|Vol. 16, No. 4, July - Aug. 1987
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
COMFORT FOR THE BEREAVED
"IF you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father" (John
14:28). This rather surprising and most touching complaint which the Lord
Jesus voiced to His sorrowing disciples before they left the Upper Room is
often overlooked. The simple fact seems to be that He almost expected that
while they grieved over their own impending loss, they might have spared
a thought for the great happiness which was coming to Him.
HE followed this sentence with the explanation. "For the Father is greater
than I". What exactly this implies we cannot say, but it adds to the idea
that for Him to be there with the Father was a greater experience than He
could ever have had on this earth.
HIS first exhortation to them not to let their hearts be troubled referred
to their own future. The trouble was unnecessary since that future was assured.
The second time when the Lord used the same phrase, "Let not your hearts
be troubled" (v.27) leads on directly to His own future, an experience which
He greatly desired. Surely they did not begrudge Him that.
NOW of course His case was unique. He would actually rise from the dead
on the third day. Also by His Spirit He would return to be with His loved
ones. That is not true of our beloved dead. Nevertheless is there not a sense
in which these words apply in their case? We who love them must rejoice that
they are where they most wanted to be.
OUR hearts are troubled. Of course they are. But may there not be real
mitigation for our sorrow in the fact that they too have gone to the Father?
It is as though the words of our Saviour suggest that we should be glad.
That is quite beyond me, as presumably it was beyond them. But at least I
find new help and consolation in the Lord's reminder of the joys of being
with Him and with the Father.
IN His last prayer, as recorded in John 17, the Lord ignored for the
moment the dreadful death which awaited Him and spoke glowingly of the joy
of leaving this earth and going back to the Father. This should have been
a comfort to the sorrowing disciples. The fact that through Christ it is
the happy destiny of our loved ones should bring great comfort to us.
"Be ye free from the love of money; content with such things
as ye have; for himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee,
neither will I in any wise forsake thee." Hebrews 13:5
MEN think that money gives safety and security. Our secure salvation,
however, depends on the death on the cross of the Man who was stripped of
everything as He hung there. At Calvary was anyone thinking about money?
Did money play any part at all in the work of salvation? Emphatically No!
"We were redeemed from our vain manner of life, not with silver or
gold ..." (1 Peter 1:18-19). Could our Saviour have accomplished more if
He had possessed more money? The question is so absurd that it needs no answer.
The greatest thing that was ever done was done without the least help from
money. The Lord Jesus did not have silver or gold and never asked for them.
He was never dependent upon earthly wealth -- and so His priceless work
has never depreciated in value. [61/62]
The Lord's Servants
No-one accomplished more for the Lord than His apostles and their co-workers,
but do we ever hear them asking for economic support? Not even once! It is
clear that they did not carry out their great work with the help of gold
and silver but by the sacrifice of their own lives. A work of spiritual significance
can, by its own nature, never depend upon something so unspiritual as money.
What it needs is not so much money as those who will follow in the footsteps
of their Lord, prepared to lose everything for His sake.
If we ask then how did they get their daily bread, we must also ask if
He who had taught them to pray, 'Give us this day our daily bread' would
forget to answer the very prayer He had instructed them to pray?
In Paul's case the prayer was sometimes answered by his working as a
tentmaker and earning his keep. Should he then be disqualified as a 'full-time
worker'? Could he have accomplished more if he had been what we call a 'full-time
worker'? Again the answer must surely be No! So far as the other apostles
were concerned, it seems that humanly speaking they lived from hand to mouth
-- "Silver and gold have I none" (Acts 3:6) -- but they never lacked what
they needed. He who had Himself said that He would never fail them was alive
to implement His assurances.
We might argue that when we have money in the bank we can better concentrate
on spiritual work without anxiety, but the apostles did not look at life
like that. I do not imagine that they desired earthly security. They had such
an intimate relationship with the Lord that they could truly say, "If I only
have Thee, I desire nothing on earth besides" (Psalm 73:25 Danish
) and they could say it because they meant it. So often had they experienced
that the Lord was their Helper, and would not for the world be without such
rich experiences. What is more, they knew that the security which is given
by money is false; a safety which disappears just when we need it most is
Their View of Service
This attitude towards money surely sprang from the fact that they always
kept their eyes on the cross of Christ. There, without human support of any
kind, He had completed the wonderful work of their eternal security. Since
the apparent foolishness displayed there for all the world to see was really
the supreme wisdom of God, they realised that human wisdom and clever considerations
have no part in the work of God, but, on the contrary, are a hindrance to
The thought that their service was dependent upon money or that they
could accomplish more for the Lord if they were richer never occurred to
them. No-one can accomplish more for God than to follow Christ, and mere
money can never help him to do that. On the other hand, they did not regard
their independence of money as some great accomplishment of faith, but just
as their privilege. They were content to complete their mission as what Jesus
had described as lambs among wolves, and were content to count all things
as loss in comparison with the heavenly riches of knowing Christ and walking
with Him. Such service was, and still is, incomprehensible to the natural
mind. Humanly speaking it rests on the most uncertain basis imaginable, without
any support, but yet it worked in a living way then and still works today.
Those Who Have Money
There are, then, those who own nothing and yet make many rich. This is
nothing to boast of, as we have said, for it is a privilege given to them
by the Lord, so that they must never be jealous of those who have money
and nor must they think of despising them. Clearly there were those in the
early churches who were rich in gold and silver, because this was the specific
will of God for them. Were their riches an advantage to them? Not in the eyes
of the apostles, but nevertheless since the Lord had so called them, then
they were told to regard their wealth as a responsibility committed to them
and act accordingly. The important thing was, and still is, that no love
of money should creep into their hearts.
God's servants who are poor must never feel that all other preachers
should live exactly like them. God has given us varying degrees of faith,
that there should be no competition between ministers of the Word as though
some have more faith than others. Money can never play any part in service
or testimony. Those who have none, praise the Lord who will never leave
nor forsake them, and those who have money and a sure income also praise
God that they do not have to build their lives or their services on any
material [62/63] foundation, but on the unfailing
God. So God's people are united in an unremitting life of thanksgiving to
Him who does all things well.
God's Promise of Security
During the last few days I have visited some old friends who are about
to take leave of life down here. In any case money would be no use to them;
their security is in Christ. As I said goodbye to one of them, she said in
a quiet and dignified way, 'This is the last time you will see me down here.'
She was so frail and strengthless that a puff of wind might have swept her
away, but she was completely content and confident. I learn more by visiting
such saints who have lived a modest and contented life with the Lord than
I do from hundreds of theological books. With good courage such folk seem
to say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what shall man do unto
me?" and they find the answer to this question in the personal promise of
the Lord who Himself has said to them, "I will never leave thee nor forsake
thee". And never means never! He is the only one who can use such
language and who can truly keep such a promise.
