Companions of Christ and the Heavenly Calling

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 8 - The Old Jewish Background

Once again we return to this great matter which the Lord is bringing before us in these days, the great thing which God is doing in this dispensation - that is, the period between the ascension of the Lord Jesus and His coming again. God is doing a secret thing in this dispensation. The real nature of the thing that God is doing is not seen on the surface. Men are always trying to make it seen, but what God is really doing is deeper down than can be seen. It lies behind everything that is seen.

God is constituting a new, heavenly, spiritual, Israel. The members of that new spiritual Israel are not known to this world and many of them are not known to other Christians. It is not until you come right into close touch with them that you discover that they are fellow citizens of the heavenly kingdom and very often you are quite surprised as to where you find them. However right we may be in abhorring the Roman Catholic system, we are sometimes very surprised to discover that there are fellow citizens of the kingdom of heaven inside the system and that you can have a large measure of spiritual fellowship with them. And so it is in other connections; you do not know where they are until you come into touch with them in a spiritual way. This is a spiritual Israel, it is not a great public, political movement. That is the difference between the old Israel and the new.

Now, we have been saying a great deal in these meetings about the setting aside of the old Israel, and while that is true, there is something that we must recognise. Although we are saying so much about the rejection of the former Israel, we have to remember that the twelves apostles and the apostle Paul were Jews and they represent what God meant all the Jews to be. These men, the twelve apostles and the apostle Paul, were involved in the rejection of the Lord Jesus. Peter, their leader, was the one who denied Him and it says that "they all forsook Him and fled". The fear of their nation came upon them and they broke down in that fear and they fulfilled the word of the Lord Jesus when He said, "All ye shall be offended because of Me this night." They were all involved in that thing.

And as for the apostle Paul, there's no doubt about him; he was very much involved - persecuting all those that were of that way. And yet here they are, the first men of the new Israel. I think this is a very wonderful thing from more than one standpoint. I don't think Peter ever forgot that denial of the Lord Jesus. No doubt from time to time it came up before him like a black spectre. I have no doubt that the devil often played upon that and said to him, "It's all very well for you to preach, but remember your black past... Remember how you denied and forsook your Master!" I suspect that Peter often had to make a real battle over his past. Well, we know that Paul did. Not once did Paul refer to that past of his, he repeatedly reminded people of it. He said, "I am not meet to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church". One time he said to the Lord, "Lord, Lord, they know... they know how I persecuted You and how I gave my consent to the martyrdom of Your servant Stephen." Paul never forgot the tragedy of his past life. And yet these men are the men which are the foundation of the new Israel.

Now, why have I said that, because you're waiting for me to go on with the sixteen points in John! But today the Lord told me that I was to say this: our past can always be a very great discouragement to us. And it can be the ground upon which the enemy plays, to take the heart out of us and even tell us, "You see what kind of a person you are? You have proved yourself to be a worthless person. What do you expect, seeing what you have been like in the past?" And so he would destroy all hope and take away all our assurance by saying, "You're a bad lot and you know it, and you ought to expect nothing good for the future." Well, if ever there were men who could have talked like that, it was Peter and Paul and the rest of those men on the night when Jesus was delivered up. I put it over on the other side and I say, "If ever there were people who seemed to be hopeless, these were such people!" But these "hopeless people" became the very beginning of the heavenly Jerusalem. I say there's hope for anybody! And if the apostle Paul were standing where I am standing tonight, he would say to us, "My friends, anybody could be saved if I could be saved! Anybody could be a part of this heavenly Israel if I could be! So take heart." You see the material of which the Lord builds His new Jerusalem.

In the light of this, it is a great dishonour to the Lord for anybody to say, "I am hopeless. My past is such a bad one that there is no possibility for me." That dishonours the Lord. And F. W. H. Myers has said, "God shall forgive thee all, but thy despair." God cannot forgive despair. Elijah discovered that! The Lord said, "What doest thou here Elijah? You get up out of this and and go yonder and that is where I will meet you; not here under the juniper tree." God shall forgive all but despair... because despair limits the Almighty and it says, "God is not capable of solving my case".

So, when we speak about the rejection of the old Israel, let us remember that it was material from the old Israel with which God began the new. Well now, having said that, we can go on with John, because what we are seeing in the gospel by John is the old Jewish background upon which the Lord is building. That is, behind this gospel of John, in every part, there is something of the old Jewish order. And the Lord is taking the principle of that and bringing it over to the new heavenly order.

