The Intervention of God in Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - In God as Sovereign and Man as Subject

Features of the Gospel by Matthew

It will be necessary, seeing we are considering the gospel by Matthew especially in this connection, to take account of some features in this gospel which so clearly point in this specific direction, and reveal God in Christ in His Kingship, His Sovereignty, and man called to be subject, or citizen in the Kingdom of God. Matthew has his own terms, his own peculiar and particular way of making this plain. In many instances he uses language of his own. For instance, Matthew is the only one who speaks of Jerusalem as the Holy City, or the Holy Place, or again, as the City of the Great King. That alone (which is but a minute fragment of this whole gospel) contains a great volume of wonderful significance. Let us dwell with that for a little while.

Alongside of that simple, and yet so comprehensive fact, place this other fact, that the gospel as recorded by Matthew peculiarly relates to the whole of Israel's past. One of his objects seems to have been to bring all the past of Israel into relation to this intervention of God in Christ. This is seen by the way in which he quotes from the Old Testament.

If you read through the gospel by Matthew, you will find that he quotes the Old Testament very fully and very liberally, and one formula (as it might be called) of Matthew is: "that it might be fulfilled". You find that phrase constantly repeated. Or again, "as it is written". Let those who are wanting to get inside of the gospel, take those phrases and settle down with them, and you will find that with those clues you are discovering, or having discovered to you, what Matthew is after. He is going back into the great past of Israel and is now bringing all that great past alongside of this present intervention of God in Christ and relating it to Christ. But he is doing more. He is lifting Christ into a place in which He not only sums up all that, but transcends it.

What a history there is gathered up in such phrases as, "the city of the great King", "the holy city", "the holy place". All the history of Jerusalem is summed up in those phrases. All the greatest history of Jerusalem, the past history of the nation, is gathered up in them. Jerusalem in its best days represented Israel in its glory. Jerusalem was as the metropolis of the world, as the governing centre of the world. See what the Psalmist says in Psalm 87 about the absolute transcendency of Zion (another word for Jerusalem). He puts Zion in a place where all the other great world centres, with all their magnificence, pale before her. "I will make mention of Egypt and Babylon... Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia..." (verse 4). But what are these? "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God" as though, with all their magnificence and their great history, they were nothing, as though there was no glory attached to them because he has seen Zion, eclipsing the glory of the world. For the Psalmist, and for Israel in her great days, Jerusalem, the City of the Great King, was the centre of heaven's government of this world, and of heaven's glory here. The Lord was there.

Bring the import of that into Matthew's gospel, and alongside of the significant titles found there: "the city of the great king", "the holy city", "the holy place", and let it come upon your heart with its full force that before you have closed the gospel by Matthew, Jerusalem is set aside, and there is a Man standing and saying: "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth". What has happened? All the glory of Israel has been transferred to a Man; all the glory of the City of the Great King has been transferred to a Man and transcended. Jerusalem is set aside, rejected. She has failed, fallen far short of the Divine purpose. But God has secured everything in this Man, and He becomes the centre and seat of universal authority, of heaven's government in this universe: "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth".

A very real significance is seen to be attached to the title "the City of the Great King", when you see what Matthew is after. He is bringing the whole meaning over to the One Person, and he is saying, in effect, "All that Jerusalem ever was at its greatest has not only been transferred to this One, but transcended, eclipsed". He supersedes it all: "All authority hath been given unto Me...". No longer is it vested in Jerusalem. When you get to the end of Matthew you see that the Lord Jesus has passed out of Jerusalem, and commissions His disciples from a long way off. He no longer commissions from Jerusalem; He commissions from outside. He has taken the authority in Himself away from Jerusalem, the place of the recognised authority among men. He has captured it Himself, and now it is not Jerusalem, but Christ who governs, who reigns, who dominates.

In the Acts and the Epistles what is here set forth as fact and is exemplified becomes a spiritually fulfilled and realised thing. The Acts shows us all that, spiritually expressed over against all the kingdoms of this world. Does Jerusalem seek to reassert its authority, seek again to enforce its government, its sovereignty? Jerusalem will go down before the Christ. Forty years - not a long time - after Christ was crucified, Jerusalem was literally torn limb from limb, and not one stone left upon another. It raised its head against the One into whose hands heaven had committed all authority. You can observe the fierce working towards that in the book of the Acts.

You find Jerusalem rising up to fight Jesus of Nazareth, God's King. Jerusalem destroys Stephen and others, and persecutes the saints. "Having received authority from the chief priests", Saul of Tarsus persecutes them. Listen to that word "authority" as it echoes, the boss of all that is, against the people of this Way, against Jesus of Nazareth. Well, if it is a conflict of authorities, the issue is very patent. "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth", said the Lord Jesus, and the rulers of Jerusalem gave Saul of Tarsus authority against Him. No wonder Saul of Tarsus came down on that road, and was smitten to the earth, blind and helpless!

