A Living Hope
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Bread of God

We shall read again the two passages around which our meditation has circled at this time, and then we shall add to them a third fragment.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that doesn't fade away, reserved in heaven" (1 Peter 1:3). A living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

"God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). A living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ - Christ in you, the hope of glory.

And now this fragment from a very considerable setting in John 6:33: "For the bread of God is He which comes down out of heaven, and gives life unto the world." It is just the small phrase, "the Bread of God".

Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

It is possible that you have been impressed, as I have, with the fact that throughout the Bible, from beginning to end, feeding has such a large place. Some will have discovered that with great pleasure; others of us are perhaps not so pleasantly surprised that it is so. But there it is. It seems that the first thought of God for man, after having created him, was his food; "everything for food" is the word. And on from that point, this whole matter of eating and drinking develops tremendously. All the great religious convocations in Israel were mainly characterised by this 'feasting' element; they were 'feasts' of the Lord. And everything in relation to the Lord and in the Lord's relationship to man in the Old Testament, seemed to be centred round this matter of eating and drinking. And there is not just a little in the gospels about it; some of the parables are parables of feasts. But we can be quite sure of this: that, insomuch as it is so largely by the instruction and prescription of the Lord, His thought never ended with the merely physical or temporal gratification of natural desire and appetite. We can be quite sure that, back of all that, there is a spiritual thought, and an eternal thought, and it looks very much as though John 6 brings it right in in fullness, for it is so largely a long chapter on the Bread of Life: Christ the Bread of Life; feeding and drinking, as He said, His blood and eating His flesh.

Now, bread is a term which everywhere is synonymous with the staple food of life. In some countries, it is not what we call 'bread', but to everybody, whatever the form is, whether it is this or that, it is 'bread', that is, it is the very basis of existence. And it is not a great distance from the symbol in the temporal, to the spiritual. The very substance of Life is Christ in you. I think that is the deepest meaning of the Lord's Table: the eating and the drinking is symbolic of this one thing: Christ in you; Christ becoming your very inward basis of existence. That is the principle.

Now, as in so many other things, Israel is a great illustration of this great truth, for Israel's life and history had three aspects, every one of which was based upon food. The very beginning was the eating of the Passover. Then their sojourn in the wilderness, or their journeys through the wilderness which were based upon the manna. And when they came into the land, it says: "And when they had eaten of the old corn of the land, the manna ceased". It is a new phase, but still this governing factor of bread, of food. And those three phases of Israel's life are, in figure, the three phases of every Christian's life, the life of the church, the life of any company of believers.

1. The Passover

There is that which answers to, or is typical of, the Passover. The very foundation of our being the Lord's people is in the Passover; we know that it was foundational to their national history. It was in the eating of the Passover, on that night ever to be remembered, that their deliverance from the power of this world, from the old bondage to its tyranny, their deliverance from all the defeat and frustration of that old life and realm, their emergence to become the Lord's people in covenant by Him in blood - all that was centred in the eating of the Passover. Their salvation rested upon their eating of the Passover Lamb. That night their bondage was broken and death destroyed for them, they escaped judgment and they were constituted the nation of God, the Lord's people, His own possession, by eating the Passover Lamb. And that became an institution throughout all their generations. The Passover was an annual event, meaning that it governed all their years and all their generations. It stands to this day in Israel, and always in relation to what happened at the beginning: a feeding.

You may think that that is simple and elementary, but it makes a lot of difference what we eat. What are you "feeding" on? It will show itself in your face. If you are feeding upon yourself, your miserable, wretched self, that self that is not redeemed and cannot be redeemed, that sinful self which He never patches up or repairs, if you are feeding on yourself, well, no wonder you are miserable! When you go to prayer first thing in the morning, and I take it that you do, what do you feed on? All the time telling the Lord what a wretched thing you are, what a miserable thing you are, what a failure you are? You cannot give the Lord any new information about that! He knows far more about that than you can ever tell Him; no wonder you begin the day in defeat! You are feeding upon food that is 'not convenient'. "Christ, our Passover has been sacrificed". The way to start any day is to feed upon the very elements and constituents of redemption, of salvation - Christ crucified. And there are many other things that you might be feeding on, not only in the morning, but through the day, and through all the week - some grievance, some offence, some trouble that you are nursing. You will not get very far in the Christian life until the foundational provision of God is your daily meal.

