"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 13, No. 4, July - Aug. 1984 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Absolute Priority 61
Life's Repetitions 64
Further Studies From Mark's Gospel (2) 67
The Faith Of Abraham [Hebrews] (10) 73
"Hail, Abraham's God And Mine!" (1) 76
Why Are We Where We Are? 79
Old Testament Parentheses (10) ibc



Harry Foster

"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord.
" Acts 15:38

THE psalmist did not mean that for him life consisted of just one thing. It was rather a question of priorities. Nor do his words signify that he was asking to go to heaven, for what he wanted belonged to this life in which he still needed help from his enemies. The true import of his words, as they come down to us through the Scriptures, is that here on earth there is an experience in "the house of the Lord" in which we can enjoy some real appreciation of the loveliness of Christ.

Note carefully that such an experience, though truly personal, is described as being in close association with the rest of God's people. Which Tent was David referring to? Or was he looking forward to the Temple which was yet to be built? It does not matter for, all through the Scriptures, from Jacob's vision at Bethel (Genesis 28:17), through Tents and Temples, through the spiritual temple of the Church and into the eternal glory of Revelation, the essential feature of God's house is that it consists of the spiritual enjoyment of fellowship with God -- not "A Fellowship" that men have set up, but the fellowship in which God's sovereignty appoints us all a place.

Now it so happens that from time to time in a Christian gathering, we may be caught up in an overwhelming sense of the great beauty of Christ. Such a glimpse of glory may be rare but it is very real, as I myself can testify, and it is by no means necessarily associated with eloquent preaching. What I would like to suggest here, though, is that the "one thing" which is to be sought is not so much an inward vision of the Lord as an inward transformation into His likeness. As Paul wrote: "We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18) and as we used to sing:

Be like Jesus, this my song,

In the home and in the throng;

Be like Jesus, all day long:

   I would be like Jesus.

This was the prayer of Moses -- truly a Christlike man -- "Let the beauty of our God be upon us" (Psalm 90:17). This is the feature which must have absolute priority for all of us at all times. Above all else it must be "the one thing".

In the New Testament there are at least three references which take up this theme of the "one thing". They are Luke 18:22, "One thing thou lackest", Luke 10:42, "Only one thing is needed", and Philippians 3:13, "But one thing I do ...". These are all the same thing. It seems to cover all age groups, the young ruler, the mature housewife and the ageing apostle. What is this one thing? What is the absolute priority above all else from the first step of faith in Christ to the final stages of service for Him? Surely it is Christlikeness, the beauty of the Lord in the human soul.

1. The Rich Young Ruler

Seeing that the Evangelist's subject matter was carefully chosen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how came it that all three synoptic Gospels record the sad story of the great refusal? What can we Christians learn from it? No-one will suggest that the Bible teaches us that a person must give up all his possessions if he wishes to experience eternal life. Why was the noble enquirer so challenged? And what is the "treasure in heaven" which might have been his?

Some have suggested that in this way the Lord Jesus was reminding the ruler of the commandment which had not been included in the list, namely, "Thou shalt not covet". But can it seriously be thought that if the man had answered that challenge by giving away all his possessions, he would then be able to claim that he was keeping the whole law and therefore eligible for eternal life? That cannot be. That is not the gospel. It was not just that he had kept nine of the commandments and lacked just this one to be "perfect", but the thrust of what the Lord said was that the young man was missing the whole point. [61/62]

It is a reasonable explanation that the significance of these words could have been to destroy the enquirer's self-confidence and bring home to him the fact that after all he was a sinner. The Lord deals with each one of us as individuals and perhaps this drastic demand was necessary to make the point. But what does it mean to us? And again I ask, what is the "treasure in heaven" which we all do well to covet? Can it be that the Spirit's purpose in thrice recording this incident was to alert all of us to this issue of the one thing! And is not that one thing, likeness to Christ? That is the one item of value that we can take with us to heaven.

Would I be regarded as fanciful if I suggested that the affluent young man would have liked nothing better than to share his riches with Jesus? It was obvious to him that this "Good Master" whom he greatly respected was a very poor man. He might well have felt that if only Jesus could put him right about this matter of his having a place in God's kingdom, he would make it his business to see that the Lord was well provided for. In other words, he wanted Jesus to be more like himself. Before we criticise him for this, let us ask ourselves if it is not our own tendency to try to bring the Lord down to our level, to expect Him to accommodate Himself to our way of life. "No", says Jesus. "The one thing of supreme importance, the only thing which really matters, is that you should become like Me." For this young man it seems that the cost was too great, and so, for the time being at any rate, he turned his back on eternal life, for what is eternal life but likeness to Jesus?

Some people like to think that this young ruler was Saul of Tarsus. If that were so, it would be the happiest of sequels to a very sad story, but we have no evidence to support this idea. In any case, though, Saul did grasp what this man rejected and what, alas, we often ignore, that at all times and in every circumstance, the good deeds we do, even for God, can have no value if Christlikeness is not our number one priority. For him it was well worthwhile to forego values on earth in order to carry into eternity a genuine inward knowledge of Christ.

2. Martha of Bethany

Before we consider Paul further, however, we need to ask what we can learn from the Lord's reminder to Martha that there is one thing needful. Matthew and Mark tell us nothing of this incident at Bethany, for it was a private occasion at which they were not present. John does not describe it either, but he permits himself the illuminating information that "Jesus loved Martha ..." (John 11:5). Luke was the man who made his own enquiries and seemingly enjoyed the confidence of godly women-folk, including Mary the mother of Jesus. We may therefore presume that it was Martha who told him the story against herself. It is most unlikely that Mary would have exposed her sister in such a bad light.

It all came to the surface because of Martha's impatient remonstrance with the Lord. No doubt before her outburst she had already given hints of her grievance by loud sighs and clashing dishes. At last, however, she could bear it no longer and impulsively tried to tell the Lord what He ought to do: "Bid her therefore that she help me" (Luke 10:40). Mary could quite reasonably have spoken before this saying, "Lord, bid my sister that she stop creating such an atmosphere and comes and sits down at Your feet with me", but that would also have been telling the Lord what to do, and those who truly sit at His feet do not do that.

"Tell her what to do," demanded Martha. "Tell me what to do" requested Mary, choosing that "better part" which is the one thing needful. Alas, so many of us become preoccupied with the weaknesses of others and so ready to pray that the Lord will tell them what to do, that we are in danger of failing to give priority to the state of our own hearts; we can be hot with zeal for the Lord but sadly lukewarm in our personal love to Him. How often in a tense situation we pray, "Tell her, Lord" or "Tell him, Lord", whereas our better part would have been to pray, "Please tell me, Lord!" One of the outstanding features of Christlikeness is the listening ear: "He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught. The Lord hath opened mine ear ..." (Isaiah 50:4-5) said the great Servant of the Lord. "I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me, I speak these things" (John 8:28) was how the Lord Jesus described this experience.

