|Vol. 18, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1989
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
"All authority has been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye
therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them
to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you
all the days, even unto the end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20
SINCE four is the universal number, we are not surprised to find that
the Great Commission contains four uses of the word "All". All authority,
all nations, all things and all the days. The victory of the cross is a total
1. Total Authority
He who had always been Almighty God had now received a new dimension
of total authority as the Firstborn from the dead, The book of the Acts
will demonstrate how this worked out, but even before that we see it at
work on the resurrection morning. The Jewish rulers had set their seal of
authority on the great stone of Joseph's tomb, and they had also provided
soldiers to keep watch over it. After He had risen from the dead the risen
Lord used His authority to send an angel (one was enough!) to set aside that
authority and roll the stone away. The seal counted for nothing. In fact
my friend Alec Motyer suggests that when the angel sat on that stone he deliberately
sat on the pretentious seal. So much for ecclesiastical "authority".
The glory of the Father, by the Holy Spirit, entered that dark tomb and
raised Jesus from the dead. He emerged from the cave but the watchers knew
nothing of what had happened. They thought that they were in charge. What
shocked them into activity and dismay was when the stone was suddenly rolled
away to disclose an empty tomb. Their imagined authority became a rout. All
authority was and now always is, in the hands of our risen Lord. He did
not have to clutch at it, for it was given to Him.
2. Total Invitation
The Good News is for all the nations. I would have liked to have used
the title, "Total Acceptance", but alas, I cannot do that for many still
reject the gospel offer. Nevertheless the gospel invitation is for all the
nations. The first Jew to profit from this was the crucified criminal; the
first Gentile may well have been the Roman centurion who was in charge at
Calvary. This is how John 19:35 may be read. As the rough soldiers broke
the legs of the other two and pierced the side of Jesus, there was one witness,
vouched for by John, who was near enough to observe the strange phenomenon
of the separate flows of blood and water. The other Evangelists tell of the
centurion's reaction -- "Truly this was God's Son" and "Certainly this was
a righteous man" -- and it seems reasonable that John's words applied to
this same man. There could hardly have been many others close enough to
observe the fact so accurately. He was a reliable witness and seemingly a
believer whose testimony brought faith to others.
Matthew's account of the meeting on the Galilee mountain refers to the
assignation which had been made on that first day when both the angels and
the risen Lord Himself told the disciples that He would be ready to receive
them in Galilee and indicated just where they were to meet (v.16). My own
conviction is that this was a larger invitation which eventually produced
the attendance there of over five hundred believers (1 Corinthian 15:6).
One can hardly credit that Matthew's remark that some doubted could apply
to any of the eleven apostles who had already been convinced. The eleven
were undoubtedly the central figures among the commissioned disciples, but
the call and the promise applied to the larger number.
If some ask why then do the other three Gospels describe encounters with
the risen Lord in Jerusalem, the answer can well be that those were extra
bonuses. All the Gospels mention Galilee. The Lord loves to surprise us with
extra benefits beyond what we had expected. He told the disciples that He
would go before them into Galilee and that was a firm promise. Before
[101/102] that, however, and quite unexpectedly, He broke in upon
their company both on that day and again a week later as they were in the
Upper Room. Isn't that just like the Lord to give us better than His promises
seemed to offer!
It seems to have taken the apostles a long time to comprehend fully that
they had been entrusted with a message to all the nations, but from the first
this was the scope of Christ's commission to His Church. What is more, He
never envisaged failure for the message since He gave particular instructions
about baptism and its implications.
3. Total Commitment
"All things whatsoever I commanded you" reminds us that believers are
to become totally committed to their Saviour. So far as the believing Church
is concerned, the Lord Jesus has total rule and requires total obedience.
Believers are to be baptised not just "in the name ..." but "into the
name ..." The three Persons of the Trinity are here mentioned, but we note
that they have only one name, and in fact all the power of that name is vested
in the risen Christ. So much is this the case that converts are described
as being "baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 10:48 & 19:5).
This is a phrase which I personally have often used when baptising converts.
Paul posed a question related to this when he wrote: "Do you not know that
all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus ...? (Romans 6:3).
This instruction to observe all the commandments of the Lord means, in
practice, total obedience to the Scriptures. We have no other means of knowing
what the Lord Jesus commanded His people, and for us there can be no question
of gaining information from any men now living. The main feature of the apostles'
ministry was the provision for us of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit miraculously
brought back to their remembrance all that Jesus had taught them and it
was He who inspired them to write it down for us.
It is true that one of the main contributors to the New Testament was
Paul and he was not on that Galilean mountain. For this reason he had a direct
and personal confrontation with the risen Jesus and incidentally this took
place even farther away from Jerusalem than Galilee. Once the Lord had been
rejected by the Jewish religionaries, His relationship with the Temple was
minimal. His Church is not a religious institution but a band of brothers,
baptised into Christ and baptised into one body by His Spirit.
The Lord Jesus gave no indication at all that there would be further
revelations of His will beyond the inspired Scriptures, but rather suggested
that those first pioneers of the gospel would be able to convey to all nations
the totality of His commandments. What a challenge this might be to us who
have become believers! Baptism is meant to depict an end to the old self-directed
life and an entirely new beginning of committal to the revealed will of God.
Totality of Christ's lordship demands a totality of our obedience. The Lord
pities our weaknesses, but He will never lower His own standards.
4. Total Support
"Lo, I am with you ..." There are many striking uses of that exclamatory
word "Lo" in the Bible, but this is a special one which we must never miss.
The Scriptural use of the word "with" goes beyond the simple companionship
of His presence to stress His backing and support.
The translators use the word "always", but what Jesus actually said was
"all the days". I like that! And it is more than a promise, being a solemn
statement of fact. He did not tell us that we would necessarily feel His
presence, though that is a wonderful sensation when we are given it. Nor did
the Lord promise that the fact would be demonstrated by our circumstances.
What it does affirm is that those who are true to the gospel will find that
the Lord backs them and stands with them; His is a total support. And, as
Paul proved, it operated most conspicuously when no-one else stood behind
him: "At my first defence no-one took my part ... but the Lord stood by me"
(2 Timothy 4:16-17).
And this was true for them "all the days". Some of the eleven -- perhaps
all of them -- found the end of their pilgrimage a deeply painful and perplexing
experience. Certainly this was true of James and Peter and John. No doubt
the [102/103] Spirit reminded them then of the Lord's
words, "all the days, even to the end ..." and strengthened them. But even
if any one of them doubted, that would make no difference to the declared
fact of Christ's total support. If ever we doubt Him we must respond to that
call to look up to Him as commanded by the word "Lo". And those who would
be glad enough to be at Home with the Lord yet feel some apprehension about
their last uncertain days on earth, can rest in this assurance that not
a single day will pass without the Lord's pledged support.
My reading of the prophetic Scriptures makes me sense that the final
days of the Dispensation may be marked by extraordinary trials for the Church,
but even so, the assurance holds good right through "to the end of the age".
One Day, caught up to Him in the clouds, we know that "so shall we ever be
with the Lord." Meanwhile, as we wait, He will every day be with us.
PRINCIPALITIES, POWERS AND PEOPLE
John H. Paterson
That now unto principalities and powers in heavenly places might be
known by the church the manifold wisdom of God. Ephesians 3:10
[Note by author:] Some issues back [Vol. 16, No. 4],
I contributed to this magazine an article under the title "Affirming The
Wisdom of God". As a number of readers suspected at the time, however, and
as the Editor explained in a subsequent issue, the material in the article
was printed out of order: what appeared to read sequentially was, in reality,
a thoroughly jumbled message. When the Editor announced that the magazine
was to be closed with the present number I asked that, as my own final contribution
to a line of one hundred or so articles, he would reprint this same message,
under a new title but in the correct sequence, and otherwise virtually unchanged.
He has kindly agreed to do so.
OF the studies which I have recently contributed to this magazine, a
number have been concerned with the relationship between two groups of things,
and the difference between them -- heavenly things and earthly things, or
invisible things and visible. The first of these distinctions was made by
the Lord Jesus Himself: "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe
not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" (John 3:12)
The second was made by Paul: "The things which are seen are temporal; but
the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Among the points that I have previously tried to make about these two
kinds of things are some which have, I hope, commanded general agreement.