Last night we began with the Lamb of God, "behold God's Lamb". We saw what a large Jewish background there was to the Lamb of God. And then we went on to Nathanael and saw the heaven which had been closed, opened in Jesus Christ. And then to the marriage in Cana of Galilee behind which we saw the marriage relationship between the old Israel and Jehovah, and the breakdown of that relationship because one party to the covenant had failed to keep it - and the marriage saved in Jesus Christ - a new Israel.

Further into chapter 2 we came to the temple and heard the Lord saying, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again". They, the Jews, "thought that He spake of the temple in Jerusalem, but this He said concerning the temple of His body". So that the old temple was set aside and in Jesus Christ a new temple was brought in.

Into chapter 3 we came to Nicodemus, this representative son of Abraham after the flesh. And how impossible it is for sons of Abraham after the flesh to enter the heavenly kingdom! The sons of Abraham must be born again to become sons of God, "of such is the kingdom of God".

Now tonight we come to number 6, in chapter 3, at verse 14: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whosoever believeth may in Him have eternal life." There is an Old Testament background, we have it in the 21st chapter of the book of Numbers and the incident begins in this way, "Then the children of Israel spake against God and against Moses..." and they said, "we hate this vile bread" - very strong words they used about the manna: "We hate this vile bread..." the food from heaven. They spake against God, against Moses, and they said "we hate the thing that God has provided". Do remember, dear friends, that God, in all that He did, always had His Son in view. And when God gave them manna from heaven, as we are going to see when we come to John chapter 6, He had His Son in view; the manna was a type of Christ who said "I am the living Bread which came down from heaven" and they said, "we hate this vile Bread". And you can hear the Jews in Christ's day speaking like that, "We hate this Man!" They would almost say, "we will not have You even if God sent You" - that was their spirit; against God.

God saw the spirit of these people in the wilderness - how antagonistic it was to Him and what He gave, "wherefore God sent serpents among them which did bite them and a great multitude died". And then came in the serpent. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness... oh, there are deep and terrible things here. The serpent is ever and always, from beginning to end of the Bible, the symbol of a curse - the symbol of the judgment of God. You know that from the very first mention of the serpent in the Bible.

This serpent lifted up in the wilderness is the symbol of the judgment of God. The judgment and curse of God which rested upon the rebellious people is transferred to that serpent and that serpent is transfixed to the cross, carrying the curse and the judgment of God upon itself for the people. "And whosoever looked to the serpent was saved." In using that bit of the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus was only saying, "I am going to be made a curse for you, when I am lifted up I shall bear your judgment upon Myself. I shall carry your sins in My body on the tree". There is deliverance in Christ crucified from the curse and from the judgment, and "whosoever will look, shall live. For..." and here comes in the greatest scripture that we know, oh, I like the conjunction! Conjunctions are always very significant things in the New Testament, when you get a "for", or a "wherefore" or a "therefore", always look all round. The serpent lifted up and the Son of Man lifted up, bearing the curse and judgment of a rebellious people for... "God so loved the world". We quote that John 3:16 without the context.

Ah, what a tremendous thing this is, God is pouring upon His only begotten Son the judgment of us all, allowing His only begotten, well beloved Son to be made a curse for us. Why? "For God so loved the world... that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have eternal life." You have to lift out John 3:16 and put it right into Numbers 21, or take Numbers 21 and put it right into John 3:16. Here is the background, and here is the foreground; the transition from the old to the new. The new heavenly Israel is built upon this ground: "whosoever believeth hath eternal life". Oh, what a lot more we could say about that!

We must pass on, and here is the unfortunate thing in the dividing of chapters. For spiritual purposes it's a great pity that John 3 and John 4 are divided in chapters. You know what is in John 4, it's the woman of Samaria at Sychar's well. You recall the conversation between the Master and that woman; at the heart of the whole talk was this: "he that believeth on Me, I will put a well of water into him, a well springing up unto life eternal. He that drinketh of this water shall never thirst again". I think there ought to be no division of chapters there, because the 21st chapter of the book of Numbers is not divided, and immediately after the incident of the serpent being lifted up, you have the incident of the springing well: "Then sang Israel, Spring up oh well". When the Cross has done its work, when Christ has borne our judgment and the curse resting upon us, then the Holy Spirit is released and springs up as the well of eternal life.

Then in chapter 4 is the background of Numbers 21, the springing well following immediately upon the serpent lifted up. In John 3 and John 4 you have these two things: the serpent lifted up, Jesus lifted up, made a curse for us, because it is written "cursed is everyone that hangeth upon a tree", made a curse for us, bearing the judgment of our rebellious hearts and when He has done that, He has made a way for the springing well, the well of eternal life.