In any case the Lord did indicate to Martha what she ought to do and He did so with a mild rebuke and this stress on the "one thing". One thing, notice! Only one thing! That was when it was contrasted with the relatively good things about which Martha was so troubled but were now exposed as being of lesser value. So once [62/63] again it was a question of priorities. To us it comes with startling impact, especially if we are sincerely active in our service for the Christ. Are we in danger of ignoring the supreme background for all service, which is likeness to Christ? The last word on this subject is found in eternity where it is said: "His servants shall do him service; and they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads" (Revelation 22:4). The essential joy of our future service in eternity will be the fact that it is based on true conformity to His likeness. It was with this destiny in view that the Holy Spirit prompted Luke to record this homely story of service and the spirit in which it is done. None of us needs to enquire why it was written, for the thrust of its message comes readily home to our own consciences.

No doubt at the time Martha had felt sure that she was in the right. When there are differences or clashes in our fellowship relationships, we may well feel that our opinions or actions are right. The real question, though, is whether we are showing a Christlike spirit. If not, we are wrong even when we are right!

3. The Imprisoned Apostle

The governing purpose of Paul's life is declared in what he wrote to his friends in Philippi: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings ... Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended; but one thing I do ... I press on towards the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:10-14). The apostle knew that the end which God had in view for him was complete conformity to His Son:

"Christ is the path, and Christ the prize."

This is the "treasure in heaven" of which Jesus spoke, this is the one thing that matters -- to be conformed to the image of Christ. The "one thing" which mattered to Paul was not relief from suffering or deliverance from prison but a growing realisation of the beauty of Jesus.

His words may be specially relevant to those of us who are growing old for, when he wrote them, he realised that for him the end of earth's labours might be near (Philippians 2:17) and indeed he truly wished that he might be taken Home to glory (1:23). As a matter of fact he still had to be willing to live on both because God still had a work to do through him and also a work to do in him. And he would learn while he worked, as we should all do.

I believe that this may partly explain why God's servants, like Paul himself, can be reduced to seeming inactivity when they would so love to go on doing some work for God which had long been of great importance to them.

It may also explain why some who -- like the apostle -- would much rather depart to be with Christ have to go on into their eighties and nineties. There are still more lessons to be learned, more treasure in heaven to be acquired. My dear friend and colleague, George Taylor, who himself suffered long months of ill health before going to be with Christ, used to correct my occasional impetuous wishes that the Lord would take some ailing saint Home to heaven with the rebuke, "Remember, Harry, that God is always working with eternity in view". How right he was, and how important it is for all of us, especially as we grow older, still to concentrate on the one thing which we will take with us into eternity, namely, Christian character.

But the apostle was not only speaking to the elderly. He was not merely describing a proper terminal spiritual attitude, but setting forth what had long been his principle of life and what should be the governing concern of every Christian. From the first step of faith (which the rich young ruler refused to take) until the last period of our life and ministry, the psalmist's concern about the beauty of the Lord should be given absolute priority.

This is more than a matter of mere meditation or passive contemplation, as Paul shows by his energetic statement: "This one thing I do ...". We have got to work at it and realise that it requires close association with the house of the Lord. Made impatient by the imperfections in our assembly, we may at times be tempted to withdraw from active fellowship, but we must beware lest in doing so we virtually opt out of the pursuit of Christlikeness. We look forward, and rightly so, to the moment when we shall see the Lord and then be like Him, but the man who has this hope is called to keep working away at positive conformity to Christ until that day comes (1 John 3:3).

The connection between this priority and the house of the Lord has a double significance. Firstly, that the discipline and costliness of practising fellowship in the place where God has located us is the very means by which we can learn to grow more Christlike. Within this realm of corporate church life we may encounter provocations [63/64] which will produce unexpected ugliness in ourselves. Painful as this may be, it will be very valuable if we only stick at it, for we will be forced to turn afresh to the Lord Jesus so that we may learn of Him who is meek and lowly in heart. We must not run away from such disclosures. The psalmist speaks not of just visiting the house of the Lord occasionally, but of dwelling there. Like the Lord's command that we should abide in the true Vine, this is not always easy, put it is most rewarding.

The second point is that in the house of the Lord we are meant to see more of the beauty of the Lord in our fellow worshippers. We must not miss this, but we will do so if we allow our attention to be wrongly focused upon some natural trait in them rather than what is the grace of Christ. Not that we are asked to pretend blindness to the failings of others, though incidentally we rather tend to expect them to overlook our faults. No, it is not a question of unreality or artificiality, but rather of making constant efforts to catch a glimpse of the Lord's beauty in our fellow Christians. If we look for it, it is usually there. When we do that, and truly appreciate what we see of the grace of Christ in others, our desire to identify with the psalmist will constantly grow and, all unknown to ourselves, we will be "transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).



Poul Madsen

"Again, on the morrow John was standing, and two of his disciples;
and he looked upon Jesus as he walked, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
" John 1:35-37

THIS passage of Scripture starts with the little word "again". The word speaks of repetition, and life consists of repetitions. We can make them dull and dead, a mere routine, or we can make them wonderful new character builders, because living repetition is what produces perseverance and steadfastness. The manna was repeated day by day throughout almost forty years. The Israelites gathered it again and again, getting up in the morning, going out into the fields, stooping down to the ground and picking it up. Was it just a dull monotony, or was it a daily miracle?

It is true that the Israelites often found it irksome, but that was their own fault. They said, "Is there nothing else than this manna? Must we have it again and again?" Quite often I hear people talking like that. Are we going to a meeting again? Are we going to pray again? Are we going to have another convention? They complain about what is to be "again". It is up to us, however, to make the repetitions of life a means of building up a character of perseverance and strength. Nowadays repetitions are not appreciated, for superficial people cry out for novelty. They do not like the word "again", but always want something different. So it is that believers run here and there, living a shallow life instead of having their characters built up by the daily repetition of the essential things of life. Novelties quite often provide escape from the path of duty. It takes real determination to do the same thing in a new way day after day.

Here was John the Baptist again. He did not seem to be interested in variety, as such. He was centred in God, and therefore he had no need for novelties. He concentrated on the will of God day by day, remaining in the spot where God wanted him to be, content to be in the place which God had appointed for him. John was ready to do things again and again, and yet again. You could always find him in the place of duty, and that is just the place where you can always find God. If you want to meet with God, then remain at the place of your duty. Learn to persevere; learn to do the same thing again and again in a living way. Do not seek after novelties, but live day by day with God and for God in the place of duty.

