The Unsearchable Riches of Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 7 - The Heavenly Bread

We are going to turn aside from the course that we've been following in the earlier meetings, and for a little time this morning be occupied with that which has been engaged in in this little while: the Lord's Table. And I would ask you to turn to one or two passages, firstly in the gospel by Mark, chapter 6. Mark 6 at verse 34: "And He came forth and saw a great multitude, and He had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and He began to teach them..."

The gospel by John, chapter 6 at verse 4: "Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Jesus therefore lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great multitude cometh unto Him, saith unto Philip, Whence are we to buy bread, that these may eat? And this He said to prove him: for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, Two hundred penny worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one may take a little." Verse 33: "The bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life, life unto the world. They said therefore unto Him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. Jesus said unto them. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst."

The first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 23: "I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, how that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, This is My body, which is broken for you."

When Philip estimated that 200 penny worth of bread would be the very least to feed the multitude, he was putting the price far beyond their human resources. To him it represented a very costly undertaking to meet the need of that hungry multitude, those scattered and hungry sheep without a shepherd. But when he had put so large a value and estimate upon what was necessary, he was far below the actual cost of what was represented; that is, the Heavenly Bread. If he had multiplied a thousand times the 200 penny worth, he would never have reached the cost and the value of that which was symbolic at that time in the wilderness: the Bread of Heaven. That which was in the mind of the Lord... He knew what He would do, the Lord had in His mind the real meaning of what was taking place. And what was in the mind of the Lord was infinitely more precious than 200 pence multiplied many times. This indeed, from heaven's standpoint, from the Lord's standpoint, was costly bread; very costly bread, beyond the estimate of man. When the Lord proceeded to take the loaves and break them and give them to the disciples, at that time they little realised that they were called into that costliness; that they were being brought into actual association with the infinite costliness of the Heavenly Bread.

They had been called to minister in fellowship with His Son; they little knew it, they little recognised it at the moment, but He could have applied to this matter what He said in another connection at another time: "What I do now thou knowest not; but thou shalt know, afterward". "He took the loaves and brake... and gave". What an infinite fulness is found in that word "and brake". It's a pity that the revisers have taken from the text and put into the margin the words, "broken for you". But as you notice, it was there, and many authorities recognise that it was there, "My body, which is not only for you, but broken for you" - the infinite cost of that breaking.

And when He called them into partnership with this great breaking and distributing, He was really only in a symbolic way calling them into the fellowship of His sufferings which were to become the Life of men. John gives us the full explanation of the incident in the wilderness, the feeding of the multitude. Jesus explains His act there. So what do we have? It is, in the first place, the infinite preciousness and costliness of every fragment of Christ that is offered to us. Every little bit, broken from Him, so to speak, and presented to us, contains the great costliness of His redeeming love, of His brokenness for our salvation. If at any time there is offered to us through a life, through a ministry, a word, or in any other way offered to us some small portion of Christ, as we have taken the fragment this morning each one of us, if there is offered to us a fragment of Christ, in every fragment there is embodied this costliness of our redemption, this costliness of the Life which He is and gives. This costliness in His brokenness, it's there... offered to us.

Do you not feel, dear friends, that the ministration of Christ to His people needs to be redeemed from the matter-of-fact, matter-of-course cheapness of the oft-repeated hearing of His word, receiving of that which really does represent Him? We have become so accustomed to hearing, going and coming, going and coming through the years, and hearing, and being offered, we begin to take it for granted. And if we don't do that, I think I would find your agreement if I said we don't recognise how infinitely costly every fragment of Christ is that is offered to us. It's like that. You and I need to be delivered from familiarity; the weakness of familiarity. Christ, in a sense, needs to be redeemed from our lack of appreciation of what any little bit of Him really does mean. That is the first thing that comes to us out of this record. The disciples did not at first realise what it meant that the Lord Jesus put the fragments into their hands to give to others, but in after life they did; you find that they realised that the ministry which was committed to them was not only a costly ministry, but a ministry of infinite importance. They entreated, besought, and prayed that those to whom it was offered should be alive to what was really being presented to them. They saw the tremendous issues bound up with every little bit of Christ that they had to offer. This is a word for us; to realise that when we take the loaf and break a small fragment, in that fragment in a symbolic way is represented all that the Lord Jesus had to give by His death.

