The Greatness and Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 9 - The Testimony of Jesus

"For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, how that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ. Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness" (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).

In our consideration of the greatness and glory of Jesus Christ as represented by the ark of the covenant in Israel, we have reached that point where the ark led the way through Jordan into the promised land. That was one of the greatest crises in the history of Israel. It was a great forward movement, for at that point the people were entering into that which had always been in the mind of God for them. We have seen that God spoke to Abraham hundreds of years earlier about this very day and had told him that his posterity would be in the land of Egypt for four hundred years, what would be happening during those four hundred years, and that at the end of that period the people would come into this land. So at this time, marked by the first chapters of the Book of Joshua, that promise is being fulfilled and that purpose is actually beginning to be realized. God said it was to be, and even though He has to wait four hundred years, or four thousand years, what He says will come to pass. We know the terrible story of how Pharaoh tried to prevent it. Well, let Pharaoh do all that he can do - so much the worse for Pharaoh! God had intended it, and be there a thousand Pharaohs, it is going to happen.

Then we know the long story of the difficulties in the wilderness; those forty years during which Israel wandered in the wilderness. The difficulties then were not with Pharaoh and Egypt: they were with the people themselves. Well, whether it be difficulties in the world, or difficulties in the people of God, God's purpose will be realized.

These first five chapters of the Book of Joshua see the movement into the thing which God had purposed for so long. If we look at the ark of the covenant as the illustration, we see it is an ark which is always seeking to move further on. It has been constantly moving during the earlier years, but when it came to Kadesh-barnea its progress was arrested and it had to wait. But that was not God's idea. As soon as He can get the conditions that He needs, He will start going forward again.

We look from the ark to what the ark represents, for we are quite sure now about this matter - that the ark is a type of Jesus Christ, and what John calls the testimony of Jesus. When we come to our own time the same truth holds good concerning the Lord Jesus as was true of the ark: the Lord Jesus in the midst of His own people is always wanting to go further on. He does not desire nor intend that there shall be any delay in the spiritual progress of His people. If there is any delay, it is not His will nor His fault - it is the fault of His people. The true Christian life, in fellowship with the Lord Jesus, should always be progressive. The Lord does not believe in spiritual standing still or stagnation.

Now we have seen that the ark meant three things. In the first place, it meant spiritual government, and in our case that means the absolute government and lordship of Jesus Christ. The Lord desires that every aspect of our lives should be governed by the Lord Jesus.

Here is something very important and very helpful: If you look at the ark of the testimony you will see that - in its normal course - it was always just where it was because the Lord wanted it there, and where the ark was the people had to be. Therein is a very important lesson for our lives. If we are truly under the government of the Lord Jesus we cannot say where we would like to live. To put that in another way: We cannot just go and live where we would like to live. I expect all of you know quite well where you would like to live. I certainly know where I would like to live - but that is not the point. Where does the testimony of Jesus require that I should live? My place of living, my place of working, under the government of the Lord Jesus, must be decided by Him, and if we are living somewhere where we choose to live and not the Lord, we shall have missed the way. It is the ark that always chooses the place where we are to be. There is a definite statement about this: "The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them three days' journey, to seek out a resting place for them" (Numbers 10:33). Our lives, in every respect, are to be governed by the interests of the Lord Jesus, and we must be quite sure that we are where we are serving the highest interests of the Lord Jesus. The ark, then, as a type of the Lord Jesus governs everything, and by prayer, and humility, and obedience we must always keep our eye on the Lord Jesus. On the one side that is the surrendered life, and on the other side it is the fruitful, or victorious, life.

The second thing that we have seen about the ark is that it governs the matter of intelligence. Every movement of the ark meant that the people came to some fresh knowledge; that is, the ark was not only moving from place to place, but it was bringing the people into a deepening knowledge of the Lord. Every movement of the ark became a new experience for the people of God.

Now you understand that I am not just talking about geography. It may, of course, apply to the town in which we live, or even to the country where we live. It may even mean the very street and house in which we live. That may come under the government of the Lord, but I am speaking also about spiritual geography. What I mean is this: You may have lived in the same house for fifty years and yet have moved hundreds of miles. I must try to explain this very clearly.