So it was that John stood "again", presenting us with a picture of a man as God wants man to be; a man of strength, of steady character and [64/65] reliability. In our hearts we know that a person should be like that. Those who are always running after the latest thing can seldom be relied upon. They will often be where they ought not to be; they cannot be found where they are needed in the will of God. They themselves imagine that they are seeking God, but if they seek Him in the wrong place, they should not be surprised if they do not find Him. So often God is to be found in the place of the everyday duties of life.

We may ask what John was doing on that most important day. We know that two days before he had had a wonderful experience, and that was a great day for him when he baptised his Lord and saw the Spirit of God come upon Him. "On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (v.29). That for him was a great day of testimony. Now what would happen on this next day? Would it not be an anticlimax? The days before had been full of the wonderful glory of the Lord, and now, what could he expect today? He could not count on the same experience and yet, in spite of that, he came to the same place again. Why had he done this? Because in true life every day is unique in its own right. Every day links us to the past, and yet every new day offers us something hitherto unknown. Every day we can rightly say, "This is the day of the Lord", and if we face it in that spirit we shall be grateful for the repetitions. This is the day of the Lord, therefore I read my Bible. I have done it a thousand times before, but this day it will be unique. This is the day of the Lord and therefore we meet together. We have done it hundreds of times before and may imagine that we know all about fellowship; nevertheless this time will be unique. This is life for today. So John was on the same spot, not to repeat his yesterday but to live the new day fully for the Lord. John shows us how to redeem time. If we do this, then time gives us something, but if we allow time to pass by in dull repetition, then we not only lose the day but lose something in our own character.

WE do not know what John had done that day until the tenth hour but one thing is certain, he did not just speak of his experiences of yesterday. He had faith enough to keep quiet and to concentrate on the Lord, waiting for what was new and then for what he should speak. John is a wonderful example of little activity but tremendous power; he was never found on the periphery of things but always in their very centre; living hour by hour with God and only speaking and acting out of a new living experience of Christ. So we are told that he looked upon Jesus and then spoke.

Jesus had not repeated His approach of the previous day. Then he had actually come to him, which was wonderful, whereas this day it says that John looked on Him "as he walked". This was a new way, yet John was not disappointed with the Lord for passing by, but only took a fresh look at Him as He did so and then drew attention to Him. He made no demands on the Lord; he did not try to tell Him how to walk; he just took a fresh look at Him and then was able to speak of Him with effective power. What is preaching but this, looking afresh on the Lord and then speaking fresh, warm words about Him? We may even say the same words about Him. It may appear to be only a repetition. We may have spoken about the Lord so often but, if before speaking we have been allowed to see Him in a new way, then there will be power in our words. This is the secret of preaching, to live every day so that the repetitions are ever new, to look afresh on the Lord Jesus, and then to speak. We need no more than that; but we cannot do with less.

This was why John had both a message and a testimony. He could say "Behold" because that was just what he himself had been doing. He called others to see what he could see. Everyone who really sees the Lord reacts either directly or indirectly with a cry, "Behold". We must concentrate on the Lord Jesus. In the midst of everyday life with all its repetitions, we must take a new look at the Lord, and the repetition becomes new life. Go into your room alone and behold the Lord. Come together with others for worship, and behold the Lord. Go and listen to His Word, not as a matter of routine but in order to meet Him in that Word. In this way every day and every experience can be unique.

It was not man who had taught John that Jesus was the Lamb of God. As he pursued his duty, lived with the repetitions of life always being prepared for God's surprises, light came to him from heaven. If you are prepared to be faithful in daily repetitions then God can meet you with new revelations, things which you would never discover if you were running round looking for novelties. Sometimes the Lord will come to [65/66] you in one way and then He will show Himself in some other way, but you will get to know Him and so you will have a vital testimony and so be able to point others to the Saviour.

On the previous day John had given his testimony, saying "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world". Until then John had been preaching about people's sins. Sins were a problem and he knew that they could be forgiven. After this experience, though, he realised that the real problem was deeper than the remission of sins, for it consists not only in what the world does but what the world is. This brought home to John that his own ministry was insufficient and that the ministry of Christ was more profound, getting to the heart of the matter. To take away sins is not really to solve the problem if sin itself remains. So John learned something which no human reasoning could have taught him, that the Lamb of God had come to take away the sin of the world, to take away the satanic element in humanity, the self-dependence, the self-sufficiency and the pride.

THAT was yesterday, but this day he had another emphasis, not this time on the work of the Lamb but on His person. "Behold the Lamb of God!" he dared not say more. He did not multiply words, he did not try to give explanations; he had seen something which no human words could explain, even the wonderful person of our adorable Lord. Whenever you see Christ in this way, you feel the need to keep quiet in case you spoil what you have seen by too many words. The Lamb is too great for words -- you only want to point to Him. Such an experience so dominates your whole being, your thoughts, ideas, emotions, will, conscious life, subconscious life, the depth of your personality in an overwhelming manner which seems to make talk impossible. You can talk about His work of bearing away sin, but the greatness of His Person is such that it leaves you speechless. You marvel at the grace of God which has given you such a glimpse of God's Lamb.

Like John, you will be so thankful that you went back again to the same place, doing the same duty, for it was there that you had this new vision of Him. Yesterday was wonderful, but today is unique. You live. You enjoy fresh life, right up-to-date. You have found such fullness in His presence that you do more than make a sermon, you are left with a testimony. You do not have to live in the past; you do not have to wait for the future; you see Him today and you see Him as you repeat what you have done times without number, just return to the place of duty and stand there for the Lord. Such a stand is what makes a man, a real man or a real woman. We cannot do without our duties. We cannot do without our responsibilities. We cannot do without our repetitions. If we can rightly grasp the significance of this word "again", we will find that we are enabled to see the Son of God in a new way, day by day.

I think that this daily life of routine and repetition is a wonderful gift of God. We miss opportunities for surprises when we run around looking for novelties. We need to gather our inner powers to stand steadily in our daily duties, for so we may expect to find the Lord in new ways. The Bible is the same book, and yet to us it becomes a new book. Prayer is the same exercise and yet it becomes something quite new. Fellowship may seem to call for mere repetition, but it becomes totally new. Words may be the same, and yet they can be the means of a totally new experience of the divine freshness of God's grace.

The Germans have a saying: "Happiness is where you are not!" This is not true. Happiness is just where you are -- in your kitchen, in your office, at your hospital -- if you are there with God. Today you can behold the Lamb of God. Today others can be inspired to follow Christ by the testimony which emerges from your enrichment as you persevere in life's repetitions.