And of course, there follows this: the fellowship of His sufferings is inseparable from any kind of ministration of Christ. To you this may not carry very strong appeal, because you do know something of it. I wish I could say this to a great number of those who have ambition to be preachers, ambition to get into what is called "the ministry". They think of it as something to gratify their own ambition in life. They go out, display themselves, take hold of it for themselves, make it serve their own glory: a reputation for themselves. The fact, the fact is if what we have read means this, that the fellowship of Christ's sufferings cannot be separated from any ministry of Christ, any true ministry of Christ, that ministry must be born out of a real fellowship with the Lord in His suffering. The brokenness must be transmitted from Him, to all who would serve Him. This again was something that these disciples came to know afterward. And that day, that day outside, the multitude, and the distribution through their hands, how little they understood what they were doing or what the Lord was doing and what the Lord meant by this; how little. But they were baptised into His sufferings later, and out of that baptism of His passion which they shared, came their ministry. And it was therefore ministry impregnated with the very passion and travail of His soul. It became, for them, a soul matter; not a professional thing which they were paid to carry out, not even a duty; but something which wrung their souls in many a Gethsemane where they had before God to say, "Not my will, but Thine" at very great cost.

Now this, of course, has two sides. I'm not speaking to a lot of preachers, those who would call themselves "ministers" (although it is such a mistake to put certain people into that category and leave the rest out, we are all ministers of Christ in some way) it works both ways; to us as those who are, every one of us, called upon to give something of Christ to this world of need and to His scattered and hungry sheep; to give something, in some way - by life, by word, by act, to give. But if it is going to be effective, it will be just exactly as His giving of Himself was effective, on the same principle: it costs. It just costs. Anything that is of any value, costs. If we want our lives to be channels and vehicles for the transmission of something of Christ to others, let it be understood that such ministration of Christ necessitates a fellowship with Him in His suffering, and will explain why the Lord brings us into that fellowship, why the suffering, why the trials, the adversities, the afflictions of so many kinds. Why? That we should have something of Christ to give that carries the real value of our Lord.

Well, we could say very much about why much ministry does not go very far, does not count for very much. Those in it are not prepared to pay the price. Well, it works that way so far as our calling to minister Christ to others is concerned, it will inevitably come out of experiences of suffering and affliction if it is going to be as effective as His has been.

On the other hand, in the other way, dear friends, is not this a call to us for a new evaluation of everything and anything that really is Christ? If the Lord really does give a word which is the content of Himself, carries Himself in it, it really behooves us to recognise that this is not something which we can regard lightly. There is here the potential of His own infinite suffering; a new appreciation of any ministry that is a ministry of Christ. We say, "Easy come, easy go"; that ought never to be true of our relationship to the Lord, either as from Him to others, or as from Him to ourselves. The receivers must enter into His suffering as much as the givers, if there is to be value.

This is but a brief word, but it's just an emphasis upon this one thing: He took, He brake. He gave the brokenness to them. He gave of His own brokenness to them that they might minister Him in all the virtue of His sacrifice to others. It's a word of comfort because it explains very much. It explains very much, it explains why the Lord brings us into that fellowship of His passion, His sorrow, His suffering, His disappointment, His reproach, His despising, His rejection, His loneliness... and everything that went to make up His brokenness. He brings us into it in some way or other, if we are going really to serve Him. It requires broken ministers to minister a broken Christ.

And if we are really to come into the good of every bit of Christ that comes our way, presented to us, we shall only do it along the path, the pathway, of His suffering. There has to be something that happens between our hearing, between it being offered to us and it becoming a return movement to His satisfaction. Something has to happen. We take our food and presently our food becomes our action; but something's happened between. Something's happened between; that food that we took at our meal is going through a breaking up and a breaking down process - you don't know what's going on, or you do sometimes know what's going on in your bodies when you've had a meal; some don't, but some do - that there's a mighty struggle going on, that's all being broken, torn to pieces, changed and transmuted. Something's going on between the taking in and then the giving out in energy. Before what we receive of Christ and what we have to give can be made effective, there's something that's got to go on in us: real battle within over this thing, a real conflict over that word, a real challenge set up in us; the transmuting from the thing received, to the thing turned to vital energy. But is that true always of the congregation? The congregation comes together and the Word is preached, the sermon is given, the hymn is sung, and up and out until the next time. I'm afraid that is true very largely and very often. It's not for me to judge, of course, but having some long experience of that sort of thing, one has so often had to ask the question, "What was the good of that pouring out? What has resulted from it, that giving which was costly giving?" And one has so often to say, "Well, it was just taken; perhaps forgotten." And then another time, and yet another, and no battle over it. No exercise over it. No costliness in experience related to it.

If you and I are really going to be built up with the increase of Christ, it will be just in this way: "He took the loaf and break it" and break it! That is, He took Himself and was broken; broken. Oh, the anguish, the suffering, the sorrow, the travail of that breaking of Him... that we might come into the good of it and might have the good of it for others. The Lord make this not only a word perhaps of correction, perhaps of enlightenment, but a word of comfort for that's what we need as He takes us through trial, adversity and sufferings of various kinds - one this way and another that way - and we feel that it is a breaking process. We realise that it is in order that we shall have something really vital to give, for the Bread which comes down from heaven is for... the information? No. For: "the life of the world".

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