When Did God So Speak?
These words take us back into the past in an enquiry as to when the Lord
made this promise. Well, He certainly made it to Joshua when he had to replace
Moses and face the impossible task of leading the people over the Jordan
and into the promised land, where hard conflicts awaited them (Joshua 1:5).
And He kept His promise. Never for one moment did the Lord leave Joshua, and
so it was that the people all came through seemingly hopeless impossibilities.
This was plain speaking, but yet there is a place where God makes the
matter even plainer so that it cannot be contradicted. We must go in spirit
to Calvary and consider again the suffering Saviour's cry: "My God, my God,
why hast thou forsaken me?". We are the ones who ought to have been god-forsaken,
but it was Christ who suffered in that way for our sins, and so provided a
salvation of eternal security for all who trust in Him. It is the same Lord
who cried out at being forsaken who guarantees that this will never happen
to His own.
One of those who had every reason to fear that the Lord would forsake
him was Simon Peter who denied his Lord and Master with oaths. Why should
not the Lord Jesus also deny Peter and turn His back upon him? Had He done
so, no-one -- least of all Peter himself -- could raise any objections. He
had written off his Lord. Mercifully His Lord had not written him off.
When we despair of ourselves, we may be inclined to fear that the Lord
will cast us off and have nothing more to do with us, but Peter's experience
can surely comfort us. If anyone who reads this is just about to give up,
then remember that the Lord has no intention of giving you up. He will never
fail you and never forsake you, however wretched you may feel. Like Peter,
a man may go down so far into a night of darkness that he can no longer
hold fast to the Lord, but he himself will be held fast by the love that
will not let him go. No-one and nothing can separate us from the love of
God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because of the Lord's sure promise we can answer boldly that He is our
helper. We can never be wrong when we make this statement and because of
its content it can only be said with boldness. There can be no better helper,
for nothing can hinder Him. This can be the basis of our sense of security,
right to our last breath. Since He gives us this absolute guarantee, then
we do not need the security to be complemented with the security given by
money, for that would virtually be saying that the security which the Lord
gives is not always sufficient.
The logical corollary is "I will not fear". If you realise that the Lord
will never leave you nor fail you but remain your helper in every situation,
then the obvious consequence is that you have nothing and no-one to fear,
and that really there is no room for anxiety. Sometimes it may seem that
the rich or the powerful can do you evil, dismiss you from your job if you
maintain your witness for the Lord and refuse to be involved in deception.
They may generally threaten you, but they cannot harm you for the Lord is
also their Lord, whether they accept it or not. Their gold and their silver
belong ultimately to Him, whether they understand this or not. The Lord never
forsakes nor fails you when men are against you; He does not cease helping
you when men turn against you. On the contrary, it is in such situations that
you gain especially rich experiences of His goodness. Only in His will is
real security. [63/64]
BRINGING MANY SONS TO GLORY
(The Epistle to the Hebrews)
3. THE PATTERN SON
IN writing of the world to come (2:5), the writer quotes Psalm 8 to show
how God plans to make His name most excellent in all the earth by putting
everything into the charge of His royal race of men. This has not yet happened.
It is an understatement to say that we do not yet see all things subjected
to glorified humanity; indeed if we look at ourselves or at one another we
might justifiably doubt whether such an ambitious purpose could ever be
achieved. But we are told not to look at ourselves, nor even at saintly men
and women of faith; we are to "look off to Jesus!" In Him we see God's purposes
being realised; "we see Jesus crowned with honour and glory" (2:9). God
is not bringing His only Son to glory, for He has already done that. This
Letter is full of allusions to that great fact. No, but what God is still
in the process of doing is bringing many sons -- redeemed sinners -- to glory,
and our sonship is wholly dependent on the sufficiency to be found in the
Lord Jesus. He is the Unique Son. Let us make no mistake about that. But
He is also the Pattern Son, and divine destiny is not only ultimately to
be with Him, but also to be like Him. This is what seems to me to be the theme
of this Epistle.
The one final and sufficient sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross
brings forgiven sinners into the family of the firstborn sons of God. As
we have already seen, though, it is the Father's purpose not only to have
dear children but that those children should become mature sons and daughters.
This can never be achieved by their own efforts, but the question is whether
it will be achieved without their co-operation. That is the thrust of this
document, and that is what makes it one of the most important of the inspired
The Lord Jesus is our great Substitute. But He is also our Pioneer, our
Forerunner and the One who calls us His brothers (2:11). In this Letter we
find much stress on the Lord's divine nature as the eternal Son of God, but
equally we are confronted by the evidences of His essential humanity. For
a little while He was made lower than the angels (2:9), He suffered (2:10),
He was tempted (2:18), He prayed and wept and feared (5:7) and He had to
learn obedience in painful ways (5:8). He anticipated joy and He scorned shame
(12:2) and He endured opposition from sinful men (12:3). In other words, the
truly divine Son of God was also truly human. In His task as our Advocate
He made no attempt to demand or claim a position for Himself, but waited
to be called of God (5:4). In this way He provided for the Father a perfect
Manhood, and that is why He Himself chose the title of Son of Man.
Twice over the Father voiced from heaven His complete satisfaction with
this Son of His. On both occasions the cross was in view and doubtless formed
the reason for the Father's pleasure, but may I make another suggestion?
It is that each phase of the life of Jesus was acclaimed as perfect. On the
first occasion, that of the baptism, Jesus was moving out of the thirty hidden
years into His public ministry. Those years had been perfect, so concerning
them the Father gladly declared His satisfaction (Matthew 3:17). After the
testings of ordinary life came the more gruelling tests of public ministry.
If it is costly to live as a Christian, it can be even more costly to experience
the prosperity and adversity of service in the gospel. The Lord Jesus had
virtually completed this part of His testing when He stood on the Mount of
Transfiguration, and once again the Father was glad to express His absolute
satisfaction with this wonderful Son. Then came the cross, with the subsequent
resurrection and ascension, themselves proofs of the Father's satisfaction
as shown by the words frequently repeated here, "Sit thou at my right hand."
All this He did for us, that ultimately the Father may have a whole family
of sons to be fellow-heirs with Jesus Christ. [64/65]
We are not talking of some specialised form of sainthood when we deal
with the matter of sonship, nor must we ever begin to think in terms of that
which can be added to Christ's work on the cross. There is a sense in which
we might simplify this New Testament book by saying that the Father will
bring us to the full glory of sonship if only we fully keep our eyes on His
The Son is frequently described as our High Priest, a title which has
little connotation for us now. It is not used elsewhere in the New Testament,
but is familiar enough to Old Testament students, be they Jews or Gentiles.