*    *    *

"And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. "

THESE two men were involved in the repetitions of life too. They were not in the foreground like John, being rather overshadowed by this great master of theirs, but that was how it all began for them also. No doubt these two had done many small things in their daily service for John, and now they stood there again with him, and it was thus that a great opportunity came their way. Why did it come? Because they were steadily carrying on where they ought to be. Great opportunities arise in the repetitions of life when people are found in their God-appointed place in daily faithfulness.

It says that these two men heard John speak. They had heard him speak hundreds of times in all probability. They may have woken up rather [66/67] tired that morning and wondered whether it was really necessary for them to go to be with John again. They may have thought: "Cannot we take a day off today? Must we listen to him again? We have heard him so often." Happily they rejected ideas of a change and as it happened, though they may have heard him speak often before, they had never heard that inspiring cry: "Behold the Lamb of God." What they would have missed if they had not been ready to be in their place once again!

Those few words revolutionised their whole lives and it all happened because they were willing to go on with daily repetition. The verse says that they heard John speak, but we know that what they really heard was the voice of God, calling their attention to His Lamb. They were there, and so they heard. And what is more, they followed. "Following", a keynote of John's Gospel, involves leaving everything. It is a total break with one's own ways, a total farewell to one's own conception of life, a total renunciation of personal ideas and interests. It means giving up the right to direct one's own ways; and this is what they did.

Following, however, means more than this; it means serving, as Jesus said: "If any man serve me, let him follow me" (John 12:26). Indeed following is essential if we are to serve, since service means more than general activity for Him. Our conception of service can be quite mistaken, as though it were some special task reserved for Sundays. That would mean that the rest of the time is not service, and we serve the Lord for certain hours and perhaps for certain days, and the rest is time off from service. Such a conception is quite wrong.

These two followers became servants, members of the very inner circle of those whom the Lord Jesus appointed to be with Him. We must be impressed at the tremendous result which came from John the Baptist's faithfulness in daily repetition, with his wonderful testimony and simple message. He did not urge these two disciples of his to make a decision. He did not even tell them to follow the Lamb. He simply said, "Behold the Lamb of God". Such a message, coming from vital experience and vision is enough. When Christ is truly revealed that revelation constitutes a call; yes, and more than a call, for something happened inside those two as they saw the Lord. Life and power touched their spirits and they became new men. I am not sure that they said, "let us follow the Lamb". I am not sure that they made a decision so much as just doing it. The Scripture does not tell us that they decided to follow Jesus or that they started to do so. Human decisions can so easily break down and human actions peter out. Drawn on by divine power, they followed, and they kept on following; they never stopped because the initiative had not come from them but was a gift from above.

We may ask what John felt about this. He had lost his two disciples. That is true, but it is not the whole truth, for really we keep what we lose for the Lord. The only way of keeping is by letting go to Him. We are not told that the two said, "Goodbye" or that John wished them to do so. When we see the Lord Jesus we do not want to keep our possessions, our disciples or our ambitions; we find fullness in Him alone. So far as John was concerned, this happy result of his being there that day "again" filled his heart with pure joy.



J. Alec Motyer

2. Mark 8:22 to 9:29

OUR passage begins with what must be one of the most amazing changes or transformations to be found in the Bible. There was the situation when, with what might well have been called despair, the Lord asked His disciples, "Do ye not yet understand?" to be followed by Peter's statement, which must have delighted His heart, when he affirmed, "You are the Christ!" So far as we can work out the chronology, it all happened in a brief space of time, not years or months but probably days. In fact the transformation was greater than could be measured by time; it was miraculous. It was the result of a taking away of spiritual blindness and an impartation from on high of a revelation of true knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. [67/68]

Revelation a Miracle

Looking back on the Gospels we are inclined to marvel at, and even criticise, the dull slowness of mind of the disciples. We tend to be astonished that they could not seem able to see who He was in spite of all that He did to declare His name and His nature. As we know, all the Gospels lay great stress on the "feeding" miracles of the Lord Jesus, and yet see the sad comment passed on them after the first of them: "They understood not concerning the loaves, but their heart was hardened" (6:52). Now, so soon after, when the four thousand had been fed and the disciples had forgotten to take bread, He had to ask them: "When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets did you take up?" and receive their answer "Twelve". He went on: "When I broke the seven among the four thousand, how many baskets did you take up?" And they said, "Seven". It was then that the Lord had to demand of them, "How is it that you do not yet understand" (v.21). How could they have missed it? Who but God can create bread just like that? Who was it who gave manna in the wilderness and who is now the true bread from heaven? And yet they did not understand. Yet a few verses after we find Peter declaring, "Thou art the Christ" (v.29). The miracle of revelation had happened. It was an act of God.

Let us consider a few of the many Scriptures about this matter of revelation. "Who has believed our report? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (Isaiah 53:1). It is not just a matter of hearing a message, says Isaiah, if anyone is going to believe then there will have to be a great unveiling. The veil must be taken away, for that is what the word "reveal" really means. There has to be an uncovering not only of the subject to be seen but also an uncovering of the mind of the observer. It is not the capacity of the wisdom of men to observe the truth of God; it has to be a revelation from God, a bringing to light and illumination of the understanding.

We turn over to the New Testament. The matter of revelation is a rich and clear vein of truth running right through, but it is stated in a negative way by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14. Writing of the natural man, that is to say, man as he is, untouched by any special movement of the Spirit of God, unaided from heaven he affirms: "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, and he cannot know them." So there is more to it than that he does not know them, there is also a "cannot". There is a human helplessness involved, related to a deep natural incapacity which nothing in us can overcome. There is this "cannot" -- "he cannot know them".

Passing on into 2 Corinthians we read: "Seeing it is God who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Into all this darkness and blindness and incapacity the wonder has taken place: God has acted. Just as the darkness which shrouded those early days of the creative work of God contained in itself no capacity to produce light, and the Creator came and said: "Let there be light" and light was, so there is a darkness of man's soul and a need which cannot be met by any effort of ours or of others, but the same God has shined in our hearts. This is the miracle of revelation.

The Revelation of Christ

Now we come back to our passage in Mark and see how beautifully Mark covers this truth. The parallel passage in Matthew reads: "Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi and asked his disciples, 'Who do men say that the Son of man is?'" (Matthew 16:13). If we compare Mark 8:27 with this, we read: "Jesus went forth with his disciples into the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples saying: 'Who do men say that I am?'." Clearly we are dealing with the same incident. Knowing that His time had come to go to Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus determined to have a long period with His followers, so He took them up into the North, away from the Sea of Galilee, into the region of Caesarea Philippi, and then He was going to make His way quietly from that far area back again to Jerusalem.

