The Mountains Around Jerusalem

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Mountain of His Heavenly Presence in the Midst of the Storm

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea,tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!" And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God." (Matthew 14:13-33).

In our previous meditation we were in Matthew chapters five to seven, and what really is before us for our apprehension is the meaning of the kingdom of heaven with the church as the embodiment of it. In these mountains we have foreshadowings of that kingdom which was then coming and has now come. You remember that on the occasion when the Lord was about to take His disciples up into the mount of Transfiguration, He said, "There are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt. 16:28), and undoubtedly that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The Son of man came in His kingdom then, fulfilling His own words "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36); so that here we have the kingdom coming, the kingdom imminent, and here are foreshadowings of the nature of that kingdom and of the vessel, the church, which embodies it.

The first and inclusive thing about that kingdom is that it is a heavenly kingdom, and so the great things foreshadowed as to that kingdom are disclosed on mountains in Matthew's Gospel; six mountains comprehended, meaning (of course figuratively) that these belong to heaven; they are of a heavenly character. And when these things become true in the church, it will be a heavenly church, and then it will be a church in a place of ascendancy, dominion, authority, government and power.

The Real Government of the World is Spiritual

Now we pass over to Matthew 14:13-33. "He went up into the mountain apart to pray: and when evening was come, He was there alone" (v. 23). And He was there alone in more senses than one. He was physically alone, and He was alone in His soul. If you look in John 6:15-21, the corresponding record, you will have the explanation of His act here. The words used in the translation are quite weak. Our word in Matthew is, "He constrained the disciples to enter into the boat." The word really is very much stronger than that. It is really only equalled by our word 'forced', 'compelled'. He compelled them; He forced them to get into the boat and go before Him. John 6:15 explains that the multitude would "take Him by force, to make Him king". This would have been a precipitate political movement which would have wrecked everything, pulled things down on to an altogether lower level of this world and would have destroyed the prospects of this heavenly kingdom.

It would have been a very subtle and clever move of the enemy to come and take Him and make Him king by force, and the disciples were evidently caught in it. We know that that was their idea, vision and ambition right up to the end, even after His resurrection. "Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Their vision was earthly and political and it is not exaggerating or misunderstanding them or wrongly judging them to say that when this thing suddenly came up in a mass movement, they were involved, they were caught, so He sent them away first of all. He could deal with the multitudes better without them present. He sent them away to another place, until He had sent the multitudes away. It is so often when those who are associated with the Lord get wrong views of His intentions, false conceptions of His work and His purpose; so often they are the ones that complicate the whole thing and make difficulties for the Lord. The only thing to do is to get them out of the way, and so He got them out of the way and dealt with the multitude Himself. He had to quiet the multitude, He had somehow to stop this sudden, precipitate drive, and you can believe that that was no easy thing. So He forced them, He compelled the disciples to go.

The real government of this world is spiritual, not temporal; that is the upshot of it. They would come and make Him king by force, and try in that way to set up a temporal kingdom with Him as its head, but the real government of this world is spiritual. He had to refuse and repudiate the other, and disentangle His disciples, who were the nucleus of the spiritual and heavenly kingdom, from that. What follows is an acted-out parable of the kingdom in this specific connection.

The church is in the sea. The sea in the Bible represents mankind, the nations: restless, often in tumult; and the spirit of mankind, the spirit of the world, the spirit of the nations is running counter to the church. The church is going through a difficult time. That is where the church is, and the sea at this time has worked itself up into a tempest.

The Lord in Complete Ascendancy

There are two pictures of Jesus: there (on the mountain) and here (on the sea). On the mountain He has been getting back into His native air. You know what it is to be caught in something of this drive and push and rush of man to get something done by his own energy, effort and determination, and you know so often that your spirit revolts against it. You say, No, that is not a movement of the Spirit; that is man trying to do something. There is a lot of tremendous hot-air activity in relation to the Lord to bring His kingdom about, and spiritual people saying, This is not it; that is man. The Lord Jesus was there, and in effect His action said, Let me get back to My own native air, let me get out of this, let me get control of this situation from heaven. He is alone, but He is there in prayer taking possession of this tumult. He is in ascendancy; no one else is; but He is in the place of mastery over all these forces in this world. The next that is said of Him is that He is on top of those restless forces, in complete command of them. They have no power over Him, He is walking on the waves. There on the mountain and here on the sea in control, the two places are one; in complete ascendancy over all those raging forces seeking to engulf His church.

Then to Peter, the representative of the church at that time, He says, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19). The representative one is to be brought, through faith, into union with that ascendancy. He, so to speak, is bringing the church into that ascendancy of the Lord through faith.

The Church with the Lord in His Ascendancy

Well, those are the features of the whole situation, the acted parable. What is really being enacted here is another foreshadowing of the post-ascension days; Jesus there at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, all things put in subjection under His feet, absolute Lordship committed to Him, the King of the spiritual kingdom which is not of this world, but lies behind and really governs. It is not long before you see this being fulfilled in the church in the tumult of the nations. On one occasion in the midst of that tumult they quoted the second Psalm to the Lord. "O Lord... who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David thy servant, didst say, Why did the Gentiles rage?" (Acts 4:24,25). Here is the raging sea of men, and they are in it. Yes, they are precipitated into it; Herod, Nero and all the rest. But He is not only there, He is here, not to do the thing apart from them, but to bring them into the good of His own position. So you find that in the tempest, when the church exercised faith and bore testimony to the absolute Lordship of Christ, what happened? Well, they were not engulfed, they were not overwhelmed, they went on their way. Sometimes there was a great calm: "So the church... had peace... and... was multiplied" (Acts 9:31). "Saul... breathing threatening and slaughter" (Acts 9:1); you can hear the wind and the waves, you can feel the tempest raging when Saul is acting against the church, but they exercised faith in their exalted Lord, and He is found to be in their midst. Saul is on the way to Damascus; Saul sees Him and hears Him saying, "Why do you persecute Me?" 'I am there, Saul; where My people are, there I am, as well as up here!' Through their faith, this mighty storm is brought under His ascendancy and Lordship. They have come into the good of it, and the storm breaks. So the church had peace and was multiplied. The point is that the church came into the good of the mountain top, into the position of ascendancy, through faith.

