I just want to lay a foundation and read from the first chapter of the gospel by John, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Then over to the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1, “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds.”
Now I feel that in these times of being together the Lord wants me to speak to you about what has come in with Jesus Christ and what we have come into by the coming of Jesus Christ. My own strong conviction is the greatest need of the Lord’s people in this time is to know Him in a fuller way. The Lord Jesus is so much greater than ever we have thought. And probably you know that there is a law in the Word of God and that law is that we shall only grow spiritually according to the measure of our knowledge of Christ.
The Holy Spirit, if He has His way in our lives, will take very great pains to bring us into the full knowledge of Christ. It is the business of the Holy Spirit to do that. All our experiences under the hand of the Holy Spirit are intended to bring us into some fuller knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
Now, perhaps I am going to disappoint some of you when I say that it is not going to get easier as we go on. When we first go to school we learn a, b, c; that’s quite simple. One, two, three... that’s not difficult. But when we come near to the time of graduating, our lessons are made much harder. It is much more difficult to know, it calls for all our strength and endurance to learn. In the spiritual life it’s like that. The farther we go with the Lord the deeper the lessons become so that as we go on with the Lord, we find that He makes things more difficult for us.
You perhaps think that if only you were grown up in the Lord, it would be much easier; the Christian life would be much more simple. Let me tell you that it is just the other way: Christian life becomes more and more difficult the further we go. The oldest saints often have the darkest times.
You must remember that after thirty three years the Lord Jesus came to the place where in His last words, He said “Why, Father? Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” His darkest hour was at the end. He was just coming through to the glory then. And, as we say, the darkest hour is before the dawn. Now perhaps you think I’m not much of a comforter! But the knowledge of the Lord is a wonderful thing, to know the Lord is a great compensation for all suffering. If you are having a dark time, just say to yourself “I am going to learn something more of the Lord through this” and that will be a great compensation for the suffering.
Well, that is the comforting beginning, now we’ll come back to our subject for this time: it is the knowledge of what has come in with Jesus Christ and what we have come into in Christ.
You know we have come into two contradictory things. I wonder if you have noticed this? Right through the New Testament there are two words constantly recurring. Those two words are: ‘not’ the other is, ‘but’.
And those two words stand over two great systems. A whole world of things is gathered into each of those words. And that is what came in with Jesus Christ when He came into this world. On the one side He said, “Not”. On the other side He said, “But”. That will make a very helpful study for you if you want to trace those two words. We shall only be able to touch it very simply but you will understand what I mean as we go on.
The first “not... but”, relates to the Person of the Lord Jesus. You notice the first name by which He is called, the name which He had before this world was, in that dateless time called the Beginning... who knows when that was? The worlds were made by Him who was the Word. So He existed before the world. And away back there His name was “The Word”. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God.”
What is a word? According to the Bible this word means four things. Of course outside of the Bible some of these things are true, two of them are true outside of the Bible and two of them are not true outside of the Bible.
First of all, a word comes from a thought. That is, if you are mentally sound, you think before you speak and when you utter words you have already thought something. I say mentally sound people do that, but a lot of people speak before they think! They never thought what they were going to say; a lot of words come out and there’s no thought behind them! But if you are sound in mind, you think before you speak so that a word first of all is a thought.
And secondly, a word is a thought expressed. When you speak you express your thought. Those are two things which are universally true but three and four are not universally true but they are true when it is God speaking so that with God in the third place, a word is an act. With God, His Word is a fiat. He spake and it was done. He commanded and it stood fast. With God His Word is an act. By His Word the world was created. Well, you know the Bible has a lot to say about that, when God spoke something happened. It was not just a word that went out into the air. It was a word that had an effect. That is how it is when God speaks, “My word shall not return to me void, it shall accomplish the thing whereto I sent it.” You’ve got the three things? The Word is a thought. The Word is a thought expressed. The Word of God is an act of God.
What is number four? The Word becomes a Person. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. This is the name of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. He is God’s Thought, He is God’s Thought expressed. He is God’s Thought as an act. He is a work of God. He is God’s Thought in personal form. He has come into this world in all those four meanings.
Forgive me repeating this, I do want you to get it clearly. The presence of Jesus Christ in this world was first of all God’s eternal thought and then He was God’s thought expressed, and then He was the act of God. I ought, of course, to stay a long time with that.
Do you not see that when Jesus was here, without speaking sometimes, something happened. He came into a place and demons cried out. He hadn’t said anything but they cried out, “I know Thee Who Thou art, the holy One of God, art Thou come to torment us before our time?” His presence was an act of conviction. You have many other illustrations of that.
There is an effect about the presence of Jesus Christ and then this fourth expressed in power is in a living Person. It is not just an abstract thing it’s a living Person. That is what has come in with Jesus Christ. But to what does that Word relate? To what does God’s Thought relate? To what does God’s Thought in expression relate? To what does God’s Thought in expression as an act relate? And, what does God’s Thought in expression as an act result in personally? Does this sound very technical? Well we haven’t got there yet, God’s Thought in that Person relates to the kind of man that God intended all men to be.
God’s Thought Concerning Mankind
That is why the Thought ends in a Person. After that you have all the New Testament about our being conformed to the image of His Son. The Word says we are being transformed into the same image. John cries, “When we see Him we shall be like Him”! The end of God’s Thought is a kind of man.
Now we come back to our two words, “not... but”. You go on in that first chapter of John, it says He came unto His own things and His own people received Him not, BUT, “not... but”, to them that received Him, gave He the right to be the children of God. And then a little further, “which were born not of bloods, not of the will of the flesh, not of the will of man, but of God”. Not, not, not... BUT. You see the point? With the coming of God’s Thought in the Person of Jesus Christ one kind of man is set aside. The whole of that race in Adam, the coming of Jesus says, “Not that any longer”. And His coming says about another kind of man, “But this kind”. That’s where it all begins and you know that in the third chapter of John that is developed.