How long have you been living in the house where you are now? Perhaps some of you have been there ten, twenty, thirty or forty years. Are you in just the same spiritual position today as you were when you first went into that house? Well, that would be a miserable existence! You ought to be moving with the Lord continually, and moving with the Lord means coming into an ever-growing experience of the Lord, and growing in knowledge of the Lord. That place where the Lord puts you ought to be the place of experiences which bring you into an ever-growing knowledge of the Lord.

We have said that experience is the only true way of education, and it is possible for us to say: 'Now in this place where I have been living so long I have had many deep experiences. There have been sorrows and there have been joys. There have been many trials and many conflicts, but all these have brought me into a fuller knowledge of the Lord. Because the Lord has governed my life, it has been a way of a growing knowledge of Himself.'

That is how it was with Israel in relation to the ark. This week the ark will be here and the people will be learning something, but perhaps next week the ark will have moved on and the people will be learning something else. And that goes on until the ark comes to Jordan - and what a tremendous discovery of the Lord the Jordan was!

Before we come to that, let us mark the third thing about the ark. We have said that the ark was always the occasion of conflict. It seemed that the very movement of the ark involved the people of God in difficulties. As that ark went forward the enemies noted it and came out against the Lord's people. We can say that the ark led the Lord's people into battle. Indeed, the time came when the people would not go into battle without the ark.

This may not be a very comforting idea, but our relationship to the Lord Jesus always means that we are going to be involved in conflict. However, it was by way of conflict that the people came nearer and nearer to the fullness of God's purpose. The purpose of God is a full inheritance for His people, but we can see with the ark that it was through conflict that they came into the inheritance. All those of us who know anything about spiritual life know quite well that if we have anything of the Lord we have got it through battle. It has come into our possession by way of adversity. That is very true, is it not? We are not going to get to the Lord's end by a joy-ride and a picnic. We are only going to get there by terrible conflict, and we are going to discover that every step nearer to God's purpose is going to be challenged by the enemy. That is undoubtedly why we always have trouble in these conferences - because the Lord has a purpose in them. I want, therefore, to say to everyone here, and especially to the young Christians, that God wants us to be always moving on in our spiritual life.

What was the greatest enemy that Israel had against their getting into the land? Was it the enemies on the outside? Amalek came against them, but he was disposed of. Did other nations come against them? Well, again, so much the worse for the other nations! It reminds me of the first steam engine that was made in England. It could go at such a terrible pace that it travelled at four miles an hour! All the people were terribly frightened of this thing, and some good ladies said to Stephenson, the maker: 'Supposing a cow gets in the way?' Stephenson simply looked at them and said: 'So much the worse for the cow!'

Well, let it be Amalek or anyone else, while the people's hearts were in the right direction it did not matter about the enemies on the outside, but there came a time when their progress was arrested and they were turned back into the wilderness, where they had this great experience about which we have read in 1 Corinthians 10, where it says: "Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness." No outward enemy did that. What was it that brought that terrible tragedy into the life of this people? Of course, it says here that it was unbelief, but what did that mean in their case? It means that they did not have a heart to go on. You will remember that when they did go over into the land it was because Joshua and Caleb, who had a heart for the Lord, led them there. That generation which perished in the wilderness only had a heart for itself. Self-interest was their greatest enemy, and it manifested itself even in relation to the things of God. But the generation that went on and went in had the Lord alone as its interest. Joshua and Caleb had said: "If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land" (Numbers 14:8). It was all a matter of the Lord's delight.

It is a matter of the spirit in us, that is, our spiritual disposition. What a rich and full inheritance the Apostle Paul has left for the people of God! Why was his life so full, so rich and so fruitful? It was because of the disposition in him. Hear what he says in one of the last Letters that he ever wrote, at the time when he could say that his journey was just finishing: "Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-14).

The second generation came into the land because they had a spirit like that - and we need to have a spirit like that. We need to be wholly and utterly committed to the Lord and His interests. If that is true of us He will bring us into the fullness to which He has called us, and we shall come to know more and more of the greatness and the glory of the Lord Jesus.

We will leave it there for the time being. May all the young men and young women have a heart like this for the Lord, and may none of us older people ever settle down to think that we have already attained! The testimony of Jesus is always wanting to move forward and bring us more and more into that fullness for which we have been chosen.

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