1. These two kinds of things are different; so different, in fact, that
they may in a particular case appear as opposites -- wisdom as foolishness,
strength as weakness, or weakness as strength (1 Corinthians 1:23-28).
2. The natural or earthly can never produce, never generate, the spiritual
or heavenly. That which is born of the flesh is flesh (John 3:6). Spiritual
things come from the Spirit of God alone.
3. The spiritual is always more important, more to he desired, than the
earthly or transitory. The Apostle Paul often expressed his impatience and
discontent with the earthly confines of his being: "In this we groan, earnestly
desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven" (2 Corinthians
[103/104] 5:2). The groaning or affliction in this
earthly house, he said, "worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal
weight of glory" (4:17).
A Fundamental Question
But these three points, if accepted, bring us directly to a question
which every believer must surely have asked himself at some time or other
-- and if he has not, he probably ought to have done so! It is this: if
the earthly is avowedly of less importance than the heavenly, what importance
does it nevertheless possess?
Clearly, the answer cannot be "none at all"; otherwise, we should have
to visualize a divine economy in which thousands of God's people were wasting
their time -- and His -- among useless earthly things, when they might be
much more profitably employed in heaven.
Nor is the situation made much easier if we accept the usual Christian
answer, that we are here among earthly things as witnesses to others of
the reality of the heavenly -- of God Himself. Of course we are; but, even
if we agree to use the widest possible definition of "witness", we must
recognize that even an assiduous witness will sometimes be alone and have
no one to witness to; will sometimes be eating or sleeping, going to work
or jogging round the park. In other words, if witnessing to people is the
Lord's only purpose in keeping us here, we have an inadequate answer to
our question. Not only must we discard every other human activity (as some
believers have felt that they must); not only must we regard everything
other than prayer, preparation and witness as a valueless waste of time,
but we must also recognize that the Church's record of "witness" -- Inquisition,
Wars of Religion and all -- has often been counter-productive. Silence and
inactivity would have been much better!
The Question Restated
Let me try to raise the same question in another, more practical way.
Here are two statements, one supposedly deriving from the other:
l. Only acceptance, by faith, of Christ as Saviour can save a man or
2. Therefore the only activity of value for a Christian is the presentation
of the message summarised in that first statement.
Now all Bible-believing Christians accept the first statement. But does
the second follow from it? Well, here we have a problem! If we say "Yes",
we have then to confront the words of the Lord Jesus, who assures us that,
for example, to give a cup of cold water to somebody is an "activity of value"
(Matthew 10:42). And I hope, in passing, that we shall not be tempted to
argue, "Oh, but giving water to somebody who is thirsty is a form of witness."
There is nothing more unseemly than to let it be known that we are handing
out the water in order to make a Christian witness, and not because we feel
sympathy for the thirsty!
But if we say "No", then we have to explain how giving a cup of
water to someone who is gasping for it can contribute to the salvation of
their soul -- the only ultimate good that, according to this view, a believer
can do for his fellow-man. Of what use is compassion if it does not lead
to conversion? Or is all of life except the preaching of the Gospel really
just a process of "softening up" hardened hearts to get them in the right
mood to listen?
Now in that form the question I am raising is quite familiar to
us. It is the basis of the decades-long debate as to whether preaching or
witnessing is the only thing believers are called upon to do, and whether
good works without the Gospel are worthless. Over the years, the two sides
have had little difficulty in making each other look ridiculous; the preachers
are made to seem uncaring for the human welfare of the lost, while the other
party are accused of offering soup instead of salvation.
Both sides have, of course, set up caricatures of the other. But even
if they have, and we know they have, we need as God's people to be satisfied
in our own hearts and consciences that we understand the issues. Many believers,
myself included, have not, I think, confronted this question squarely.
What, generally speaking, is the justification which we offer for being
left here, in the body? It is that the salvation of souls is the ultimate
goal of our life and witness, but we then add (l) that witness is a broad
term involving how we live as well as what we say, and (2) that even
[104/105] when we are not consciously witnessing we may contribute
indirectly to the salvation of others -- by being links in a chain, if you
like. Thus the things that we do, at work or in society, are to be done with
the same goal in mind as the "religious" activities: they are to draw others
Now, I believe that every word in that last paragraph is true, that Christian
business people should be honest, and that Christians in society should be
caring. I also believe, however, as I am going to try and show, that this
is only a part of the truth, and so may be misleading. It is, in any case,
worrying because, if the view I have just set out is the whole truth,
then it means that, for the believer, everything in life is done with an
ulterior motive. Putting that in practical terms, I never make a friend because
I like a person, but only to win him or her to Christ. I never sing a song
or paint a picture for the joy of singing or painting, but only as a vehicle
for presenting the Gospel. I must ask of everything I do or say, "In what
way can this be made to subserve the Gospel?" And if I cannot answer that
question satisfactorily, then I must accuse myself of wasting time while
souls go on unhindered in their sin.
I do not think that I exaggerate: some believers really live under this
kind of burden of guilt. Yet this relentless logic seems to drain out of
life much of the joy, and most of the spontaneity, of human relationships.
So, is there another answer to this question: what are believers supposed
to be doing here? I think there is. It is quite simple and biblical and,
that being the case, I wonder why it took me so long to realise it! It derives
from a verse I have known -- and preached on -- for decades, the verse from
Ephesians 3 printed at the head of this article. I have occasionally referred
to it in these pages in the past but never, I think, given it the full attention
Let us, then, briefly recall the context of Ephesians 3:10. In this epistle,
Paul declares the overall, eternal purpose of God to be that everything shall
ultimately be gathered together, or summed up, in Christ; that He shall
fill all things (1:10; 4:10). Within that over-arching purpose, particular
tasks are then assigned to various agencies. To the special, God-created
agency of the Church is assigned this apparently key task: to exhibit (to
witness to, if you like) the manifold wisdom of God.
So, witnessing is indeed the key task of the Church! But notice, if you
will, the important part of the verse to which we have not so far referred.
To whom is this witness or exhibition to be offered? It is not, so
far as we can see, to men and women but to "principalities and powers in
Now let me say at once that I have no clear idea at all who or what these
principalities and powers are. My commentaries seem to be no help to me at
this point, and I do not even claim to know whether the beings or forces
are good or bad. I make only one assumption about them: that since they are
"in heavenly places" they have a much clearer view of God and His creation
than we do. They are likely to "know the score" in a way which earthbound
mortals do not.
Witness and Audience
What difference does it make then, this choice of "audience" for the
Church's witness? A great deal! What the Church is called to witness
to is "the manifold (or many-sided) wisdom of God". And that is certainly,
in all its aspects, one of the "heavenly things". You will remember that
it was while He was talking to Nicodemus -- a religious leader and teacher
-- that the Lord Jesus used that phrase "heavenly things". Jesus exposed
his ignorance of that whole category of truths. The fact is that men and
women have, in themselves, no way of recognising God's wisdom, even
if it is presented to them. To use an apt and delightful Irish phrase (which
must in its time have led to the downfall of many a credulous tourist!),
"Sure, the truth is wasted on the likes of them; they wouldn't know it if
they heard it!" That is the kind of "audience" that men and women provide.
Nor is this all. The truth about God's wisdom is doubly wasted on the
likes of you and me by nature, firstly because the earthly cannot of itself
grasp the heavenly and, secondly, because it is one of the chief tasks of
God's enemy to [105/106] conceal truth, distort evidence
and mislead mankind. Not only, in other words, are we travelling an unknown
road, but someone has gone along it before us and turned all the signposts
As Paul put it, "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them
which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ ... should
shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:4). And to show just how far off the true
path this deception, this alteration of the signposts, can lead people, he
made that other comment about the wisdom of God: "But we speak the wisdom
of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom ... which none of the princes
of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified
the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:7-8). That is surely the most dramatic
of all measures of human error.
Paul goes on, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit
of God; for they are foolishness to him" (1 Corinthians 2:14). And we can
all, surely, confirm that from our own experience. One of the sorrows of
the Christian life is to observe how men and women misunderstand God: how
they give Him credit for favouring them when they win some lottery, and blame
Him when there is a natural disaster, totally without perception of His true
wisdom in either case. If, then, the Church has only people to whom
to present its testimony to the manifold wisdom of God, all it is likely
to encounter is ignorance, misunderstanding or blank faces.