Wonderful connection the Holy Spirit makes, doesn't He, in the Bible? How He brings things together! Well, we would perhaps never have thought we'd find the third and fourth chapters of John in the book of Numbers, but there it is. That was number 7, in case you're losing count.

Number 8: chapter 4 of John at verse 46. We have the incident of the nobleman and his dying son. He has come all the way from Capernaum to find Jesus and to persuade Jesus to go home with him and heal his son. Jesus tested his faith and then, finding that his faith was quite genuine, He said, "You can go home, your son's alive". "Your son liveth." The man went home, believed Him and went home, and discovered that it was just at the very moment when Jesus said "thy son liveth" that his son began to get better.

Now, I expect there are people here who were here last year and who are saying, 'we heard all about that last year'! But you didn't hear all about it last year and you'll see that in a moment! You remember last year I took the eight signs of the gospel by John; they've developed into sixteen this year, so you didn't hear all about it! And not only concerning this nobleman's son.

And what is at the heart of this incident? Why did not Jesus go with that man to Capernaum, because at another time He did go to Capernaum and healed a lot of people. Why did He not say, "Well, I've got to go to Capernaum at some time and do a lot of works there, I may as well go now, here's the opportunity. This is an invitation and I suppose I ought to take all invitations..." Jesus did not do that, He stayed where He was and sent the man home, all that long way back again, over many miles [editor's note: this portion in italics was translated from the German as the sound was lost briefly]. As we saw last year, it took from 12 o'clock noon until the close of the day and then on into the next day for the man to get home.

Why was it that Jesus adopted this method on this particular occasion? We have a Jewish background and what is the Jewish background? It is the background of the law, that "letter of the law which killeth". Jesus said in this gospel, "The letter killeth, but the words that I speak they are spirit and they are life". And it does not matter how far away the case may be, if He speaks, His word is Spirit and Life. The Old Testament speaking of the law brought death. "The letter killeth", that is the letter of the law, "the Spirit giveth life and the words that I speak unto you they are Spirit and they are Life". He only had to speak and He reversed the effect of the law. The law could never have done this, you may bring all the scribes and pharisees down from Jerusalem for this boy and they can recite all the law of Moses and nothing will happen to the boy, he will die right enough, and probably die all the quicker because of their reading of the law! Jesus only has to open His mouth and speak a word, and the boy, many miles away, begins to get better from that moment. Yes, Jesus is showing that the law of His mouth is Life.

The transition is so clear isn't it? From death unto Life in the Word.

Number 9: chapter 5 of John. Here we have to repeat largely what we have said before. The story of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda. Verse 5 is the heart of the thing, "A certain man was there which had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity..." and what is the Jewish background? There is very little doubt that the Jewish background there was Israel's journey in the wilderness - the 38 years of their wandering in the wilderness. What cripples they were in the wilderness! They could have made the journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan in 11 days, it took them 38 years and during the 38 years, they were really making no progress at all. They were in bondage to their own self life. They were impotent, helpless cripples because the self life was in the place of mastery.

You have no need for me to tell you how that self life governed them in the wilderness. They never looked at anything as to how it served God, as to how far it satisfied God's interests; they looked at everything as to how it affected them. All their murmuring and rebellion was because they were not getting what they wanted. It was never what God wanted, they were just a self-centred people and the self life was their bed, and they were cripples lying on the bed of the self life, never really able to get up and march straight forward to God's purpose.

Well, that's the old Israel background. Jesus takes up an illustration of that right in the presence of the Jews and He takes this man and puts him on his feet. And the members of the new heavenly Israel are people who have been delivered from self interest into God's interests; people who have been put on their spiritual feet by Jesus Christ and are walking in strength in the way of the Lord.

Now, don't you think it's a very significant thing that the first miracle after the day of Pentecost was the raising of an impotent man at the gate of the temple of Jerusalem? You see, these are not just pretty stories put together to make an interesting book. God knows what He's doing and when He puts the first miracle of the Christian era as the raising of an impotent cripple, He is saying that the people of this new Israel are people who have been delivered from this impotence and put on their feet spiritually.

Are there any cripples here tonight? There are a lot of Christian cripples about, they can neither get on their own feet, nor can other people put them on their feet. You try to pick them up, they may take a step or two, and down they go again. A lot of people are like that; you have to spend your life trying to get them up on their feet. What is it that is eating the very life out of them? What is it that is making them such helpless cripples that cannot walk? It is self-centredness. Make no mistake about it; it's self in some form. It's self that wants to be taken notice of. It is self in the form of pride.

