by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Matt. 8:5-8,13; Mark 5:22-23,35-42; Luke 7:12-16; John 11, 12:1.
"Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord". (Rom. 1:3-4).
The thing which we are being led to consider is how the testimony of Jesus is established by resurrection. And that, of course, in the experience of His own people - not as a matter of doctrine, nor as a matter of objective fact so far as He personally is concerned, but as a matter in the life of those who are to be for Him witnesses. Witnesses are the embodiment of the testimony.
In our meditation on the woman of Zarephath, we saw how the testimony was established in an inward way in her life through resurrection. The first step is the making of the testimony an inward thing. That is the first significance of the Lord Jesus in resurrection. It is that which marks the special difference and distinction between Elijah and Elisha. Elijah in a particular way represents the Lord Jesus personally in this connection. That, briefly, is the meaning of Pentecost - making resurrection real as an inward thing. You do not get anywhere until that has become an inward thing. The disciples, the apostles, never got anywhere until the resurrection of the Lord Jesus had really become an inward thing. It was not enough that they saw Him during forty days after His resurrection - that would not have done. No, we surely know our own hearts and our own natures well enough to know that that will not do. Sooner or later, if that is all, we begin to wonder whether we have not got some hallucinations, whether we are not seeing things.
When you are really up against things, anything, although it may be in the realm of strange phenomena which is just outward, is subject to being brought into question. But when the thing becomes an inward thing, as it became for the apostles at Pentecost, then things begin to happen, you are on solid ground. So that the consummation of our relationship with the Lord Jesus is the making of His resurrection an inward thing. I say consummation, because it was the consummation of a course, of a period. They had companied with Him during the days of His flesh, and they had seen Him after His resurrection, but all that would have fallen short of its real practical value but for Pentecost, when it was made inward. Now, that comes out of the simple story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath - making the testimony an inward thing.
Then in our meditation on the great woman of Shunem and Elisha, we saw that when the testimony in resurrection has been made an inward thing, God moves to constitute that testimony something very concrete and definite, so that it is not just a theme, a subject, an experience, or a power, but it becomes a responsible thing in terms of sonship, and that brought about resurrection.
In our present meditation, it is a matter of how the testimony is carried on by resurrection, and the testimony of Jesus is only carried forward through the dispensation to the consummation, by resurrection. That is its law and its basis, and God very definitely holds the vessel of that testimony to that law: only by resurrection.
Just to revert to Elijah for a moment. Elijah is the master who, at a certain point, ascends to heaven in a chariot of fire, at which point Elisha receives the double portion of the Spirit for the purpose of carrying on the testimony. Elisha comes, we may say, into the place of the church, the successor of Christ here, so far as the testimony is concerned; the church which is His Body, intended by the Holy Ghost to carry on the testimony. Most of us are familiar with the truth that the whole life of Elisha is carried out on the principle of resurrection. Every stage and every step of his life was a matter of the operation of resurrection. The very first thing, as you remember, was at Jordan when he took the mantle of Elijah which had fallen from him and smote the Jordan and cried, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" not raising a question in the realm of doubt, but really affirming a fact, making a declaration. "Where is He? Why, He is here, here is the proof of it". Smiting the waters, they divided hither and thither, and we know quite well that it is death riven, smitten and driven asunder to make a way for the vessel of the testimony to go through and on. So, out from the victory of Calvary, the church takes up the testimony to go on in the power of resurrection.
Then he goes to Jericho. You remember the state of Jericho - death and blight resting upon field and orchard, everything failing to go through to real perfection, dying before its time. Elisha healed the waters of Jericho. It is resurrection Life coming in unto fruitfulness.
Then next the three kings in league, and their predicament for want of water. They will lose the battle, they will lose their lives, they will lose their armies - there is no water. Then the word of the Lord came through Elisha, "Make this valley full of ditches". Without any sound of wind, no rain, the water came and filled the ditches. The situation was saved - resurrection Life at work.
Next the widow's oil, so well known, and needing only to be mentioned. The situation saved, fulness of life coming in at a time of desperate need. Then the Shunammite's son, then the poisoned pottage, the cry "O man of God, there is death in the pot" and the turning of death to life. Further, Naaman the Syrian, we need say nothing about him. The axe-head, the man who is engaged in building for the work of God. The axe-head comes off and he cannot go on with the work. The act of Elisha by which the iron did swim. It is resurrection again, turning the course of nature, triumphing over the forces of nature in life triumphant. Again the feeding of the multitude, and finally Elisha's own grave. They cast a man hurriedly into the sepulchre and as soon as he touched the bones of Elisha, the man lived. It is all one long story of resurrection, carrying on the testimony in resurrection. That is the church side of things, going on here with what is true of the Head there.
Well now, there is so much that can be gathered up into this that is really a part of it. It runs right through the whole Word of God. We have read passages from all four gospels with the general purpose of pointing out that the Lord Jesus amongst men had what establishment there was as to His Sonship made along the line of resurrection. They indicate that the whole of His life and work here on earth was centred in that one thing - resurrection, and you notice the result: always testimony. "They marvelled", "we have seen strange things", "a mighty prophet has arisen", "they glorified God". The testimony - and it was all connected with resurrection. That is all I want to say about those incidents for the moment. It is the carrying on of the testimony on the ground of resurrection.