This mountain foreshadows the coming days of the church, when the church is precipitated into the tempests in the nations. We are there now, there is no doubt about it. But what about it? We may not at this time be suffering directly great persecutions from men, but I leave you to decide which is worse - to suffer direct, open persecution at the hands of men, or to know the awful raging of the powers of darkness against your soul. We know something about that, this awful conflict, these atmospherics, this pressure, this terrible determination of the evil forces to overwhelm us if they can, to bring us under; we know it continually; we are in the way of the kingdom.

The Need of Faith

What does the Lord want to teach us? First of all, His kingdom is not of this world. If you get down on to that level of something temporal, tangible, seen and handled, you are off the line. If all these sentient factors weigh with you, then you are on a very low level. That is not the realm. No, the heavenlies is the realm of the church, the kingdom, the government, the dominion, the place of authority. Given that that is recognized, then the Lord seeks to teach us the way of union with Himself in His ascendancy, to go through these tempests and not to be overwhelmed by these forces of evil. This is figurative language mainly, but you understand what this means in a spiritual way every day. The enemy is seeking to get you down and get you under, to overwhelm you, and the Lord does not just come along and stop him. He says to you, 'Come out here with Me to the place of ascendancy, you come into My place, on to My ground, you exercise faith in Me and by faith you will share My power over those powers of evil. Take your place by faith' - and it takes a lot of exercise of faith to step out of a boat into the sea and believe that you will not go under, or out of an aeroplane on to clouds and believe that you will not fall down. Faith is tested like that as severely in the spiritual realm as it would be in the natural. It is simply stepping out onto the Lord (where to step out naturally will be disaster) and to believe that there will be no disaster at all. That, of course, applies to many things. This is the thing the Lord is trying to teach us and bring us to, and that is borne out by this acted parable, this foreshadowing of spiritual things.

The Lord's Engineering of Circumstances

The Lord Himself deliberately chose these circumstances for them. He compelled them to get into the boat, and He knew from His vantage point on the mountain what was happening down below. He could see it all, and He came to them in the fourth watch, which was the last watch. He knew exactly when He would go to them, when things had got pretty well near the end where they were concerned, and they were at the end of their tether. Scripture does not include things for artistic reasons; every detail has its significance. He deliberately precipitated them into this position and He deliberately waited for His own most advantageous time. When there was no natural strength or ability left and when it seemed that the power was all with these adverse forces, He was going to reveal how utterly Master of the situation He was, and how calmly so. There is no great fanfare, no demonstration; He just walked quietly on the water, and all is tranquil. 'Come on, you will be the same, it is easy, come on!' Tranquillity... Mastery of forces have worn these men down completely, brought them to an end. He has waited as He waited deliberately four days before He came to Lazarus, so that everything should be utterly impossible and hopeless from any other quarter but His own.

He is always doing this sort of thing. He has this matter in hand and is seeing to it that there are no resources anywhere else, they are all spent out. The Lord chooses circumstances for us quite deliberately, and lets them run on very often - we think often too long, but He knows what He is doing. He is going to let us know, on one hand, how completely, and therefore tranquilly, Master of the situation He is. Is not that one of the factors that we have so often recognized? The thing was terrific, and then when the Lord came in, it was as though it was nothing, and we asked afterwards, "Was it as bad as we thought it was?" It is so simply cleared up. It was just as bad as ever it was and perhaps a great deal worse, but He is so completely Master that it does not need a demonstration of power from Him to bring this thing under. It is easy. Well, anything ought to be easy for omnipotence, ought it not? He waits in order to teach this, firstly: His own complete mastery in this universe.

But then the disciples are to come into the good of that in an experimental and actual way. They are to know this heavenly ascendancy themselves and, to summarise, we only come into it and make these discoveries when we are forced to; when, if we do not, it is the end of everything. We are like that, and it is as well that the Lord takes us on that ground. He never believes in theoretical ascendancy, He never believes in doctrinal ascendancy. He does not believe in people having all the doctrine and the theory of reigning and dominion. He sees to it that it is very practical, and so He precipitates the situations, and drives us into them in order to make it very practical. Of course, we do know how practical it is. It is very practical because it is very grim, but oh, that we might more quickly learn the lesson and more readily exercise the faith in His supreme ability to deal with this whole situation when it is completely beyond us and we can stand no more.

Is it not part of our training, as of these disciples, that we, perhaps far too slowly, but nevertheless, that we should come steadily and surely to the place where we say, 'I have been in situations like this before where I thought it was the end, but it was not. I proved the Lord then, I will prove Him again now.' We are constantly redeemed from our despair, our lack of faith, our great tendency to give up because it is all too much, it is impossible. That is the tendency - to say it is beyond us now; this is the end; we cannot go any further. That is unbelief, and He says, "O ye of little faith"; but we should reduce that steadily until, in the presence of storms that have never been before, we also are learning the tranquillity of ascendancy through faith in the Lord.

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