cutting off other people's hands, but the words are addressed
to us not about others but about ourselves. How am I to know that I am the
genuine article, and not in the company of poor Judas? How am I to know if
my membership of the band of disciples is real? What is the mark of the true?
The answer is a personal attachment to Jesus accompanied by a determination,
at whatever cost, to enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is possible to give
an identical and apparently equally real testimony to the others and yet
not be genuine, so I suggest that this additional factor of determination,
at whatever cost, to enter into life is what makes that testimony real.
Paul voiced the same determination when he said that it was his desire,
if at all possible, to experience resurrection from the dead (Philippians
3:11). Not that he was in any doubt about it, for God had pledged it to him,
but he expressed his resolution to leave no stone unturned to fulfil in
his own life that which the Lord had in mind when He called the apostle to
Himself. Here the Lord Jesus says, "Look at your hand, what are you doing?
What is your actual conduct like? Are there things that should be cut off?
Look at your feet. In what direction are you steering your life? Is there
any tendency or trend that you should cut off? Look at your eyes. What are
[95/96] your desires? Are there illegitimate longings
that should be cut off? Are you willing to show by the outward reality of
self-sacrificial living that your testimony is true and that you actually
belong to the name of Jesus?"
So we are told to make our calling and election sure by the quality of
our lives, and the Lord Jesus speaks of this as a fiery salty sacrifice:
"Every one shall be salted with fire" (v.49). He is reaching back to the
book of Leviticus where the use of salt and of fire are the constant elements
in the sacrificial system. The two standard meanings of salt are the preservative
of good and the destruction of corruption. Fire is that which makes the burnt
offering a reality, so that it goes up to God in a fiery experience. Everyone
shall be salted with fire. In the life of the individual believer -- every
one -- there must be the experience of both the salt and the fire.
"Have salt in yourselves." Never mind about going round pouring salt
on other people; let them deal with their own corruption. We have inherited
in our garden what seems like the world's largest colony of slugs. Poor things,
they don't like salt! We have no time to worry about the slugs in other people's
gardens, we are too busy having salt for ourselves. This matter of salt
and fire provides the outworking of the cutting off of hand and foot. It
suggests the costly aspect of being living sacrifices, the cleansing power
of the salt of the Word and the fire of the burnt offering. It carries with
it the secret of true fellowship.
"Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another," the Lord
said to His disciples. "Are you jockeying for position? I know what you
are doing. I heard what you were saying. If you find it difficult to be
harmonised with each other, then keep the salt cellar going in the direction
of your own lives." In the Greek these two imperatives depend on each other,
as if it were, " If you have salt in yourselves, then you will
be at peace as a consequence." This is the secret of an enriching fellowship.
(To be continued)
OUR HAPPY GOD
"According to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. 1 Timothy
THERE are two New Testament adjectives which are rendered "blessed" in
our English versions. One involves highest praise and is never used of men,
but is reserved for God Himself (e.g. Mark 14:61). The other is the familiar
word, found in the Beatitudes and in a multitude of other places and often
translated as "happy". This, of course, refers to people who enjoy God's
blessing, but twice in 1 Timothy, Paul employs it to describe God Himself,
so our verse can correctly be rendered: "according to the gospel of the glory
of the happy God". This use of the word is not only unusual but it is most
heart-warming, for it does us good to think of God's happiness.
If we were able to ask Peter or John or Mary, or others of the early
disciples what was their happiest day, their immediate and united reply
would be, 'The resurrection day; that first day of the week when Jesus rose
from the dead'. I hope that I may not be thought irreverent if I suggest
that this was also God's happiest day. Very early on that day the glory
of the Father descended to the garden and entered that dark and silent burial
cave and raised the Son from the dead (Romans 6:4). What had hitherto only
been a plan and a promise became a fact: the gospel day had arrived, and
its arrival filled the Father's heart with heavenly happiness.
We may rightly ask why the resurrection meant so much to Him, although
we hardly need to do so. I make three suggestions.