But that is just the significance of what Ephesians 3:10 says. It says
that the Church's "audience", far from consisting of ignoramuses with blinded
minds, is made up of immensely knowledgeable beings, who are perfectly well
aware or every facet of God's dealings with man and every twist and turn
of a man's motives in dealing with God and the world around him.
To illustrate the difference which this choice of audience makes, let
me take an example which is, as it happens, also relevant to what comes later.
I once stood in an art gallery in Edinburgh with a friend who happens to
be a poet. We were confronting a very large painting, an abstract called "The
Burning", done in colours of flame. I could make nothing of it and neither,
apparently, could a man who came up while I stood there, and muttered "Rubbish!"
before he passed on to something easier. Meanwhile, my companion stood transfixed
and, on leaving the gallery, went home and wrote a poem which said, in poetic
terms, "I know just what you are saying in that painting and, as a Christian,
What a contrast in the perceptions of the audience! For one of us, the
picture had meaning: a message had been presented and received. For the
others, it was incomprehensible: the artist had laboured in vain to communicate.
But if my poet-companion could successfully penetrate the thoughts of the
painter, how much more readily can those principalities and powers perceive
what men and women cannot -- the goings-on in the hearts of God's people
and, even more, the wisdom of God Himself!
If you have followed me this far, I want now to return to that stubborn
question with which I began, and try to answer it with the help of these
same words of Paul's to the Ephesians. The question is, you recall, what is
the status of all those actions and activities in our lives which cannot,
even with the widest stretch of definition, be regarded as contributing to
the conversion of men and women; to their being born again of the Spirit?
Are they simply a kind of neutral background to our real lives as witnesses,
or are they actually a wicked waste of time?
I suggest that they are neither; not, at least, if we keep in mind our
"audience". Let me go back to the artist and the poet. The artist painted
a picture which showed nothing recognisable: it was not a portrait, or a
landscape, or a crucifixion scene such as a mediaeval painter might have
produced. In fact, to me and those like me it conveyed nothing at all: it
bore no witness. But to the poet it spoke: it made a statement about
the world, God and man. It affirmed a world-view; incidentally -- but only
incidentally -- one with which the poet disagreed.
Now it is that word affirm which I want to draw to your attention.
My dictionary says it means "to assert confidently or positively", which
is just the meaning I hope to give it. What I suggest is that all our thoughts
and actions, however trivial, and whether or not [106/107]
they are seen by other people, affirm our particular view of God, man
and creation. In this sense, nothing is neutral; in this sense, whether we
eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God (1
Corinthians 10:31). But that is not at all the same thing as saying that
everything we do must contribute to the salvation of others, or else it is
worthless. Rather, everything we do is registered, assessed and appreciated
by our real "audience", and nothing is wasted on them.
To make a statement of our world-view when we are dealing with our friends
or neighbours, we must naturally tell or show them something they can recognise
-- either words, or a picture (like, say, Holman Hunt's "Light of the World")
which contains a story. Our music must be a hymn or Gospel song; otherwise,
it may convey pleasure or despair, but it cannot convey a message of salvation.
But most painting is not of Bible scenes, and most music is
not in the form of Gospel songs; nor can we demand that they should be. Yet
they can still affirm a view of God and man: still "assert confidently" the
wisdom of God because, without ever having to be translated into words like
"I believe that God is in control, and that He made us for Himself", they
can be "read" within the mind of the believer by those principalities and
powers who are privy to "the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews
In recent years, we have been reminded by a multitude of voices that
our slightest action in everyday life can and does express a world-view.
I suppose that most of those reminders, these days, come from groups concerned
about the environment. They point out that to discard litter, or destroy
wild life, or blow tobacco smoke over other people, affirms a careless
attitude to our world, and they may well be right. In the deeper, more personal
realm of attitudes to God and man, we can equally ask of any action, "What
does it affirm?" And it is those principalities and powers in heavenly places
who know the answer, even when we ourselves do not. It is in this sense,
and for this audience, that our every thought and action find their
The Power Struggle
One further point: in what area or field are these observers in our audience
looking to see the wisdom of God exhibited? Well, whoever they are -- and
again I am not going to speculate about that -- it is evident from their
title that the focus of their interest is on power and authority. They exist,
we can assume, because of the great power struggle that has been going
on in God's creation since the first angel fell. The question "Who rules?"
has dominated the creation since its beginnings, and will be the last question
resolved before the consummation of all things.
These heavenly forces are intensely interested observers of the balance
of power. They know that, for the moment, "the whole world lieth in wickedness"
(1 John 5:19) -- that there is one of whom the Lord Jesus said, "The prince
of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John 14:30; cf. 12:31). In
other words, the Lord Jesus recognised the present domain of evil, but affirmed
that He Himself was no part of it. Satan tried, by every sort of pressure
and temptation, to disprove His claim, but he failed.
And now, with the whole world lying under its prince, and men's thoughts
and actions, art and culture affirming that to be so, God's people are called
upon to affirm the contrary. In this enemy-occupied territory, they are to
be members of an underground resistance movement, asserting another
authority; affirming another world-view.
It obviously makes sense, in the world's terms, to accept things as they
are, and to collaborate -- to swim with the tide. By contrast, it takes a
very special kind of wisdom to discern, in God's activity, the hand of
power: to appreciate either the powerful victory of Calvary, or the
delay of the Victor in throwing out the usurper. In human terms, the Cross
is foolishness. As I have often pointed out in these pages before, there
is a tremendous weight of material evidence to suggest that it is sheer folly
to believe in a God of power, love or goodwill. I can very well understand
people finding that evidence an insuperable obstacle to faith.
But this is just what is going to impress those principalities and powers:
that there are people in whose smallest action and most hidden attitude they
can discern the affirmation of faith. They watch from their heavenly vantage-point
a man caring for his environment, or an artist [107/108]
painting a picture (no crucifixion scenes!), or a businessman refusing
to cut corners dishonestly, and they can read into it all the affirmation,
"This is God's world. He is in charge. The prince of this world shall
have no foothold in me. I am committed to the final triumph of Christ in
His Cross. His purpose is to redeem His creation." And they are obliged to
conclude that, to inspire such confidence in Himself, God's wisdom must be
DELIVERANCE FROM FEAR
J. Alec Motyer
"He laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not;
I am the first and the last, and the Living one;
and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore,
and I have the keys of death and of Hades." Revelation 1:17-18
THE first words which Jesus spoke after His resurrection were directed
to bewildered women who were moving away from the tomb. Mary Magdalene had
already gone running to fetch Peter and John, so she missed this little
interview. Other groups of women seem to have scattered. But there was one
group whom He met, and to them His first word was "Rejoice!" In the older
versions this is properly translated, "All hail!" and in the newer ones,
"Greetings!" but when we take the word to its literal sense it means "Rejoice!"
Mary Magdalene duly fetched Peter and John but, soon after they had gone
back home, she remained by the tomb weeping, so preoccupied with bereavement
that she did not even recognise the risen Lord when He asked her why she
was weeping, but she knew Him when He called her by name. So the risen Lord
takes away sorrow and tears.
There was a couple on their way to Emmaus late that afternoon. Their
faces were downcast and no doubt their steps were slow, for sadness makes
the feet drag. It was then that the Stranger came and matched His steps
to their slow steps. By the time He left them their hearts were burning
within them. The risen Lord comes and walks with us when the going is hard
and transforms everything, making our steps swift and glad.
There was an evening gathering that same day. The doors were locked,
for we imagine that they said to themselves, "If they were able to do that
to Jesus with impunity, what will they do to us?" The lovely inverted English
of the older versions records, "Then came Jesus". He said, "Peace be unto
you". And in case they hadn't heard it the first time, He again said, "Peace
be unto you!" The resurrection brings us joy, comfort, companionship and
Here in Revelation we have words spoken by the Lord Jesus with all the
majesty of His resurrection. He said, "Do not be afraid". The resurrection
of Jesus is not a problem, it is a fact; and out of that fact springs a
great reassurance -- fear is banished.
Look at His feet! They are like bronze as though glowing in a furnace.
He is the Jesus who knows what it is to walk through the fiery furnace of
life sufferings, and so it follows that He knows how to sympathise with
us when we have to walk that way.
Listen to His voice! "His voice was like the sound of many waters". If
you have ever been to Niagara you have been able to sense the immense and
frightening power of that water. But as you walk farther away and listen
to that sound, it is deep and compelling.