Pass into the Epistles. You are led on into the more inward fulness and meaning of this, and it is seen that spiritually the saints are brought to a place where they are seated together with Christ in the heavenlies, where Christ at God's right hand includes them, and they in a spiritual way share that authority. But that authority works so deeply that very often it is hardly recognised even by those in and for whom it is working. It is very often not recognised until afterwards. This is where we should find a good deal of comfort and consolation.

The Lord is Lord on His throne, even though at times we seem to be so beaten and so baffled. Sometimes it seems that the enemy has got the upper hand, that the power and the authority is with him. Sometimes it seems almost impossible for us to lift our heads. Every voice seems to declare that anything is true but that the Lord rules. We go through a time like that, and all we are able to say is that we are counting upon the faith of God, but when we are through, we discover that there was a meaning in all that which we did not see, of which we were totally unaware at the time. Again and again we have found it to be like that. It was not that our faith was mighty. It was not that we were able at that time to stand on our feet and glory in His sovereignty and power. On the contrary everything seemed obscure and we were feeling utterly beaten and very uncertain in our faith. But God in His throne, rock-like, was unmoved through that tempest, and we have come out with some "treasures of darkness". We have discovered, and we do discover, that the Lord was sovereignly accomplishing something in that time, of which we were altogether ignorant, and that stands. Hell sought to frustrate it; all the power of evil stood to engulf it, to swallow it up. But just as the Man-child eventually reaches the throne, so the Divine purpose on every like occasion when the dragon would seek to swallow it up persists through to God's end and eventually the marks of God's sovereignty are clearly seen.

It is not our measure of faith, neither our strength of endurance, nor that we are always so marvellously triumphant in spirit that is the ground of the triumph issue, but that we seek to believe that God is faithful and hold on to that when we can hold on to nothing else. It is what God is in the throne, and what Christ is at His right hand, that is the foundation and the all of the victorious conclusion.

What we are saying, in other words, is parallel to what we find when at the end of the gospel by Matthew: it is declared that all authority in heaven and in earth is in the hands of the Lord Jesus, and almost immediately afterwards you have saints slain, the church scattered and persecuted, assailed, an apostle despairing of life, and all that sort of thing. Do these two things correspond? Is this not a contradiction? Men in bodies broken and frail, in prisons and dungeons, being stoned, sawn asunder, being scattered to the four winds of heaven, and all this disaster of evil, of demons and of men, and still the authority in the hands of Jesus Christ! Is this not an awful contradiction? No, there is no contradiction about it. The fact remains and when hell has spent itself, Jesus Christ remains Lord upon the throne.

The second thing, having of course two aspects, is that even though he may be unwilling, though he may not recognise and acknowledge it, man is subject. I believe there is a much wider application permissible to the simple statement that Christ is the Head of every man than simply that He is the Head of every believer. I believe that statement goes beyond the range of the church. He is the Head of every man. Whether every man will acknowledge it or not is quite another thing, but He is the Head of every man, and in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. Blessed be God, there is this side in which you and I rejoice, that we are subject to God in Christ. We find no difficulty in accepting that.

There is another aspect of this which comes out in Matthew's gospel. It is not only the fact of His Sovereignty, but also the fact of the expression of that Sovereignty with His advent as the new Legislator, the Legislator of a new spiritual law, the King of a new spiritual dominion, the Founder or Builder of a new spiritual and universal church. The law through Moses went so far, but this new Legislator says: "But I say unto you..." (Matthew 5). He Himself carries things through. He carries things from the realm of the merely external act to the realm of the inward spiritual state. He legislates not for the external conduct of men in the first instance. Moses did that, but Christ legislates for the inward government of a spiritual condition. "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). We need the Epistles for the explanation of that, and when we come to them we see quite clearly that the Lord Jesus, by reason of His inward sovereignty, has set up a new inward spiritual state, with a new inward spiritual government and law. The letter to the Hebrews, for instance, expresses it thus: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel... not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers... I will put My laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them...".

Summing all that up in a word, it means this: that the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus in our hearts creates a new kind of citizen, not now such as simply glory in the historic factors of a citizenship of an earthly Jerusalem or an earthly country, but such as are now spiritually related to a new spiritual city. So the apostle, in recognising the transference of the franchise from the earthly to the heavenly, puts it in this way in the letter to the Galatians: "The Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother" (4:26). Jerusalem above, our mother, is free. From what? The old Jewish law, the thing which externally bound the earthly Jerusalem, the Jerusalem which is below; that law which the citizens of that city could never meet, never fulfil; which tyrannized and broke, and condemned, and judged.