The Perfect Son
In his Pentecostal sermon, Peter made the categorical claim concerning
Jesus that "It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him"
[96/97] (Acts 2:24). This is a remarkable statement. As a true
man Jesus could and did die, but as a perfect Man He could not be overcome
by death -- the Father was obliged to loose Him from its grip. Not that
there was any reluctance on God's part -- far from it -- for in this way
He was able to give His final attestation concerning the perfection of Christ's
Twice before, the Father had spoken from heaven to voice His deepest
satisfaction with His Son, and on this third day He gave His third affirmation,
and He did so in an emphatic way, by deeds as well as words, in His action
of raising Him up from the dead. Paul explained this in his preaching by
saying: "He raised up Jesus; as it is also written in the second psalm,
Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Acts 13:33).
The Lord Jesus had been perfect in His daily life at Nazareth. After
thirty years of simple living in what are often called "the hidden years",
He went out to Jordan and, after He was baptized, heard the Father's glad
acclamation: "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased" (Luke
3:22). He had also been perfect in the few years of His public ministry.
Not long before the crucifixion, He took three disciples with Him up into
the Mount of Transfiguration where they heard the second utterance of this
kind: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 17:5).
He had emerged from all the exposure and peculiar tests of public life and
service to God with His full perfection untarnished. Then came the biggest
test of all, the challenge of obedience unto death, even the death of the
cross. The Lord Jesus did not fail. He maintained His perfection of character
right through to the cross.
It was now up to the Father to give His final expression of satisfaction,
and on the third day He did so by the miracle of resurrection. God is not
impulsive. He is strong enough to wait. For His own wise reason He did wait,
but on the third day He "declared Jesus to be the Son of God with power,
by the resurrection of the dead" (Romans 1:4). May I not rightly suggest,
then, that this was God's happiest day.
He who is Father as well as Creator, had longed from all eternity to
have this kind of son, but He had never found perfection, not even in the
most outstanding of His servants. Let there be no doubt about this; perfection
could never be found in the human race until Jesus came. The psalmist describes
how God Himself looked down from heaven to see if there were any who could
bring Him this kind of gratification, with the sad verdict that there was
none, "No, not one" (Psalm 14:3). There were many whom He loved, but not
one who could measure up to His holy desires.
Then Jesus came! Truly Son of Man as well as Son of God, He passed every
test, even the supreme test of Calvary. The centurion who was on duty at
the cross was so overwhelmed by the majesty of His dying that he was forced
to exclaim: "Truly this man was God's Son" (Mark 15:39). That day of the crucifixion
was followed by the remarkable "high sabbath" of the second day. There was
silence in heaven and silence one earth. Was this perhaps the silence of
God's satisfaction? We do not know. All we know is that early on the morning
of the third day the Father made known His decision by the greatest thing
that even He could do -- He raised Jesus by His glory and to His glory. The
Son of Man is now at His Father's right hand in the place of supreme honour.
This is the glory of the gospel, and it is this which makes it the gospel
of our happy God.
Before we begin to think of man's benefits or our own blessings, can
we not pause to marvel and rejoice that the God with whom we have to do,
is a Being who crowns His satisfaction with His whole creation with the supreme
joy of a perfect human Son. May I again not be thought irreverent if I say
concerning our heavenly Father that His cup runneth over. What is the Christian's
joy but a sharing in the overflow of divine delight? Our gospel is indeed
the Good News of a happy God, and that is most glorious.
A Shared Perfection
The Scripture's reveal that what God wanted from all eternity was not
just this one perfect Son but a vast family of living and obedient children.
He longed to be able to announce: "These are my beloved sons in whom I am
well pleased". In a limited way He can do this now, for the cross with its
subsequent resurrection has made sure that the divine desire can find fulfilment.