Look at His [108/109] face! It shines like the
sun. Look at His hair; it portrays the spotless white of total purity. Look
at His eyes; they are like a flame of fire. In one sense there is much to
make us timorous and fearful. The unreconciled sinner may well feel dread
at the prospect of meeting such a One. But to us the resurrection word is
"Fear not!" When He speaks to His Church as represented by the golden lampstands,
He asks us what we have to be afraid of. He gives perfect deliverance from
1. There is a sovereignty that takes away fear.
He gives us reasons why we are not to fear. He says, "I am the first
and the last," which is another way of saying that He is the alpha and the
omega. He is the "A" who begins things and He is the "Z" who brings things
to their conclusion. When we think of all the letters which lie between
the "A" of life's experiences and the "Z", of all the intermediate steps
of life's pathway, we might well fear if we did not hear Him say that He
is there and He is the Living one. He is not a passive spectator of what
happens on earth; He is the first, initiating everything, the last bringing
everything to its conclusion, and He is present at every intermediate stage.
The sovereignty of the risen Lord rules over every experience of life and
so takes away all our fear.
The alphabet has some awkward letters in it. If you don't believe me,
try playing Scrabble. If you have a "Q" without a "U", it means that you
end up with minus 10, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you have
a "J" with no spare "O" to put beside it, you are in trouble. And as we move
from "A" to "Z" in life's pathway, there are some stumbling places to face.
There are things that stumble us in our minds; things that stumble us in our
circumstances: things that stumble us in our families. There are some awkward
corners in life. The One who is first and last assures us that He will be
with us to put us through those experiences of "Q" and "J" and every other
of life's problems.
2. There is a death which takes away all fear.
John confesses that when he saw the risen Lord he "fell at his feet as
one dead". We can understand this, for the glory of Christ must be overwhelming.
It was at that moment that he heard the Lord saying to him "Do not be afraid.
I am the first and the last and the Living one. I was dead ..." It was as
if the Lord told him that he had no need to die. Christ had been the one
who did the dying. You cannot die, John, because it was I who died for you.
I dare say that, with me, you have wondered a little bit at Charles Wesley's
temerity in asserting in his hymn: "No condemnation now I dread. Jesus and
all in Him is mine. Alive in Him my living Head and clothed in righteousness
divine. Bold I approach the eternal throne ..." Can that be possible? Well
done, Charles! I hope that it was like that for you. It was not just poetic
licence but the sober truth.
For most of us there is an inner tremor; a trembling at the thought of
standing before the throne of God. But even if on that day, we were to fall
on our face in fear, why the same would happen to us as it did to the apostle
-- we would feel a hand on our shoulder and hear a voice in our ear saying,
"You are in no danger of death. I am the one who died and when we looked
we would see in His hands the marks of the nails.
Beloved, will you look at the hands of the Saviour; look at His hands
and His side; and then explain the meaning of those wounds. There is only
one explanation; it is that "In my place condemned He stood!" That was it.
The death of Jesus takes away our fear before God, because the Son of God
has died in our place; borne our punishment: discharged our debt; made peace
with God through the blood of His cross. There should be no fear for us since
His perfect love takes away all fear.
3. There is a life which takes away all fear.
Our Scripture continues: "I was dead and behold, I am alive forever and
ever". I love that word, "Behold!" No doubt John was standing before the
risen Lord and taking in every aspect of His glory, when he heard the Lord
say, "Yes, I was dead. I experienced what it is like to be dead, but behold
..." And His hands go out as He indicates the majesty, the vibrancy and vitality
of His risen person. "Look", He says, "I am alive now and for ever."
What does the resurrection mean to us? We look hack at the great fact.
We rejoice in an empty tomb. But what does that past fact mean to us today?
What does the resurrection actually [109/110] mean
to us now? If we ask Mary Magdalene what it meant to her that the Lord was
alive from the dead, she would reply that when she was bereaved, she had
Someone to come and dry her tears. And so have we. If we ask the disciples
in the upper room what it meant to them to have a risen Lord, they will reply
that it means that when we were afraid, we had Someone to come and minister
peace to us. And so have we. If we ask the walkers to Emmaus what it meant
to them that they now had a risen Lord, they would say that it meant that
when their steps were dragging with life's sadness, they had Someone who came
and walked with them. And so have we. "I will never leave you" He has said.
"I will never forsake you."
4. There is an expectation which takes away all fear.
Having said "Behold" and called attention to Himself, the Lord Jesus
drew John's attention to one thing in particular: "I hold the keys of death
and of Hades." It is surely a strange person who is not afraid to die. When
my wife and I are on our way to our home in Devon, there is a point in the
rather weary road when she says to me -- or I say to her -- "Have you got
the keys with you?" That is all important. The journey would be wasted if
at the end no-one had the keys.
In the Bible the keyholder is the one with complete unanswerable authority.
If that one opens a door, no-one can shut it. Death and the life to come
are here seen as under the sovereign command of Christ. He holds the keys.
"There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock
the gates of heaven and let us in." And He did unlock those gates. There is
a welcome for us. This is our great hope. There is no need for the Christian
to fear death and the hereafter, for our Lord has the keys.
In the Bible hope is a pure expectation. It involves the certainty of
a future event. And it is closely associated with resurrection, Our hope
is like an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast and entering into that
which is within the veil, where Jesus, our Forerunner, has already entered
in on our behalf. That is what He did when He rose from the dead; He pierced
heaven's curtain and went back home. He has left the door wide open and no-one
can shut it. All who will may enter.
Alas, there are many who will not enter, many who do not want the Lord
Jesus. We must make it plain that it is no good holding the Saviour at arms
length in this life and expecting Him to clasp them to His bosom in the
next. That will not happen. How important, then, to know deliverance from
all fear by reason of a personal relationship with the Risen Christ.
A DIVINE ASSESSMENT
'You have asked a hard thing' 2 Kings 2:10
'This is an easy thing' 2 Kings 3:18
2 Kings chapter 2 is a record of the final episode in the life of the
prophet Elijah. For some years he has been training his successor, Elisha,
but the time has now come for the two to be parted. Elijah's ministry is
ending, Elisha's is about to begin. At the end of their last journey together
Elijah says to Elisha 'Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from
you?' Elisha replies 'Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit'. He
asks, not that he will be 'twice the man' Elijah was, nor possess twice the
gifts, nor experience twice the power, but that he will receive a first-born
He requests that he will be, in reality, all that [110/111]
he is being called upon to be, and be enabled to do all that God is asking
him to do. To this Elijah's response is -- 'you have asked a hard thing'.
The next chapter sees Elisha already embarked on his life's work. He
finds himself involved with three kings (of Israel, Judah and Edam) in a
military expedition against the king of Moab. It has been a period of severe
drought and the three kings find themselves in a desperate situation --
'the army had no more water'. They enlist the prophet's help. He tells them
to dig ditches and predicts that despite an absence of rain they will fill
with water. This is exactly what happens. An outstanding miracle has occurred.
But how fascinating the prophet's comment: 'This is an easy thing in the eyes
of the Lord'. Frankly, I think I might have reversed these assessments having
regarded this as the hard thing, and Elisha's spiritual endowment as the
easy thing. But the plain fact is that the meeting of material needs is always
simpler than the meeting of these needs which occur in the spiritual realm.
Of course, we must not undervalue God's gracious interventions for the
resolution of life's recurring problems and needs. God works powerfully
and indeed miraculously through Elisha again and again in this way. A contaminated
water-supply at Jericho is purified. A poisoned stew is made edible. An
inadequate supply of food is multiplied, so that a hundred men are fed.
A widow woman and her two sons in dire straits are miraculously provided
for. An army general is cured of leprosy. A woman's son is restored from
death to life. A borrowed axe-head, lost in a river, floats and is recovered.
Each of these is the act of a compassionate, omnipotent God for the relief
of a current, urgent, social need. It is right to 'wonder' at such, thus
Scripture designates them 'signs and wonders'. But there is a sense in which
what God does in the heart and soul of the individual is a greater wonder.
Of the most remarkable works of God in the circumstances of His children,
He says 'This is an easy thing in the sight of the Lord'. The statement must
surely constitute the firmest of foundations for a confident reliance upon
God and His willingness and ability to meet our every need. Our greater concern,
however, must be with what the prophet calls 'a hard thing'. Clearly it is
not hard for the Lord, but for us. The difficulty is on our side. The issue
relates to the personal spirituality of the servant of God.