I want to gather it all up into one or two quite simple and positive things for us to lay hold of. The fact is quite clear that the testimony of Jesus is maintained on the principle of resurrection. That is that which proves Christ's Sonship: His resurrection. I am not sure that we have really grasped sufficiently clearly the importance of the establishing of that testimony. That testimony for some reason (and I think some of us have just seen a little of what that reason is) has been challenged and assailed in every part of this universe, and in every part of this universe that fact of His Sonship has got to be established; re-established, if you like. Before times eternal in the equality of the Son with the Father and the counsels of the Godhead, appointed as heir of all things, somewhere away in that remote part of the universe, beyond this earth, that was disputed and challenged, and the heavens registered that challenge, requiring that the very heavens eventually should be purged of that. A remarkable thing, but it is a statement of the Word of God that the heavenly things themselves have got to be cleansed, the heavens have got to be cleansed. Something has happened there first of all which has got to be put out. Heaven has got to be purged of that thing.
On the earth that challenge has come about, "If Thou be the Son...". "This is the son; come let us kill him and the inheritance shall be ours". You see, it is a challenging of the place, the right, the position, of the Son. Heaven and earth and hell; devils and men. This - oh that they saw it! - this is the grievous sin and tragedy of any modernism, so-called, which brings into question the utter Sonship and Godhead of the Lord Jesus. It is an iniquitous thing, but it is here. In every part of this universe, the testimony of Jesus has got to be established and God's method of establishing it is by resurrection. "Determined to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead".
Now, that testimony has been established so far as God is concerned. God has raised Him and set Him at His own right hand. The testimony is established from God's side in this universe. So far as the heaven or the heaven of heavens is concerned, that is all purged of that challenge. He is there; undisputed Lord in resurrection. In the other heavens, the challenge still goes on; among the principalities and powers, in the earth, it goes on, but the thing is established.
When the Holy Spirit entered into the church at Pentecost, He brought in the established fact, and the church, more than in any other matter, is the vessel of God in which an established fact resides. Right at the very heart of the true church which is His Body, there is something which can no longer be disputed. There ought to be right at the heart of the church which is His Body, a note of finality about which there is no question. We are not fighting to get something, we are standing on something that has already been secured. Every movement of the enemy is to get the people of God to fight for something, to take up the battle to try and get something. And the church, the people of God, never get through until they stop that line of things and come and take the position, 'We have got it, we stand on it', asserting a fact. The enemy's great effort is always to get us on to the ground of a doubt, an uncertainty, "If thou be the Son of God", which was just an effort with the Lord Jesus Himself to get into His action a doubt, that He would accept the uncertainty by proving the thing. Oh no, the Lord Jesus was not moving on to that ground to prove the thing at all, and in so doing admit that there was an 'if'. He stood firm. "There is no room for an 'if' about this". It is resisting everything that would bring in the element of an 'if'.
So Pentecost was the depositing in the church of an established fact, a testimony, and from that moment the one note in the church of those days at the beginning, the one clarion note, was "God raised Him". "This Jesus, whom ye crucified, God has raised". Above all other things, the great declaration was concerning Jesus raised from the dead by God. The testimony is carried on through the dispensation on that ground, that it is an inward thing and it is the inward thing of an absolute certainty.
That has got to be made to apply to everything. Resurrection is God's positive. God stands on a positive ground and God has put His positive ground into the church. In reading again Exodus 37 recently, I was impressed again with one feature of the description of that candlestick. In describing the form of the candlestick, the prescription is definitely this, that on each of the six branches of the candlestick there should be three bowls like unto an almond, and on the central stem should be four bowls like unto an almond, making twenty-two almond bowls in the one candlestick. Almonds are everywhere, the pre-dominating feature of the candlestick (and we who know Biblical symbolism know that the almond is always a type of resurrection) but what is the candlestick for? It is the keeping of the testimony alive - that light must never go out. It is the maintaining of the testimony in relation to the service of God's people. It is in the place of service, it is in the Holy Place. Priestly service is related to that. It is the ministry, the active testimony going on, always alive. It is all on the ground of resurrection.
It is God's positive. He has put it there right at the heart of things. He has established it. In every way He has said, "My living testimony is constituted on the principle, the fact, the reality of resurrection that must go on alive to the end".
Well now, God's positive is resurrection, and the point is this, that you and I and all the Lord's people have got to have a positive testimony, a positive note. We must never accept a negative as the end of our testimony, as the end of our relationship with the Lord. It will be easy to do so. Again and again and again it would just be quite possible for us to accept defeat, accept an end, accept failure, accept a situation which spells our undoing, that it is no use going on, it is an impossible situation - all that sort of thing. Yes, very often it would be easily possible for us to accept a negative. If there is one thing about those passages which we have read and about all other passages in connection with this matter, it is this: that a definite and positive attitude, practical attitude of faith was called for in relation to the act of resurrection. Faith has challenged, faith was drawn out. "Fear not, only believe". But put yourself in the place of the man to whom it was said! He had got the report that things had just reached the fatal stage, discouraging him from pressing his suit any further, it was hopeless. "Fear not, only believe".
