The Intervention of God in Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - In the Fulness of Time

Reading: Gal. 4:4; 6-7; Mark 1:14-15; Heb. 1:1-2; Matt. 16:27-28.

These passages, and others of a similar character, represent a definite and ordered programme and timetable of God. By such words as, "In the fulness of the time", "the time is fulfilled", "at the end of these days (or times)", is clearly indicated as a set and determined point of time for Divine intervention.

"The fulness of the time" speaks of a completed period. It is a very interesting word, used in a great number of connections, and it simply means "making complete", or "filling up". In one connection it is used of a patch being put into a rent garment, and you know that the effect of a patch in a rent garment is to make it complete, to fill up the gap, to unite in a whole. On another occasion the word is used of baskets which have just been filled right up so that they can contain no more. That same word is used here: the fulness of the time, something completed, something brought to a consummation. The statement is that, just then, at that point, God sent forth His Son.

That to which the time-point relates need not occupy us at length just now, because it does not for the moment come within the compass of our consideration, but undoubtedly earlier it had a two-fold connection. On the one hand, it related to the Jewish dispensation, or the dispensation of the law. The law had been given, and the law had done its work, and the work of the law was to conclude all under sin by showing how utterly incapable man was under the most favourable conditions of fulfilling God's law. God had, from among the nations, taken out a nation, separated them and brought them under His own direct government, and placed Himself, so to speak, at their disposal, with all His power, with all His Divine resources, to be for them, to be with them. Within the compass of that Divine favour, He had given them His law; through a long term of years had tested them by that law, and eventually proved that man in himself, though he may be surrounded by all that God can do for him objectively, outside of himself, is totally incapable of fulfilling that Divine law.

Now, if that is proven in the case of a people detached from all the influences and forces and down-drag of paganism, heathenism, and the world in general, and brought under the Divine favour within the immediate and direct operation of the power and goodness of God, then it goes without saying that all the rest of the world will break down. So that God made this people, whom He had favoured, chosen, with whom He dwelt, and for whom He worked through a long period of years, an example and proof before the whole universe of the fact that there is nothing in man which can answer to His law. That was an aspect of the times, and those times were fulfilled as marking the special features of the law and the bringing of man under condemnation.

On the other hand, undoubtedly the phrase applies to the Gentile world, because while God was proving in Israel the total inability of man to stand up to His law under these favourable conditions, He was working in the whole world to prepare it for a new order of things.

Thus you find two things associated with the coming of the Lord Jesus. One is the breakdown of the law, or of man under the law - the total breakdown. And that is made very clear by the very presence of the Lord Jesus Himself and explains His whole attitude towards Israel, towards Judaism, when He was here. It is made unmistakably clear to all that man under the law, even in favourable association with God, is a failure. But just at that very point where the thing is so fully and completely demonstrated and revealed, there is also a wonderful preparedness on the part of the rest of the world for Christ.

A preparation had been going on, and the Gentile world was never more ready for the Gospel than when the Lord Jesus came. The rapid spread of the Gospel in its first years is a testimony to God's wonderful preparation to facilitate that spreading abroad. It was facilitated in a marvellous way, and thus went out rapidly because God had been preparing for a long time so that the Lord Jesus came at a strategic moment, at a moment of universal preparation, and it is expressed in this phrase: "In the fulness of the time".

We open Mark's gospel and see that, without any introduction to His life, the Lord Jesus immediately sets out upon His work. In Mark's record the words with which He sets out on that mission are: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand..." (Mark 1:15). What a crisis in the history of the world is marked by that simple statement: "The time is fulfilled". What time? The time of worldwide preparation, the breakdown of man under the law, and the preparation of the nations for the new order of things; God working to a timetable.

A Two-fold Object

Turning to the intervention of God in Christ, it may be summed up as having a two-fold object.

1. Revealing God's relationship and attitude towards the world.

In God's intervention in Christ, there is the revelation of God's relationship and attitude towards this world. To put that in other words, the Lord Jesus is the expression of God's relationship and attitude towards this world.

2. Revealing man's relationship and attitude towards God as God would have it.

That again, in other words, means this: that the Lord Jesus in His own Person expresses God's thought as to man's relationship and attitude towards Him. Do you want to know what God thinks as to man's relationship with Him, as to man's attitude towards Him? You have to look at the Lord Jesus to see that.

Let us repeat that this intervention of God in Christ has this two-fold object: on the one hand to reveal God's relationship and attitude towards this world, towards man, and to do so in a Person. And on the other hand, to reveal God's mind as to man's relationship and attitude towards Himself, and to do this likewise in a Person.