Years before, Elisha had been enlisted as a trainee to Elijah and as
his successor. The time has now come to take on this responsibility, to
assume the mantle of Elijah in more ways than one. It is a testing time
for Elisha. The senior prophet seems intent on dissuading his young colleague
from accompanying him on his last journey. The two of them arrive at Gilgal.
Elijah bids Elisha 'stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel'. The latter
replies 'as surely as the Lord lives and you live, I will not leave you'.
An identical conversation recurs at Bethel and at Jericho. Eventually they
reach the Jordan, which divides as Elijah smites it with his cloak.
The check on Elisha's loyalty repeated at each staging-post reminds us
of the incident on the journey made by Jesus and the two disciples to Emmaus.
'As they approached the village to which they were going Jesus acted as if
he were going further'. The test, doubtless deliberately devised, issues
in a response similar to Elisha's -- 'They urged him strongly "stay with us"'
He accompanies them to the journey's end. It is this calibre of determined
devotion that is required of us.
Having crossed the Jordan, Elijah turns to Elisha and asks 'Tell me,
what can I do for you before I am taken from you?'. It is a searching question.
'What, above all else, do you want?'. The invitation, as Solomon was later
to find, probes deeply, uncovering our controlling desires, disclosing our
secret ambitions. As for Elisha, the tremendous responsibility of carrying
forward the work Elijah had done produces in him the awareness of a great
lack. The only remedy is an empowering by the same Spirit that had energized
Elijah. His is a noble response. Put in today's terms it is for the Holy
Spirit in his fulness to transform, equip and enable for all the will of God.
But this is not within Elijah's competence to bestow, for such a blessing
no man can grant, only God Himself. It is, however, a legitimate request and
Elijah tells Elisha how it may he his. 'If you see me when I am taken from
you it will be yours -- otherwise not.' 'It is dependent on your being willing
to go all the way -- right to the end'. It is in this sense that it is 'a
hard thing'. Whilst [111/112] it is true that the
good gifts of God are never earned or deserved but graciously bestowed, yet
they are not given to the indolent, but to the determined and devoted.
James and John request of Jesus 'Let us sit one at your right and the
other at your left in your glory'. Sadly their motives are wrong and Jesus
has to reply 'You don't know what you are asking'. At the same time He tells
them what is involved in sharing His Throne-life. It is contingent on going
the full journey with Him -- to drink of the cup of which He drinks, to be
baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised.
Similarly, the apostle Paul expresses his profoundest need and deepest
longing when he exclaims 'I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection'.
He has asked a hard thing and is aware of it; that is why he adds 'and the
fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death'.
It is the way of the cross. One fears that we too glibly sing -- 'I have
decided to follow Jesus -- no turning back. The world behind me, the cross
before me, no turning back. Though none go with me, I still will follow --
no turning back'. And yet that is exactly the challenge we face, it is what
is required of us, but it is 'a hard thing'.
Elisha fulfilled the condition and his request was granted. When presently
'the company of the prophets ... watching' see him take Elijah's cloak and
strike the Jordan with it so that the waters part, their comment is 'The
spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha' -- not 'what a wonderful miracle' but
'what a wonderful transformation'.
We need constantly to adjust our spiritual focus so that we maintain
a right perspective. Too often our prime concern is with things and circumstances,
with material needs and external trials. Of course these are important and
the Christ-inspired prayer-request 'give us this day our daily bread' encourages
us to bring all such needs and place them before our heavenly Father, resting
confidently in His readiness and ability to meet them. At times His answer
will make us gasp with surprise and gratitude. We might even term it 'miraculous'.
But the fact remains that in comparison with the meeting of our inner spiritual
requirements these constitute, for God, 'an easy thing'.
Our chief burden must every be our soul's state and in particular, the
ongoing experience of God's Spirit within, directing, controlling and enabling
us for all the will of God. There is a sense in which this is 'a hard thing',
but only as this relates to the discharge of the condition imposed, namely,
that we 'go all the way' with God. Let there be no reserve and no retreat
as we press forward in the company of our Lord. And even though the path
be a Via Dolorosa let us remember that the cross leads to the resurrection,
and the resurrection to the ascension and the throne of God.
THE CROSS AND HOLINESS
"But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus
through which the world has been crucified unto me, and I unto the world
" Galatians 6:14
THIS verse tells us of three crucifixions, not the three crosses which
were on Mount Calvary, but the one cross of the Lord Jesus and the two crucifixions
which follow from that in the life of the believer. If for me the sole ground
for boasting is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, then there are two practical
outcomes; the world has been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to
the world. This is a secret of holy living.
My intention here is to amplify this verse by references to other parts
of the New Testament, [112/113] and especially to
four statements of the Lord Jesus which are found in Matthew's Gospel and
which stress the essential distinction which holiness involves.
Everything that goes to make up our lives can be used either as God intended
it should be or not, as the case may be. The vast majority of such things
are in themselves morally and spiritually neutral. Obviously there are some
things which are definitely good and others which are definitely bad, but
the great majority of things in the world are just things. They depend for
their value on what we make of them. In the case of millions of people who
do not believe in the Lord, the things which make up their daily lives work
more or less as they ought not to work. They work inappropriately, being
used and experienced not quite as God intended. In the case of the people
of God, however, His expectation is that they will learn to use all these
many things in the right way, as He always intended them to be used. This
is the distinctiveness of holiness.
Many of those around us are good, upright people who roughly, generally
speaking, use things as God wanted them to be used, but only more or less
rightly. God expects His people to be always striving to know His will. Their
attitude at all times should be to enquire what the Lords wants; they should
fill their diaries with the things that they feel will please Him. Now the
difference between these two attitudes is the difference between the world
and the Church. Those outside have never quite grasped how God wants the
things of daily life to be used, but the Church inside should always be striving
and learning to use them as God intends.
The world knows nothing of holiness. It does occasionally approximate
to what God wants, either by luck or judgment, whereas the Church deliberately
and consciously endeavours to please God. I am reminded of what C. S.
Lewis said about his dog Tim, "He never actually obeyed you, though he
sometimes agreed with you". That is the characteristic of the world outside
of the Church. Never does it consciously obey God; though at times it agrees
with Him, so people do what is good and right not because they are submitted
to God in any conscious way. Yet this submission is to be the characteristic
of the Church, so that it walks in the way of holiness by boasting in the
cross and working out in practice what it means to have the world crucified
and to be crucified to it.
This call to holiness as a distinctive feature is illustrated by the
way in which the Scriptures describe God's people. Until the days of Moses,
they were only represented in terms of a family, but after that they are
described as a nation -- a holy nation. A distinction was then made between
"the peoples" or Gentiles, and "the people", God's people; between the nations
around the elect holy nation of Israel. Now so far as we are concerned, the
Church is "the people" as distinct from the peoples, and "the holy nation"
as distinct from the rest of nations, often described as the Gentiles. We
note in Matthew's Gospel four occasions when Jesus Himself drew the contrast,
showing us what it means to have His cross so operating as to make the world
crucified to us and to remind us that we have been crucified to the world.
1. Different Structures
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their
great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you; but
whosoever would become great among you shalt be your servant; and whosoever
would be first among you shall be your slave; even as the Son of Man came
not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many
" (Matthew 20:25-28).
We notice that here our attention is drawn to the cross. In the matter
of service, the cross provides a different structure from the world. What
do the Gentiles do? Why they lord it, they work according to structures
of hierarchies, dominations and ladders, with some fairly high, others higher
still, some high above others and some far below. Out there in the world
folk use those structures as ladders to climb up one over the other.
I remember that my great-aunt, who had no great grasp of such things,
was horrified when she heard that I was going to be ordained in the Church
of England. She consoled herself with the thought that even there I might
somehow get on, passing from being a curate to being a vicar, and then perhaps
to a canon or archdeacon and eventually even to be a bishop. She mistakenly
regarded the Church as a sphere where preferments might be attained. For my
part, I have long ago decided against such an attitude. I have never wanted
to be moved sideways to be a bishop!
Out there among the nations, the governing notion is ambition, climbing,
gaining power so [113/114] that once you have got
up a bit you can domineer or even tread upon others. That is the way the nations
function. God's people are commanded to be different: "You know that the
nations have structures of this kind but it shall not be so among you." This
is part of the distinctiveness of holiness -- God's people are to be ambitious
We must notice that our Lord does not say that it is wrong for His people
to be ambitious. Indeed He says that He expects people to desire to be great.