For us it may seem remote, rather unreal and savouring of religious ceremonial.
I wonder therefore whether is might be more helpful to describe Him as our
Of course He functions first of all as God's Representative to us. This
was the honour given to the high priest who mediated God's Word and God's
blessings to His people, and our last article highlighted this characteristic
of Christ's ministry. We have only known God through Him -- God has spoken
to us in His Son. We can only be related to the Father through Him -- He
is the Mediator of a new covenant. We can only be preserved for God by Him
-- He is 'the Great Shepherd'.
However the other side of His activities is that He is also our Representative
before God: "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed
to represent them in matters related to God" (5:1 N.I.V.). In this human
area, as the firstborn Son, He leads the way for us who are called to sonship
in Him, and He provides the spiritual strength for us to follow His lead.
The Letter stresses what Christ has done for us as a Pioneer or Forerunner
(2:10), leading us forward in the way that sons should proceed.
He learned obedience both instead of us who are naturally disobedient
and also that we may learn to obey. He prayed -- and still prays -- that
we may also persevere in prayer. He held on and endured in the face of opposition
that we should follow His example and hold fast to the end. He went outside
the camp in devotion to His Father's will, not to excuse us from going but
in order that we may associate ourselves with Him there.
As it was by suffering that the Lord Jesus learned obedience (5:8), we
are called to learn our lessons in the same way, though in our case it may
often be some weakness or fault which necessitates the suffering, and that
was certainly not the case for our sinless Saviour. But the pathway to mature
sonship must always be the way of discipline or child-training (12:5-11).
This passage is devoted to the matter of growing up to be sons; it assures
us that the Father's objective in the disciplinary experiences which we suffer
is to make us like Himself and His Son: "... that we may share in his holiness".
The readers of this Letter were chided because they had lost sight of this
feature of growing in sonship, though they knew the Old Testament Scriptures
well enough. Presumably they were feeling some sort of grievance or let-down
due to harsh circumstances and puzzling trials. We are often guilty of similar
forgetfulness and so are irked by our testing times instead of being encouraged
to recognise the Father's purpose of love in permitting them. God is dealing
with us not only as saved sinners but as inheriting sons. That will explain
a great deal.
This and other passages in the Proverbs suggest that the young Solomon
had not been allowed to run wild like his half-brothers. King David had
several older sons, certainly loved but not destined to inherit his throne,
though they aspired to grab it. About one of them, Adonijah, the Scriptures
record that "his father had never displeased him by asking, Why do you behave
as you do?" (1 Kings 1:6). Similar things might have been said about the
despicable Amnon and the treacherous Absalom. They may not have been base
born, but they behaved as though they were. No throne for men like that!
If Solomon's writings are anything to go by, he was treated quite differently
and rather severely. His are the words quoted here: "The Lord disciplines
those whom he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son" (Hebrews
12:6). Solomon was destined for the throne from the very first. No doubt he
sometimes felt self-pity as [65/66] he saw those brothers
of his being treated indulgently and compared his own disciplined upbringing.
But there was a reason. He was the heir. We too are heirs and must learn
to bear the seemingly heavy hand of the Father of our spirits. He is reasonable
as well as loving in His dealings with us. It all makes sense. If we can
grasp this we will be encouraged not to lose heart (v.12) but rather to humble
ourselves under that mighty and wise hand of His.
No, the way of sonship is not easy. That is made plain enough in this
Letter. But the Letter also indicates the many aids -- seen and unseen --
which our Father provides for His true sons. One of the unseen realms of
help is referred to in 1:14, where we are advised that angels occupy themselves
in caring for those who are God's heirs. In this also Christ is our true Forerunner
for on two occasions of His earthly life we are told that He had help from
angels (Mark 1:13 & Luke 22:43). Possibly He was conscious of them. We
do not know. We normally are not so conscious of them, for that might be
unhealthy for us, just as it is unhelpful for us to occupied with the matter
of demons. The latter will attack us and the former will come to our aid,
but our business is to direct all our attention to our great Representative
He is seated on the throne. It is notable that in a thesis devoted to
urging us to be active and energetic in our progress towards maturity, we
are constantly reminded that our Pioneer has sat down. We are glad about
that for His sake -- He deserves it -- but the stress seems to be on the
significance of this fact to us. It is true that in a spiritual sense Paul
reminds us that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies, but the practical
thrust of the message is for us to keep moving and to press on. In our last
article we saw that the Unique Son is seated on high in order to minister
the fullness of salvation to us. That is a glorious truth which we must never
lose sight of. Is there a further fact of this truth which we should take
note of? I think that there is.
If we are to grow up in all things in Christ, what is the objective of
maturity towards which we are making progress? If we are designated as heirs,
when and what do we inherit? If Christ is our Pioneer, to what is He leading
us? This is not a matter of conjecture but of a divinely revealed destiny.
It is indicated to us by the sight of the great Son of God, seated at the
right hand of the Father. It is set out in an amazing seven-fold description
of our salvation given in 12:22-24, and is condensed into one terse statement
at the end of that chapter which tells us that we are receiving a kingdom
that cannot be shaken (v.28).
The great Son of God overcame and so sat down with His Father in His
throne; His call to all God's children is to follow Him, to overcome through
His grace and to sit down with Him in His throne (Revelation 3:21). Our calling
is to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. There is a sense
in which we may say that from His place of exaltation, the Lord Jesus beckons
us on. For Him there was the prospect of supreme joy, and with that in view
He was able to bear the cost and despise the shame, and is now seated in
the throne (12:2). That prospect is now opened up to us. He is the Author
of faith, the One who set us on the path of sonship; He is also the Perfecter
of faith who plans to bring us to the maturity of likeness to Himself. With
such a God-glorifying prospect before us, no wonder the divine urge is "Let
us go on" (6:1) and "Let us enter in" (4:11).
A helpful comment on this matter of growing in sonship can be found in
John's First Letter, where he tells us that as Christ is (in heaven), so
are we (here on the earth), a verse which Phillips renders: "We realise that
our life in this world is actually His life lived in us" (1 John 4:17). Wrongly
applied this can make us complacent and even presumptuous. Rightly understood,
though, it will inspire us to devoted eagerness to bring pleasure to the
heart of our Father God. And it is precisely this which the Father is seeking
when now, in these last days, He speaks to us in His Son.
(To be continued) [66/67]
AFFIRMING THE WISDOM OF GOD
John H. Paterson
"That now unto principalities and powers in heavenly places might
known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." Ephesians 3:10
[Note by transcriber: The text of this article was printed
incorrectly and is not reproduced here. The entire article was reprinted
correctly in Vol. 18, No. 6 under the title, "Principalities, Powers And People".]
