The Intervention of God in Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - In Service

Features of the Gospel by Mark (Continued)

We are told that Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. Barnabas was a Levite, therefore in Mark there was the Levitical strain, that is, he was of Levitical descent. That constitutes another important and significant feature in relation to the theme or the subject of Mark's writings, for we know that the Levites were chosen, appointed, separated to fulfil the service of the Lord.

This thought of service is a very definite and clear one right through the Word of God as being out from the mind of God Himself, and it is in a very special way, or a very emphatic way, related to Israel. When the Lord said to Moses from the burning bush: "I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters... and I am come down to deliver them" (Exodus 3:7-8), He immediately proceeded to their deliverance. And His commission to Moses was that he should go to Pharaoh and say unto Pharaoh: "Let My son go, that he may serve Me..." (Exodus 4:23) so that the very emancipation of Israel was connected with service. And that demand was repeated by Moses in the presence of Pharaoh, "Israel is My son... and I have said unto thee, let My son go, that he may serve Me; and thou hast refused to let him go: behold, I will slay thy son, thy firstborn." Israel coming to the place of sonship in relation to service is what is represented by this commission of Moses to Pharaoh.

Further, in the substance of that commission you have Mark's gospel gathered up in a very wonderful way. You have the Son introduced in the person of the Lord Jesus, and then you have service related to that Sonship, the service of God, and finally you have the gathering out of a people to the person of the Lord Jesus for the purposes of service to God.

The features of Mark's gospel are very largely illustrative, symbolic or typical. For instance, if you read through the first eight chapters of the gospel you cannot fail to be impressed with the large number of references to the sea and to boats. If you look at those chapters, you will notice again and again that the words by the sea occur. You will read that Jesus was walking by the sea, and then two verses on that He was walking by the sea again; and throughout those first eight chapters you find Him on some twelve occasions referred to as being by the sea, having to do with nets and fishermen and boats. That carries its own symbolism. The sea in the Scriptures is a type of humanity, mankind, and here are the means of working, as it were, among mankind. The activity is represented as being in the midst of mankind, in association with the sea. In that connection the Lord Jesus says to certain men: "Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). It is service for God in the midst of men, in the midst of the multitude, in the midst of the whole of mankind.

The point for the moment, before we touch that more fully, is that here is the Son, who is representing God's thought in the matter of service and right down in the midst of the whole mass of mankind as represented by the sea, He is at work gathering to Himself, in fellowship with Himself, a company for the service of God.

Let us leave that and go back to the Levitical idea of service. It is tremendously important that you and I should know what the service of God is. It will be time well spent if we see a little more clearly the meaning of the service of God. One does not want in any way to judge or be critical, but I do feel that we have reason to believe that the ideas of the service of God have gone somewhat astray from the Divine thought. Perhaps our most profitable and effective way of correcting things is always to state positively what the service of God is. The question, therefore, arises: what did the Lord mean when He said to Pharaoh through Moses, "Let My son go, that he may serve Me"? It was a dominating idea, repeated again and again, "that he may serve Me". The subsequent events will answer the question.

When the people were let go, when God had His people in the wilderness He constituted them a serving people. The point came when the firstborn in all Israel became too many, and the tribe of Levi was substituted for the firstborn of every family and became the tribe of the firstborn ones in a representative position, that is, representing and including in themselves all Israel so that all Israel were constituted a serving people in Levi.

What was the nature of the service? The whole work of the Levites was to present to God those features in which God had a delight. When the people brought their offerings, whether it was an offering by blood, or a meal offering, or any other kind of offering, it had to be of a certain order and to have certain characteristics. It had to be wholly and solely something according to God's mind, with no foreign strain in it, nothing whatever contrary to the Divine thought; searched through and through, within and without, so that the eyes of infinite and perfect holiness could detect nothing which would offend. The work of the Levites was to bring that to the Lord for His acceptance, for His satisfaction, for His pleasure.

The case might be that of a sin offering - that is where a beginning is made in relationship with God by the sinner. The first step in the establishment of relationship with God is the step of the sinner confessing his sin and bringing a sin offering to God as atonement for his sin. But the only means by which the sinner can come in the first instance into any kind of touch with God, is to satisfy God with something which is according to His own mind. And from that first step all other grades or aspects of approach towards fellowship with God are on the same principle. Something has to be given to God which is according to His own mind. Now, that whole range of things was the service of God. That was what God meant by: "that he may serve Me".