There is no prohibition. There is a greatness among the people of God which
is to be coveted. It is the greatness of service. The greatness is to be
a servant, the primacy is to be a slave. We can only say that if this is the
mark of true greatness in the Church, let us have more of it!
Christians need to be ambitious. They are not called upon to crawl or
to lie down idle in a supine way. The Lord wants us to be ambitious, so long
as we realise what that means in practice. It means to serve; it means to
be a slave. Primacy among the people of God is the distinctive primacy of
serving as a slave. This is the distinctive greatness of humble service,
the deliberate and cultivated devotion to the service of God and of His people.
It is a totally different structure from that of the world. Don't misunderstand
me: our concern should not be just to get to the bottom of the pile, our
ambition is not just to be a doormat, though we must be ready to be one if
the Lord so chooses. No, this greatness which is service and this primacy
which is slavery means a willingness to be wholly devoted to the will God.
There are many tasks of responsibility in the Church and some are called
to exercise them. The stress here is not on what we are to do but on how
we are to do it. In the structure of the Church ambition involves a desire
to be faithful to the will of God. Whatever the gift may be, the important
thing is to use it not in a spirit of domineering or of personal aggrandisement,
but always to do it in the spirit of the cross. The whole world of climbing
is dead to me and I am dead to it. We have nothing to do with each other.
2. Different Priorities
"Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall
we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things
do the Gentiles seek, for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of
all these things ..." (Matthew 6:31-32)
In these verses distinction is again drawn between the world outside
and the people of God. What is characteristic of the world in general? The
answer is that they have a great anxiety about what they are going to eat
and drink and wear; their preoccupation is with material needs. It is important
to notice that here the Lord is not talking about luxuries or wrong things,
but about the necessities of life. The Gentiles are anxious about these things,
and who can blame them? After all, we must eat and drink and we must wear
something. After all these are necessities not luxuries.
Nevertheless the Church is to have a different attitude about them from
the world around. The attitudes are what should distinguish the Church from
all others: the people of God are not to be anxious. It is really a matter
of priorities, the difference being that the Church consists of those who
claim God as their Father Almighty and who believe in Him with a robust confidence.
Confession really means "saving with", and the confession of our faith signifies
that we respond to God's revelation of Himself. He tells us that He is the
Father Almighty and, speaking with Him, we say, "Yes, You are the Father
Almighty and You are our Father." There is also the confession of our hope,
and in Scripture hope means the eager expectation that what we believe will
work out in practice, so that in our case we say, "Yes, since the Scriptures
tell me that God is my Father Almighty, then I believe that this will work
out, so I expect God to be my Father Almighty today."
It is this attitude which distinguishes the Church from the world. The
nations are always asking. "What shall we eat? What shall
we drink? What shall we wear" and this attitude is so revealing.
Our attitude ought to be revealingly different. We believe certainly, expectantly
and confidently that the God who is our Father Almighty knows that we need
all these things. He is our Creator. He knows the way He made us and He knows
that the human beings He has created need air to breathe and food and drink.
He knows that they need clothes to cover and a roof over their heads to protect.
He made us that way. How can we possibly credit that having made us this
way He will leave us to our own devices? If we really believe that this One
is our Father, then we know that He is committed to sustaining us.
"He knows that you need all these things." This is a personal
application of faith; He has the comprehensive understanding of everything
that you personally need. People who recite the Creed, saying that they
believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, should
not merely repeat a form of words but should say it and mean it. For them,
then, it is the clearest expression of hope and it distinguishes us from
the world outside with its worries. We say it on a nice day when, so far
as we are concerned, things are going well, but we can say it in circumstances
when the outlook is very bleak. In such circumstances we can affirm that
we believe in our God as our Father Almighty, with a robust confidence which
sets us apart from the world outside which is happy only when the bank balance
What are our priorities? What comes first for us? We are to seek first
the kingdom of God and His righteousness in the sure confidence that all
the other things will be added.
Of course to say that He provides does not mean that I can be careless,
going away and doing nothing, but it does mean that I am to be care-free,
focussing on the things that matter more than on what I eat or drink and
wear, in the confidence that if I do that He will look after the necessities
of life. That whole world which asks anxiously of itself, What shall I eat
and what shall I wear, has been crucified so far as I am concerned and so
far as it is concerned. I have been crucified. That is what the cross of Jesus
means to me: it means the end of an old worldliness of attitude and the start
of a completely new and distinctive attitude of dependence on God.
3. Different Beliefs
"In praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they
think that they shall be heard for their much speaking; be not therefore
like unto them; for your Father knows what things you have need of, before
you ask Him " (Matthew 6:7-8).
Here we are back to the matter of our heavenly Father knowing what we
need before we ask, but the important matter is that we should ask and how
we should do it. There must be a difference in this respect between the nations
and the holy nation. This is what sets us apart.
What is it that the nations do? They are a religious people and they
have a certain kind of formalism. When they pray, they have some sort of
god "up there", and they pray to him, but their prayers are empty repetitions.
Now a superficial view of this statement may be that any formalised kind
of prayer, perhaps from a Prayer Book, is denounced by the Lord, but it seems
to me that what He was talking about was exactly the opposite of that. To
us the idea suggests that the verse concerns those who listen to formalised
prayers in a routine sort of way while allowing their minds to wander off
anywhere else. They can just idle along because they know what words are to
be said. To my mind, the Lord was talking about something opposite to that,
not about people who let empty repetitions go rolling on while they think
about other things, but about religious people who put a lot of thought,
attention and effort into their prayers, thinking that by this means they
will get what they want. Their use of vain repetitions is an endeavour to
be heard: they believe that there is someone up there who will be forced
to act if they pray frantically enough.
I am sure that this will remind us of Elijah and the prophets on Mount
Carmel, which gives a biblical illustration of this kind of praying. God
was invoked earnestly by the prophets of Baal, and they certainly believed
that they would be answered for their much asking. They believed in their
god and they called on him from morning till noon, right round to the time
of the evening sacrifice. It was all empty repetition, but they believed
that it would accomplish its purpose; they prayed and screamed and shrieked,
cutting themselves with knives to try to make their god answer. That seems
to be the point. What the nations do -- the religious nations -- is to use
such words and such vehemence as will oblige their god to answer. They think
that they will be heard because of the way in which they pray. When things
go well, they congratulate themselves that they have said the right things
and said them often enough, feeling that they know how to pray and to get
answers. They imagine that they have exercised their religion in such a way
that God had to answer them.
The idea is that God had to answer their way of praying. We must not
think that the Prophets of Baal existed only in Old Testament days. We find
people today who say that God ought to have done such and such, for they
have prayed in the right way. The kind of God they believe in ought to have
responded. They did all the [115/116] right things;
they followed the rules; they kept at it. So they believe that God ought
to have acted because of their much praying and that they have done the right
things to oblige Him to do so. When nothing happens, then they are offended
God's people, however, are to pray to Him with the assumption that He
best knows how to answer, so that their prayers are made in dependence and
humility. The world's way of praying is as if you were to give your doctor
the prescription that you demand he should provide for you, with the implication
that he must accept your diagnosis, something wholly unacceptable in human
relationships. The men of the world think that they should be heard because
of what they do. They feel that if they give of their best and do it with
all their energy, then God is bound to respond.
The Church, however, is different. We never look back over a day of devoted
Christian service and pray, "Look at me, Lord! Because I have done all I
could to serve You, You have now got to do what I ask." Always, at the end
of the day, we confess that we are unprofitable servants. Everything we have
done, and perhaps done successfully, has no bearing on what we think that
God ought to do for us. This is a totally different belief in a different
kind of god, from that which uses vain repetitions. That whole world of pagan
praying, a world which believes that we can make God do what we want and which
depends ultimately on its own efforts, has been crucified so far as I am
concerned. I do not think that way any longer. Such a belief is dead to me
and I am crucified to it. I now trust God implicitly as I humbly lodge my
prayers with Him.
4. Different Attitudes
"If you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others do?
Do not even the Gentiles the same? You therefore shall be perfect, as your
heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:47-48).
Here again the Lord calls for a definite distinctiveness. The nations
are cordial to their own circles, but God wants something more of us since
we are a holy nation. They greet (v.47), they love and they hate (v.43).