In that remote spot He opened up this topic, first "Who do men say that I am?" and then "But whom say ye that I am?" In both Gospels it is Peter who makes the confession, for the opening of the eyes of the mind has come to him: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Matthew then records the reply of Jesus, which was: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood have not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). Now what could be plainer than that? There had been [68/69] an act of God in revelation. Matthew then records the special words which the Lord spoke to Peter: "Blessed art thou ..." (Matthew 16:17), but Mark says nothing at all about this. There is a strong tradition that Peter's testimony lies behind Mark's Gospel, and that he prompted what Mark wrote. We can imagine them sitting together and, as they come to Peter's testimony "Thou art the Christ", Mark might say, "Oh yes, I remember what Jesus then said to you", only to receive the reply, "Don't you dare put that down! I don't want anything of that!" Dear old Peter, what a loveable man he was. Anything that was to his detriment, and showed him up as a sinner saved by grace, could by all means be put down, but anything that could possibly redound to his glory must be omitted. "No Mark! Leave that out!"

"Well, how am I going to do it then" asked Mark; "if you won't let me record this marvellous story of how the heavenly Father illuminated you, how am I going to make the point?" To which Peter replied, "This is what you can do. Just leave people to discover it for themselves, and do so by telling them of the man whom Jesus persevered with until his eyes were opened. Tell them that, and then all the glory will be to the Lord".

So it is that we read in Mark's Gospel -- and only here -- the story of the giving of sight to a blind man with whom the Lord persevered until he could see. On the one side you have Peter in his blindness and on the other side Peter with his eyes open to Christ, and in between (vv.22-25) there is a man who was blind ministered to by Jesus so that his eyes began to open and then ministered to again by Jesus until he saw clearly. The story is an illustration of the great truth of spiritual revelation as a miracle of grace. Incidentally, Peter himself, even though he saw, needed to have his eyes opened more fully and this is what happened to him later.

What a beautiful story this is of the Lord who never gives up. "Was the first touch not enough for you?" he asked, "Well do have another". The Lord never gives up: "He giveth more grace" (James 4:6). We have here an account of the work of Jesus in special illumination. Everything is done by Him. He spits upon the man's eyes -- revolting perhaps to us, but establishing an indisputable connection between the Healer and the healed. The healing came directly, intimately and personally from Him; it was something that no other could contribute. And He persisted until the man's sight was perfectly clear.

Peter would need many another touch on his eyes, just as you and I need to be constantly touched and touched again from heaven. This retouching assures us that the Lord will never give up until our eyes are sharp enough for us to join that company of His saints who see His face and have His name on their foreheads. It is so necessary that the retouching work shall go on again and again.

But with our eyes opened, what is the revelation of Jesus that we see? To answer this we must turn again to our passage and discover the way in which the Lord set about filling that new spiritual vision with new information. For this we have three stories: the conversation at Caesarea Philippi (8:31-38); the story of the transfiguration (9:1-8) and the story of what happened "as they came down from the mountain" (9:14-29).

i. The revelation of His sufferings

"He began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer ..." The primary revelation of Jesus the Christ is that Jesus is the suffering Messiah. This, of course, runs all through the Old Testament, but the Israelites' eyes were so full of the glory of a royal Messiah that they had forgotten God's revelation of a suffering Messiah and when reminded, they were resistant to it. This is a tremendous example to us of the way in which our eyes can be veiled as we read the Word of God. In our reading of the Scriptures we need constantly to come to the Lord and ask Him to touch our eyes for, without that continual touching, we will go on seeing "men as trees walking", being partial and limited in our understanding, tied to our traditions and not allowing the Word of God to bring fresh, liberating and enlarging truth to us. The Lord Jesus had to remind the disciples that the Son of man must suffer ... for this is the first and chief point about His Messiahship. "Thou art the Christ", what then? Why, the Christ of Calvary.

Mark goes on immediately to tell us of the Lord's transfiguration, and rightly so. "After six days ..." (9:2), to show how closely this is linked with what has preceded it, the Lord Jesus took Peter and James and John apart into a high mountain. They had been shattered inwardly by this thought of a suffering Messiah and, as we know, Peter had been foremost in resisting this [69/70] revelation and had been sharply rebuked for so doing. "Not that Lord" Peter had expostulated, and Jesus replied to him in the presence of all the disciples, "Get thee behind me, Satan" (8:33). You notice how Peter let Mark put that bit in. Anything to his detriment may be put down, for he had no wish to conceal himself as a sinner and of all the apostles, the one who always got it wrong. "By all means Mark, put that down!"

It was then that the Lord Jesus had begun to open out the message of the cross. "He called unto him the multitude with his disciples" because He was opening up the cross as a principle for life here and now for all who belong to Him, namely, "If any man is willing to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross" (v.34). From this He looked forward into the future, saying that when the Son of man came in the glory of His Father, He would be ashamed of those who had been ashamed of Him and of His words (v.38). What words? Why, the words of the cross. This principle of the cross, first asserted in the experience of Jesus, is now imposed as a principle on all those who belong to Him and will be the basis of testing in the last day.

ii. The revelation of His glory

It was after this that the Lord brought His disciples to the Mount of Transfiguration. If they felt that by presenting a view of the Messiahship which was different from what they had wished, Jesus was departing from the glory that they expected, the answer was, No! It was the Jesus who had told them that He was going to the cross, who is the Jesus of glory, and so the Father took away the veil to allow them to see the glory that was always there. Mark makes it so clear in his Gospel that alongside the cross there is always the glory.

Consider his account of the Lord's baptism: "Straightway, coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens being rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him, and a voice out of the heavens saying, "Thou art my beloved Son" (Mark 1:10). When the Lord Jesus went into the waters of baptism to stand alongside of sinners, He had a conversation with John, just as every other candidate for John's baptism had a conversation with the Baptiser. Every other candidate had gone there openly confessing sin, and doubtless all who stood on the bank watching the conversation assumed that He too was confessing sin. But they were wrong. Jesus was not confessing sin, but John was confessing the sinlessness of Jesus. We know that the sinless One was standing in the Jordan, taking His place in a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins as the sinless One, identifying Himself with sinners. "This is the way in which we will fulfil all righteousness," He said to John, for it was the way in which God's righteous purpose went forward when His sinless Son identified Himself with sinners. At that moment the Father in heaven suddenly wrenched the veil away and proclaimed, "This is My Son", so that for the first time in the Scriptures the Holy Trinity stands revealed. Father, Son and Holy Spirit involved in the fact that the Son was beginning to tread the pathway that would end at Calvary.

