|Vol. 9, No. 4, July - Aug. 1980
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE REVOLUTIONARY POWER OF THE CROSS
"I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself
EARLY in His ministry the Lord had used this phrase about being "lifted
up" (3:14) and now He uses it again. In both cases the reference is to the
prospect of His being lifted up on the cross to die. It is true that John
gives a secondary meaning to what he records and that the verb 'lifted up'
can also mean 'exalted', so that we are justified in looking beyond the cross
to His exaltation in the glory, "high and lifted up". What is not a true
application, although it is often employed in this way, is the argument that
if a preacher exalts Christ in his preaching, then hearers will be drawn to
the Saviour. This is true enough, and it is certainly the business of every
preacher to make much of Christ, but it was not what the Lord was thinking
about when He made His declaration. He referred to the manner of death He
Everything in the Christian life finds its origin at the cross. In chapter
3 the Lord was talking of rescue; perishing sinners can only be saved from
spiritual death by looking in faith to their Sin-Bearer nailed to the cross.
This further reference, however, deals with a feature of redemption which
is equally important, namely transformation. Full salvation means a revolutionary
change of life. It was to this complete newness that Jesus alluded when He
spoke of men being drawn to Himself. Obviously the "all men" does not imply
universal salvation, but it does most emphatically signify that all believers,
all forgiven sinners, are called to experience union with Christ. They are
to be drawn up and into Him.
The words represent a firm prophecy by the Lord Jesus and the context
shows that they provide a striking and unexpected reaction to what was taking
place, for the whole atmosphere was charged with popular enthusiasm for Him.
He had met fierce hostility with calm purpose of heart, but now for the moment
He has to meet almost overwhelming popularity. Many servants of God triumph
in adversity but are defeated by popularity. Christ, however, was not moved
by either. The crowds were enthusiastic (vv.12-18), the rulers dismally complained
to one another that "the world is gone after him" (v.19). And now there
were Greeks, representatives of the wider world, begging to be introduced
to Him -- "Sir, we would see Jesus" (v.21). It was a significant moment:
the hour had come. Yes, but not the hour for interviews and acclamation,
but the hour for crucifixion. The Lord Jesus was quite unmoved. He did not
want popularity. He did not welcome sightseers, however sincere they might
be. Rather did He turn away from the prospect of having followers who would
only be adherents of His cause and concentrate all His efforts on producing
followers who would bear His likeness. This alone could bring true glory
to the Father and to Him.
His purpose was to have 'grains of wheat' in vital relationship to the
original Seed. To be content with acceptance or admiration would still leave
Him a single Seed, abiding by itself alone, whereas the divine purpose was
a harvest of "much fruit" (v.24). Such vital transformations could only
be brought about by the cross. No amount of teaching or example could work
in men's lives that radical revolution which would make them like Him. There
was no hope for the Greeks or for anybody else in just seeing Him. They
needed, and we need, something much more radical than that. The Twelve provide
us with ample evidence of this fact. At the end of three years of the advantages
and privileges of proximity to Jesus, they were as unlike Him as ever, quarrelling
amongst themselves (Luke 22:24) and refusing to serve one another (John 13:14),
even on the very eve of the Saviour's passion. [61/62]
What could God do with them? What can He do with any of us? It is not
just instruction and effort that we need, but an inward revolutionary power.
Pride has to be slain; self has to be repudiated; unbelief has to be crushed.
All this must be done to make a way for the Christlike virtues of humility,
love and faith. How can it be done? Only by the cross. It was for this purpose,
then, that Jesus allowed Himself to be lifted up from the earth. There is
in us all an 'old man' who cannot be reformed but has to be crucified. There
needs to be an experience of the 'new man' which is "created to be like God
in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). It was for this that
our Saviour died.
Union with Christ
Jesus is not only our Substitute -- He is that -- but He is also our
Standard. The Bible makes it very plain that God will not accept any lower
standard than the perfection of Christ, and Jesus made it plain that He
would provide such a divine demand by drawing every true believer to Himself.
Not just to be near to Him. Not just to benefit from Him. He draws into complete
and vital union with Himself, for only so can the Father glorify Himself
again in the Church as He has already done in the Son. It was in response
to the prayer which Jesus made on this occasion that the voice came from
heaven which spoke both of the past and of the future glorifying of His name
(v.28). A father's name is best glorified when he has a perfect son. God
assures us that He has such a Son in the person of Jesus Christ. On that
occasion, His voice, according to Jesus (v.30) came, not for the Son's sake,
but for our sakes who are called to be sons in Him. We understand, then,
that this verse affirms that, as in Gospel days the Father had been glorified
in His only Son, now in the future days, He will again get the same glory
for His name in the redeemed sons who constitute the Church. "Whom he justified,
them he also glorified" (Romans 8:30). Surely 'revolution' is not too strong
a word for such a transformation!
I have already indicated three virtues of Christ which must be found
in His people, namely humility, faith and love. I give priority to humility
because it is the rarest, being "of great worth in the sight of God" (1 Peter
3:4), and because the Lord Jesus disclosed that this is what He is like in
His inmost being -- "for I am gentle and humble in heart" (Matthew 11:29).
We who have found rest from our sins will never find that deeper rest which
we long for without a yoke partnership with Him. The poison which contaminated
the human race at the Fall is labelled 'Pride'. It is the unavoidable entail
of the first Adam. In the Last Adam there is no pride at all, and He accepted
the death of the cross that we might inherit the entail of perfect humility,
being called to the kingdom of "the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3).
It may help us if we consider an example of how far short even the most
devoted apostle came when compared with Christ. When Jesus was struck in
the face before the high priest, His only response was to say: "If I said
something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why
did you strike me?" (John 18:23). It so happened that the apostle Paul had
a similar experience but, when he was struck on the mouth, his hot retort
to the high priest was: "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!" (Acts
23:3). Need I say more? Paul's reaction was natural enough to us fallen men;
that is what we are like. Christ's answer was true to His character of perfect
Man. Paul had to make some sort of apology. Christ never apologised. He never
I could go on to enlarge on the humility of Jesus. I could deal at some
length with the faith always displayed in the life of Jesus. I might begin
to describe the love which made the life of Jesus so beautiful, though I
could only begin, for it is quite beyond my inadequate understanding. The
point is, though, that new birth has destined us to be like Him. For God it
is not enough that we should see Jesus and be only superficially affected:
He wants us to be drawn into vital union with. His Son.
Union in His Death
The ugly fact is that we are not like Him. No, even though we have had
privileges much greater than those of the men who saw Him here on earth.
Pride, unbelief and lovelessness are second nature to us. Yet we long to
be like Him. However hard we try, though, and however much we pray, we cannot
change our old fallen nature. Will it surprise you if I say that God cannot
change it either? Perhaps if He could have done, there might have been some
way of sparing His beloved Son from [62/63] being
lifted up. But He cannot. He does not try. Through Jeremiah He informs us
that our hearts are deceitful above all things and "beyond cure" (Jeremiah
17:9 N.I.V.). He has gone well into the matter and tells us that "I, the
Lord, search the heart and examine the mind ...". He knows all that there
is to be known about us and pronounces this old humanity of ours quite hopeless.
His wisdom decrees that the essential means of revolutionizing our lives
is to draw us right up into union with Christ in the total judgment of the
cross. Does this sound mystical and negative? There was nothing mystical
about the actual cross; it was real enough for Jesus and it was certainly
not negative in His case.
The cross is never the end: it is the gateway to life. It is the way
of newness and of increase. That divine 'grain of wheat' did not remain
a single Seed; it fell into the ground and died (which is only another way
of saying that He was lifted up), and by His death He has produced a united
Church of many seeds (v.24). He has not just drawn us to His cross, He has
drawn us to Himself. There is, of course, a whole realm of evil which was
brought to its end at the cross. "Now is the judgement of this world", the
Lord Jesus prophesied, "and now shall the prince of this world be cast out"
(v.31). Satan became the ruler of this world when the human race went over
to his side and turned against God. Jesus Himself, though truly human, never
belonged to that dark kingdom but, in His substitutionary death, He took
it with Him to the cross so that it could receive its judgement under the
wrath of God. So far as God is concerned, the sentence was executed; the
world is crucified to me and I am crucified to the world.
Thank God that for believers there is a happy sequel to this judgement
crisis. In His resurrection, the Lord Jesus provides a new kind of life
over which Satan has no power. However little this may seem to work out
in their daily experience, all believers are assured that they are united
with Christ in His death, and when they are baptized they give testimony
to this fact (Romans 6:4-5). We have been crucified with Christ. This is
the basis of our being made Christlike. We are all too conscious of the hindrances
to holiness which work in our corrupt natures, but we are encouraged to claim
and prove deliverance from them by realising that Christ has drawn us up
into union with Himself in His death. My tempted brother! Jesus said that
when He was lifted up on the cross He lifted you up to share in the power
of His death! My disheartened sister! He offers you, too, the marvellous
lifting power of His cross! Remember again His triumphant cry from that very
cross: "It is finished!"