We understand that Jesus was raised from the dead not only to demonstrate
His own perfection, but to prove that all His redeemed people
[97/98] could now share in this perfection. So we read that "He
was delivered up because of our sins and was raised up because of our justification"
When Peter affirmed that the Lord Jesus could not be kept hold of by
death, the thrust of his message was that through that death there is now
the promise of eternal life to all who believe. Concerning the great task
of redemption the Saviour had cried out from the cross: "It is finished!"
Was this a valid claim? How can we be sure? Only because on the resurrection
morning heaven attested its truth.
The strife is o'er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
Now be the song of praise begun,
The gospel is the gospel of a happy God because He now has an ever-growing
family of those who by faith share the perfect life of His perfect Son. So
much more has to be done in us to seal our final perfection, but even now,
in a limited sense, God can express His good pleasure towards us, for we
are "accepted in the Beloved". Ours is the gospel of the happy God because
even now He has an ever-growing family of those who by faith share in all
the values of redemption.
The gospel is the good news of forgiveness, a matter which in itself
gives great pleasure to the heart of God. But it is more than this; because
of the cross it provides an entirely new relationship between God and man,
so that the perfect sinless life of the Son is actually resident in all the
sons. The true believer is not only cleansed, but also indwelt. "The witness
is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not
the life" (1 John 5:11-12). We know only too well that we still have features
of what we are by nature, but in Christ we are partakers also of the new
God has solved the problem -- His and ours -- by providing in Christ
a new type of man who is a son of God because he participates in the divine
nature (2 Peter 1:4). In his first Letter Peter had explained this when
he wrote of the fact that by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
we have been begotten again unto a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). Our relationship
is more than that which we commonly associate with the word 'adoption',
for ours is a genuine relationship born of a legitimate sonship: "God dealeth
with you as sons" (Hebrews 12:7).
We have a new Father. The Lord Jesus referred to this on His resurrection
morning when He sent the message to His disciples: "I ascend unto my Father
and to your Father ..." (John 20:17). From this Father, through Christ
and by the Holy Spirit, a new and perfect life has been communicated to us.
We call it "eternal life", but this does not only mean that it goes on interminably
(that would be a very doubtful blessing in itself), but that it is a new
kind of life, namely, the perfect resurrection life of the Lord Jesus.
John affirmed this glorious truth when he wrote: "Beloved, now are we
children of God" and then went on to say that this means that within us there
is now this divine seed which cannot sin (1 John 3:9). At present we still
have also the old adamic nature which not only can sin but cannot help sinning.
Nevertheless we are now regenerate, which means that we now have the indwelling
Spirit who communicates to us the life of Christ. Our business is so to learn
Christ as to be continually putting off the old corrupt self and putting
on the new self which is created to be like God in righteousness and holiness
of truth (Ephesians 4:21-24).
God is the happy God because His gospel has made possible the impartation
of Christ to each believer. If the cross of Christ had only put us back to
Adam's innocency, He would have every reason for concern since, even with
a completely new start, we would only fail once more. The cross has done
far more than that. It has provided a new humanity, giving us another Adam
to be its Head; we take our life from Christ, the Head, and it is this perfect
life which brings such pleasure to the heavenly Father. More often than
not, Paul is misquoted as calling Christ, "the second Adam". This is correct
in the sense that the Lord Jesus has begun a new race all over again, but
what the apostle actually wrote was "the last Adam" (1 Corinthians
15:45). Finality is provided in Christ. He is the last Adam as well as the
second Man. To me this fits in with that cry from the cross, "It is finished".
By His passion the Lord Jesus has provided full satisfaction to
[98/99] the Father, not only for Himself, the Son, but for all
believers who are called to share His sonship. The gospel has made our God
to be the happy God; for by it He has a new humanity.
If we refer again to John's First Letter we will find the double implication
of this impartation of new life from above. He tells us that "even as he
is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). Faith needs facts upon which to
rest, and this is the great reality of salvation, almost incredible yet stated
in the inspired Scripture, that believers have a positive and vital union
with Christ, even though He is now in heaven and we are still on the earth.