THE GOSPEL OF THE AMAZING JESUS
J. Alec Motyer
THE portrait of Jesus by Mark can only be entitled The Amazing or Astonishing
Jesus. This is the shortest Gospel but by no means the least. It is said
that it was greatly influenced by Peter and I think that this may well be
so. The Lord Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would bring back to memory
all that the apostles had learned from Him. By the Spirit, then, Peter's memory
was capacious in the things of Christ and he poured out those memories to
Mark. I like to think of the two men sitting and composing the Gospel together.
There are so many places in Mark's Gospel which make more vivid sense
if we think of Peter telling him not to put in certain things, recorded by
others, and telling him to include other matters as the Spirit led. It seems
to me that Peter would have reported that there was always something happening
when Jesus was around and that nobody knew what would happen next. I say
this because this is the Gospel of the word immediately. Matthew's
Gospel majors on the word 'then'. The word appears more often in Matthew than
in any other part of the New Testament. Mark's Gospel, however, repeatedly
stresses the word 'immediately'. The longest Gospel, Luke, only uses
this word seven times while Mark's, which is the shortest Gospel, employs
the word forty-two times. Jesus is represented by Mark as being always busy
and always knowing what He was going to do next.
We may take an example from the first chapter. "Immediately he entered
into the synagogue" (v.21) and "immediately there was ... a man with an
unclean spirit" (v.23). "Immediately the leprosy departed ..." (v.42). This
could be repeated over and over again. It is as if Peter said that there
was always something happening and you never knew what would happen next.
I feel sure that as they went over what would best go into the Gospel
that Peter would say, 'It was an astonishing time' or better, 'He was such
an astonishing person.' I say this because Mark uses eleven different expressions
for astonishment in his Gospel. Matthew uses four, while John uses only two.
Twenty-six times over Mark records the fact that Jesus left the people in
some way flabbergasted. In this way in his sixteen brief chapters, Mark tells
of the astonishing effect that Jesus had on people.
We cannot consider all these, but we find a sample when a word is used
which has the sense of our own word 'thunderstruck' -- they were thunderstruck
at His teaching. Then there is a word which is a combination of alarm and
awe -- "They were all amazed" (1:27), so much so that they asked each other:
"What is this?". Then there is a word which carries the idea of excitement
more than alarm, "At this they were completely astonished" (5:42). In this
we see the vividness of their response to Jesus. Then there is a sobering
word which speaks of fear, "They were terrified, and asked each other, 'Who
is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him'" (4:41). This brings us back
to the element of awe in the presence of the astonishing majesty of the
Lord Jesus Christ. Then there is a word which denotes bewilderment -- "Pilate
was amazed" (15:5). Pilate had never known a person on a capital charge who
wasn't full of words in his own defence, and here was an accused man who
had nothing to say. He wondered at Jesus. Finally there is one more of these
words which speaks of shaking -- "Trembling and bewildered the women ...
fled from the tomb" (16:8). They seemingly did not know whether to be afraid
This, then, is why I choose the title 'The Amazing Jesus'. The story
of Mark's Gospel is, however, the simplest of the four; it tells a straightforward
story in a straightforward way. After a very brief account of John the Baptist,
he comes to the baptism of Jesus and launches the Lord Jesus upon His public
ministry more quickly than the other three Gospels. And then he divides the
story into three parts. First of all there is Jesus in the North (1:14 to
9:29); then there is Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem (9:30 to 11:11) and
lastly Jesus in Jerusalem (11:12 to the end). Now we know from Luke that
Jesus visited Jerusalem at the age of twelve. Mark tells us nothing of that.
We know from John that in the course of His public ministry Jesus visited
Jerusalem twice before going up for His final visit. Mark tells us nothing
of that. That is the way his Gospel is arranged. It is good for us to realise
that the Gospels, like any other books, have a structure, and so, as we have
said, Mark's Gospel divides into three parts.
Jesus in the North
This section runs through from 1:14 to 9:29 and it has three parts, the
first dealing with Christ as the divine Man, the second with Him as the divine
Prophet and the third as the divine Messiah.
From 1:14 to 3:13 we are dealing with the idea of Call. "Passing along
by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon's brother, casting
a net in the sea for they were fishers, and Jesus said to them 'Come after
me'" (1:16). So He began to call His disciples. Then in 3:13 we read, "He
went up into a mountain and called unto him whom he would, and they went
to him and he appointed twelve". Jesus began to call His disciples and then
out of them He chose His apostles. This section begins and ends with the
same idea and can be described as consisting of concentric circles.
The outer circle deals with this call of disciples and apostles. Within
that there is another circle which describes the Lord Jesus in synagogue
worship, and for this Mark tells us two stories. First he tells of the first
visit of Jesus to the synagogue and how a demon-possessed man cried out 'You
are the Son of God' (1:24) and then again of Jesus in a synagogue where He
met with a man who had a withered hand whom He healed by the word of His power
without needing to touch him (3:1-6). And so we are moving inward in our
concentric circles till we come to a single story that lies at the heart of
this opening section of the Gospel.
"He entered into Capernaum and it was noised that he was in the house,
and many were gathered together so that there was no longer room for them"
(2:2). This is the story which lies at the heart of this section of Mark.
Whether we move forward from the beginning of the Gospel or whether we come
back from the end of this [72/73] section, we come
to this story of the needy man to whom Jesus said, "So, all is well. Your
sins are forgiven". Quite rightly the Pharisees asked, "Who can forgive
sins but God?" Then Jesus asked them a question, the answer to which must
surely have been that it is easier to say that a man's sins are forgiven,
for that does not demand evidence, whereas to tell him to arise and walk
is immediately seen to be either true or false. So Jesus challenged them
where they challenged Him, offering them convincing proof of His claim to
forgive sins, providing that they were willing to be convinced. The man
rose up in the presence of them all, giving proof that He was more than
a man; He was God who alone has power to forgive sins.
Amidst all the exclamations of amazement recorded by Mark, this is given
the central place, namely, that while Jesus moved as a man among men, He
was in fact God who had come down to forgive sins. This then is the first
emphasis of our first section. Christ is the divine Man. The second part deals
with Him as divine Prophet. This passage goes from 3:13 right on to 6:7:
"He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them
forth" through to "And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them
forth two by two." During this period the apostles were with Him, so it is
a concentrated period of teaching -- "He began to teach by the sea side"
He taught by means of parables (4:2) and "without a parable spake he
not unto them" (4:34). Now He did not use parables in order to baffle but
in order to instruct -- "as they were able to hear". The keynote of this
passage is in verse 34 where we are told that He expounded all things privately
to His disciples, but the element of wonder continues. We are informed that
"they feared exceedingly" (4:41). They asked each other, "Who is this?" for
they were still trying to come to terms with this astonishing Jesus with whom
they were living.