Union in His Exaltation
The cross is not only the end of the old fallen kingdom. It has its resurrection
aspect. It is the gateway into the new kingdom of holy living for the glory
of God. He has been 'lifted up' to the highest heights, and He has promised
to draw us to Himself there. God graciously allows us to have a preview of
our ultimate destiny when He inspired John to declare that when Christ appears,
"we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). In a
sense that will be the ultimate fulfilment of the words of the Lord Jesus
about His being lifted up and drawing us all to Himself. He has already ascended
to the glory, but we have to await the Day of His coming again before we
will literally be drawn up to Him. But that Day will surely come. It may
come very soon.
Meanwhile, however, there is a practical and very powerful sense in which
He calls us to share His resurrection now. The same apostle who wrote about
the Day when we will see Christ and be like Him, assures us that "as He is,
even so are we in this world " (1 John 4:17). Note that the Scriptures say,
"as He is", and not "as He was". We are on the resurrection
side of the cross. The N.I.V. renders this statement: "In this world we are
like Him". This brings the power of His being lifted up right down to us
in our present life. Even now, then, the sowing of His "grain of wheat" at
the cross is bringing the harvest of a united body of people who share His
life. Incidentally, they can only be truly united as they know union with
the Lord in His death and resurrection.
This matter of being raised together with Christ is a fact to be laid
hold of by faith. "We walk by faith and not by appearance" (2 Corinthians
5:7). Watchman Nee liked to use the illustration of Fact, Faith and Feeling
walking on top of a wall. Fact walked steadily on, turning neither to the
right nor left and never looking behind. Faith followed with his
[63/64] hands upon Fact's shoulders and his eyes focused upon him,
Feeling followed, resting on Faith as they went. All went well until Faith
became concerned about Feeling, took his hands off Fact and turned to see
how Feeling was getting on. As soon as he did this, he lost his balance and
tumbled off the wall, and poor old Feeling fell down after him. Fact, of course,
was quite unmoved: it was Feeling who was let down.
The cross is an abiding fact. By means of it our Lord draws us to Himself.
The measure in which we respond is the measure in which the Holy Spirit will
have liberty to transform us into the image of Christ -- "from glory to
glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
"SORRY! IT CAN'T BE DONE"
A Letter from Denmark
A sentence which my wife and I have often heard and which applies to
our home life as well as to various aspects of the work is: 'It's impossible!
It just can't be done!' Here are a few examples:
1. 'It's impossible to get your children to be nicely dressed on Sundays.
It simply cannot be done nowadays. You just wait and see!'
2. 'It is impossible to hold young people's attention with simple Bible
teaching. You ought to know that. You must appreciate that you cannot turn
the clock back twenty years.'
3. 'It is impossible to carry on work for God and publish a monthly magazine
without appealing to people for financial help. Those days are past. You'll
soon find that out. It just cannot be done.'
4. 'It is foolish to maintain your standards, which are only a matter
of your taste and background. You ate stubborn: it is simply impossible;
you must move with the times.'
5. 'It is impossible to work together without some written rules. It's
really impossible. It simply can't be done!'
These are a few examples of the short but emphatic phrase: 'It can't
be done!' and they are far from covering every area in which they are used.
If I were to record all the occasions when I have been faced by it, the result
would fill a book.
It is impossible to cross the Red Sea. It is impossible to feed a whole
nation in the wilderness. It is impossible to go over Jordan. It is impossible
to conquer the giants in the land and to capture their fenced cities. It
is impossible to slay Goliath. One can only do as much as one can. Surely
God does not demand what is superhuman and impossible! It is impossible to
stand firm in the face of Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace and Darius' den of
lions. It is impossible to return from Babylon and rebuild the temple. How
much more sensible to wait for better days to come!
It is impossible to go forward when there are mountains in the way. It
is impossible to give if you are poor. It is impossible to rejoice when
you are sad. It is impossible to be content when life goes against you.
It is impossible for wives to submit to their husbands; anyone who expects
that is absurdly out of step with the times.
However I must quote the whole phrase as it is generally used and include
the customary 'unfortunately'. People say that they are sorry it can't be
done. Folk usually correct me quite politely with the words, 'Unfortunately
it is impossible', making it sound as though they heartily wished that somehow
it might be otherwise. They express their regret as what appears so obvious,
using that little word 'unfortunately' [64/65] to
add a note of charming piety to their rebuke. They smile so sympathetically
as they say 'unfortunately', that I feel myself to be an object of their pity.
It is as if they are surprised that I do not realise that the full-orbed Christian
life is quite impossible, and that I ought to reduce my expectations to what
is practicable. As though they were suggesting that the Lord is so loving
that He will fully understand that it was impossible for us to obey His Word,
and that if we were to stand before Him on that great Day and say, 'Unfortunately,
Lord, it couldn't be done', He would be kind enough still to greet us with
the Scriptural welcome: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant". Put
like that we may see the hollowness of our position, but yet we go on hoping,
while year after year of wasted time passes by.
After I have listened to all these opinions I remember that in every
generation -- even in ours -- there are some who are governed by an entirely
different spirit. I think especially of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.
These were men and women who did not shrink back from the demands and challenges
of the life of faith. Their generation owed everything to them. Without them
everything would have declined into spiritual ruin, but they maintained the
standard of God's Word. Their greatest burdens were often not the enormous
difficulties they faced but the unbelief and non-commitment of their fellow
believers which dragged at their movement like lumps of lead. They continually
heard the refrain: 'Unfortunately it can't be done', but their greatness showed
itself in the fact that nevertheless it was done. Sometimes they even
managed to carry others with them, though usually with complaining warnings
and dragging feet.
This kind of language effectively kills enterprises which might otherwise
have been carried through for God. Not seldom does it spring from those who
have themselves given up and therefore nurse a secret hope that others will
not even try. When other Christians tell you what unfortunately cannot be
done, never attach much weight to their words. They may well be afraid that
what could not be done in their case may regrettably be possible in yours.
They judge that it is better for us all to be mediocre. How do they know
what can be done? Surely anything can be done provided it is the will of
God. Our business is not to argue but to discover the will of God and do
it, even if someone is sorry that it cannot be done! We will soon discover
that the will of God is not limited to what we regard as feasible. Where does
God come in, if we only move within what man calls possible and impracticable?
To the disciples with a few loaves and fishes, Jesus said: "Give the five
thousand men with the women and children something to eat!" The disciples
were ready enough to answer: "Sorry. It can't be done!", but in the end they
did it. So it appeared that after all it could be done. It is not for us
to tell the Lord what can or cannot be done. He knows better than any of
us, and with Him there is never any need for the polite 'unfortunately'!
A cunning lie is hidden in that beautifully modest sentence: "It cannot
be done'. If we analyse it in detail, we find that it evades personal responsibility.
There is no actual person to shoulder the responsibility. Certainly the words
are spoken by some man or woman but, by using the expression 'it', they
evade anything personal. If the one concerned had said: 'I cannot do it'
he would be faced with the challenge as to whether he had ever really tried.
This he neatly avoids by affirming that it cannot be done. And in
any case, what right has such an individual to speak on behalf of the rest
of us? He presumes to speak for everybody else with his 'it', as though
he represented the sum of human wisdom. 'Unfortunately' his polite little
preliminary of 'unfortunately' does not lessen the presumption. I say, therefore,
that the whole sentence is unacceptable, even when it is preceded by the
apologetic 'Sorry'. It represents to me a mixture of lies, unbelief and
non-committedness. My Bible tells me that there is nothing impossible to
the man of faith. It says that everything is possible to those who believe.
The will of God can always be done -- and that applies to every area of
family, occupational and church life.
Nobody knows whether the decade we have just entered will be the last
in the dispensation of grace. If the Lord hurries things up it may well be
so. In any case it seems clear that the Church is in for a sifting time.
Disintegrating tendencies are appearing almost everywhere, being expressed
either as a direct rejection of God's Word or as a deviation from it. Even
where the faith is not questioned, there is an ominous tendency to Laodicean
lukewarmness. [65/66] Real church life grows increasingly
difficult, especially in the matter of strong and persistent prayer. The
demands which the church as the body of Christ makes may well be harder to
meet and the polite excuse: 'Sorry! It can't be done' will sound growingly
convincing. If Inflation gets even worse, if the struggle to exist becomes
so intense that every man is forced to look to his own interests and then
give what is over (if anything) to the interests of God, what will become
of our assemblies? Will they degenerate into Emergency Stations for times
of special need? Who will seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness?
I am myself a weak person, and cannot answer such questions lightly, for
I know how difficult it can be in practice to seek first the kingdom when
you have a wife and child whom you love and would in no circumstances fail.
It was no easy thing to seek first the kingdom by giving ourselves wholeheartedly
to the life of the Church, the body of Christ. It is going to get harder
as the fight for existence becomes ever fiercer.