We are not yet like Him. How we wish we were! That is a happiness which is
yet in store for us, for "we know that when he is manifested, we shall be
like him" (1 John 3:2). Meanwhile, however, we do have a share in His perfect
life -- we are "partakers with Christ".
John was a most practical man, so he leaves no room for theorising in
merely doctrinal terms, but insists that this life has to be lived out in
our daily circumstances. Is his statement dogmatic that even as Christ is,
so now are we? Then equally dogmatic is his challenge: "He who says he abides
in Him ought himself to walk even as He walked" (1 John 2:6). We naturally
rejoice at the first "even as", but we must not try to evade this other "even
as", which refers to walking or manner of life.
God is pleased that we can behave as His true children now, but
one wonders how often He is deprived of complete pleasure by our carelessness
or self-will in this matter. He is happy that by the cross of Christ He has
provided the basis for unity in the Church, so that we all have a share in
the eternal fellowship of life and love of the Father and the Son (1 John
1:3) but alas, in the Church there exists much unchrist1ike lack of charity
which must diminish the divine satisfaction. That is why I have written
that it is only in a limited way that the Father can now look on us and
say, "Behold, My beloved sons, in whom I am well pleased".
The implication of the fact that by grace we now share Christ's perfection
is that by the same grace we should make it our supreme concern to be well-pleasing
to our heavenly Father and, since even the Lord Jesus "learned obedience
by the things which He suffered", we must be prepared to pay the price of
daily following in His steps.
A Consummated Perfection
God is happy because He knows that the day will come when all His children
will become truly Christlike and bring astounding glory to Him, their Father.
When Jesus took His three disciples up into the Mount of Transfiguration,
He informed them that they were going to see "the kingdom of God come with
power" (Mark 9:1). What they saw was the pledge and foretaste of that coming
kingdom in the glorified Man. Moses and Elijah were present but they were
not glorified. Not yet! Peter was there but he did not at that moment realise
the fullness of glory for which he was destined since he only asked to stay
there as a delighted spectator. What those Old Testament saints, the New
Testament apostles and all of us are to look forward to is our own participation
in that glory, when the bodies of our humiliation will be made like unto the
body of His glory. On that day the Father will truly be able to exclaim: "Behold,
My beloved sons in whom I am well pleased". The kingdom of God will indeed
have come with power when there are gathered around Christ the "many sons"
whom He has brought to glory.
Paul tells us that this will be when the Lord Jesus, our Saviour, appears
from heaven (Philippians 3:21). He also describes the Second Advent as the
day of "the manifestation of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19). In another place
he reminds us that the heart of the gospel is "Christ in you the hope of
glory" (Colossians 1:27). When that hope is realised it will mean that the
perfection of sonship will have been consummated in the sons of God, to the
good pleasure of their Father. For us this is all future, but it is certain.
So far as the eternal God is concerned, the glory is already fully secured
in Christ and only awaits the day chosen by Him for its manifestation.
For the time being, we are not recognised by the world to be sons of
God and at times we ourselves are far from feeling as if we were, but, thank
God, it does not depend on appearances or feelings, but on the mighty stream
of living power which flows to us from the Father through the Son by the Spirit.
God already sees us as we will be on that day of glory. What is more, He
knows just when it will be. He knows! Nobody else does. Daniel, the great
seer, spoke about it but he did not know when it would be. The apostles gloried
in it and lived in [99/100] daily expectation of
it, but none of them knew when it would take place. None of the angels, not
even Gabriel, is aware of the actual day. But God knows, and that is what
makes Him the happy God.
We groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption and the resurrection
body of glory. The whole creation groans in expectation of that day of deliverance
and fulfilment. God does not groan. He is supremely happy, for He knows exactly
when it will occur. He has determined the Day and He will keep faith with
Himself, with His Son and with His many sons, in being right on time when
He displays to a wondering universe redeemed sinners who are radiant with
the beauty of Christ's perfect holiness. Then perfection will be consummated
so that without reservation God will be able to announce: "Behold, My beloved
sons, in whom I am well pleased". That is the glorious Good News of the happy
God and in anticipation of that glory we share in His happiness.