We move on to the Lord's own country where we find Him still teaching,
with the result that "many hearing him were astonished" (6:2). Their amazement
went the wrong way, for they asked, "Is not this the carpenter?" The answer
which the Lord gave to them was "A prophet is not without honour ..." so
that He reminded them that He was a prophet, that is one who is authorised
to declare the truth about God. But He is different; He is the divine Prophet,
and Mark has four marvellous stories to illustrate this fact.
The first is a sea story. It begins with the statement, "There arose
a great storm" (4:37) and ends, "there was a great calm" (4:39). That gives
us the well-known story in a nutshell. It continues by saying that "they
feared exceedingly and said, Who then is this, that even the wind and the
sea obey him?" Have you ever met a prophet like this? We sat listening to
His teaching and realised that He is a teacher sent from God, but was there
ever a prophet sent from God who had authority of the winds and the waves?
The second story tells how Jesus landed in the country of the Gerasenes
and met a man possessed by so many demons that he called himself Legion,
who could neither be tamed nor bound and who terrorised the neighbourhood
and who yet was instantaneously delivered and changed by the word of the Lord
Jesus who graciously gave the demons permission to leave him. Have you ever
seen a prophet like that? Not only do the winds and waves obey Him but also
all the circumstances of a troubled life are transformed at His word. The
inner turmoils of life obey Him; they are totally under His control even when
they have turned sour and satanic.
The third story is of the woman who had an issue of blood for twelve
years (5:25). Mark inserts something that Luke would not recall, that is
that "she had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all
that she had and was nothing better but rather grew worse". We would not
expect Dr. Luke to put in that bit, but it is stated not to have a poke
at the medical profession but to let us know that her state had got beyond
all human capacity and resource. Here was something that no man could heal.
Who could deal with that? The answer is that this Prophet could and did bring
The fourth story in the sequence is that of the daughter of Jairus, which
comes to its happy conclusion at the end of chapter 5. Jesus got rid of all
the professional mourners and local quacks, saying that she was not dead
but asleep. "They [73/74] laughed him to scorn" says
Doctor Luke, "knowing that she was dead". Indeed she was. That is until Jesus
took her by the hand and said, 'My little one, it is time to get up!' Doubtless
He had done this to some of His own younger sisters when He was the eldest
son in the house and getting the household on its way or perhaps had heard
Joseph going round to rouse the children in the morning. 'It is time to
get up!' Have you ever met a Prophet like that? asks Mark. Oh yes, He was
a Prophet. But a Prophet who can surely cure incurable cases and can raise
the dead. He is much more than a prophet, this astonishing Jesus.
The third part of this section runs from 6:7 to 9:29 and deals with Jesus
as the divine Messiah. We begin with the Herod story (6:14-29). Mark gives
us a longer account of Herod than any of the other Gospels and tells us of
Christ's encounter with two worldly rulers, providing us with a Gospel of
two climaxes. There is a first climax centred on this ruler named Herod,
the Jewish type ruler, and then Pilate, the Roman type ruler. In principle
therefore Jesus confronts every earthly ruler. He stands before the rulers
of this world.
This first climax shows us Jesus and Herod brought together and it includes
the Transfiguration. The outcome of this encounter with the Jewish type ruler
is that Jesus is seen in His glory as the Son of God. The second climax tells
of the encounter with Pilate, and the end of that story is the glory of
the Son of God in resurrection. This, then, is this two-fold declaration
that Jesus is God's true King.
We know the sordid story of Herod's birthday party when he so committed
himself to the daughter of Herodias that he had to deliver John the Baptist
to death to defend his drunken pride. This, in effect, says Mark, is the
story of one sort of kingship and it consists of a feast which has death at
its heart; now let me tell you of the feeding of five thousand and the feeding
of four thousand which provided feasts of a King which had life at their
heart. What a contrast is drawn between the kingship of Herod and the kingship
of Jesus; the one gives a lavish feast but it has death as its outcome whereas
the Lord provides abundant life. "When he came forth and saw a great multitude,
He had compassion on them because they were sheep not having a shepherd"
(6:34). Sheep without a shepherd are in danger of death, but Christ rescues
them from the sentence of death by taking them into His care and feeding
them with His Messianic banquet. Having done this, the Lord leaps over the
wall into Gentile territory near Tyre and Sidon, and there he threw His second
party (8:1). This time the people are not described as sheep without a shepherd
but as hungry people with nothing to eat. Concerning them the Lord Jesus
told His disciples, "I have compassion". His heart was moved, so He fed them
lest they should faint by the way. Once again, then, the King provided a
banquet which led to life. What a contrast to that deadly feast of Herod!
This displays the Messianic nature of Jesus. The prophet gives the beautiful
Messianic promise: "In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all
peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things
full of marrow, or wine on the lees well refined. And he will swallow up
in this mountain the face of the covering that is cast over all peoples and
the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever"
(Isaiah 25:6-8). That is the Lord's banquet. Perhaps Jesus expected His disciples
to pick up the Scriptural allusion to Him as Messiah.
He must have been disappointed when they did not understand. He asked
them why they reasoned and commented on their lack of understanding and hardness
of heart, asking them "Do you still not understand?" (8:21). So by these
banquets He proclaimed Himself the true Messiah. Mark rounds off this part
of his Gospel by again emphasising the divine element in Jesus; He is the
divine Man, the divine Prophet and the divine Messiah.
The Journey to Jerusalem (9:30 to 11:11)
This time the Lord Jesus is heading for the confrontation between Himself
and Pilate. From the far North He begins His long journey to Jerusalem. Stage
by stage and step by step they pass on the road through Galilee, down to
Judea, through Jericho and then towards Jerusalem, and through the stories
a theme begins to emerge. It is the Kingship of Jesus. [74/75]
This is indicated first of all by the mistaken attitude of James and
John. These two sons of Zebedee asked to be given the special honour of
being on His right hand and His left in His kingdom (10:37). It was a wrong
request but it revealed a beautiful attitude of faith and was really a great
vote of confidence in Jesus. It showed that they really believed that He
was God's appointed King and that they were now approaching His royal city.
They thought that there He would sit on His throne and though they were wrong
in their expectations, they were right to hail Him as their King.
At the next story we see them at Jericho where we are told of that striking
man, Bar-Timaeus, the beggar sitting by the wayside. When the man found out
what was happening around him, he called out to Jesus, the Son of David.
We may wonder why the Lord Jesus asked him what he wanted, for surely it was
obvious. But Jesus always had purpose in His speaking, so this could not
have been a merely formal question. It surely was meant to test if the man
was genuine in calling Him Son of David, that is, God's King.