I would like to remind you that in all areas of life the Lord's words
still apply: "He who saveth his life shall lose it, but he who loses it for
my sake and the gospel's, he shall find it". This is a saying which the majority
either reject or ignore, for it fits into the phrase: 'It cannot be done',
so far as they are concerned. I can assure you, though, that anyone who has
tried a little of it knows by happy experience how true it is. Of course
it is quite true that it is impossible if less vital things are given pride
of place. When I enquire about the reasons behind excuses from people who
found it is impossible to gather for prayer, I often find that what unfortunately
prevented them from coming was the fact that there were more personal matters
to which they gave priority. I know how very pressing business affairs can
be but, if a conflict arises between the lesser (business) and the greater
(God's kingdom), then the Word applies in all its force: "Seek ye first the
kingdom of God". Is it too much for you? Well, most of God's calls to us
are beyond our powers. The Bible, however, does not say, 'As your strength
is, so shall your days be', but just the opposite, namely, "As thy days, so
shall thy strength be!" The question therefore is not whether I have strength
for the task which presents itself, but whether I have faith to accept responsibility
Of all the dangers of the Christian life, stagnation is in my judgement
the most dangerous. Stagnation leads to death, but risk and difficulties
lead to life. If we would walk by faith, we must not fix our gaze on what
can be done or what cannot be done, but must expose ourselves, as Paul did,
to the risk which is always bound up with serving the risen Lord and doing
His will. Paul never stood still, but right to the end he went forward, insisting
that he could do all things in the strength of Christ (Philippians 4:13).
This was no presumption. He was equally emphatic in affirming that he himself
was not sufficient for anything. He who was not able for anything without
Christ was able for everything in Christ. And he called us to be imitators
of him. It is not a matter of trying to do what he did, but of proving for
ourselves that we can accomplish every task which God Himself apportions
As we move into this new decade, it is my prayer that none of us may
succumb to that unfortunate 'It-can't-be-done' attitude but that we may
be imitators of Paul in following Christ -- even in the things which would
be quite impossible without Him. Greetings in His name
from POUL MADSEN.
WORLD CHAOS AND GOD
Readings: Genesis 1:2; 6:13; Exodus 12:22
ALL three of the above Scriptures refer to conditions of chaos. Having
spent the last two years in the troubled land of Iran, I feel entitled to
say something about the subject of chaos. I am often questioned about conditions
there, and most of the questions have to do with physical dangers. To me,
however, these are not the important questions; far greater are the spiritual
problems of how to relate what is happening to the purposes of God.
When I arrived in Teheran two years ago it was on a Friday. This corresponds
to Sunday in a Muslim land, so I found myself in a church service, as a member
of a congregation of about a thousand Westerners. Many of these were in
the country by reason of a genuine sense of call from Christ. They had left
all to serve God in Iran. Some had left good jobs and opportunities in secular
callings at home to pursue those same callings for Christ's sake in that
land. For us all it constituted a great problem to see all our expectations
collapsing in the chaotic conditions which were overtaking the country. The
shootings and mob violence, the burning down of buildings, constituted problems
for the moment, but the far greater questions concerned the meaning of it
all. When it became increasingly clear that the Shah's regime was about to
fall and Khomeini's rule to take over, those of us who had prayed for years
about the spread of the gospel in Iran were bewildered. Where was God? Was
the Devil wresting power from the hands of the Almighty? These were the kind
of questions which had to be faced by so many Christian workers, questions
which posed a bigger danger than all the bullets and bombs.
We sat through last Winter in shivering cold because of the fuel shortage,
and were almost numbed with the question: Where is God in all this? When
things became impossible in Teheran we moved on into Pakistan, only to find
there believers who have to live constantly under the acute tension of Islam.
They could not leave the country, as we could. They have no alternative than
to live on in that atmosphere of extreme pressure. What could we say to them?
No escapist theories could be of any help. They needed encouragement; they
needed positive reassurance concerning the purposes of God. This is the context
of my message now. It relates to the faithfulness of God amid the chaos
of our world.
The Challenge of Chaos
The three Old Testament passages cited above introduce to us this theme
of chaos. It is the common feature of all three. First there is natural chaos
-- "The earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the
waters" (Genesis 1:2). Secondly there is man-made chaos -- "The end of all
flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them;
and behold, I will destroy them with the earth" (Genesis 6:13). In those
days it was fallen men who caused the chaos -- a condition which is all too
familiar to us today. Thirdly, there was divinely-created chaos, the kind
of thing which rocked Egypt to its foundations when God acted in judgement,
saying: "I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite
all the firstborn in the land of Egypt ... and against all the gods of Egypt
I will execute judgement" (Exodus 12:12).
The question which we must all face concerns our own attitude at such
times. Many Christians opt out of such situations; they abdicate to the Devil.
We in Teheran had to meet this challenge when chaos came into our situation.
To many it was difficult to see anything but the power of evil. It seemed
that there were no restraints upon anarchy and no possibility of the chaos
giving place to order. The only remedy for despair was to go back to the
Bible, and there find that in all the three varieties of chaos, God was present,
and God was at work.
God's Presence in the Chaos
In every such situation it is never easy to say that God was right there.
We may have to face a grim personal tragedy in which it seems impossible
to reconcile His presence with the apparent catastrophe of it all. No, it
is not easy to discern God in the chaos. On the other hand, it is no easier
to leave God out of it and to suggest that the Devil was in the happening
and had it all his own way. Thus we have to recognize that, whichever way
we take it, there is no easy answer to these chaotic situations.
If, however, we look beyond them to God's Word, we find reassurance that,
despite all the perplexing elements, we do right to maintain that God is
right there, moving and working in His own way, even if we cannot understand
what that way is. This is the right attitude, to have faith in what God has
said. It is much better than getting out into an area of speculation where
we are forced to rely on human understanding -- our own or someone else's.
We face the natural chaos, the man-made chaos and the divinely initiated
chaos, and we note that in the three instances we are now considering, God
was always there. He moved on the face of the waters. He grieved over the
[67/68] inevitability of the Flood; He made it clear
that it was He who was visiting Egypt in judgement. He was never absent or
distant, but was right there, on the spot!
Creation out of Chaos
The next point to which I would draw your attention is that everyone
of these chaotic situations proved to have a creative aspect. In the first
God said: "Let there be light": and there was light. At the very beginning
of the Bible we are confronted with the resurrection aspect of creation.
Every experience of chaos gives us a new prospect of the reality of resurrection.
When I was on furlough in Canada, I found the dead months of Winter very
trying, for there seemed no life anywhere. Suddenly, however, the crocuses
began to come up through the snow, first with living shoots of fresh green
and then with their own bright colours. The deadness of Winter was being
conquered by the new life of Spring. So it was that out of the original chaos,
God's Word brought form and beauty. In spite of the harm that men have introduced
and the acute modern problems of ecology, nothing can obscure the wonder
of God's creation. Again, although it must have seemed hopeless that anything
fine could have come out of the chaotic waters of Noah's Flood, we know that
the Scriptures point to it as presenting a pattern and picture of redemption
in Christ. This is even more so when we consider the chaos in Egypt, for
the sequel was the glorious liberation of God's redeemed people.
Into chaos, then, came God's creative Word. "God said, Let there be light"
(Genesis 1:3); "God said unto Noah ... Make thee an ark" (Genesis 6:13);
"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt: This month shall be unto you the
beginning of months" (Exodus 12:2). We need to remember this for, as we look
out on to our world, we see an approaching chaos which none of us can escape.
The threatening problems which seem remote today, including the oil crisis,
can be on our doorstep tomorrow. Chaos is abroad, and we in the West cannot
expect to escape it. Students of history remind us that the relative stability
of the nineteenth century was really a kind of Indian Summer in a world which
has always been chaotic. While the Rapture is a Scriptural hope, there is
no guarantee at all that when things get too hot for us, God will suddenly
lift His people out of it all. We have got to face squarely the prospect
Will we abdicate, saying that the power of evil is so great that God
cannot handle it? In a spirit of escapism will we focus on the Rapture as
a mere salvage operation by which God rescues what He can? Will we muddle
along, vaguely drifting with the tide? Or will we be among those who hear
God's creative Word? Noah, who found grace with God, heeded His word, obediently
building the ark and faithfully preaching righteousness (Hebrews 11:7). He
ignored the chaos and became part of God's new creative activities. We, too,
should listen to God's creative Word and become part of what He is doing.
No chaos, no creation! No flood, no rainbow! No Passover judgement, no liberation
of a people of God's building.
Is it not a basis of all faith that the greatest chaos of all history,
the cross of Christ, brought God's supreme creative act of redemption? The
disciples were ready to run away because all their hopes seemed to be crashing
into ruins, but they found in the resurrection that God had been sovereignly
acting in it all.
The more you read your newspapers, the more you will be depressed at
the inevitable chaos of man's world. The more attention you pay to the media,
the more you will be preoccupied with the fantastic succession of troubles
and disasters which seem to cry out: 'There is no hope. There is no future.
We are going no place.' Why not pay more attention to God's creative Word
in Christ, and link up with Him in the redemptive work which He is doing?
Building in the Midst of Chaos
I close with an illustration from Pakistan. In a certain town there,
I found a group of Christians worshipping in a modest building in one of
the back slums of the town. They told me the history of their humble chapel.