In other words they relate to those who relate to them. Of course, as Christians,
we try to relate to all other Christians, but it remains that in all human
nature it is deeply ingrained to relate to like-minded people and to have
more time and more respect for those who talk our particular language.
All down the ages God's people have been pressurised to conform and be
like the rest of the peoples, to abandon their call to be a distinctive
nation and to become like the nations around. The Gentiles aim at power
and importance, but we must see that our structures are related to holy
service. The Gentiles have fretted about the necessities of life, but our
priorities must be to have a holy trust in God for those necessities so
that we can focus on other things. All down the years the Gentiles have
depended on their own arrogant ability to make God do what they wanted,
but our beliefs make us dependent on God to answer our prayers in His way
and not in ours. The Gentiles have always cared for their own and ignored
or hated others, but God's people are commanded to be different; they are
to love, to care and to be interested indiscriminately and unconditionally,
so as to be true sons of our Father in heaven. We are expected to care about
our neighbours, whether or not those concerned deserve it or reciprocate
it. In effect, we are expected to bear the family likeness.
The whole world, the world of the narrow outlook, of the closed shop,
of the inner circle has been crucified to me. I still have a natural affinity
to some people, but as a crucified Christian I deliberately recognise that
this is not basically Christlike. The Church is told that each of us should
not look on his own affairs but on the things of others (Philippians 2:4).
The cross releases us to have a broad concern even for those who may be different
from and uncongenial to us.
The standards are very high. They require re-thinking. They need a whole
re-orientation of our hearts and minds. Such distinctiveness is the essence
of true holiness, can only come by the application of the cross to us in
a practical way. Christ died for me, and I died with Christ. My new life is
His life, I live it by faith in Him who gave Himself for me.
GOD'S KEY MAN (3)
"There is a man in your kingdom" Daniel 5:11
Chapter 10 to 12.
WE now come to the final stages of Daniel's life and ministry. These
last chapters are dated after the released captives were back in Jerusalem.
Daniel was still praying, perhaps even more earnestly than ever. Was this
because he had received news of the problems of the pioneer party? Even
so he would not have been surprised, for he had already been warned by the
Lord that the work of rebuilding would take place "in troubled times" (9:25),
and would know that every venture which represents real values for God is
bound to be contested. It was logical for Daniel to keep on praying, but
why did he fast?
And why did he mourn? The three weeks included the eight days of the
Passover, so naturally he abstained from rich foods then. But why the prolonged
fast and why the mourning? Was it a matter of personal depression? I have
read suggestions that during the three weeks he was sharing with friends
in a spiritual retreat by the Tigris. There is, however, no mention of the
fasting by others. Why was he by the Tigris and not in the court? Was his
active life now over? Might he have been on the shelf as far as public affairs
were concerned? Could it be that this behaviour was not so much part of his
spiritual ministry as a personal period of unhappiness due to his new circumstances?
Old age, with its inevitable accompaniment of inactivity, can be hard to bear.
If he were feeling rather depressed I, for one, would not blame him.
He could well have felt disappointment at not having been one of the
pioneer party which had set off on its exciting journey back to Judea with
the sacred vessels which for so long had been his concern. We presume that
he stayed, not because he so chose, as many prosperous Jews did, but by
reason of the overruling providence of God. What was to become of him now?
We will have to wait until the end of the book to have the answer to that
question, but meanwhile there are some more revelations for him. These chapters
stress three new discoveries now given to Daniel with regard to his life
as a key man for God.
1. His Spiritual Warfare
"The thing was true, even a great warfare" (10:1).
Whatever else was puzzling to Daniel, one thing was made strikingly plain,
and that was that the earthly struggles so graphically described throughout
the book are reflections of a great spiritual conflict in that realm which
the New Testament calls "The heavenly places". Daniel was given understanding
of this most important truth that we who are captives and ambassadors must
also be warriors. He was shown the significance of what happens when men
of faith pray.
The prophet was shown that his prayers set in motion such forces in the
unseen realm that God's emissary speaks of being withstood there by evil
forces as a direct result of his prayers (10:13). He was encouraged to go
on praying, as the angel spoke of returning to resume the battle in that hidden
sphere (v.20). We ask ourselves, is it possible that our feeble intercessions
can have such resounding impact upon the powers of darkness? Is this what
is involved in the prayer of the Church?
It is indeed. As Daniel reports, "The thing is true". John Bunyan
describes "All-Prayer" as another weapon used by Christian in addition
to his sword, but to me it seems clearer that in fact "All-prayer" (Ephesians
6:18) is the battlefield where the sword of the Spirit is used. It certainly
was for Daniel. Until now he may have known little or nothing of this, although
he found, as we all do, that prayer is a costly matter. Now, however, he
was given insight into the real issues involved. We are only dimly aware of
them, and it is possibly safer for us not to become mentally involved with
the unseen rulers of this darkness, but clearly our prayers are meant to
strike powerful blows against them. [117/118] They
mean more than we realise, as Daniel was shown there by the Tigris.
We could argue that it was Christ who won the victory, settling the whole
issue of the triumph of God's kingdom at Calvary, but the fact remains that
Paul was inspired to call our attention to the spiritual conflict between
the two kingdoms which still persists and in which we have a part (Ephesians
6:11-17). We have been used to the idea that God works in answer to our prayers,
but we may be as surprised as perhaps Daniel was, to hear of struggles in
the heavenly realms and the part which our prayers play in the cosmic conflict.
I feel it reasonable to remark that Daniel did not seem aware of what
was going on at the time. His was not a special type of combative prayer.
It is noteworthy, however, that at the end of that long session of confession
and intercession described in chapter 9, he was told that "war will continue
till the end" (9:26). This was in keeping with God's word to Joshua, spoken
after there had been a conflict fought at two levels. Moses on the mountain
top and Joshua on the plain. "The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation
to generation" (Exodus 17:16). It may be that the reference to "The Scripture
of truth" in Daniel 10:21 connects Daniel's experience with that Exodus story.
Daniel's vision gave him an explanation of the nature of his past service,
and also provided a call to keep at it. It can serve the same purpose for
all of us.
2. His Spiritual Value
"Thou art greatly beloved" (9:23; 10:11, 19).
As we may expect, when Daniel found himself in the presence of the Most
High, he felt crushed and unworthy. When grace had lifted and strengthened
him he heard himself described as highly favoured. This phrase, "greatly
beloved" was three times used to describe how God felt about him (9:23; 10:11
& 19). The actual word used is not directly concerned with love, but the
R. V. margin tells us that the Hebrew is literally, "precious things". It
is used to describe the rich food as "pleasant" in 10:3. The N.I.V. translates
the word when used to Daniel as "highly esteemed" and calls the food "choice".
This merits closer attention.
In common with all other believers, Daniel could well believe that he
was greatly loved. From the first moment of our vital relationship with God
we are assured that we are loved with a perfect and everlasting love. This
seemed almost too good to be true and it seems increasingly amazing as we
continue our history with Him, but we know and believe that in spite of
our total unworthiness we are indeed "greatly beloved". For this reason it
is not possible that God can come to love us more, or that He picks and chooses
among His redeemed people to love some more than others. It must have been
comforting to Daniel, as it always is to us, to have fresh reminders of His
infinitely great love. This is all very wonderful.
But to Daniel God said more than this. He told Daniel that he was a man
of special worth -- if you like, a "choice" man -- and He told him this when
the prophet was prostrate or at best on his knees (10:10). To one all too
conscious of his own failures and shortcomings it seems incredible that God
may call us "highly esteemed", yet this is a spiritual truth which came to
Daniel by revelation.
He was in touch with the sovereign Lord, an experience which to us sinners
can be quite overwhelming. In that connection Abraham confessed "I am nothing
but dust and ashes" (Genesis 18:27) and Moses himself said, "I exceedingly
fear and quake" (Hebrews 12:21). In such a situation, Isaiah ejaculated,
"Woe is me! for I am undone ..." (Isaiah 6:5). And now Daniel is so overcome
there alone in the holy presence of God that his response to the great vision
is that "there remained no strength in me; for my comeliness was turned to
corruption in me" (lO.8) and "I set my face to the ground and was dumb" (10:15).
Those of us who have had some vital experience of personal confrontation with
our glorious Lord will agree that a deep humbling is the inevitable result.