Well now, when you and I get into some desperate situation, something that has gone beyond human possibility of remedying, and someone says to us, "Fear not, only believe", what is our reaction? It's easier said than done! It's all very well, only believe. Everything is bound up with that. God's positive is bound up with that every time. Wherever you find the matter of resurrection coming in, there is a challenge to a positive attitude. You have got to take God's ground and forsake your own ground, forsake the ground of appearances, of circumstances, of arguments, of reports, of everything, and take God's ground. God's ground is positive. Resurrection is God's positive, and for every issue, beloved, that is to be the position and the attitude which you and I take.
On the one hand, there must not be a quitting, abandoning the situation, however hopeless it may seem to be. On the other hand, there must not be a passive attitude. "Well, we will wait and see", just flopping. There has got to be God's ground which is positive.
Oh, if there is one case which sums up all the others and brings us to the consummation of the life of the Lord Jesus here on this earth, it is the case of Lazarus, and in that we have this challenge. "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" It is a battle with unbelief that the Lord Jesus is engaged in in the case of Lazarus. He is seeking to draw out some faith in relation to this man, a positive ground. "I am the resurrection and the life". Taking the ground of God in Christ: positive ground.
It all comes back to this, that in the carrying forward of the testimony to the end it is going on this way. Again and again, scores and perhaps thousands of times in the course of our history and experience in relation to the testimony of Jesus, the next step forward will be only, but surely, on the basis of a new, positive, asserting faith in the God of resurrection. I am not sure that, as we go on, we are not going to find that the thing, from any other standpoint than God's, is going to be more and more impossible if there are grades and degrees of impossibility. But this is going to be driven down into us as we go on and we are going to realise increasingly how impossible this matter is but for God, and therefore we are going to be brought to the place where faith becomes far more triumphant if it will take God's positive ground. And in the end, in the final step, it will be such a situation, such a tremendous situation of impossibility so far as the testimony of Jesus is concerned, that the consummation of that testimony will be by reason of one final triumphant act of faith on the part of some body of believers to go through. I am not going to touch the matter of overcomers, but you see where they come. The testimony of Jesus will be carried through always on the ground of resurrection.
But do not let us think of the testimony of Jesus as a doctrine, as some teaching. Let us remember that it is a spiritual thing primarily. The testimony of Jesus is not primarily what you say or what I say. All that we can say can only be a description of truth. The testimony of Jesus is the living fact that Jesus lives, but His living represents supreme power in this universe, that He is supremely Lord throughout this whole universe. God has made Him that by resurrection. The Son, the heir of all things, that is the testimony of Jesus. It is a fact on the ground of resurrection.
Now, that fact, as I said at the beginning, is not an objective thing to which we point. That fact is a subjective thing which is an inward reality, and the church is called to carry on the testimony of Jesus in that subjective, inward way. That is the manifestation, the witness to the universe, to men and demons and angels, of the fact of the risen Christ as an inward reality. Well, that can come down to anything. It can come down to all our moods, all those experiences that are common to the children of God when they cannot explain things at all, why they feel so dead, so crippled. Oh, everything! We cannot cover the ground where the testimony of Christ's risen life has to apply, but there it is. But when it is a matter of carrying forward definitely and concretely the meaning of Christ as risen, Christ as Head, Christ as Lord, we are brought into conflict with every spiritual force that is opposed, and that testimony can only be carried through in the power of His resurrection.
God has a positive note about which there is no wavering, no uncertainty, no suggestion of uncertainty. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and all that that means. Oh, what a lot there is in that familiar phrase, "the exceeding greatness of His power... according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead". "The exceeding greatness of His power". Perhaps we are beginning to understand a little in experience of what that means. The exceeding greatness of His power as over death, for if there is one thing that is coming home to the consciousness of many of us more than another, it is that it takes the exceeding greatness of His power to get us through some of the things that we are having to encounter and bring us out triumphant.
There is a law connected with that "exceeding greatness of His power" - "to us-ward who believe". There it is. Our attitude has got to be toward the Lord - "Lord, by faith I draw that power in my direction for the testimony's sake". There it is, but it is only to us-ward who believe. We have to take up the positive attitude toward the positive fact, and we shall prove the power of His resurrection.
May the Lord settle in us - in the midst of the difficulties, the trials, the adversities and the shakings - settle in us this positive note: Jesus lives! That means everything. Ultimate triumph! Because Jesus lives, we will get there. We have got to settle that and bring that fact to bear upon every fresh situation and to write it over every fresh test of faith: Jesus lives! That spells the defeat of every force in this universe that is set against God's end. The appeal then to us is that we shall have in us God's positive, that there will be nothing in us that is uncertain, wavering, questioning. One central, definite, positive note: God's positive. The Lord write it in us!