A group of men and women who had found Christ were meeting in the house of
one of the brothers. This house was in the middle of a Moslem district, with
a Koranic school just opposite and a mosque. The Christians tried to meet
on the roof of the house, singing and worshipping the Lord, but although
their praises were doubtless [68/69] acceptable to
heaven, they were unacceptable to the Moslems all around, who especially
resented their singing. These neighbours threatened and harassed the Christians
in every possible way, including hurling bricks and rubbish into their meeting.
In the end a member of the police force intervened, and told the troublemakers
that they must stop their violence, since Pakistani laws guaranteed to the
Christians the right to worship in their own way and according to their traditions.
Having rebuked the neighbours, the policeman then turned to the Christian
leaders and said: 'I cannot guarantee your security unless you build for
yourselves a place of worship. When you do this, then we guarantee you a
hundred per cent security from molestation. That is what you must do.'
Now those Christians were very, very poor; their combined gross income
would never have been sufficient to pay for such a chapel, let alone their
tithes and offerings. But so far as they were concerned, God had spoken.
True the actual voice was that of a Muslim policeman, but to them it became
God's creative word in their chaotic circumstances. So they got to work and
brick by brick, they built themselves their simple place of worship. As they
proudly showed it to me, I realised that its drab simplicity was beautiful
to them. And when foreign type church buildings were being destroyed by angry
mobs, this humble edifice was respected as a legitimate Pakistani house of
worship. So much so that when a decree was made for the destruction of that
slum area, the local inhabitants risked the danger of an appeal to the Martial
Law authorities and included the Christians in their protest. 'You have put
out an order to bulldoze and demolish our area because it has never been
recognised by planners', the objectors complained, 'but we will lie down
in front of your machines and force you to crush us into the ground before
you can destroy our sacred mosque'. And then, on their own initiative, they
added: 'And these Christians will also do the same. They will give their
blood rather than let you destroy their house of worship.'
Happily it never came to that. But my point is that in the chaos of having
their meetings broken up by violence, those believers heard God's creative
voice -- even through a Moslem -- and they sacrificially gave and worked
for the honour of Christ's name. They proved, as we all must, that God is
faithful in the midst of the chaotic conditions of our modern world.
A GREAT GOD, A GREAT KING (2)
(Four pairs of Psalms on this subject)
J. Alec Motyer
Psalms 95 - 96. Good Tidings
PSALMS 95 and 96 have the same general area of teaching as the previous
two, namely that God is a great King and also judge of the whole earth. When
you realise that the expectation of a coming judge is put into the context
of a call to rejoicing (96:11), you appreciate that the verb 'to judge'
does not carry with it the sole meaning of condemning, but has the basic
Old Testament meaning of 'setting things to rights', finding out what is
wrong and putting it right.
The close link between the two pairs of psalms is seen in the phrases:
"The Lord reigneth" (93:1) and "Say among the nations, The Lord reigneth"
(96:10). This almost amounts to the key phrase in the whole series of psalms
which we are considering. In the two pairs which we have reached so far,
the contrast is found in the area of expression of that kingship. In Psalm
93 the kingship is seen to operate over the turbulence of this world, as
represented by the stormy seas. Very suitably Psalm 94 goes on to speak of
the effectiveness of the Lord's rule over His people and for them when they
face the actualities of a stormy experience. Now we find a contrast to that
reign over the floods in the fact that the Lord is also a great God and a
great king "over all gods" (95:3). So we are being led on in a progression.
Having seen God's [69/70] kingship over this world
and its turbulent history, we are now to see His kingship over the spiritual
forces which seek to obtain evil rule over this world. In Psalm 96 God's
greatness is again applied in this spiritual area: "Great is the Lord, and
highly to be praised: He is to be feared above all gods" (v.4). God is King
of the gods!
Before we go further into these two psalms, it will be good to consider
the subject of "the gods". We notice that Psalms 95 and 96 do not argue a
case; they simply make an affirmation. Indeed, far from offering any explanation
or justification for the statement, Psalm 96 adds a further statement: "For
all the gods of the people are idols, but the Lord made the heavens" (v.5).
These psalms leave no opening for arguments but firmly state the facts.
But are there really other gods? The Bible says that there are. It is
vain to suggest that Old Testament writers were merely adopting current views
concerning a multiplicity of gods, since in the New Testament Paul refers
to the fact that "there are lords many and gods many" (1 Corinthians 8:5),
and dear old John writes to Christian believers: "My little children, keep
yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). What is more, we have our modern teachers,
such as Frances Ridley Havergal, whose hymn reads:
Other lords have long held sway,
Now Thy name alone to bear;
Thy dear voice alone obey,
Is my daily, hourly prayer.
All are saying the same thing; they are saying that it is a spiritual
fact that there are other powers abroad in the world which claim from men
the allegiance which is due to the great God alone.
When the psalmist looked around his world, he saw Baal, he saw Moloch,
and he saw Tiamat, a terrifying goddess who represented the chaotic, overwhelming
ocean, and he saw multitudes of others, all claiming their devotees. It seemed
essential to him to stress God's absolute kingship in order to deliver God's
people from the enticement or fascination of these other powers. In contrast
to all their claims, the Bible makes the straightforward affirmation that
there is one God and one Creator.
We must look at what is said in Psalm 95 vv.4-5 concerning our Creator
God. Firstly it says: "In his hand are the deep places of the earth". In
the psalmist's day, many people would have said that the deep places of the
earth belonged to Moloch. Moloch was the subterranean god, the king of the
underworld, the dread god to whom people made living sacrifices of their
own children. "No", says the psalmist, "it is not Moloch who rules in the
deep places of the earth; it is the Lord who has those deep places in His
hand". Then there are the high places: "the heights of the mountains are
his". In those days very many people, as we know from the Old Testament,
went up on the bare heights to worship the god Baal. They exposed themselves
on the high places so that Baal would see what they were doing. "No, no",
says the psalmist, "the heights do not belong to Baal; they belong to the
Lord". Then verse 5 tells us that "the sea is his, and he made it", whereas
all through the Babylonian and Canaanite religion, the sea was worshipped
as being an embodiment of the destructive god of chaos, Tiamat. "No, no",
says the psalmist, "the sea is his and he made it". So in his statements
about God the Creator, he challenges point by point the reality of other
supposed gods. There is no Moloch -- it is the Lord who owns the deep places.
There is no Baal -- it is the Lord who reigns on the heights. There is no
Tiamat -- the sea is HIS!
The psalmist acknowledges that people can be beguiled away, but he also
asserts that they are so beguiled by things which are no gods. If the time
allowed, I might develop for you the idea that Baal and Baal worship is today
modelled on the worship of economic factors and concern for a gross national
product. I suggest that the worship of Tiamat is matched today in the false
adulation which is given to scientific discovery, and that the worship of
Moloch is matched today by demonology. So this psalm is not without its
relevance to us, for these are the things which try to beguile us and draw
us away. Therefore let us affirm together that the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods -- He and no other!
The Only God and His People
This psalm is addressed to those who speak of God as 'our' Saviour. It
is therefore a psalm that belongs inside the church, inside the people of
God. The call is to "kneel before the Lord, our maker" (v.6). It
belongs to the circle of the people of God who have the testimony:
[70/71] "He is our Saviour, He is our maker". Moreover
it refers to the past history of this same people: "Harden not your hearts
as at Meribah" (v.8). I suggest, then, that the title of 'The only God and
His people' is by no means unsuitable to its content.
This psalm provides a threefold call to worship, each call being followed
by an explanation of why this is a right thing to do. There is a call to
joyous worship: "O come, let us sing ... let us shout ... let us come before
his presence with thanksgiving" (vv.1-2). Then we are given an explanation
as to why we should so worship: "For (or because) the Lord is a great God"
(v.3). Then the call to worship is renewed: "O come, let us worship and bow
down ..." (v.6). This time the call is not to the joy of worship but to the
reverence and self-humbling of worship. The verbs all stress coming down.
The first is a general one, bowing in worship; the second refers to bending
the back as one bows before God; and the third is bending the knee as one
gets down to the lowest place before Him. And again we have an explanation
as to why we should worship in this way; it is because He is our God and "we
are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand" -- that is why!
Then we have a different call, this time with the stress on obedience: "Today,
O that you would hear his voice" (v.7). The illustration from Meribah and
Massah (v.8), with the reminder of how our fathers challenged God in unbelief,
is offered as an explanation as to why we should render the worship of true
The psalm may well have been composed specifically for the Feast of Tabernacles:
"It shall come to pass that everyone that is left of all the nations which
came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King,
the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:16).
Here then is a clear link between the Feast of Tabernacles and an acknowledgement
of the Lord as King. At the feast they commemorated the great redemptive
acts of God whereby He brought His people out of Egypt and looked after them
in the very flimsy and precarious life that they lived in the wilderness (Leviticus
23:42), and at that feast they were also commanded to listen to God's Word:
"Thou shalt read this law" (Deuteronomy 31:10).