Well, there is the first phase, you see it is a mighty phase, but it was basic to everything else - an eating of that which represented and symbolised the completeness and perfection of our redemption in Christ Jesus. It is the finished work, the mighty deliverance from the power of the enemy, and of the world, and of our spiritual bondage. Oh, let us feed on it more; if we did, we would be far more triumphant people, if we would feed on that first aspect of God's provision!

Look at Israel in Egypt: what is the picture? An oppressed and a depressed people, in shame, in disappointment, yes, in everything that was not glorious, but the opposite to what is glorious. What a picture! And we do not have to look back to Israel in Egypt to see the picture. Come nearer, and we know how true in the spiritual life that state is, without Christ. But, God saw to it that they did reach the point of utter despair and from that despair, that shame, and that reproach, and everything so contrary to glory, the Hope of glory sprang when they fed on the Lamb, when they took Him inside. 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' is needed right at the beginning, to change everything.

2. The Manna

The second phase: they are in the wilderness. Redemption has been effected; they are out as the Lord's own people, but now this phase has its own particular and peculiar features and characteristics. They are "at school", under discipline, learning the deep and drastic lessons of a walk of faith with God. It is a very hard school, for it is a life of faith indeed; there is nothing for sight in a wilderness, nothing that you can find any hope in; nothing there that will grow of itself, or that you, by any effort of yours, can make to grow. You are cast upon God for everything; you have got to learn right from the beginning, and all the way along, that God and God alone is your resource. With every element against you, with every difficulty around you, with everything that speaks of desolation and hopelessness on the outside; by daily lessons of testings and trial, learning this one thing: that God can meet the situation, God is sufficient for this, He is the only recourse, but He is the recourse.

The manna signified that. When they first saw the manna, they said: "What is it?" That is a poor translation of the original language, which can hardly be translated. If we were to try to put it into a phrase it would be something like this: "This is a mystery; what is it? We have never seen anything like this before; never known of anything like this. There is nothing within the whole compass of our natural knowledge that explains this; it is a mystery! It is something quite strange; it is something from outside of this world." That was the manna. The sustenance of the Lord's people in all that which corresponds to the wilderness, the discipline and chastening and trial, is a mystery. How you and I have gone on through the years, with everything calculated to destroy faith, to undermine confidence, to shake us, and to destroy us - how we have gone on, is a mystery! But that is manna. It is the marvellous, though so mysterious, unsearchable, inexplicable ministry of Christ, where we can do nothing about it at all. It is like that. They could not do nothing about it at all.

What could they do to get food in a wilderness? They could do nothing; it is no use ploughing and sowing in a desert. There is nowhere to go for anything, yet all this is on demand, and yet they can do nothing about it. What can we do today? What can we do in this situation, which is a part of our spiritual education and training, to know the Lord, to prove the Lord? We can do nothing. That is just the truth, is it not, about the Christian life; you cannot do anything about it. How we look round, search and explore, for some way of being able to solve the problem, and we are shut up to it - no, we are shut up to God! And we have come through a thousand experiences like that. There was no way, and no recourse, no solution, no answer, and nothing that we could do. In the mystery of "Christ in you, the Hope", we have come on. You could have no more hopeless situation than a desert, if you have ever seen a desert. I have passed over that very same desert many times, and my word, it brings it home to you, that a people should be in that for forty years, and survive. No water, no food. It is a mystery. What is the hope in such a situation? Christ in you, the Manna, the Bread of God - the Bread of God - not of man.