This poor man was delivered because he knew his own helplessness, but he believed what Jesus said. He believed onto Jesus Christ which means he believed out of himself. Yes, that's the secret: that we shall turn from our miserable selves and cease to be occupied with them - say once and for all, "I am done with you. I am done with you wretched self! I throw myself onto Jesus Christ. I take the one great step of committal". And Jesus never lets such a person down.

Number 10. I think we can take number 10 for granted, we've already said something about it, chapter 6: the Bread of Life. And you know how the Lord Jesus said, "It was not Moses that gave you the manna, it was My Father". That's the Old Testament Jewish background. Now right in the presence of the Jews, He is saying, "I am the living Bread which is come down from heaven to give Life to the world". Well, I say we can leave that. Here is the very obvious transition from the old to the new. We have seen in the book of Numbers that the manna did not fully and finally satisfy, but this Bread which came down from heaven is the full and the final satisfaction of all who receive Him.

I do want to say a word about number 11, that is why I have hurried over number 10. This is in chapter 7 of John, but perhaps I had better ask you, would you like me to stop now? Shall I stop? Thank you, because I've seen some people looking at me like they've had enough!

Very well then, chapter 7, first, verse 1: "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee for He would not walk in Judea for the Jews sought to kill Him. Now the feast of the Jews, the feast of tabernacles was at hand."

Verse 14: "But when it was now the midst of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple and taught."

Verse 37: "Now on the last day of the feast, the great day, on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit which they that believed on Him were to receive."

Well, now we're in the presence of the Feast of Tabernacles: Numbers chapter 29. If you look at that chapter, you will see what led up to this great day of the feast. All the different kinds of offerings had been presented to the Lord. I need not enumerate all the kinds of offerings, they are all mentioned there and they have all been presented to the Lord. Then came the last great day of the feast. It is called the Feast of Tabernacles, but it is also called the Feast of Trumpets. On that great day of the feast in the temple in Jerusalem the priests brought out great vessels of water and poured out the water on the top of the steps of the temple so that it flowed down the steps in great volume. Jesus stepped forward at that time.

All in Him, all the offerings are presented to God, He in person is the embodiment of all the sacrifices and all the offerings and He, as the completeness of all God's requirements, presents Himself to the Lord. And then He comes to this day of the Feast of Tabernacles and it says in Numbers, "and the priest shall sound with the trumpet". And Jesus took the trumpet and "He cried with a loud voice"; here's the trumpet of the Feast of Tabernacles. In Him all the offerings are perfected. God is fully satisfied therefore He can pour out His spirit in fullness. He cries, like the trumpet, with a loud voice, "He that believeth on Me out of him shall flow rivers of living water". Now, this is the heritage of all who are of the new Israel. Dear friend, it's your, it's your inheritance.

If the Word of God is true, if what Christ has said is true, if on this only occasion when He lifted up His voice, He cried with a loud voice, (that is, before the day of His cross when He cried with a loud voice) the only time when He lifted up His voice, if this is true, He has put great emphasis upon this: that if you and I will accept Jesus Christ as God's full satisfaction on our behalf, as the One who has brought every offering that God has stipulated to God Himself and He has done it for us, if that is true (and Jesus wanted it to be known that it was true by crying with a loud voice, the trumpet sounds this very loudly) Jesus is God's satisfaction on our behalf. He has offered, He has answered to every sacrifice, and every offering. If we believe that, if we really believe that, then His great cry is true for us - out of us can flow rivers of living water. That is, that others shall be receiving of His life through us as His channels. That is how it ought to be in the case of every true believer. And Jesus has made it possible by satisfying God completely on our behalf.

So, people of the new Israel ought to be people with a river flowing out. Believe... proclaim your faith... keep not silent! Take the trumpet to your lips and let people hear and you will be surprised that when you begin to testify to the Lord Jesus, people begin to receive Life. Something will happen in other people. If you keep your mouth closed and you refuse to testify to the Lord Jesus in your home, or in your village, or in your work, then you are holding up the river of the Spirit. You are just checking the flow of the river that ought to be flowing out of you.

Now, if you have never done it, you try it; and I want to tell you that the first soul that comes to the Lord Jesus through your testimony will release something in you that you will never again want to keep your mouth closed. There are a lot of miserable Christians because they will keep their mouths closed. I know there is those Christians who talk too much, but there are quite a lot of Christians who do not talk enough and so they are spoiling their own Christian life.

Take the trumpet of the Lord Jesus, and cry with a loud voice, and the rivers will begin to flow. Well, you told me to go on, but I'm only ten minutes late after all, but we haven't finished yet!

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