This psalm turns us in the same three directions. Upwards -- "The Lord
is a great king" (v.3); backwards -- "the Rock of our salvation" (v.1) and
forwards -- "Oh, that ye would hear his voice" (v.7). This makes it a most
suitable psalm for the Feast of Tabernacles. By it they acknowledged the
King, they looked back to salvation and they encouraged each other to open
their hearts to the Word of God as it was read. To them God was not only
King, He was also Saviour, Shepherd and Lawgiver. Standing under the banner
of His Kingship we hail Him as:
1. Our Saviour
The word 'salvation' is an Old Testament word with an enormous range
or meaning, but following the link with the Feast of Tabernacles, we can
say that the salvation in question represented the saving acts of God in
the land of Egypt. Firstly, these were delivering acts, by which the people
were freed from a slave state into the state of men at liberty to walk with
God. Secondly, they were spiritual acts, for at the Passover God delivered
them from His own wrath and brought them out of alienation into reconciliation
with Himself. And thirdly, they were supernatural acts, for on that Passover
night the Lord undertook to take vengeance on all the gods of Egypt. This
is all included in the psalmist's reference to salvation.
He calls God, "the Rock of our salvation". What a magnificent and moving
title for God that is! To us, a rock speaks of permanence, reliability and
strength; of something so durable that we can always count on it being there.
In His saving work, the Lord who is King has all the stable reliability of
an immovable rock. He is a Saviour after that order.
I cannot but think, however, that there must be something more to it
than that, for if we are concerned with deliverance of the kind we have
in mind, the image of a rock is too static. Rocks stand firm, but as a rule
they do not do anything. Is it possible, then, that what the psalmist had
in mind is the rock from which the rivers of water flowed? In speaking of
heathen gods, Moses himself affirmed that "their rock is not as our Rock".
What was distinctive about Israel's Rock? Well, we are told how, with the
rod of God in his hand and in the presence of Israel's elders, Moses stood
with God at the rock and smote it, so releasing abundant water for all God's
people. I cannot prove this, but I seriously suggest that ever afterwards,
when the Old Testament speaks of God as the Rock, it means the stricken
rock and the streaming side, the rock from which [71/72]
water miraculously gushed to provide salvation and deliverance and life
for the people of God. I cannot prove this but, my word, I like it!
2. Our Shepherd
We look forward from the place of Kingship to the place of shepherding
(v.7). When we speak of the Lord as our Maker, I do not feel that the word
refers to the creation in the Genesis 1 sense, but rather that it alludes
to redemption. You will find that the word is often used in connection with
His acts in election and redemption by which He made us His people.
So our God is also our Shepherd and we are "the people of his pasture and
the sheep of his hand".
i. "He is our God". This speaks of security. Sheep do not
choose their shepherd; it is the shepherd who chooses the sheep. Therefore
when in the context it says "He is our God", it can only mean that He is
the God who has committed Himself to our welfare. Our security consists in
the fact that He has committed Himself to us.
ii "we are the people of his pasture". This speaks of a
people who are provided for by His planning, so that every next move is already
taken care of. As a shepherd leads his flock from one pasture that he knows
to another he foresees, the flock ever move on from one prepared position
to another prepared position. We are the people of His pasture for, under
His care, we move from one pasture which He made ready for us to another which
He has planned for us.
iii. "we are the sheep of his hand". This means that we
are the individuals who are cared for in His love. What else can it mean?
As the shepherd leads his flock by day from one pasture to another, he goes
before them; he calls them and they follow. But when night-time comes, he
leads them to the fold and, as he stands by the door and the sheep enter the
fold, each sheep comes under the hand of the shepherd as he touches it, examines
it and attends to its welfare. The King is our Shepherd; we are secure in
His commitment to us, provided for in His planning for us and cared for in
His individual love for each one of us.
3. Our Law-giver
Our King is also our Law-giver, so that we pass abruptly from the lovely
pastoral scene of bliss and care to a very different one, the scene of call
and command to obedience: "Oh that ye would hear his voice" (v.7). It is
important for us to notice the place given to the law in the Bible. God saves
a people; He brings them under His care; then He says to them: "This is how
I want you to live". He saved them in the land of Egypt; He brought them out
of Egypt and shepherded them with loving care in the wilderness; and then
He brought them to Mount Sinai and He said: "You are the ones I saved. You
are the people I shepherd. This, then, is the way in which I want you to
In the Bible the law is not a ladder by which the unsaved can climb into
God's good books, but it is a God-given pattern of life by which redeemed
people may resemble and please the God who loved and redeemed them. The word
'law' does not convey a very helpful idea to us, for the word that is commonly
translated 'law' really means 'teaching'. It is what happens in the loving
context of a home: "My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake
not the law of thy mother" (Proverbs 1:8). It is the expression of a loving
concern for the well-being of the one to whom it is directed. The God who
saves and shepherds us says: "Look, I love you enough to give you my law.
I love you enough to tell you what I am like, so that you can live and be
like Me. You are to be holy, because I am holy".
"Harden not your heart!" Oh, how serious is law in the purposes of God!
Massah and Meribah are here referred to, but in fact three stories are crammed
together in the exhortation of the psalm. There is the story of Exodus 17
of how they grumbled, and how God disregarded their unbelief and gave them
water. Then there is the story in Numbers 14 of how He commanded the spies
to search out the land and they refused to encourage God's people to go forward,
disbelieving God's promises and perishing in judgement. Then there is the
story in Numbers 20, when they came a second time into a waterless place.
God gave them water, but because Moses struck the rock in disobedience and
unbelief, God said that he and Aaron must forfeit the right to lead the
people into the land. How seriously does God take His law! How seriously
does He view disobedience!
A hard heart, according to this psalm, is an unbelieving heart and an
uninstructed heart. The three stories have unbelief as their common denominator.
The fathers were charged with testing God (v.9). When they came into the
[72/73] waterless place, instead of believing that
since God had brought them there, however unpromising the situation was, He
could be trusted to look after them, they made it a test-case for Him that
He must pass if He were to prove to them that He is God. They saw it as a
test because they disbelieved His ability. God loves a believing people,
and the hard heart is a disbelieving heart. What is more, it is an uninstructed
heart: "It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known
my ways" (v.10). They could have told you the whole story of how they came
out of the land of Egypt -- they knew all the obvious facts -- but they had
no vital knowledge of the ways of God. What they knew was not changing their
lives. Their hearts were still hard.
The Only God and His Gospel
Verse 2 of this Psalm can rightly be rendered: 'Preach the gospel of
His salvation from day to day', as can be seen from several modern translations.
This is a psalm about the great King and His gospel.
Looking at the shape of the psalm, we see that it starts off with a call
to the world to sing praises to God (v.1), and continues by giving a command
to the Church to spread the news of His saving grace (v.2). There then follows
an explanation: "For, or because, great is the Lord" (v.4). There is only
one God. The whole earth is called to worship Him and the Church is commanded
to set about telling others so that they can be delivered from the useless
nonentities they are worshipping, and the explanation is found in His unique
The pattern is then repeated. There is a world-wide call to worship --
"Give unto the Lord the glory due to his holy name" (vv.7-9); and then a
further command to the Church -- "Say among the nations, The Lord is King"
(v.10). God's people are to give to the world a message of sovereignty and
salvation. From verse 11 onwards this is again followed by an explanation.
It is that the King is coming -- "for he cometh" (v.13). He is coming to
set the world to rights, so men should get right with Him before He comes.
Psalm 95 found God's people rejoicing in salvation. Psalm 96 insists
that those who rejoice in salvation must go and share it with others, proclaiming
the good news of God's saving power among the nations. There are four elements
in this proclamation:
i. It is Good News of Revelation. The world is called upon to
bless "His name" (v.2). There is no place here for human speculation. They
are going to hear the revealed truth about God as His name is declared to
ii. It is Good News of Salvation. This is something which God
Himself has done, and in which His glory is manifested: "Show forth his
salvation ... Declare His glory among the nations, his marvellous works
among all the peoples" (vv.2-3). All may benefit from this mighty and glorious
act of salvation.
iii. It is Good News of Reconciliation. The message invites all
the earth to come by means of the appropriate offering right into the presence
of a holy God: "His courts are wide open to all who come by His appointed
way" (vv.8-9). What good news this is, the gospel of perfect reconciliation
through the blood of Christ!
iv. It is Good News of Expectation. There is an onward look. Having
looked back to God's saving acts, we can now look forward to His coming in
glory: "Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar
... let the field exult ... before the Lord, for he cometh ..." (vv.11-13).
Oh to be there on that day when the whole creation comes to life and the
curse is removed, as God brings in the glorious liberty of His children! Oh
to be there when the trees begin to sing because He is coming to set everything
to rights! May He come quickly! Even the sea is included in this rejoicing.
The last time we heard the sea roaring was in the first of this group of
psalms (Psalm 93), but when that day of His appearing comes, He will show
Himself as the almighty Victor, and even the turbulent sea will acknowledge
its Creator. The gospel brings good news of expectation for a needy world.