It would be unrealistic to ignore the strange mysteries of that coming
glory. So far as the saints are concerned, we may well wonder how there
can be perfect satisfaction if some of them have failed to fight the good
fight and to finish their course. We thrill at the promises given to him
that overcomes, but we are inclined to question, 'What about those who have
failed to overcome?' I do not know the answer to this query, nor am I convinced
that it is a valid question for us to ask. What I do know is that my heavenly
Father is encouraging me not to faint when He rebukes me and not to despise
His chastening work, but always to remember that His purpose is to conform
me to the image of my Saviour, who is the perfect Son. I am also coming to
learn that it is most unseemly for any child of the Father to lend his tongue
or pen, his ear or eyes to criticisms and condemnation of other children
of God. As Alec Motyer rightly says, "The division of Christians is the
sin of fratricide ".
Then there is the sad question of those whom the Scriptures describe
as lost. How can God be happy if so many of His creatures will be excluded
from His family when they might have been included in it? Here again, I just
do not know. It is certain that many will be so excluded. To me the word
'Hell' is an ugly word and the older I get the less inclined I am to make
use of it, but that is not because it is not a reality. Far from it! I find
nothing more tragic than the thought of people permanently excluded from
God's kingdom of love; excluded, moreover, by their own blindness and willful
choice. It does not bear thinking about, except as it spurs me on to more
fervent prayer and faithful witnessing so that some, at least, might be
saved from such "eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the
glory of his might" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
In spite of all this, ours is the happy God. We are not called upon to
understand all the hidden things of His sovereignty, but we are called upon
to be earnest and consecrated in our obedience to His Word. As Moses told
the people of God in his day: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our
God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children
for ever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29).
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (11)
"(For Solomon had made a brasen scaffold, of five cubits long,
and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it
in the midst of the court; and upon it he stood, and kneeled
down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and
spread forth his hands toward heaven:)" 2 Chronicles 6:13
THE narrative in the book of Kings makes no mention of this structure.
Clearly the chronicler wished to draw our attention to Solomon's great prayer.
The term he used for scaffold was the word "laver" and, what is more, its
dimensions were exactly the same as those of the Tabernacle's brasen altar
(Exodus 27:1). Why is this matter so emphasised?
FIRSTLY because this was a most important prayer. It was essential that
all the congregation of Israel should not only hear the words but actually
see their interceding king stand before this large altar with his hands outstretched
IT must have been a dramatic moment when they all saw the king fall down
upon his knees before God. Strange as it may seem, before this no person
is ever said to have prayed while kneeling in this way. Others followed, but
in the Scriptural record, Solomon was the first to do so.
ONLY once are we told that Jesus knelt in prayer. It was on that outstanding
occasion when He agonised in Gethsemane (Luke 22:41). Then that most Christlike
man, Stephen, also knelt in his last moment as he made his final plea for
his murderers (Acts 7:60).
SURELY this act of kneeling down signified complete submission. Those
were days of great spiritual heights for Solomon, and it must have moved
the people mightily to see their king down on his knees in this way. The
brass platform ensured that everyone could see this symbolic action as well
as note the prayer.
AND what shall we say of our much greater King and His costly submission
to the Father as He humbly accepted the cup of suffering given to Him? We
need no brass dais to focus our attention on this sacrifice of His or to
lift Him above His people. He is now exalted to the highest place. He is not
on His knees now, but is seated on the royal throne of heaven.
EVEN there, though, He continues to intercede for us. The great glory
of His elevation is based upon the fact that He first knelt in holy submission
to the Father's will. The King upon His knees is the King upon the throne.
And we owe everything to His mighty intercessions.
AS Stephen followed so closely in the Master's steps, so must we learn
this lesson. Spiritually we must bow the knee if we are to engage upon the
holy task of intercession.
GIVING DILIGENCE TO KEEP THE UNITY
OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE.
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