The prophet Isaiah had foretold that when the Son of David came "the
eyes of the blind would be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped".
Did blind Bartimaeus really believe this? He called Jesus Son of David,
but did he really acknowledge Him as King? The answer is clear enough: "Lord,
that I might receive my sight", a beautiful testimony to his faith. In this
way Mark is building up his picture. Jesus is going to face the authority
of the king of the earth, the Roman Emperor, in the shape of Pilate, and
He does so as God's true King. James and John said that He was King Jesus,
though they did not understand the nature of His kingdom. Bartimaeus cried
out to Him as God's King, with the consequence that sight was given to the
The rest of the Gospel, from chapter 11 onwards, tells of the arrival
of Jesus in Jerusalem, but as we have already considered the account of Matthew,
which is very similar, we need not pause with the parade of the Jewish authorities
as Jesus sits in the Temple. We have seen how they came to Him, group by
group, bringing their questions and being patiently answered by the Lord,
only to turn away from Him unmoved. They did not want to know Him.
Just as they were going away, though, Jesus said, as it were, 'Just before
you go away, How is it that the scribes say that Christ is the Son of David
when David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said, "The Lord said unto my Lord,
sit at my right hand?"' Was Jesus just trying to baffle and confuse them?
Certainly not. This all fits in with Mark's picture of Jesus as the divine
King. At the beginning of this journey, James and John voiced their expectation
that Jesus would sit as King. Now at the end of the journey, after arriving
in Jerusalem, Jesus reminded the scribes and Pharisees that David's Son is
David's Lord, the divine King promised by the Old Testament. They were expecting
a king. Jesus told them that the one who had come was indeed the divine
In Mark's account of Christ's encounter with Pilate, he underlines this
matter of kingship more than any other of the Gospels. They also speak of
it, but Mark seems to hammer and hammer away at the kingship of Jesus. "Pilate
asked him, are you the king of the Jews?" (15:2). "Pilate answered, Will
you that I release to you the king of the Jews?" (15:9). "Pilate again answered
and said to them, What shall I do with him whom you call the king of the
Jews" (15:12). "they put it on him and they began to salute him, Hail, King
of the Jews" (15:18). "The superscription of his accusation was written above,
THE KING OF THE JEWS" (15:26). "Let Christ, the King of Israel, now come
down ..." (15:32). So we see how kingship dominates this last section of Mark
from, the request of James and John, through blind Bartimaeus, the question
in the Temple and then at the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The king! The
king! The king!
They thought that crucifixion was the end of Him. But it was not. He
was raised from the dead, for He is not only King but God. So we are faced
by this picture of the astonishing Jesus. He walks around as a man among
men, yet He is God come down to forgive sins. He acts with all the authority
of a prophet of God instructing people in the truth, but He is the divine
Prophet, God Himself in all His power. He comes as the Messiah to feed His
people, but He is the divine Messiah, the all-sufficient God. He comes as
a king crowned with thorns, suffering and dying, and yet He is God's King
come down to save. We are moved to worship this Astonishing Jesus.
A MOUNTAIN-TOP EXPERIENCE
"Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on
has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I will be with you always ..." Matthew 28:18-20
THIS mountain-top experience was one of the great moments of Christ's
resurrection appearances. We must not be puzzled or confused by the fact
that the four Gospels give different accounts of the resurrection of Christ.
The stories are not contradictory, but are all needed to give us the full
For his own wise reasons, Matthew tells us nothing about the appearances
of the risen Lord to His apostles in Jerusalem, but concentrates on the sensational
occasion in Galilee. We need not be surprised at this, especially as the
importance and location of the meeting in Galilee was announced by the angels
in Mark's Gospel, while John describes the Lord's presence in Galilee in
the closing chapter of his wonderful Gospel, telling us of the breakfast
which Christ provided for seven of His disciples there. So Galilee was important.
It seems that the Lord Jesus had designated the meeting place there; the
women and the angels confirmed the assignation He had made.
What is more, the apostle Paul informs us that Jesus appeared on one
occasion to more than five hundred of the brothers (1 Corinthians 15:6).
I suggest that the Galilee mountain was the most likely place where that
could have happened and, if this was so, it explains how Matthew could report
that "some doubted". Surely this could not now have been true of any of
the eleven. If this message was given to that large number, it makes it clear
that the command to go into all the world for Him did not only apply to specialised
believers but to us all.
First of all, though, the Lord Jesus announced the basis for His command,
namely, that He had been given absolute power in the name of the whole Trinity.
The authority belongs first to the Father and is to be communicated through
the Holy Spirit, as Luke made clear (Luke 24:49 & Acts 1:8), but on the
Galilee mountain the church was directed to see in the risen Christ the
Holder of power in God's universe. The Lord Jesus had been tempted from the
first to seize this universal power, no doubt with the satanic implication
that He could use it for the benefit of mankind. For Jesus this was a strong
and even acute temptation.
So we have the contrast of two mountains, the first and the last in a
Gospel which majors on mountains. Since Matthew's Gospel has much to say
about the kingdom, we are not surprised that he frequently mentions mountains,
for these are the biblical emblems of kingdoms. The first one, then, is the
very high mountain where the offer of world power was made (4:8-10). This
temptation must have been subtle, but was calculated to induce Him to act
independently of the Father and He totally repudiated it, choosing instead
the way of the cross and of humble submission to the Father's will.
That this is the way of gain and not of loss is demonstrated in Matthew's
final reference to a mountain (28:16), where the crucified and risen Lord
was able to claim that now all authority had been conferred upon Him. And
it was not only on earth. That was the limitation of Satan's offer at its
best; it never got above the earth. Real power, however, must operate in
heaven, in the unseen realm which governs all that is seen. If we do not have
power in heaven, then we cannot exercise lasting power on earth. The assembled
disciples were assured that in the unseen world, as well as in the seen,
Jesus is absolute Lord.
There are other mountains in this Gospel of Matthew and some of them
may help us to realise the implications of Christ's total authority. There
is the place where Jesus gave us what we call The Sermon on the Mount. Then
there is the high mountain where the disciples saw His glory, the Mount of
Transfiguration. There is also the Mount of Olives where He spoke of His Coming
Again and of the gospel's proclamation worldwide previous to that great event.
1. The Sermon on the Mount.
Christ's Power to Rule His People. (5:1 - 7:29)
Early on in his Gospel Matthew tells us of the very deliberate way in
which Jesus went up this Galilee hillside, sat down and then opened His mouth
to explain the laws of His kingdom. We all know how this Sermon on the Mount
sets a very high standard for believers. I say 'for believers' because it
is quite unreal to argue that this is meant for the Jews or for the Millennium
as some of us may have done in the past. No, this is Christ's law, and we
are under that law, not in order to gain salvation but to work it out now
that it has been freely given to us. His commission on the final resurrection
mountain was that disciples must be careful to obey all that He has commanded.