In Psalm 95 we began with singing. We sing of the only God who is so
much greater than all other gods and so wonderful to His own people. Psalm
96 begins with a threefold call for singing: "O sing ... sing ... sing".
The witnessing Church is a singing Church.
The Lord is King! Who then shall dare
Resist His will, distrust His care,
Or murmur at His wise decrees,
Or doubt His royal promises?
(To be continued) [73/74]
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
24. MINISTERING CHRIST (Chapter 15)
THIS chapter opens by pointing to the example of Christ and it closes
with the assurance of fullness of blessing in Christ. Every activity here
described is connected with the reminder that we have put on Christ (13:14).
1. The Example of Christ
The gospel demands that the strong do not please themselves, but patiently
help their weaker brothers. Both strong and weak are told to contribute to
the building up of the body of Christ by taking care to please one another.
Normally we are told not to please men, and if we do so it is usually because
we are also seeking to please ourselves rather than God (8:8), but in this
matter of the profit and edification of the Church we often have to accommodate
to and please one another. This is not to receive praise from men but to
avoid occasions of unchristlikeness in relationships.
Christ is our example and "even he did not please himself" (v.3). There
can hardly be a more concise description of the life of the Lord Jesus than
this simple statement. Having made it, the apostle goes on to point out that
it is in agreement with what is written, which means that such a spirit should
be found in us too, since the Scriptures were written for our benefit (v.4).
The original quotation in Psalm 69 refers to the servant of the Lord who
was so jealous for God's house that rather than cause any shame for God's
people He readily bore reproach Himself (Psalm 69:7 & 9). If we have put
on Christ, then we must act in the same way, and if our consideration for
the weak makes us the target of men's scorn, then we should bear it, knowing
that the real reproach is not on us but on the Lord.
Paul enlarges on this appeal to the Scriptures by lifting these rather
trivial matters of food and special days into the realm of the expression
of a patience which is "according to Christ" (v.5). The God of patience
has comforted us instead of impatiently writing us off, so we must treat
our brothers and sisters in the same way. By His grace we can be helped not
only to bear with what seem wholly unnecessary problems, but also to look
forward in hope to the great vision of perfect salvation in a perfect world
where foolish questionings will never again arise. "Wherefore receive ye
one another, even as Christ received you to the glory of God". Again Christ
is our example.
2. The Inclusiveness of Christ
Paul returns to the Scriptures to support his claim that what he writes
does not represent his personal opinion but the mind of God. Quotations from
the Psalms and elsewhere are given to show that God's work in Christ is
so radical that it has produced unity by reconciling the irreconcilable --
Jews and Gentiles. According to their own preferences, the different groups
will regard themselves as 'strong' or 'weak'. It does not matter. They are
all one in Christ. If this is so, then it seems obvious that relatively small
differences of opinion about food and drink should never divide those who
are truly in Christ.
Sometimes problems are most easily solved by not giving them too much
attention. This seems to be why Paul sums up the whole matter by his reference
to the God of hope (v.13). When men are filled with joy and peace in believing
and when they abound in hope by the Spirit's power, then the lesser things
become so small as to seem insignificant. This is the way by which the strong
and the weak can walk together hand in hand towards the great Day of Glory
which is now so near (13:11)
3. The Working of Christ
"I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye yourselves are
full of goodness ..." (v.14). Paul had a high opinion of the Roman Christians,
but this was due to his high opinion of Christ. He writes with confidence
about their goodness and spiritual ability, not because he had personal knowledge
which enabled him to evaluate them but because he knew the gospel and how
the power of Christ works in believers. He was encouraged to write to them
as he did since he knew that he was not giving them new information but
only putting them in remembrance of the gospel they already knew. He claimed
the right so to remind them because [74/75] God
had called and equipped him as a minister of Christ, and this letter was
a part of his job in his capacity of apostle.
In verse 16 he describes his ministry by attributing it to God and not
to himself. The whole Trinity was involved. God had given him the
grace of being a minister of Christ Jesus, and the offering he was
making was being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Paul was not out for
himself, not seeking to make proselytes for himself, but only glorying in
Christ. The Romans must not think that he wished to boast about himself in
any way, for the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed was simply a
demonstration of what Christ had wrought (v.18). He had fulfilled the preaching
of the gospel from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum (which is now Jugoslavia),
only because Christ had been working through him.
Paul seems to have been anxious to assert that he would never have dared
to speak of these great gospel triumphs if they had not been the work of
Christ Himself, but equally he would not have dared to write about them unless
Christ had done the works through him. He was not building on other men's
foundations (v.20). This care not to build on the work of others was not due
to personal ambition but rather to the special nature of his calling. In
order to be faithful to that calling, he was ambitious to preach the gospel
where no others had preached it. Most of us have to build on the foundation
of others. We are but individual members of a divine work force, links in
the chain of the Spirit's operations. Paul, however, was a "masterbuilder"
(1 Corinthians 3:10). This perhaps explains why he had so often been hindered
from visiting Rome, where the gospel was established, and certainly explains
why he was counting on their assistance when he pursued his apostolic journey
to Spain (v.24).
4. The Blessing of Christ
"I know that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the
blessing of Christ" (v.29). This confidence was entirely centred in Christ.
It had nothing to do with self-confidence, but simply voiced his conviction
that when Christ blesses, He does so in abundant measure. When Paul finally
came to Rome, it was a tired and worn-out man the Roman believers met (Acts
28:15), but this does not contradict his hope. The fullness of the blessing
of Christ must not necessarily be understood in terms of what is humanly
impressive. It can often be clothed in the utmost human weakness.
If a man is to be a channel of blessing, however, he needs the support
of praying friends, so Paul was not ashamed to beg that his brethren in
Rome should rally to his help in prayer. They might have been tempted to
argue that there was hardly any need to pray, for of course the saints in
Jerusalem would gratefully receive the gifts which Paul took them, but the
apostle urged them to take nothing for granted but strive together with him
in prayer over this matter. He knew better than they what conflict could
arise and how the saints can sometimes be so petty and narrow that they would
be discontented and contentious when they had most reason to be glad and
grateful. "Please strive", Paul said, but then he added: "Now the God of
peace be with you all. Amen." (v.33). This is the blessing of Christ -- peace
in the midst of conflict.
(To be continued)
THE SECRET OF DANIEL'S STRENGTH
Chapter IV. THE KING OF HEAVEN
"Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of Heaven.
THIS is surely the most remarkable chapter of this amazing book of Daniel.
It is unique in the whole Bible. It consists of a long explanation given
by a heathen king, and its main thrust is his confession of how God humbled
him. Two passages (vv.1-18 and 34-37) were clearly written by Nebuchadnezzar
In a sense this continues the theme of chapter [75/76]
3, namely that ours is The Most High God. Who else would dare to incorporate
into His own Holy Word a contribution by a man who was not only a non-Jew
but the ruler of the very pagan empire which had overthrown His people? And
who else would have taken so much time and trouble to instruct and correct
an individual whom we would have rejected as a complete outsider? More than
once in this chapter the title reappears: "The Most High God", and rightly
It naturally follows that this chapter, being unique, merits very special
consideration. It has a predictive element in it, as has the whole book of
Daniel apart from the first chapter, but it also carries a deeply spiritual
message, namely the peril of pride. As God taught Nebuchadnezzar the need
for humility, He doubtless intended it also for His beloved servant, Daniel,
and planned through him to impress it on all of us who are called to the
kingdom. Alas, we prefer sensational peeps into the future to solid moral
lessons and so tend to hasten on from this chapter as if it were of relative
unimportance. How foolish, though, to plunge on into a detailed speculation
about times and seasons when we should have been giving careful and prayerful
attention to the supreme matter of humility which is dealt with so graphically
in this chapter.
A Kingdom Issue
As is the case in so many of Daniel's prophecies, the basic point at
issue is the contrast between two opposing kingdoms. The divine title which
I have chosen for this present study is "The King of Heaven" (v.37), "whose
domain is an everlasting domain, and whose kingdom is from generation to
generation", as Nebuchadnezzar so convincingly stated. It is sometimes an
aid in Bible study to select or underline any words which recur a number
of times. By this means we can hope to discover the essential contents of
any given book. If this system be adopted in our consideration of Daniel,
the obvious repetitions are the words 'king' and 'kingdom'. This, then, is
what the book is all about.
The challenge and contrast of the two opposing kingdoms is clearly stated
in chapter 2, as we have already seen. This clash and contrast run right
through the book. Various figures rise and fall. They are the metal limbs
of an image; they are wild beasts; they are rams and goats; they are actual
men, whose geographical spheres are sometimes mentioned, and later they are
spiritual entities -- princes of the underworld. All of them form one essential
kingdom of this world, with "the prince of this world" (John 12:31) governing
and energising them. On the other hand there is another and a superior kingdom.
It is seen coming down from heaven (2:44) because it is heavenly in nature;
it is committed to the Son of Man because He is its rightful Ruler (7:14);
its representatives here on earth are assaulted and seemingly defeated for
a time (7:21 and 11:33), but in the end they will emerge triumphant to share
the kingdom (7:27) and shine as the stars for ever (12:3).