But listen to the Lord's reaction to this in Daniel's case: it is as
though He told Daniel that far from being a failure in His sight, he was
a most valued servant. As though He said, "You may be despised in your own
eyes but you are highly exalted in the opinion of heaven". No doubt Daniel
was surprised to hear this thrice-repeated commendation, but time has confirmed
this verdict on God's servant Daniel. The person who stands true to God in
a sordid world, the person who perseveres in prayer until God's will is effected,
the person who conquers all personal disappointments and still worships, is
precious to God and highly esteemed by Him.
This, then, was the second consolation which [118/119]
came to Daniel in his old age and it is recorded to encourage us always
to be ambitious to bring pleasure to our God as Daniel surely did. We are
certainly "greatly beloved" but will we be "highly esteemed"? In a sense,
it is up to us.
3. His Eternal Significance
"They that be wise shall shine ... as the stars for ever and ever
The third element in the comfort given to Daniel was the realisation
of the eternal values bound up with his life there in Babylon, and the final
assurance that when it was all over, and indeed the whole history of this
age completed, he would be found in resurrection glory, "standing in his
What do these final visions suggest to us? What did they mean to Daniel?
I suggest that they stress the fact that in all our experiences, God has
eternity in view. Towards the end of his eighty years, my dear friend George
Taylor used both to check and also to encourage me with the reminder that
for us all, God is dealing with us in the light of eternity. This meant for
him, as it should for all of us and certainly did for Daniel, that relative
inactivity does not mean that we have gone beyond our divinely appointed span
of life, for there are still lessons to be learned. That had been true all
his life for Daniel and is true for us. We need to be wise.
Daniel, as we read in Chapter 11, was shown a bewildering succession
of rising and falling empires, not to make him especially informed about
future events but rather to underline that in every case the last word is
with the Lord. Evil men will triumph temporarily but will come to an inglorious
end and ultimately awake "to shame and everlasting contempt" (12:2). What
fools they will all prove to have been! God's servants, however, enlightened
by His divine wisdom, are destined for surpassing glory. They may "fall by
sword and flame, by captivity and plunder for some days, but their
stumbling and trials will be used to refine and cleanse them and make them
white until the time of the end" (11:33-35). Both Daniel and those who read
his book find it difficult to identify the kaleidoscopic succession of events
as this chapter deals with varying expressions of the kingdom of this world.
In some way it was perhaps easier to grasp the first and simpler revelation
of that kingdom in the image descried in the vision of chapter 2. But in any
case the finality of that kingdom is made very clear and equally clear is
the fact that the whole programme of world events is already appointed by
God. "... it is yet for the time appointed". This is confirmed in 11:27 &
29; 12:1, 4, 7 & 9. The times are settled; the days are numbered; the
saints can confidently wait. They may be stretched for an unexplained extra
forty five days but they will be blessed as they do so (12:12). The finality
of it all is made very plain in the solemn words at the end of Chapter 11:
"Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him".
But there is always help for those who belong to God's kingdom, as Daniel
himself had already experienced throughout his long captive life. The men
of this world are foolish, none of them can understand: the wise, however,
can wait patiently for God's time, their wisdom consisting not in knowing
all the answers but in total committal to Him who is the Most High. Once
again, then, the prophet is told to "go his way", reassured that God is busy
with the purifying and refining of those whose destiny is involved with His
own eternal kingdom.
Despite every time of trouble there will always be safety for those whose
name is "found written in the book" (12:1). During all the vicissitudes of
the ages, a book of life is being written in heaven, and every single saint
whose name is written in that book will share in the awakening to everlasting
life and glory. As Peter later affirmed, the inheritance is being kept for
us and we are being kept for the inheritance, if our names are written in
that book (1 Peter 1:4-5).
Daniel's last word to us is to be patient and faithful in the sure knowledge
that we, as well as he, will stand in our lot at the end of the days. It
seems that he wanted to know what it was all about: "I heard, but I understood
not; then I said, O my Lord, what will be the issue of these things" (12:8).
He was told that the issue was that the Lord who had preserved him during
the long and arduous years of life would go on preserving him right through
to the end of time, and that he would then receive his full inheritance. In
this he could rest, and so can we. There will always be what seem to us like
extra days, but blessed are those who wait. By God's infinite grace we are
being prepared in Christ to be part of that stone cut out of the mountain
without hands which will come into its own when the kingdom of this world
has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign
for ever and for ever. That is what it is all about. [119/120]
How can I close the final issue of Volume 18 of TOWARD THE MARK?
In July I expressed my sincere thanks to all who through the years have
shared in the ministry so helpfully and generously. A further big "Thank
While I was trusting the Lord for finances I never felt free to mention
any figures but now can give glory to God that through the years about £130,000
has come from entirely unsolicited gifts to make the publishing possible.
This is proof indeed of God's power to answer our prayers.
But now how can I close? After some thought I have chosen to do so with
words of a most respected and beloved Chinese brother whom we call Watchman
Nee. At the end of a book of readings from his works entitled "A Table
in the Wilderness" we read this comment on the statement: "David, after
he had in his own generation served the counsel of God, fell on sleep, and
was laid unto his fathers" (Acts 13:36):
"David served in one generation, his own. He could not serve in two!
Where today we seek to perpetuate our work by setting up an organization
or society or system, the Old Testament saints served their own day and
passed on. This is an important principle of life. Wheat is sown, grows,
ears, is reaped, and then the whole plant, even to the root, is ploughed
out. God's work is spiritual to the point of having no earthly roots, no
smell of earth on it at all. Men pass on, but the Lord remains. Everything
to do with the Church must be up-to-date and living, meeting the present
-- one could even say the passing -- needs of the hour. Never must it become
fixed, earth-bound, static. God Himself takes away His workers, but He gives
others. Our work suffers, but His never does. Nothing touches Him. He is
still God." [120/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (18)
NOBODY knows who wrote Jonah's story. If the book is autobiographical
then he was a disarmingly frank man about himself and his faults. As the
story is factual it is written in prose form.
THE second chapter, however, is a poem or psalm, and this is certainly
autobiographical. It could not be otherwise. When Jonah found himself safe
again on dry land, he clearly felt that in no other way could his feelings
be expressed. It required the graphic form of poetry to portray the horror
and drama of his experience in the fish and to set the scene for the amazing
deliverance which came to him.
MY readers may regard this chapter as an unlikely climax to the series
of those who sang "on the way up", but I must confess that this has always
been a favourite Scripture to me. It provides a powerful remedy in all times
of doubt or depression. If reveals three facts for every troubled saint.
THE first is that however unworthy a believer may feel himself to be,
he will never be forgotten. Jonah may have been ignored by the Jewish rulers
(John 7:52) but he was singled out for mention by Jesus (Matthew 12:41).
He was a somewhat despicable character, petulant even in the moment of success,
but God never forsook him. I, too, am encouraged to believe that in spite
of everything, I am loved with an everlasting love.
THE second comforting truth to be found in this chapter is that however
far from God a man may be, he can still know that God hears his cry. Jonah
did not need to make a long journey to Tarshish to put distance between himself
and the Lord; in a matter of a moment he went "down to the bottom of the
mountains" and the "the earth with her bars" closed upon him.
WHEN you are so far from God -- or at least feel that you are -- what
can you do? Jonah tells us that you can pray. And he assures us triumphantly
that although God's holy temple may seem to be distant, it is in fact near
enough for prayer to get right through to His throne. Thank God for that!
He is near to all who call upon Him in truth.
THERE follows the third great truth, which is that however profound the
depths of one's need, a word from God will lift up to safety. Jonah knew
very well that he was in those depths as a result of his own folly. He classed
himself with those who by regarding the lying vanities of self-will forsake
their own mercy. Happily that could be put right. The Lord is greater than
our hearts. Jonah's awakened conscience and renewed faith met with an immediate
response from God. "Salvation is of the Lord", he tells me. Salvation which
can be extended to the most undeserving; salvation which can extricate from
the most impossible situation; salvation even for me!
JONAH forfeited his passage money and he lost his luggage, but he gained
a new knowledge of the rich grace of God. It seems that this gave force to
his saving message to Nineveh. His psalm brings a saving message to us now.
In our self-loathing we can know ourselves loved. In our bewildering calamities
we can still pray and be heard. In the face of hopeless circumstances we
too can prove God's lifting power.
JONAH'S psalm helps us on our way up. He leaves us with the reminder
that Salvation is of the Lord.
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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