What is the service of God? To bring to God what is according to His mind. In principle it is exactly the same thing in Christianity as it was under the Mosaic economy. In principle it has not varied one hair's breadth. Christian service is exactly the same. The service of the Lord today is according to the same law.

Let us note this particularly, that the service of the Lord is not rushing about all over the world preaching to people. The service of the Lord is not doing one or more of a hundred things or all of a hundred things, by way of Christian works, whatever they may be. Christian service is not the propagation of Christianity.

The service of the Lord is, that from the very first step onward to finality, you are bringing to God Christly features. That may not be easy to follow for the moment, but it is worth staying with. Here is a sinner. You are seeking to lead that sinner to salvation, and you call that "Christian work". But what really are you doing? You are not supposed just to be getting men and women who are sinners to make some kind of confession by which they become Christians. You are seeking that right there, in the simplest, most elementary form, that life, that heart, apprehends Christ, should see the meaning and value of Christ. Here is a God who demands righteousness, holiness, sinlessness, and this sinner is unable to bring that to God. This sinner has nothing like that to bring to God.

Is there a man or a woman in the creation who in his or her own natural state can bring to God satisfaction in righteousness and holiness and goodness? We repudiate any suggestion that such a thing is possible, whatever the self-righteous may have to say about it. It is a settled thing with us that in us, that is, in our flesh, dwells no good thing. We can bring nothing to God for His satisfaction, and there is therefore no hope of fellowship with God unless that something which satisfies God's heart is brought to Him. But that is just where service comes in, to get a sinner to see that God has provided in Christ that which He requires for His own satisfaction, to get a sinner to come to apprehend Christ as his righteousness, as his goodness, and then to bring that back to God. That is service.

The service of the Lord is to show a sinner Christ and to enable by the Holy Spirit that sinner to apprehend Christ and to bring Christ, the virtues of Christ, to God. That is where service begins.

That is rather different from setting out certain details of Christian profession, Christian creed, Christian doctrine, and saying, "Do you agree to that? If you do, then you are a saved man and you can reckon yourself as accepted by God!" God never accepts any man or woman on the ground of their saying, "Yes, I assent to that!" God only accepts on the ground that they see their utter helplessness before God. You and I have, in service, to deal with the Lamb of God, to put Him, as it were, into the hands of a sinner who has seen that apart from that Lamb of God, there is no hope, but because of that Lamb there is hope.

It does not end there. It goes right through to the point where the apostle was when he said: "that we may present every man perfect in Christ; whereunto I labour also..." (Col. 1:28-29). What is labour? What is service? What does he mean when he says, "I labour"? That is the service of the Lord. It is simply to bring to believers a continuously growing acknowledgment of Christ, so that what is not of Christ is going all the time, and what is Christ is coming in, until they are perfect in Christ, and it is Christ from the very first step to the last. The whole course of Christian growth and Christian service is simply a matter of Christ becoming everything. That is the service of the Lord.

No wonder results are so meagre, so small. There is so little of Christ to be given. There is such a small apprehension of Christ on the part of us who have the ministry, who have given the word. Our business is a growing apprehension of Christ, that we may serve.

No man can minister Christ by taking a college course. No man can minister Christ by simply saying, "I am going into the ministry, I am going to take up Christian work, I am going into Christian service!" A minister of Christ is one who has Christ to minister, and we can only serve in the measure in which we have Christ to impart, to put into the hands of others, so to speak, that they may offer Him to God. That is Levitical service.

In the wilderness these people were not rushing all over the world doing Christian activities, or Jewish activities. They were shut up in that wilderness to an appreciation of Christ. Ah, but it had a universal effect. If ever that people should move on into the higher ranges of the service of God where the forces of evil were dispossessed, driven out, overwhelmed; if ever they should come into the land and there should be a testimony in that land wholly of God, that will only be as they have come into the large apprehension of Christ. The course of their life in the wilderness and through the Jordan was all typically to be a growing apprehension of Christ, in order that they might come into that higher spiritual service of the heavenlies.

We can never serve the Lord in that higher realm of spiritual effectiveness against the forces of evil, only on the basis of a very large apprehension of Christ. Jericho stands at the very gateway to that realm, and that type of spiritual service of God speaks of something which is all of God. No human strength is introduced, no wit, no wisdom of man, but the perfect picture of foolishness and weakness, just walking round silently. This thing is going to be controlled by God or it will not be at all. And what is true at the gateway has to be true of the whole course. There has to come about a wonderfully full apprehension of Christ.