All this is found in the book as a whole. Chapter 4 makes it a very personal
matter, revealing the spirit of this world as embodied in one single man.
It is no accident that the man concerned was the ruler of Babylon, for from
Genesis to Revelation that name and that city express the essential characteristic
of the world, which is pride. At the decisive moment in this chapter, this
specimen of incarnate pride defies heaven by announcing that the great Babylon,
a world wonder, owed everything to him personally. He did this to God's face,
and in spite of the clear warning sent from heaven and interpreted clearly
to him by Daniel. This was the signal for the King of Heaven to act. He
did so and humbled the proud man to the very dust.
There is an astonishing frankness about Nebuchadnezzar's account of his
experience. It brought no glory to him, but the very reverse, yet he made
it as public as possible, without in any way attempting to excuse his own
behaviour or hide the nature of the divine discipline which overtook him.
There is a passage in the New Testament which reads: "Humble yourselves therefore
under the mighty hand of God" (1 Peter 5:6), and this is basically what
Nebuchadnezzar did. It seems that only God can humble, for we are all sons
of Adam who aspired to be like God. Nevertheless we are told to seek humility
and we must be prepared humbly to accept the hand of God when it brings us
low [76/77] in order to impart this divine quality
to us and to break down our natural pride. This hand came heavily upon the
king of Babylon, and in due course he accepted it and received the consequent
The warning about pride came to him in a dream which was then interpreted
for him by Daniel who, once again, was only called in after everybody else
had failed. It is true that when he did come he was welcomed. In accordance
with his pompous conceit the king praised Daniel (v.9), but in practice he
had tried all the others first, only calling in the prophet when the vaunted
wisdom of this world had exposed its total inability to give spiritual aid
to the troubled soul. The man of God often has to accept the sad fact that
his help is only sought as a last resort.
This time Nebuchadnezzar could remember his dream well enough but it
may have been pride which prevented him from appreciating its implications.
He could understand that men are exposed to the scrutiny of heaven but could
not credit that he -- the great world ruler -- was unacceptable to those
heavenly watchers. They told him that God's requisite for the man to whom
He would entrust His rule was that he must be "the lowliest of men " (v.17)
This is the better translation of what the A. V. translates as "the basest
of men". Humility is what God seeks. Nebuchadnezzar was told that since God
is the Most High, then His chosen servant must be the most lowly. The Lord
Jesus both taught this and demonstrated it in His Person. To Nebuchadnezzar
of Babylon this was quite unacceptable. After all, he had much to be proud
of. Had not God Himself described him as "the head of gold" (2:38)? True he
had erred over the matter of the fiery furnace, but he had eventually recognised
his error and had ascribed supreme greatness to the Most High God (3:26)
and even exerted his powers to make others do the same (3:29). He did not
believe that God would humble him in everybody's eyes, though he had to confess
that he was thoroughly frightened and needing help (v.5). The wise men either
did not know or did not want to know what it was all about. So it was left
to the faithful Daniel to speak the blunt truth.
No wonder that he hesitated before giving the interpretation. "All the
peoples, nations and languages feared before Nebuchadnezzar" (5:19), and
now it fell to Daniel to pass on to him a message of divine wrath. It was
a task just as daunting as his later facing of the hungry lions. However
he so feared the true king -- the King of Heaven -- that he could not allow
himself to be scared of this dreadful earthly monarch.
His behaviour does him great credit. He waited silently for a whole hour,
deeply troubled by what had been revealed. Having been urged to speak frankly
he did so, not only giving a true explanation of the dream but even sharpening
the force of the original, "that the living may know ..." to a more direct
and personal, "till thou know" (v.25). God's severe treatment was meant not
to be destructive but educative, with the one purpose of teaching the king
that it is the heavens that rule. Before the Most High God ""all the inhabitants
of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will
in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none
can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" (v.35). Daniel closed
his interpretation with an earnest and eloquent appeal to the king to seek
peace with God by repentance and change of life.
We see, then, how a spiritual man passes on God's message to the enquiring
sinner. He finds no pleasure and shows no zest in speaking of judgement;
indeed he prefers to remain silent and has to be urged to deliver his message.
He conveys a spirit of sympathy, and lets it be known that he has deep compassion
for the man at fault. Nevertheless he is frank, making no attempt to water
down God's warnings, but rather focusing their personal application down
to his hearer. In his boldness he is courteous, and in his appeal he is positive,
stressing God's desire to give a sure future to the penitent, and speaking
confidently of the possibility of his error being healed (v.27).
The king did not respond. In spite of the sensational message from heaven
and the passionate appeal from God's interpreter of it, the warning seemed
to be quite in vain. Daniel's pleas and prayers seemed quite unsuccessful.
He could therefore only do what all gospel witnesses have at times to do
-- wait. But he could wait with constant prayer, even though the full seven
years had to pass before the answer came.
Even before the seven years began, Daniel was doubtless praying, for
there was a whole year when nothing happened and his words received no vindication.
God has plenty of time, but his word is sure, as we see by the fact that
[77/78] He introduces the next section with the terse
statement: "All these things came to pass upon king Nebuchadnezzar" (v.8).
Not only was it true that God's year of grace was finished but also that He
found Himself forced to act in response to a new outburst of pride on Nebuchadnezzar's
"Is not this the great Babylon that I have built for the royal
dwelling place, by the might of my power and for the glory of
my majesty?" These were the king's words. Babylon was indeed the wonder
of the world. Humanly speaking the king had very much to boast of. We may
wonder why his words were so very provocative to God. Do they not verbalise
an attitude which is natural to us all in moments of success? Even though
Christians may not voice things quite so frankly, do they not at times indulge
in a measure of boasting about their work, their church,
their enterprise, or their spiritual success? God forgive us,
most of us have been guilty at some time or other of this kind of mentality!
Can it be that when we do so, we lose our heavenly reward, even as Nebuchadnezzar
promptly lost his kingdom? What a perilous area of life is Christian publicity!
We live in a Laodicean age. Let us beware of boasting of our collections or
our conversions. Perhaps it would do us all good to re-read Daniel 4 and take
its moral more to heart.
See the urgency of the warning. "While the word was yet in the king's
mouth" (v.31), "the same hour" (v.33), it happened. It happened after all.
It happened just as God had said it would. In one brief verse we are told
of the seven years of tragic degradation which befell the man who had seemed
so great and had felt so secure. The chapter might conceivably have ended
at this point. It must have seemed like the end. But the King of Heaven is
merciful as well as mighty, so there is a most blessed sequel to it all. When
God found the right response in the mad monarch's heart, He was able to restore
not only the balance of his mind but the lost glories of his state. When
God is given His rightful place, then everything else can be rescued from
At this point Nebuchadnezzar takes up the narrative again, making no
secret of the fact that he had been out of his mind. He blames no-one but
himself and demonstrates his return to sanity by a new acknowledgement of
the sovereign majesty of God: "None can stay his hand, or say unto him,
What doest thou?" (vv.34-35). The restoration was completed. His people
and courtiers rallied to him once more and he resumed his administration
of the great Chaldean world empire. The God who had so faithfully warned
him, now just as faithfully restored him.
At this point divine election and human decision meet, and who shall
reconcile them? Did the phase of insanity cease because God's time of seven
years was completed, or was the change brought about by Nebuchadnezzar's
lifting his eyes to heaven in submissive faith? What precipitated the conversion
from pride to humility? Did Nebuchadnezzar change his mind, or did God change
it for him, and if the latter, why did it take seven years for Him to do so?
How could a man in such a demented state of mind get right with God? These
are the constantly recurring problems of the theologian, but they are not
for us. We take the story as we find it and, like Nebuchadnezzar, give all
the glory to the Most High God.
Perhaps it will be more profitable for us to set aside the problem of
the king's clinical condition and just take him as an example of man's madness
in being alienated from God. The Lord Jesus hinted at this when He described
the prodigal's decision to return home as a result of "coming to himself"
(Luke 15:17). Pride is madness. Pride separates from God. God resists the
proud (1 Peter 5:5); "Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to
the Lord" (Proverbs 16:5); God only knows the proud afar off (Psalm 138:6).
The turning point for any such man, the moment when he really comes to himself,
is when he whole-heartedly capitulates, as Nebuchadnezzar did, to God's majesty
and mercy. This, surely, is the real message of the chapter to us all.
Who of us does not need to come under God's hand for humbling? The great
apostle confesses that he had to do so (2 Corinthians 12:7). The important
thing is to be willing to learn our lesson, and to do so with a new appreciation
of the privilege of being humble subjects of the King of Heaven. Humility
is enthroned in heaven in the Person of the Lord Jesus. He is the only One
who could truly claim to be "meek and lowly in heart". Humility is not just
a pleasant virtue: it is a fundamental requirement for those who are called
to share Christ's kingdom. God's hand upon us may seem heavy,
[78/79] but its one intention is to conform us to Christ.