We have read how for the second time in Mark's Gospel the Lord Jesus had committed Himself very deliberately to the way of the cross by saying. "The Son of man must suffer ..." and this is followed by the Father's plan to show His glory to the three disciples. Once more the heavens are rent, and the Father comes clothed in the majesty of the cloud, that ancient symbol of His glorious presence, and out of that cloud there is His voice which cried, "This is My beloved son" (9:7). This voice followed Christ's firm committal to the cross.

There is a third and last time when Mark records such an occurrence. At the baptism, Jesus entered on the pathway of identification with sinners; at His transfiguration He committed Himself to the way of the cross and now we find the whole process completed: "Jesus uttered a loud voice and breathed his last" (15:37). Once more there is a great rending: "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." The heavens were rent to allow us to meet God as He is, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If at the transfiguration we could see Him in all His glory, now at the cross we may enter and share that glory. In going to the cross, Jesus did not turn His back upon His dignity: He fulfilled that dignity in the glory of Calvary.

iii. The revelation of the conqueror of Satan

We pass from the revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration to the incident which shows Him to us as the conqueror of Satan. In this narrative of the demon-possessed child, Mark seems to go out of his way to underline the desperate [70/71] power of Satan over human lives; it is so desperate that it seems to have gone beyond recall. Mark stresses human helplessness: "Oft times it has cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him. If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us" (v.22). The Lord rebuked and cast out the unclean spirit, and then Mark alone tells us "the spirit cried and rent him sore, and came out of him and he was as one dead, insomuch that the greater part said, He is dead". The Evangelist underlines the dreadful power of Satan, the magnitude of that power and the helplessness of humanity in the face of it. In choosing the cross, Christ gave the ultimate challenge to Satan. As soon as Jesus announced the principle of the cross, Satan came and said, "Not that!"

Matthew and Luke tell us that Satan tempted the Lord in the wilderness by offering Him world dominion on conditions. "You can have it all" he said, "if only you will worship me." But the one way by which the Lord Jesus will have world dominion and Satan will have no part in it, is by His going to the cross and bearing our sin in His own body on the tree. In this way He took our curse upon Himself, and that finished Satan. So Satan leaps in to say, "No, not Calvary", but the Lord completely triumphs by choosing the cross.

So He came down from the mountain top where His glory had been seen, with the glory graciously veiled again, but as He came down He brought all the powers of His divine nature as the Son of God to face the power of the enemy at a level and in a magnitude that no man could face, and commanded the demon: "Come out of him, and enter no more into him", and that was the end of the matter. This is the revelation given to us of the Lord Jesus. As He touches and quickens our eyes, He wants us to see Him as the Christ of Calvary, as the Son and Word of God and as the all-conquering Lord.

The Revelation of Discipleship

Now we must go back again to these three incidents, for alongside the revelation of the Lord Jesus there is the revelation of discipleship. For this also we need the miracle of the opening of the eyes.

First of all we come to the conversation which followed the testimony of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Peter had already blundered and proved himself to be an emissary of Satan and, having rebuked him, the Lord Jesus "called the people unto him with his disciples ..." (8:34) to listen to what He had to say. This is not a regulation for any particular group or super-party within the Church; this is a revelation for all who would ever belong to the Lord. "If any man wills to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it; [and] whoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it" (8:35). The key words are "... after me"; discipleship is falling in behind Jesus. These are followed by further key words, "for my sake ...". Discipleship is living for Jesus, taking every circumstance, every opportunity, every asset of life, and using it for Him and the gospel. The third key phrase is, "me and my words" (v.38). The disciple stands alongside of Jesus as the world looks on and identifies himself with the Lord and His words.

These then, are three sides to the revelation of discipleship: there is the falling in behind Him so that we match our steps with His steps and go the way that He went; and there is living of life for Him, so that we take all that there is to our lives and hold it for Christ's sake and the gospel's; and there is identification with Him and His words in this day, so that we will be recognised by Him in the last day. "Me and My words"! I suppose that there is nothing without meaning in the Scriptures, so that the last three words are not idle -- "and My words". We are not to invent an imaginary Jesus and then identify with what we have invented, but we are to find Jesus as He is expressed in His own teaching in the Scriptures and then identify with Him.

i. Discipleship and suffering

The bearing of the cross is not just patience under the adversities of life which come upon us, though we tend to talk of having a cross to bear when circumstances of suffering come to us. I am not suggesting that this is a wrong use of the phrase "cross bearing", but it is not what the Lord was speaking of here. Jesus was not just speaking of the suffering and adversities which are part of the disciples' lot and concerning which, as James tells us, we are to count as joy and which Peter tells us we are not to think strange. It is not that. The taking up of the cross is an act of embracing every aspect of life as it comes to us, its sorrows, its joys, its opportunities, its denials, its riches, its poverty, in glad [71/72] acceptance of the will of God. However life comes to us, it is to be embraced in such a way that we are setting our feet in the place where His feet trod, we are taking our place after Him, we are using everything for Him and for the gospel, so that before the world we are identified as those who belong to Jesus. We must not imagine that suffering is a sign that something has gone wrong with our discipleship. The opposite may well be true. We are privileged to walk in the path of the Christ of Calvary and so often in that path, suffering is the hallmark of the reality of our discipleship. Far from being strange, "it is through much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom".

ii. Discipleship and glory

The Lord Jesus was always certain of His own coming glory. When He told His disciples about His cross, He added "... after three days rise again" (8:31), although they didn't seem to notice that He had said it. He then went on to speak confidently of the glory which lay beyond the resurrection, talking of "coming in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels" (v.38). On the Mount, though, we have the lovely truth that it is a glory which He shares with those who belong to Him. Discipleship therefore has the built-in factor of coming glory. The Lord wanted that His disciples should not only see His glory and be sure of it but by their very presence on the Mount, be assured that in the day of His glory they would be with Him.

Now Mark stresses this point in a way which is so typical of him, for here in this transfiguration account, he simply records a conversation: "There appeared unto them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus" (9:4). They must have known what was being said, for they heard them and Luke records what they heard. Here then was Mark's pen poised to write. "Now, shall I tell then what was being said about His exodus at Jerusalem?" "No," says Peter, "don't tell them that. I just want them to know that, when Jesus was revealed in all His glory, His people were there talking with Him. Just that! It is the fellowship of glory that He reserves for His own." So there were Moses and Elijah, coming out from the ancient past, and here were Peter and James and John, from the immediate present; and the old covenant and the new covenant were bound together in the one body of the redeemed, focused on a glorious Jesus. Nobody knows exactly why it was Moses and Elijah but I want to make some suggestions which have been helpful to me.