It seems to me that on this first mountain he tells us plainly what we are
ourselves first to obey and then go out to disciple and teach others.
Our immediate reaction will probably be that in our case this is impossible,
for the standard is too high. That may be so, but we must not imagine that
the Lord is going to lower the standard just because of our feebleness. He
declared that He has power to enable His believing people to respond to
His holy rule. It is good that we appreciate our hopelessness. People today
say that they don't want the gospel of the cross but understand that the
essence of Christianity is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount. Without
the cross, however, how can unregenerate man hope to live up to that royal
The trouble with Saul the Pharisee was that he thought that he could
keep God's law and rather imagined that he was being successful. He was
completely undeceived when he had a personal encounter with Christ and may
well have been plunged into greater depths of despair when the spiritual
significance of God's holy law was made plain. What relief for him -- as
for us all -- to discover that the King who gave the law had Himself fulfilled
it instead of us and on our behalf and now offered us His perfect righteousness
as a free gift of grace. Having imputed such obedience to us, He now begins
to impart it in practical terms so that now the defeated sinner is to be
transformed into a true believer who is able to say, "I can ... through Christ"
We can best sum up the Sermon on the Mount by saying that it describes
the Lord Jesus Himself -- He is the One who shows us the character of the
Man who knew the fullness of divine blessing. In a sense He already had
all power to live according to those rules so far as His own life was concerned;
now He has been given all power so that He can enable us to live under His
holy rule. In this particular article I cannot begin to comment on the details
of this mountain exposition of Christ's law, with its description of the
truly happy life which pleases the Father. It would take hours to describe
and it takes a whole lifetime to learn. When Jesus had completed His Sermon
on the Mount, those who had listened commented that He taught as one that
had authority (7:29). They meant, authority to teach. He claims that He also
has authority to make it work -- even in us. He has power to rule His people,
not only to show them what is right but also to make it possible for "the
righteousness of the law to be fulfilled in us ..." (Romans 8:4).
We are, of course, still dissatisfied with our way of living. Nevertheless
if we stop to consider, we must confess that there have been occasions when
we have been enabled to conquer a temptation or perform an action which would
previously have been quite impossible to us. There have been some victories
in our lives for which we have been deeply grateful to the Lord Jesus, some
matters over which previously we have had to admit 'I cannot' but now in
humble faith we are able to say, 'I can ... through him that strengthens me.'
This, then, is an encouragement to go on proving His authority in ever new
ways. Do not settle for a lower standard. Do not excuse yourself by saying,
'Well, that is what I am like!' What we may discover is what Christ is like,
and the Lord asserts that He has power to impart His new nature to us, not
by some waving of a magic wand but by new acts of faith springing from His
words, "All power has been given unto me ... go you therefore ...".
2. The Mount of Transfiguration.
Christ's Power to Transform His People (17:1-8)
The next mountain -- a very high one -- was where Jesus displayed the
beauty of a human life filled with the glory of God. It was, of course, a
preview of His coming glory, but I suggest that it was also meant to be an
indication of God's ultimate destiny for all His redeemed people. The Day
of Christ will not bring some dazzling display of light from heaven to shine
upon the Church, but a glorious outshining from within God's people of the
glory of the Lord Christ. Just as the garments of Jesus shone on the mountain
because of the glory of God's Son who wore them, so will the Church shine
with the inner reality of God-filled lives.
This would be a bold statement to make if it were not fully authenticated
by the Scriptural statement that the Lord Jesus has such power to subdue
all things to Himself that He will then change the body of our humiliation
that it may be like the body of His glory (Philippians 3:21). On the Mount
of Transfiguration the Father spoke from heaven about His perfect Son saying,
"Listen to him!" It hardly seems likely that He was telling the disciples
just to be quiet to hear the words of Jesus, though it included that. Was
not the greater implication of His words that they should note the significance
of what they had just seen, to realise the greatness of Christ and to realise
the Father's ultimate purpose for all those who are 'in Christ'? They must
learn the lesson of inward transformation.
Later on they did this. Peter wrote of a Day when the "day-star" would
arise in our hearts (2 Peter 1:19), while John says, "We know that when
he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John
3:2). The concern of both of these apostles was, however, not so much with
the long-distant contemplation of the future as with the immediate challenge
of the present. At the moment that is what matters. It is today that we are
to hear His voice. When Jesus affirms that all power has been given to Him,
we should appreciate that His purpose is that every day should see us experiencing
some measure of inward changing into His likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
On that mountain it was not that Jesus said anything different from the
messages of Moses and Elijah; only that He amplified and fulfilled them.
Elijah had been raptured to heaven alone and to await glory there with the
rest of the redeemed. We are to be changed as we are raptured -- changed into
His likeness. Moses had shining glory only in his face and only for a time;
we are to be permanently transformed, to shine like the brightness of the
heavens, and like the stars for ever and ever. That is the everlasting life
to which one day we will awake (Daniel 12:2-3).
We believe that, don't we? Of course we do. That is our destiny in Christ.
But what about today, and tomorrow and the next day? Every day is meant to
bring us nearer to that great Day of Christ, not only in time measurement
but in growing conformity to Him. Jesus indicated the time factor when He
referred to His working right up to the end of this dispensation -- "always,
to the very end of the age" (28:20). When that goal is reached we know that
He will have power to make us like Himself. Meanwhile, however, that same
power can be exercised to change us from what we once were into what we shall
yet be, by His grace. [78/79]
The whole of Christ's statement carries with it the implication of the
work of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who alone can empower us to witness
in all the world. His first task, though, is surely so to operate in us
as to make us valid witnesses. It is a hidden work of which we may well
be unconscious, but others should register it. I imagine that the disciples
were not permitted to tell others about their experience on the Mount of
Transfiguration before the Lord was risen from the dead because their words
would have been contradicted by their lives. Afterwards, with the great
commission ringing in their ears, they could go out and show the world something
of the transforming power of Christ by Spirit-transformed lives.
3. The Mount of Olives.
Christ's Power to Support His People (24:12-14).
The long discourse of Matthew 24 was intended to answer two questions
put to the Lord privately by His disciples. They were given warnings and
instruction about the impending destruction of Jerusalem with the severe
tribulation of that period and then the greater tribulation and crises of
Christ's coming again in His kingdom. It is no part of our present study
to consider these matters. From the wealth of material I extract the need
for faithful persistence, followed by a statement which is pertinent to our
present passage, namely that "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached
in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then shall the end
Sixty years ago, in the Missionary Training Colony in London, we had
this as the driving inspiration in our determination to seek to carry the
gospel to regions where it was not known. The Lord did not speak the words
as an appeal but rather as a firm declaration that His gospel would be so
preached. He said that it would happen; the Church has sought so to be involved
in the task that it should happen; today, God be praised, it is happening
as never before. And all who are associated in this great enterprise turn
instinctively to Matthew's final mountain, the Mountain of the Great Commission,
to find there the heartening words, "Lo, I am with you all the day ...".