He is able to do this. That is the final summing-up of the chapter. "All
his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he
is able to abase" (v.37). What a tremendous victory for God's grace when
a man who has been going through such a devastating experience as Nebuchadnezzar
can justify God in all his ways. It is a lesson to all complaining Christians.
And what an unusual employment of the much loved phrase: "He is able"! We
are familiar with the many verses which assure us that God is able, but here
is a most unusual use of the words: "He is able to abase"! Thank God that
He is, for we should never do it by ourselves. In this testimony Nebuchadnezzar
claims no distinction except shame for the humbled sinner. He attributes
no special credit, except compassion, to the preacher of God's Word. No, all
the glory is reserved for God Himself, and for His combination of wisdom,
power and love which produced the miracle of conquered pride.
One last point, which is typical of the God of all grace, is that after
his humbling, Nebuchadnezzar was able to report that "still more greatness"
had been added to him (v.36). In other words, the king was enriched as well
as God being glorified by those strange years when he had eaten grass like
an ox, had hair like eagles' feathers and nails like birds' claws. Human
reasoning would have called them wasted years. They were far from that. However
great the cost and however long the discipline, nothing is wasted if it brings
a man into humble faith relationship with the King of Heaven.
So we are confronted with an inspiring challenge. In our search for greater
humility we must submit ourselves anew to that Hand of love which is upon
us to teach us more kingdom meekness. Our testing will be different from
and probably less than, what came upon Nebuchadnezzar. Can we come through
it with new awareness of His greatness as the King of Heaven, and testify
in the face of it all that "all his works are right and his ways are just"?
If so then this to us will be that knowledge of God which makes us strong
and able to do exploits.
(To be continued)
RECOVERY OF LIFE'S CUTTING EDGE
Roger T. Forster
Reading: 2 Kings 6:1-7
THE background to this story is that Elijah and Elisha in their spiritually
unified ministry, reflecting Christ and His Church endowed by the Spirit,
had seen something of revival begin amongst the apostate Northern Kingdom
of Israel. One major feature of this was the rise of the sons of the prophets
and their wives -- men and women who wished to embody the prophetic word
of God and relate to Elijah and Elisha as children learning God's way of family
In 1 Kings 20, the days of Elijah, there seemed to be just a few of these
sons of the prophets in evidence. In 2 Kings 2, when Elijah was translated,
there appear to have been fifty or so near at hand. In 2 Kings 4:1 mention
is made also of their wives, and 4:43 indicates that there were over one
hundred present in the community's life. Now in this sixth chapter of 2 Kings,
we are told that the place where they were living was too small for such a
growing community. It was this growth that occasioned the event of the building
of a larger campus, with the subsequent loss of the axe head into Jordan
in the course of the building operation.
One wonders if some modern Elisha, if appealed to under such circumstances,
might have urged the workers not to worry about the loss of the cutting edge
but to press on with God's work. As if to suggest that they should keep
chopping with the axe handle, persevering and perspiring in their efforts
to keep things going at all costs. Before we ask what the lost axe head represents,
what the cutting edge of growth and church building is all about, it is important
to remember that spiritual revival and growth is connected with the Biblical
principle of community life. This is a truth not only illustrated
[79/80] by the sons of the prophets in the days of Israel's apostasy,
but throughout the whole church age. We are all aware of the beginning of
the New Testament church in Jerusalem, with its spontaneous, voluntary, communal
living, so that "All that believed were together and had all things common.
No man called what he possessed his own, and there was none who had need"
(Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-34).
The Irish Missionary movement was made up of small communal bands, both
from Catholics and from the Unitas Fratrum, a pre-reformation Biblical
movement. Anabaptists, Moravians and Methodist class meetings are all in
the same stream of those who saw the need of some form of living and sharing
together. Going back to the New Testament it seems from Romans 16 that the
church in the great metropolis of Rome certainly had house group cells, five
of which are mentioned in that chapter.
It is in the smaller congregations that body life can most adequately
be experienced. Many churches are inspirational in their singing, free and
fulfilling in their worship, profound in their teaching and active in their
organised outreach, all essential elements in the Christian life. Too often,
however, the factor that is missing is the life-changing business of becoming
more like our Lord Jesus, that is, "being conformed to the image of his Son".
Yet this is really the heart of God's purpose in the churches. Failure in
Christ-like growth among believers is a serious hindrance to Church growth
as a whole.
IF we return now to our story[, one] of the sons of the prophets [was]
standing by the Jordan, bewailing the loss of his axe head. His concern
was not just over the loss of the tool, but that it was borrowed or, "asked
for as a gift" (the Hebrew word means either). It represented a valued relationship.
A present is a way of giving yourself; on the other hand, if something is
borrowed, it means that you owe to another and are valuable to him. This
kind of relationship was now at the bottom of the river of death. He could
not afford to leave it there, and nor can we, for we all grow into Christ
"from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which
it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and
upbuilds itself in love" (Ephesian 4:16).
Consequently Elisha had to recover what had been lost in Jordan. Firstly
he 'put in' a stick and then the man concerned 'put in' a hand to take hold
of the axe head which 'flowed' (Hebrew) within reach as a result. The miracle
was one of resurrection. It reminds us of Christ's death as He "bore our
sins in his body on the tree". That stick in Jordan was perhaps a picture
of Christ's baptism in Jordan, which itself pointed on to the reality of Calvary.
By His resurrection power, the Lord is able to raise my lost relationship
with my Christian brother into a life with a renewed cutting edge.
IF we are to be effective in a building work for God in this world, we
need each other, and we need each other in the closeness of shared life
in Christ. Our relationship in smaller groups exposes us to one another
in a way which is often not possible in the large celebration gatherings.
It is in this kind of related life that we discover how much we need Christ's
death and resurrection to make and maintain the flow of the love of God
towards each other. When functioning on my own I can easily forget how much
I need the life-giving experience of fellowship in the Spirit. As in the
process of fellowship some experience of death comes in, then I am made
aware of my own powerlessness and am driven to turn to the Lord of resurrection
who alone can provide the answer. He alone can raise the iron, but I must
put out my hand and grasp His resurrection miracle.
By means of this discovery of need and appropriation of Christ's answer
through His cross, I am able to have a new relationship with my brother in
the community of Christ, and by this means to grow into deeper Christ-likeness
in the love of the Spirit. That is why Jesus said: "First be reconciled to
your brother" before you offer your service (Matthew 5:24). Your service
in building for God will then have a new cutting edge.
Can this story explain why some of us may have grown so little during
the years of our Christian lives? Ignorantly we may have laboured on, leaving
the axe head of relationship with our brothers at the bottom of Jordan and
trying vainly to get on with God's work of building while it lies there in
death. This is one realm in which we may be failing to experience Christ's
resurrection power. We are meant so to discover that resurrection life in
our contacts with one another, that each ministers the life and virtues of
Christ to the other. If we think such harmony of fellowship is impossible,
let us remember that 'the iron did swim'! [80/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (26)
"(all which things are to perish with the using)"
THIS is a contemptuous parenthesis. In a few words, the apostle sweeps
away as temporary and virtually irrelevant a whole system of pious observances
so precious to those who lack a vital enjoyment of close communion with Him
whom Paul calls "The Head" (v.19).
IT is a notable fact that as soon as Christ ceases to be central and
supreme to Christians, they begin to give exaggerated importance to outward
observances. At times these are connected with special days -- mere shadows,
Paul calls them (v.16-17). Not seldom they relate to food and drink, and
sometimes they even focus down to the emblems used at the Lord's Table.
One might think it unlikely or even impossible that Christians should quarrel
about the two simple elements, bread and wine, but often they have done so,
and sometimes they still do.
PAUL'S parenthetic reference to what happens to food and drink after
they have been assimilated might seem coarse to us if it had not first been
spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself. "Such things", He said, "after they have
been eaten or drunken are expelled from the body as waste products" (Mark
7:19). This is what Paul meant by his parenthesis concerning things 'perishing
with the using'. What folly to allow such 'rudiments of the world' to affect
our spiritual life!
THIS does not mean that we can be careless about such matters when they
cause others to stumble -- far from it. Paul himself wrote that he would
gladly forego legitimate food if there were any danger of being a menace to
another's faith. For my part, I feel certain that in a society like ours,
where alcoholism is a major evil, the apostle would have been a total abstainer,
as many of us are.
THE danger associated with such abstinences or observances is that some
spiritual values should be attributed to them, as though something in addition
to simple faith was needed to enjoy acceptance with God. This makes the Christian
life consist of 'Jesus plus ...'. It does not! Christ, and Christ alone
is the sole and sufficient basis of our acceptance with God. It is a common
human failing to grasp at some rudiment or element, as the Colossians were
inclined to do. We like to see and touch things, instead of having them solely
by faith. The trouble about such actions is that they not only hinder the
purity of personal faith, they also have a divisive effect on Christian fellowship.
PAUL closes this chapter with the positive affirmation that all such
prohibitions or observances are, in themselves, quite powerless to deliver
us from carnality. Only the cross of Christ can do that.
"HEAVEN AND EARTH SHALL PASS AWAY;
BUT MY WORDS SHALL NOT PASS AWAY."
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