I’m always sorry that they divided the chapters between two and three in John because undoubtedly what is our chapter three follows on from what is chapter two. You notice how chapter two ends? It says that Jesus would not commit Himself to men because He knew what was in man. He knew what was in man. Of course that is the natural man and He would not commit Himself to that kind of man. Now, of course, you say that must be a very bad man! If the Lord will not have anything to do with that kind of man as he is, he must be pretty bad. Is that how you think?
Well, let’s go on. How does chapter three begin? “Now there was a man... named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews”. You’ve got the link? He would not commit Himself to that kind of man! He knew what was in man. “Now there was a man... a ruler of the Jews, named Nicodemus...” Later the Lord will say to Nicodemus, “Art thou a teacher in Israel?” A teacher? A man of intellect, a man of high position, a man of influence, a man greatly respected amongst men. And this man comes with all that he is by nature and by education, he comes with all his position and all his training, he comes with all his devotion to the Lord God, a very religious man, and he begins to talk to Jesus. He says some things by way of compliment to Jesus, he calls Him “Rabbi” that is, teacher. And he says, “We know that you’re a teacher sent from God, no man could do the things that you do if you were not sent from God.” Now they’re good things aren’t they? Surely Jesus is going to commit Himself to this man! Surely He’s got the best specimen of a man in Nicodemus.
What does Jesus say? “Oh Nicodemus! I’m so glad to meet you! There are so few fine men like you in the world, I do admire your learning!” None of that. He does not commit Himself to that man. But He says, “You must be born anew. You must become another kind of man Nicodemus. With all that you have, you were born of blood, you were born of the will of the flesh, you were born of the will of man, but you’ve never been born of God. Not that man, but this man: that which is born of God. The wind bloweth where it likes, you hear the sound thereof, but you don’t know whence it cometh or where it goes. There’s a mystery about the wind that natural wisdom cannot explain. So is everyone that is born of God.” You know I’m quoting the Scripture all the time; not that man at his best, but this one born of God. That man at his best is not God’s original thought. The man that is born of God and is God’s thought is a different kind of being.
I’m going back again, everybody here knows that the Bible is divided into two main divisions, what we call the Old Testament and the New Testament. That division is not just an artificial division. That division is not just a historical matter. That division is something very much deeper and greater than that; it’s a spiritual division.
I think we are all prepared to write “Not” over the Old Testament. You remember how the Old Testament finishes? After all that God had done, and what a great all that was... the last book of the Old Testament speaks about His own people robbing God and God saying, “You are cursed with a curse”. Surely we will write “Not” over the Old Testament! Not that. No, never again that.
We open our New Testament and the four first books of the New Testament present us with a Man. The four gospels are the presentation of a Man. There has never been a Man like this before. This Man is different from all men that have ever been. This Man is presented to us in this four-fold way.
Now, having said that, I dare not stay to deal with the four gospels; they all have some differences from each other. Some of them have the same things, some of them have different things. But all of them end at the same thing. Every one of them has one thing in common; whether it is Matthew or Mark or Luke or John, they all head right up to:
It seems as though that was what was meant, these writers cannot get away from it. Whatever they say, it leads to the Cross. The Cross really ought to be placed between the two testaments because the New Testament in its beginnings, leading up to the Cross just says this one thing: all that this new Man represents, all His teaching, all His works, all His Person, can only come into human experience when one man is put away and another Man is brought in.
The Cross of the Lord Jesus is the great “Not!” to a whole kind of man. It is God’s “Not” to the Old Testament. The Old Testament is failure, failure, failure everywhere. And you close the Old Testament with failure. The New Testament introduces God’s success, God’s great success in His Son, Jesus Christ. That is not theory is it? You would not be in this room tonight if that were not true. You and I are here tonight because Jesus was a success! And we ought to be His successes. So I say that whatever the gospels hold, at the end they say this is only possible in man by way of the Cross.
The Cross is the eternal setting aside of one man and the Cross on the other side is the introducing of another Man after God’s thought. Now I suppose I should finish; when we get into eternal things time seems to go very quickly!
Can you just visualize a cross, draw a cross in your mind, one arm stretching backward and the other arm stretching forward, then draw a black line right down the middle of the cross. And let that one arm point backward to your Old Testament and see that that ends in the Cross. I’m going to prove that to you before I’m through, I think. Oh thank God for that great “Not” about the Old Testament! Our hearts ought to be full of joy over that “not”! Do you wonder what I mean? Well, we are not under the Law! And the Old Testament is the Law. We are under Grace... not under Law, but under Grace. The Cross is the divide between the two. That dark line says that’s an end of all that and this is the beginning of all this, all that we have in the New Testament.
Do you see what has come in with Jesus Christ? Do you see what we have come into in Jesus Christ? It is the first “not... but”. There’s a hymn that we sometimes sing, it runs like this, this is the first line of it: “Not what I am, oh Lord, but what Thou art”. That’s the Gospel isn’t it? That’s the end of the Old Testament: condemnation, judgment, ending in a curse... by nature I belong to that. In myself, that’s where I am, but “not what I am, but what Thou art”. I am now not in myself or in Adam, I am now in Christ and in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation.
That is only the beginning, you’ll see a lot more not’s and but’s yet. But you see the first one relates to man, the man as he is in himself. God’s saying, “Not that man”. He relates to the new man, quite another man. By faith we are in this new Man, accepted in the beloved. Not that, but Him.
I trust that this is the Word of the Lord, not just a thought, not only a thought expressed, but a thought as a work, taking personal form in us. We leave it there for now and thank the Lord for what He has brought in by His coming.