Now you understand why it is that when you open Mark's gospel you almost immediately come upon this: "And passing along by the sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men" (1:16-17). First of all you have the representative Servant: "Come ye after Me". Here is God's type, God's living expression, God's representative of service. Is there any question about that? There is no need to show that the Lord Jesus in all His life and service was utterly for the Lord. "The words that I say unto you I speak not from Myself: but the Father abiding in Me doeth His works" (John 14:10). "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing: for what things soever He doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner" (John 5:19). The law of service is that there should be nothing out from self and all things out from God.

Here is the Representative. "Come ye after Me". It is all bound up with the Person. "Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become..." - "I will make you"! So many people rush into the service of the Lord before they have been made, and that is the tragedy of their work. There is some making to be done, and that making can only be in close and abiding fellowship with Him. "Come ye after Me...". That, interpreted in the later New Testament light, is made perfectly plain as meaning a close, deep, spiritual fellowship with the Lord.

The language here, because things were in this elementary stage, was very largely illustrative, but even then the Lord Jesus had His deeper meaning. He did not mean simply, "You come to Me; when I go into Galilee you follow Me there; when I go into Judea you follow Me there; when I go into Samaria you follow Me there: follow Me everywhere I go!" There is something deeper than that. "Come ye after Me...". That is made clear, even by John, as meaning a spiritual abiding in Him. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in Me" (John 15:4). That is a spiritual relationship, a spiritual fellowship, and the measure and value of spiritual service always depends upon the measure of our inward fellowship with the Lord. That is a thing which can never be given to us from without. That is an inward secret history with God. It is inwardly getting to know the Lord, growing in the knowledge of the Lord. That is the true preparation for service. The other things may be very useful, but the real basic preparation for service, the spring of service, is our inward life with the Lord.

"Come ye after Me, and I will make you...". All that is represented by that make you; being made to become, making to become fishers of men, that is the drawing out from this world, from the whole mass of humanity, a company for God in Christ, bearing those features of Christ with which God is well pleased. That is service. That is the work of the Lord - in spiritual association with Christ being prepared by being made, resulting in the gathering of a company from the mass of men, in which company there are those elements of Christ - Christ apprehended, Christ appreciated - with which God can be well pleased. That is the service of the Lord.

Concentrate upon the inner law of service. Remember this, that our business in service is to seek from God enablement by the Holy Spirit to reveal to men's hearts what Christ is for them from God, and to God for them. It is not the acceptance of Christian truth. It is that men should say, "Well, I see that Christ satisfies God on my behalf, that as I bring Christ; not my miserable, wretched, lost self, not my constant effort to rake up from the debris of this moral wreckage of my life something that God can accept, not my everlasting trying to find in myself God's satisfaction, God's pleasure, He is the ground of peace, of rest, of assurance! I see that God has provided His own good pleasure in His own Son, and I grasp Him with both hands, and bring Him to God!" That is the nature of our service for God.

All this springs out of the little element that Mark had a Levitical descent. Mark is the man who speaks of service, and that is what God means by service. The Lord Jesus brings everything to God for His pleasure: "I delight to do Thy will, O my God" (Psa. 40:8). The Father is able to say: "Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). "I am delighted, I am satisfied!" God will always say that when you and I apprehend God's satisfaction with His Son and bring Christ.

It is an old story, but it is being said not only that we should come afresh to rest upon the ground of God's good pleasure in Christ, but let us cherish this truth, let us hold it strongly. We who think that we stand, we who think that we would never waver on this matter, may some day be caught in an hour, in a day, when the enemy lets his fiery darts fly at our faith, and we come to question whether, after all, we have not been all wrong. The enemy may get that in somewhere, and we need to hold firmly with both our hands that it is not what we are not, it is what Christ is and we hold to Him - He satisfies God. Let us always give the enemy the answer on that line.

The enemy says, "But you are so sinful, and you are so unworthy, and you are so faulty! Look at this, and look at that, and look at something else about yourself!" He tries to get us down under a cloud of despair, but let us remember Luther's answer and stand on that ground: "Yes, all that is true, and much more than that (and the devil can never tell the whole story) but the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin".

The first step in the service of the Lord is to bring before men the values of Jesus Christ to God on their behalf, and all subsequent service is on that ground: to increase before the knowledge of men the values of Christ, so that they are built up in Christ, and Christ becomes more and more, and greater and greater, until that perfect day when it will be Christ - All and in all.

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