Christ the Way of this Revelation

Christ, then, becomes the way of this revelation, the way of this manifestation, the way of this two-fold expression, and this again is four-fold in each aspect. We will consider first of all the God-ward aspect.

God is revealed in Christ:

a) As Sovereign

The first aspect of God's revelation of His own relationship and attitude towards this world is that of Sovereign, and that is set forth, so far as the narrative is concerned, in the gospel by Matthew. Matthew sets forth God's intervention in Christ in the terms of sovereignty. In other words, Christ expresses in His own person the sovereignty of God, God's relationship and attitude to this world as Sovereign.

b) As Lord

That revelation of God as Lord, with regard to the narrative and history is gathered up in the gospel by Mark. Mark is the setting forth of God in Christ as Lord, the Lordship of God in this earth among men.

c) As Saviour

The revelation of God in Christ, so far as His relationship and attitude towards this world is concerned, is also that of Saviour, and that is set forth in the gospel by Luke. In Luke's gospel the Lord Jesus shows forth God as Saviour.

d) As Father

John's gospel sets forth God as Father, as to His relationship and attitude towards this world and that is brought to our knowledge and recognition in the person of Christ. The dominant word of John's gospel is "Father", and we find that it occurs one hundred and eleven times.

Here you have, then, God's intervention in Christ as from Himself to this world as Sovereign, as Lord, as Saviour, as Father.

Remember there is an order there, and it is the right order. He is never Lord before He is Sovereign. He becomes Lord after having become Sovereign. He is never Saviour before He is Lord, and He is never Father before He is Saviour. That is the right spiritual order, and it is very important to have that established. Because that order has not been recognised, there is a terrible weakness in the preaching of the Gospel. There is an emphasis which is out of proportion, which results in an unbalanced and an altogether unsatisfactory spiritual life.

The Lord demands first of all a recognition of His utter rights as Sovereign in this universe. It is all very well to offer sinners the Saviour, but too often the sinner merely wants the Saviour in order to escape the embarrassment of his sin, and not for any desire of allegiance to God. He wants to escape hell, to escape the consequences of a bad life; to get out of all the misery that he has brought upon himself because he has sinned, but there is never a question as to God having absolute sovereign rights in his life, and therefore there is a weakness.

The order is first that God has rights as Sovereign, and we have to bow to those rights, and recognise that as sinners we have not just sinned against ourselves and against our own good, our own convenience, our own comfort, our own well-being, but we have to recognise that the Lord Jesus puts these words into the mouth of the prodigal: "I have sinned against heaven and in Thy sight..." not: "I have sinned against myself, and brought all this misery upon myself, and I am a poor, wretched creature, and want, and need, to be saved!" That says plainly that God's rights have been violated. Every sin that we commit is against God. This order must be restored.

The other side of this naturally follows, namely, man's relationship and attitude towards God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Man is seen:

a) As subject

If, on the one hand, in Matthew's gospel God is revealed in Christ as Sovereign, then Matthew's gospel will reveal man in Christ as subject. The gospel contains a demand. It demands the recognition of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the Heavens. Why did the Lord Jesus in the first instance command His disciples to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and not to go to the Gentiles with the message? He did so because He was setting forth the truth that within that compass there had been declared through long generations the Theocracy, the government of God, God's sovereign rights. In effect He said to His disciples: "Go and declare the rights of God where those rights are known!" Then note that should they refuse, it would be more tolerable for heathen nations, pagan peoples, than for them, "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city" (Matt. 10:14,15). It was simply the declaration of the sovereign rights of God, and a calling for an acknowledgment of them in Christ. The sovereign rights would not be understood in the first place in the Gentile nations at that time. They had their own gods, their own deities. But in Israel the rights of God were understood, and the Lord was simply seeking once more to make it perfectly clear that God's sovereignty demanded man's subjection.

b) As servant

It is the same in the other cases. If in Mark we have the revelation of God as Lord, then Mark will set forth man's relationship and attitude towards God, as revealed in Christ, as that of servant. Mark is the unveiling of the servant of God in Jesus Christ. God has rights, not only as Sovereign, but as Lord. He has the right to possess and to be obeyed.

c) As sinner

If God is revealed in Christ in Luke's gospel as Saviour towards this world, then, so far as man is concerned, Luke will reveal man's relationship and attitude towards God as that of sinner. The great central key phrase of Luke's gospel is: "The Son of Man is come (came, ASV) to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). God revealed in Christ as Saviour puts man before God as a sinner. When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and seated upon a throne, he became conscious of his sinner-ship, and said: "Woe is me". We must bring into view those universal sovereign rights of God, which have been violated, to have an adequate background for the conviction of sin. The absence of a deep conviction of sin is so largely because the holiness of God has been belittled, obscured, or not set forth. We see our smallness when we see what a God He is, when we behold Him as Sovereign in the universe.