Now, of course, a very great deal of all this was, while necessary training and discipline, a very great deal of it was due to themselves; it was their own fault, shall we say. And we are all going to be perfectly candid and frank about this: a great deal of our trouble is our own fault. But God did not say: "It is your own fault, I will leave you to it!" He gave them manna out of heaven. You see, the Lord, from His side, did not intend that. When they were leaving Egypt, He told them to take victuals and their kneading troughs! What is the good of a kneading trough in a desert? From the divine standpoint, it was an eleven-day journey to the land. That it extended to forty years was due to their own fault. The Lord did not intend it to be like that. But there is so much in our lives that the Lord never intended and what I am coming down on all the time is this: many of us would now say, "If only I had my time over again, with the knowledge that I have today, I would not do this or that, I would do other. I see where I made the mistake; where I involved myself in difficulty, where I made confusion and a mess of things." But the Lord never abandoned us, as He never abandoned them. Thank God He gave them manna out of heaven; He still sustained them with this mysterious sustenance that they knew not of, they could not explain it, but there it was. The second phase was that they did have to learn very much, and learn in a hard school; but the Lord provided the sustenance for that phase.

3. The Old Corn

The third phase: they pass into the land eventually, or rather the next generation pass into the land; and, as I have said, it says: "When they had eaten of the old corn of the land, the manna ceased". Now, I want you to note this before you go that far; these other two phases are not left behind as something done forever. The Passover was maintained all the time, year by year. You have always, right to the very end of your history with God, got to reckon on, and stand into, all the values of that Passover Lamb; that is not just something done and left. You and I will, right to the end, have to stand upon all the infinite virtue of the Body and Blood of Christ. So, the Passover is 'an ordinance forever in Israel'. And, although they left the wilderness and the manna behind, they took a pot of it over with them, within the ark. It is still there as a testimony right at the heart of their life in its changing aspects and phases. It is a testimony as to how God can furnish a table in the wilderness, and it is a great thing to have that in the background of your life. If you didn't, you could not go through this next phase, for when you come to the third phase of their life and history, it is the phase of tremendous responsibility.

Up to that time, it has all been what the Lord has done for them; now it is going to be what the Lord will do through them. They are involved now, not in the kindergarten, or childhood education period, they are now mature and can take responsibility. And there is continuous, desperate warfare. It is another phase. Now all that has been by way of provision, instruction, teaching, and education, has got to be put to the test in practical ways. What is the value of it now? It is not the matter of your salvation now; it is a matter of your testimony before principalities and powers, your testimony before the world nations; now it is something tremendous that is on hand.

Firstly, the warfare with the adverse, antagonistic forces; then, the taking possession of the inheritance, the mighty wealth; and then, the exploiting of that inheritance, that which you have come into and making it serve Divine purpose. "Out of whose hills you can dig brass"; there is some hard work to be done to exploit the resources that you have come into and to make good the values of the inheritance. We have graduated now from being the irresponsible people of the wilderness, to being the responsible people in fellowship with God in His great purpose.

For this there is a change in the food situation. Now, you have got to be very careful that you mark the real point of the change. Before, it was always the appropriation of faith; they went out every morning to appropriate by faith God's provision for the day. And while they observed the laws of that provision and were obedient to what the Lord said about it, that it was to be day by day, and none left over for tomorrow; while they were obedient, faith made good God's provision.

It is not a change from faith to something else when you get into the third phase, but it is a change of faith. Then it was faith appropriating, receiving, taking, getting; now it is the works of faith, it is faith working. You have learned something about faith by the Lord's wonderful goodness to you. Have you noticed how, so often, it seems sometimes that the Lord hastens things by shortening the time, and makes it very intense for some young Christians? Have you not noticed that very often young Christians are treated like children, and given so much of the Lord at the beginning; it seems to be made so easy for them, He almost seems to pander to them, spoil them; they have a wonderful time, they have only got to ask and they get it. It is just simple (as we call it) childlike faith, and the Lord responds to that at the beginning. But there comes a point at which it changes, not from faith, but where you have got to fight the fight of faith: you are in the land; there is a tremendous battle going on. Faith is not just now that 'simple' thing that it was; we must preserve that simple appropriating faith where our salvation is concerned. But we are in something more as we go on; we are involved in tremendous things, this conflict with the evil powers and forces. There is now something that we have got to do about all these resources that are ours in Christ; we just do not find that they are coming to us, we are put through exercise to turn to good that which is our inheritance.