Why was it Moses? And why was it Elijah? Was it because of their position in God's plan, just as the three apostles were there because of their position in God's plan? Moses was the law-giver; Elijah was in many ways the fountain-head of the order of prophets; so the law was there and prophecy was there. And Peter and James and John were there because they were the founder members of the apostolic order. So law, prophets and apostles were all there and the Word of God came to all alike. So the whole of Scripture is bound together round the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think too, that they were there because they were individual people. Here is a lovely thought, that it is people who are with Him in glory, and they are there in their own personal reality.

I wonder if you can accept my third suggestion which is that they were there as failures. Moses was given such a mighty task from God, but he stumbled and did not finish it. Elijah wrought a mighty work for God, sweeping a whole nation back to an allegiance to the Lord God of Israel, but then he succumbed to a spirit of discouragement; a fearful depression overwhelmed this great man and he ran for his life. His prayer was, "Oh Lord, I am such a failure. I'm no better than anybody else has been and I can't bear this thought of failure any more, so please let me die". And it was as though the Lord smilingly said, "My dear soul, take away your life? Why should I answer such a foolish prayer when I have something much more glorious for you? Death is simply not going to enter into your experience, now or ever!" And then Peter was there, the Peter who just recently had unintentionally been the mouth-piece of Satan, yet he was there in the glory. James and John, who were so to misunderstand the glory of Jesus that they were going to ask for special prominence in His kingdom, were also there. They are all there as a classical array of failures, caught up by grace and presented to glory. Isn't that thrilling? Moses who could not enter the land, has now entered into glory. Elijah, who wanted to die, is alive for evermore. Peter, who didn't want Christ to go to the cross, finds himself saved by the blood of that cross. James and John, who wanted glory for themselves, are content just to be there, even though they are frightened, because that is where Jesus is. [72/73]

iii. Discipleship and power through prayer

One last thought; We come into the story of Christ's power over Satan, with a fearful revelation of that power. We have heard the Father's voice out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son", now notice the very different voice of another father: "Teacher, I have brought you my son" (9:17). Between those two, you have the whole power of Satan to blight and destroy. Here is a glorious Son of God, and here is the pitiful son of mortal man, damaged beyond repair by the enemy of souls. Satan's power is the power of destruction; no wonder that in the face of this, the Church is a helpless Church: they could not cast him out (v.18).

Sadly, then, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him privately, "Why could we not cast him out" (v.28)? It was half a question and half a rueful admission of their own inability. If we are called to discipleship, where does the power come from? If we are to minister Christ to a desperately needy world, which the Scripture says is lying in the evil one, then where is the power to come from? "We could not cast it out." The reply of the Lord Jesus was clear: "This kind can come out by nothing save by prayer." Only by prayer! Does this sound too simple? Well, my mind goes back to Naaman the leper who was told by Elisha to wash in Jordan seven times and went off in a huff, or was going to, but his servants were wiser and said to him, "My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?" We all tend to be like that. If I set before you now some marvellous complicated thing, some wonderfully exciting, thrilling thing and said, "That's the way of power"; if I offered you a ceremony or an experience that seemed tremendous, would you not seek it? The Syrian servant asked Naaman why he scorned Elisha's way because it was so simple. We must not be offended by the apparent simplicity of the Lord's words: "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer", for that is the stamp which the Lord puts upon the life of discipleship. A person who is powerful through prayer -- that is His revelation of what makes a disciple.

(To be continued)


(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 10)

John H. Paterson

THE eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, as I have already suggested in these studies, to encourage a group of Christians who feared that, in abandoning their traditional beliefs and following Christ, they had made a disastrous mistake. They had evidently run into unexpected difficulties; things had not turned out as they had anticipated, and their new faith was not providing them with the reassurance and consolation which they felt entitled to expect of it.

In this chapter, the writer of the epistle wanted to make two points. One of them, I think, was simply this: that they were not unique! If they encountered problems in following the Christian way to God, so did others, and those "others" included the very greatest of God's servants -- men and women whose names had been household words to them throughout their lives. The second point was that, in reality, the problems which they had so far encountered, and of which they were complaining, were comparatively slight.

None of us, of course, likes to be told that we are making a fuss about nothing! Our problem is always the biggest: we may even develop a certain pride in that belief. The writer had got to create in his readers a sense of proportion. But for their pride's sake he did it indirectly. He did not actually say, "What are you making all the fuss about?" but that was the clear implication and, when he came to write the twelfth chapter, he went as far as to remind them that "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (12:4).

What he chose to do, then, was to select particular experiences from the lives of the patriarchs to illustrate the kind of problem which even the greatest might encounter on the way to God. Will you please take note of that word "select"? For [73/74] his selection is, at first sight, rather curious. Not only did he select as examples some less-than-mainstream characters, like Enoch or Rahab the harlot, but, having selected someone obvious like Joseph, he then made an odd choice of detail. What Bible teacher today, we may ask, given a dozen words in which to commemorate the marvellous career of Joseph, would use them to say "the great lesson of Joseph's life was that when he was dying he 'gave commandment concerning his bones'" (11:22)? Who would pick out of Jacob's tortuous career, as one of only two events worthy of mention (11:21), the fact that he "worshipped leaning on the top of his staff"?

We can only assume that the writer, here as everywhere else in the epistle, was reacting to the feelings of his readers as he guessed them to be; that the events he selected as his examples were particularly relevant to their own experiences.

Problems on the Journey

I am inclined to think that the reasoning went something like this:

What we are discussing is the way to God -- your way, my way, anybody's way. Now when you set out on a journey, there are several obvious questions that you probably ask:

Where are we going?

How shall we know when we get there?

How long will the journey take?

What will conditions be like at the other end?

What are the risks or dangers of this mode of travel?

What resources do we need for the journey?

Do we travel alone or in company?

As you can see, these are all sensible enough questions to ask, whether our journey is to Heaven or to Halifax! But apparently the Hebrew Christians to whom this epistle was written were uneasy about the answers to them which were emerging in their own experiences. Frankly, it seems from this epistle as if the picture of the Christian journey to which they were clinging was a sort of swift, painless Concorde flight on which lunch was served to them, and they would be at their destination in time for tea!

Well, there may be some journeys like that, but not on the way to God. And to make this clear to his readers, the writer recalled to them some of the incidents in the lives of great men of God which show that, even for the greatest, the way is long and hard, the risk considerable, the time of arrival uncertain.

Abraham's Journey

The first of this group of case studies offered by the writer is that of Abraham. And with him we can certainly employ the analogy of the journey once again. Let us put together, with the writer's help, some of the facts about Abraham's journeyings:

-- When he set out on his journey, he had no idea where he was going (v.8).