Now by reason of citizenship of the Jerusalem which is above, there is freedom from all that. What is the nature of the freedom? It is that there has been introduced into the believer something which lifts on to an altogether higher level: a heavenly, and that now instead of being browbeaten by an external law of ordinances and commandments, the believer is able to say: "l delight to do Thy will, O God". This is the fruit of being in Christ. It is the law of heavenly love, not a matter of earthly compulsion. It is a new citizenship, a heavenly citizenship, with a new legislation in the heart. It is simply the outworking in a spiritual way of the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord within the life.

In this gospel by Matthew one of the words which preponderates is the word heaven, and there is something peculiar about Mathew's usage of the plural heavens. Heaven occurs some seventy-five times in Matthew's gospel. That is significant. One of the burdens of my heart continuously is the absolute necessity for the Lord's people to come into a clearer, stronger realisation and recognition of the fact of the heavenly nature of the believer, the Christian life, the church.

You and I are only here in this world for the testimony, and if we are going to have God with us one hundred per cent, if we are going to have God committing Himself to us, if we are going to realise God's purpose to the full, it will be necessary for us not to have any earth ties whatever in spiritual matters. Everything that we have here of business, or home, or friends, or anything else, will have to be held for God and for heaven. If it is held for self, if it is held for the world, if it is held in any other realm than for God utterly, then Satan has crown rights in it, and he will secure his rights.

Let us try and illustrate this from the case of Isaac. Isaac was given by God. Abraham was given a vision by God of a son. It was a Divinely given vision, and then God moved to realise that vision after long waiting and testing and gave him Isaac. That far the vision was realised, and Abraham at last possessed Isaac. Then what was God's next step? "Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest... and offer him... for a burnt offering" (Gen. 22:2). What was God doing? A God-given vision, a God-realised vision, and now God taking away everything connected with that vision? I think the deepest explanation of such a thing is that you may have a God-given vision, and be brought into possession of that in which, and through which, the vision is to be realised, and then hold it for yourself. My vision! My calling from God! My ministry! My work, which I have received from God! God-given things possessed for ourselves. God said: "This thing must be wholly of Me, and wholly of heaven! If you have Isaac, you will only have Isaac as held for Me, and not for yourself!" Abraham had to have his Isaac on another basis altogether from the purely natural.

In Matthew's gospel we mark the governmental expression of that truth, that reality of the heavens. The word occurring as it does so frequently in this gospel carries us right away from this earth. Matthew leads away from all that had been historical, of this earth. We have indicated it in one thing alone, that whereas Jerusalem has occupied such a strong place in this world as God's centre, now it is set aside and Matthew sees Christ taking the government away from Jerusalem in His own Person outside. And that too is our place spiritually with the Lord Jesus, "outside the camp". He is outside of this world. He is in the heavens. No longer is He in this earthly Jerusalem, but in the heavenly Jerusalem. The authority is in His hands. That is what we are trying to indicate.

Let us go back for a re-emphasis of that which we have been considering: the tremendous need for our getting clear about this heavenly relationship, the heavenly nature of things.

When the Lord Jesus said: "The prince of this world cometh to Me and hath nothing in Me", He was simply setting forth clearly and positively the great spiritual truth that the prince of this world can be cast out if he has no ground of authority in the instrument. To put that in another way: how was it possible for the Lord Jesus to cast out the prince of this world? How was it possible for Him to say: "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out"? Simply because He was able at the same time to say: "The prince of this world cometh to Me and hath nothing in Me". If the prince of this world can come to you and to me, or to anything which professes to be associated with Him, and finds in it something of this world, that is the ground upon which he will encamp to destroy the effectiveness of that life, or that thing. Therefore the measure of spiritual power, spiritual effectiveness, depends upon our heavenliness of life - if you like: our other-worldliness. Oh, the tremendous value of heavenliness in the life, and in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

All this has to do with the greatness of the word heaven, and heavens in the gospel by Matthew. We must remember that the plural as used by Matthew relates to a dwelling place of God, and if we are in the heavenlies in Christ, we are in the place where God is. To put that round the other way, God is not now immediately related to this earth. He is governing, He is Sovereign, but He is not bound up with this present earth in its present state. The Lord has gone outside, and, as we have said, that also is our place spiritually. Our place is outside of this world.

The Necessity for the Cross

There are many other words in this gospel which indicate the heavenliness of things, but we have seen enough, and can gather it up in a word or two. Let us remind ourselves of the place of the Cross in all this, that the Cross is essentially related to this heavenly life, this heavenly government, and to this operation of the Sovereignty of God in Christ. Matthew makes that clear, not only in the fact that the Cross stands there at the end governing everything, but you see the elements of the Cross running all the way through.