The Lord is always true to that promise. I say nothing of my own 10 years
in South America but cannot refrain from telling you of one of my first colleagues
on the Amazon, Horace Banner. When Horace was about seventy and already
in a dying condition, he came to visit me. As we chatted about our personal
histories he looked at me with the sweetest of smiles and said 'It's been
a wonderful life, hasn't it, Harry?' Here was a perky Lancashire lad who
might have gone so far here at home, but who had spent some forty-five years
of his life among primitive tribesmen in the Brazilian jungle, literally at
the back of beyond. It was his whole life. The world would suggest that it
was tough, spartan and sacrificial. His happy verdict was 'Wonderful!' Even
if I wanted to do so, could I doubt the reality of Christ's gracious assurance
to stand by His servants?
For the disciples this mountain-top experience meant more than just the
wonder of His unfailing presence with His own. This is very true; He lives
in our hearts and is with us wherever we go. Here, however, the implication
is much more emphatic; it means that He will be 'with' us in the sense of
backing us up and standing behind us if we will go out to tell men of His
salvation. We feel weakness. Indeed it is probably best that we should. Yet
in our weakness we find that the Spirit presses home our words in a surprising
way. How we wish that we knew more of this. Perhaps there is more than we
know, for Jesus did not say that we would necessarily feel that He was with
us, though it is grand when we do. He did not say that others will always
recognise the power of His presence, though that is also most gratifying.
What He did say was that we can always count on Him and that He will back
us up as we seek to communicate His love to others.
If I am right about the Lord's words being directed to the five hundred
odd disciples, then their significance goes right beyond those first apostles
and beyond those whom we call missionaries. It meant that most of them had
to go down from the mountain-top to the ordinary circumstances of life and
witness for Him there. It Nicodemus were there, it would mean that he must
return to the hardest missionary field there was, his own city of Jerusalem,
and face all the [79/80] consequences of living for
Christ there. Whether the now sighted man who had been born blind would find
it so easy to continue with his bold witness in Jerusalem as it had been
at the first or whether he must now face new problems, his would also be
the task of witnessing for Christ even though perhaps disowned by his parents.
Then there was that other blind beggar, Bartimaeus. He would have to
go back to Jericho, no longer to beg but now to earn his living. It would
not be easy but the Lord undertook to be with him as he found and held a
job in an unfriendly world. Of course, some of the five hundred may have
become missionaries. That lad who gave his five loaves and two fishes is
never mentioned in the synoptic Gospels. Much later on John told us about
him, though still allowing him to remain anonymous. Had he travelled with
the gospel? Had he perhaps given not only his lunch but his life for the
Saviour? We do not know. What we do know is that the risen Lord would have
been 'with' him right to the end of his story.
Others must have had more humdrum futures. The couple whose marriage
was so blessed at Cana would not have to travel far to get back to their
home, but they would certainly need the Lord's backing if their home was
still to be a place of His power and glory. It is no mean thing to live together
in such a way that people meet Christ in your home. God needs missionaries
-- He also needs godly homes. I wonder if Jairus was there. Back at home he
had a dear teenaged daughter whom he and his wife must care for. That may
seem rather an uninteresting way of serving the gospel, but perhaps there
is no greater service for Christ than caring for our teenaged children. Every
day for such parents is a day when they need the Lord's backing.
Mountain-top experiences are meant to fit us for life on the plains.
When the disciples went down from hearing the Sermon on the Mount, they
carried with them the challenge of being doers of the words of Christ as
well as being hearers. It was not enough just to know the truth; they needed
to obey it. Much as Peter and the other two would have liked to prolong their
mountain-top experience with the transfigured Lord, they were not permitted
to stay there but had to go down to the plain with Him. And those five hundred
were given but a brief enjoyment of meeting with the risen Christ and sent
off on their way with His Great Commission ringing in their ears. They must
go and witness. No drifting back to the mountain-top for them! No setting
up of a shrine there to celebrate the occasion! All the days -- thrilling
ones and also humdrum, weary ones -- would give them occasion for proving
the reality of their encounter with the risen Christ.
'Tis good, Lord, to be here!
Yet we may not remain;
But since Thou bidst us leave the mount
Come with us to the plain. [80/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (4)
Psalm 123 LOOKING UP
THE Bible abounds in references to the need to look up, beginning at
God's call to Abram: "Look up to the heavens ..." (Genesis 15:5) and going
right through to the apocalyptic summons: "Look; he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye shall see him" (Revelation 1:7). God's people must learn this
art of looking up.
I am told -- though I have never proved it -- that if a man stands in
a street looking up, he will soon be surrounded by passers-by, all following
his example and also looking up. Here there is a spiritual counterpart to
this, for the psalmist begins with his own action: "I lift up my eyes", and
immediately passes on to speak of the united attitude of all his fellow-pilgrims:
"... so our eyes look to the Lord our God".
AT the first he had lifted up his eyes to the far distance and seen the
almost unattainable summit (Psalm 121). Now, as he looks up and around in
the more immediate surroundings, he is faced by the ugly menaces of the scornful
non-climbers. Earlier he found grace and strength to press on with his spiritual
enterprise; now he has to appeal for fresh mercies.
THOSE who sit complacently at ease are arrogant and loud in their contemptuous
expressions of disdain and ridicule, for the world is ever scornful of God's
servants. Individual Christians often have to face daily taunts and trials,
while in the public media we seldom fail to encounter those mockings and
misrepresentations of what is pure and right which provoke ribald laughter,
real or synthetic, at the Christian ideals of goodness and truth.
SO be it, but the pilgrims are also servants and therefore entitled to
appeal to their Master, as He sits serenely above them and, what is more,
above their jeering critics. So the psalmist looks up and away from the
mocking opposition to his Master who is high upon His throne.
THERE are times when servants need to keep their eyes on their master's
face, to know what is expected of them in terms of obedience. Now, however,
their eyes are directed not to his face but to his hands, as the eyes of
the young women are focused on the hands of their mistress; the purpose being
to find how these hands will be extended to deliver those who belong to his
household. They will keep on looking until he reacts on their behalf.
WE have the Lord as our Master and we can be sure that in His own good
time He will deliver us. As His servants, our hands belong to Him, but as
our sovereign Master, His hands will be available to care for us.
SO we must keep looking up!
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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