If you do not understand the teaching, you know it in experience. It is that changed aspect of faith because of a changed position; it is not just salvation now. And I do not mean by that that salvation is a little thing, not just our acceptance that we are made children of God, but we are in a mighty thing in this universe. We are out of 'Romans', we are into 'Ephesians'; we are in the mighty things, the deep things, the deep things of God, and in these things we only turn our resources to account by some very hard work or being put to the test. Now, are we going to know the power of His resurrection? In order to know that, we have got to know something very deeply of the power of death. Are we going, to come back to our theme, to know the wonder of the Hope, the Hope which is Christ in us, the Hope of glory? Then we will taste something of despair to discover it. Listen to your favourite apostle: "we despaired even of life". Paul, did you say you despaired? "Yes, I despaired, and I have written it down that I despaired; we had the sentence that it was death 'that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead'". If you are going to know that kind of raising, you have got to know something of that kind of experience. But you see, Paul was not just there circling round his own personal salvation; his context is: "I fill up that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His Body's sake, that is the church". His sufferings, His deep places, His being put to tremendous spiritual exercise of faith is not just personal. It is related, it is connected with the church, and the church's destiny. And when you get over into the land, things cease to be merely personal; it is the responsibility of the whole purpose and people of God. But Christ in you is the Hope of glory even there, by simply feeding upon Him, taking Him from day to day as our Life, as our strength. In this third realm, it is not because of our responsibility at all, it is not our fault. It is not because of what we have done or not done; it is nothing to do with our merely human weakness and faultiness; we are involved in something objective, a tremendous thing. This battle rages, and there is no explanation for many of the situations into which we are brought, many of the ordeals. It is something immense, far beyond the individual and personal. It is related to the Lord's people everywhere in this world.

But here is the marvel of that provision of the Lord: Christ in you the Hope of glory; even in that when all the forces of evil are let loose, when all the fire of the enemy is released; when we are in this great battle of the ages in the heavenlies, Christ in you is the Hope of glory. That is the point upon which Paul finishes in that very letter which brings this third phase of Christian life so fully into view - Glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all ages forever and ever. Why glory in the church? How glory in the church? Christ in you the Hope of glory; Christ in the church; His Presence makes everything possible for an issue of glory.

We have simply pointed out, with all these words, and in these illustrative ways, God has made Christ the basis, the foundation of eternal glory, and that by Christ being within. Oh, take Him, appropriate Him, day by day; stand on Him as the basis of your salvation, not on yourself; do not feed on yourself, on your failure, or on what you are. If you do, you know that you are feeding upon ashes. God has made ashes of us all in the great Altar; do not feed on ashes, feed on Christ, the Living Christ. Under discipline, trial, training, and education, learning the lessons of faith, feed on Christ; take Him, take Him on every time in faith's trial. And in the great battle in which we are, we find ourselves, from a certain point in the Christian life, that it is not left to us to get through.

I said, in some cases, it does seem as though the Lord is saving a lot of time by pressing into a short period the intensity of this training and trial. We can see some young Christians having the trial of mature Christians, having the discipline, and the hard schooling that we would think should only come to those who have a lot of experience. Maybe you are one of those; the Lord is shortening the time, to get you matured quickly for some purpose, that you will be able to take responsibility early. Why wait until you have had years and years of Christian life before you are able to take serious responsibility in the battle, as in the corporate life of the Lord's people? It is not necessary, but there are a great many people - unfortunately and tragically, the vast number of Christians today - who will not face or contemplate any difficulty. They are going to have a good time; they are going to turn the Christian life and Christianity into a continuous picnic, a continuous holiday: making it all a matter of pleasure. Well, they will break if ever they get into the battle; they will be scattered, if ever they will have to face anything of the third phase of the Christian life. And it is not the Lord's unkindness to put any young Christian into a hard school; it is that He might trust them with large responsibilities, and do it early.

It is a grand thing to see a young Christian who is an old Christian, one who really now can stand up to things, and does not have to be nursed like a babe; one who can shoulder responsibility in the House of God, and has not got to be chased after, looked up, and coddled all the time. No, but to be such, it is always this way. It is a difficult school, but the point is, that for every phase and aspect, Christ is the Bread of God; Christ in you, the Hope of glory.


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