You see on the one hand a set of statements, or happenings, which indicate the Lordship of God associated with the Cross, and then, running parallel with that set of things, you have another set indicating the humiliation of the Cross, the suffering. For instance, you have on the one hand, the homage of the Magi, as they opened to Him while yet a babe at Bethlehem, their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh - a tribute to His Kingship. And over against that in the parallel column: the massacre of the innocents. This Kingship is not going to be realised, preserved, established without a good deal of suffering.

Or again, there is a statement in the narrative of His royal descent from David, and then in the opposite column right over against that, the flight into Egypt for the preservation of His life. Of royal descent, the Son of a King, to occupy the throne of His father David, and, in contrast, fleeing into Egypt for His life.

Do you see the marks of the Cross? Again, on the one hand a vision of angels, and then, standing right over against it: "Is not this the Nazarene?" Do you see the significance of that? Here on the one side are those things which relate to His Kingship, His glory, all that God intended concerning Him in His ultimate supremacy, and yet running right alongside of all that there is everything which speaks of suffering, persecution, humiliation, right up to the Cross.

Spiritual eyes look through what appears on the surface, and see a King, the most majestic and glorious monarch this world has ever known, crowned with thorns, nailed, scourged hanging on a Cross, despised, forsaken. And does not the deepest note in our worship today spring from this that spiritual eyes behold? We do not look upon Christ crucified as men might look upon One whom they deem to have been defeated, to have lost all, to have been made helpless, with whom the devil has done just as he liked and upon whom men have carried out their pleasure. Oh, no! We see something else in that Cross. We see that Cross as the mightiest thing in God's universe. Shame? There is no shame, but glory there! Weakness? Yes, in some senses weakness, but Christ crucified is the power of God! Foolishness? No, the wisdom of God! We see something beyond the Man hanging upon the cross.

It is by that Cross that He triumphed. It is by that Cross He has come to the place where He now is. He reigns because of His Cross, and that Cross, let us remember, meant that He let go everything - and gained everything. He had seen the glory of this world; He had been on that great highway of the nations which ran through His own country away there in Galilee, that old road along which for centuries there had come all the commerce of the nations, all the resources of this world. He had been in touch with the outside world. Then Satan had shown Him the kingdoms of this world lying beyond, all the glory thereof, and had offered them to Him, and He let it all go. He could have had it, but He let it all go, and went to the cross. But so He gained the more, not only the kingdoms of this world, but all authority in heaven, and in earth. By the letting go He gained all.

Do we want to know the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus? Do we want to know in a spiritual way His complete power in this universe? Then in a spiritual way we must come where He is. By whatever the Cross means, we have to come outside and hold everything as only for God, and what cannot be held for God, we must at least be prepared to relinquish altogether. A heavenly union with a heavenly Lord means a heavenly ascendancy, and power, and glory. That is the Gospel. That is the heart of the Gospel.

We turn to Matthew 24: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come". What did He mean by that? Simply this: a declaration made in all the kingdoms of this world that Jesus Christ is Lord, is King. If this world is divided up by the evil one into principalities and powers, into states, and these states are governed by representatives of the enemy in an evil way, then within all the territory of the enemy, under his divisional governments, a declaration has to be made that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Our business is to stand wherever God puts us in the nations of this world to represent the fact that Jesus Christ is King. On that ground we shall meet the full force of the challenge of the enemy. Because of that testimony we shall not find it easy to stay there. By every means he will seek to get us out of that place, because of what our presence represents. That is our business, to stand spiritually in the heavenly sovereign authority of the Lord Jesus just where He places us, to maintain that testimony, and that testimony will be borne within all the nations for a witness. Not to save all the nations, not to get all the nations converted, but for a witness, and "then shall the end come".

Go through the gospel by Matthew and gather up the occasions upon which He refers to the end, or the consummation of the age, and you will find that it occurs more often than perhaps you have thought. The consummation of the age in Matthew's gospel reveals the Son of Man coming in glory. He is in glory, He is Lord, "...and then shall the Son of Man come in His glory". At present the world may not recognise where He is and what He is, but unknown to the mass He is governing in heaven. Back of this world's affairs, and back of our affairs, He is governing, and the day is coming (it may be not far ahead) when the Son of Man shall come in His glory.

"But there will be some of us standing here who will not taste of death till we have seen the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (Matt. 16:28). Why? Because it has already happened. Has it? When was that fulfilled? Surely it was fulfilled at Pentecost. Surely the Son of Man came in His Kingdom at Pentecost. Surely the "all authority" started to work from Pentecost. Surely the nations began to feel the impact of the ascended Lord from Pentecost. The fact that we have received the Holy Spirit and know it in the work of His Spirit in our hearts, is the fact that we have seen Him coming in His Kingdom. But that is the earnest of the more glorious fact that we shall see Him coming in His glory.

He has come in His Kingdom, He is coming in His glory. Those who have seen Him coming in His Kingdom in a spiritual way will see Him coming in His glory. May we all be such.

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.