See how the letter to the Hebrews works on that truth. The first chapter is nothing but a matchless unveiling of the greatness of God in Christ His Son, Heir of God, through whom He made the ages! The effulgence, the Divine effulgence! Then chapter 2 immediately takes up the mediatorial work for sinners. That is the order. In principle that is God's way of getting sinners to repentance. "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). "Repent ye therefore" (Acts 3:19). Let us get back the greatness of our God in sovereignty in Christ as the basis of appeal to surrendered life as servants, and repentance from dead works.

d) As son

If in John God is revealed in Christ in the terms of Fatherhood, then, so far as man according to God's thought is concerned, the word "son" surely will be very much in evidence. Read the gospel by John again with those two words in view and see how they practically sum up the gospel. You will not get very far before you read: " many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name..." (1:12). That is a coming into the family. "In the fulness of the time God sent forth His Son...". There you have the relationship of a Father and a Son. "And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). The intervention of God in Christ in the fulness of time was through Sovereignty, Lordship, Saviourhood, to serve a Family, sonship.

All this is set forth in the gospels as the four-fold intervention of God. But it is only set forth by way of declaration, so to speak, and exemplification of fact. The apostles had declared all this long before they wrote it. At least fifty years passed before the first record of it all was written. But they had said it all, they had been declaring it all, long before they wrote it. It was a setting forth of fact, and then in the person of Christ, an illustrating or an exemplifying of those facts.

If you want to see God acting in Sovereignty, you will see it in Christ. If you want to see God acting as Lord, you will see it in Christ. If you want to see God acting as Saviour, you will see it in Christ. If you want to see God revealing Himself as Father, you will see it in Christ. "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father..." (John 14:9). If you want to see man as subject, you will see him so in Christ. If you want to see man as servant, you will see him so in Christ. If you want to see man as sinner you will see him, not in the essential nature of Christ, but in Christ being made sin; for you must remember that the Cross dominates each of these gospels. If you want to see man in the position of a son of the Father, you will see him in Christ.

That is set forth as a statement of facts and an exemplification of those facts in the Gospel, but when you turn to the Epistles you find all this in full development in a spiritual way concerning believers.

You do not pass very far out of the gospels before you see in Christ the Sovereignty of God: "...sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high..." (Heb. 1:3). "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). From that point onward the Lord is full of the Sovereignty in Christ.

Then we know that the Epistles are simply full of the servanthood of Christ as in the saints. If there was ever one man more than another who apprehended that, it was Paul: "Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ..." (Rom. 1:1 RV). "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who... emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant... becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). Let that mind be in you. As to salvation, the sinner, the Saviour, the Epistles have plenty to say.

Acts gives us a governing word: "Him did God exalt... to be a Prince and a Saviour" (Acts 5:31) - note the order there! Then as to Fatherhood and as to sonship, Romans has a lot to say about sonship, and Galatians is full of it. Hebrews also has a good deal, and elsewhere there is much.

Thus you see that this great revelation in Christ has become a spiritual realisation in the saints. The four-fold intervention of God has been successful. God has broken into the history of this world at a given point in His Son, in this four-fold way, and the result is seen in the Epistles and ever since. We are of those (and there have been such in every age, and there are multitudes besides ourselves in this age) who first of all recognise and glory in the fact that He is Sovereign: "Rejoice, the Lord is King". We rejoice in the fact that He is our Lord, our Master, our Owner, and we glory in being His willing slaves. We find no difficulty in speaking of ourselves as bondslaves of Jesus Christ, but rather do we pray daily: "Lord, keep us this day Thy slaves! Hold us in Thine own bonds! Curtail all liberties which are not of Thyself; our freedom is Thy grand control!"

Then what can we say enough about Saviourhood? Blessed be God, we are rejoicing that we are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).

All this Divine intervention, from every standpoint, has become a spiritual reality, and there is a great deal more. That is only the beginning of it. There is a good deal to be said about the outworking of that, but we will not go further at the moment. We can meditate in our hearts upon the grand fact that Jesus Christ even now is Sovereign with the Father, and we are joined with Him in that. There is a good deal which seems to dispute it, but the fact is unaltered: He is Sovereign.

So Matthew's gospel, true to the keynote from which the whole movement of the gospel springs, comes back again to its keynote at the close: "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore...". He is Sovereign Lord.

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