-- When he did reach a place which God promised to give to him and his descendants, it was already occupied by somebody else (Genesis 12:6). Abraham was, in every sense of the word, a stranger in the land (11:13).

-- During his lifetime he never reached the end of his journey, nor did he even pretend that he had done so (vv.9, 13-16).

And this was Abraham, that great man of God! Yet he seemed well content with his journey; he accepted its conditions; indeed, he refused to have them changed (Genesis 14:22-23). He had exchanged the settled life of the city for the constant wandering of the nomad and, at the end of it all, he still had not seen journey's end.

But that, of course, was not all. There were also the risks and dangers of the journey. Some of these were overt -- threats or attacks from surrounding tribes. But not all the risks were of one kind: there were some which Sarah shared (v.11).

The whole goal and purpose of Abraham's journey, as also the whole content of God's promises to him, were centred upon a son and heir. Without a son there could be no nation; therefore, no-one to occupy the land of promise. But who took the risk in this all-important matter? Not Abraham, but Sarah!

I have to admit that I have never found Sarah a sympathetic character, but here she is in the writer's list, alongside her husband, Abraham. Can you imagine the risk to Sarah in bearing [74/75] Isaac at her age? Or the absurdity of the idea? Or the likelihood that her experience would end in disaster, a disaster in which the most probable victim would be Sarah herself? Yet this was, apparently, the only way to the fulfilment of God's promise. No Concorde flight with free meals here!

The Resources for the Journey

And the writer had a good deal more yet to say about Abraham. He was now going to turn to that important question about resources for the journey. How did Abraham keep going? How can we hope to keep on if the way is so long and the risk so great?

To answer this question, the writer introduced an idea which is familiar enough to anyone who has read Paul's epistles, but which he himself introduced here for the first time. It is, as we can now see, the key to the whole "resource problem". How can any believer keep on, with faith and patience, in the face of either persecution or the slower, debilitating pressure of delay, disappointment or emptiness? The key lies in a few simple words, "as good as dead".

The story of Abraham includes not one but two points where, but for the intervention of God, it would have come to an abrupt end. Firstly, there was the occasion of Isaac's birth. How impossible it seemed to be! And in fact how impossible it was, until God intervened to bring life out of death: "Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude" (v.12).

Isaac was a miracle -- a man who owed his very existence to God's intervention. But that was just the point. If Isaac had been born fifty or sixty years earlier, there would have been nothing miraculous about him. There was nothing miraculous about the birth of Ishmael, which was precisely the result of Abraham and Sarah doing their best to avoid the finality of that verdict, "as good as dead". And so to these wavering, doubting Hebrew Christians, the writer introduced, for the first time in his letter, the divine principle of life out of death.

And then, for emphasis, he promptly repeated it! There are, as you know, not one point but two in the story of Abraham and Isaac where this principle was seen at work. The first was in Isaac's birth and the second was in the call of God to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Everybody knows the story, just as the first readers of this letter would have done. This time it was Isaac who was as good as dead, when Abraham offered him up to God, "accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (v.19), or, as Moffatt translates that "he did get him back, by what was a parable of the resurrection".

Poor Hebrew Christians! Here were they, with their very limited resources of understanding, faith, patience and courage, wondering why God did not make good His promises and bring them swiftly to journey's end, and the writer responds by saying, "Well, He didn't do that for Abraham, did He?" He then goes on to add, "And the sooner you grasp this fact the better, that your resources are quite inadequate to see you through. For this is how God always works -- in this strange, paradoxical back-to-front way -- by bringing life out of people who are as good as dead.

Few men have ever coped better than Abraham with the problem of dealing with a God who works in this way (though even he had his failures -- several of them). Once he had left Ur of the Chaldees behind him, Abraham lived the life of a nomad until his dying day -- this difficult, demanding life of faith and patience.

I think it was just for the sake of his readers that the writer added one other point in his survey of the lives of Abraham and his family. Notice that rather strange statement, "If truly they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned" (v.15). Returning was just what the Hebrew Christians had in mind! But Abraham never went back, even though he might have done so; never settled for anything short-term or second-best, even though the delay, the waiting, went on for generations: "dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise (v.9).

And neither must they go back. What their own resources would never achieve would be made possible, if they went on, by the life that God brings out of death.

"But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly:
wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God:
for he hath prepared for them a city.

(To be continued) [75/76]


(Names by which Abraham came to know God)

Michael Wilcock


AS we study the story of Abraham, the father of the faithful, to learn something of the names by which he came to know his God, the first of them and the best known of them is, strictly speaking, the only one which is a personal name. The rest are really titles or descriptions. The name is YAHWEH, often referred to as Jehovah and shown in our Bibles by capital letters as the LORD.

This name is found thousands of times in the Old Testament and it is then transferred to the New Testament where God is given the same name -- the Lord. Our greatest danger is to have become so familiar with it that we are prone to use it thoughtlessly and sometimes to intersperse it between every little sentence in our prayers. Perhaps we can learn something of the meaning of this great name and what it means to call God by it, if we look more closely into the story of Abraham. So we begin by noting that it was the LORD who said to Abraham, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kinsmen ... unto the land that I will show thee" (Genesis 12:1).


Although it was the first name by which Abraham came to know God, the name is nevertheless a name of mystery. To come to grips with the complexities of Scripture in this respect, we have to turn on to Exodus 6 and see what is told us there: "I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH I was not known to them" (Exodus 6:3). Nevertheless, whether he knew it or not, it was the LORD who spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12:1, so that if it was a fact that Abraham did not know that name we can learn this about its mystery that it was He, Jehovah, who was at work. He certainly was so known after the time of Abraham. Moses called God by this great name and the New Testament takes it over and calls Him Lord. The Church continues the practice and we all know Him as Lord. So we have all these later generations who have known and used the name, and all of us can look back to the story of Abraham and record that even if the name of mystery was not known to Abraham, it is clear that it was the LORD who spoke to him. Whatever other name Abraham may have known Him by, it was our LORD, the one whom God's people down through the ages have known by that name.

It was the LORD who in those ancient times called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees. The one who spoke to him was our God. So that all of us, down the Christian centuries, have Abraham as part of our inheritance because we can look back and say that the God who spoke to Abraham is my God. It was my God who called him and it was my God, the LORD, who thought that it was worthwhile having the story recorded for my sake. It is as if the Lord said, "I will tell the story of Abraham and how I called him, even if he didn't know Me by that name, and I will do it for the sake of all those who in years to come will call Me by that name". It is therefore right for us to consider Abraham and his faith and the gradual increase of his knowledge of God.

In point of fact, if we trace this matter back in Genesis, we will find that in Chapter 4 the name of the LORD was known. This was long before the time of Abraham, and was still in the lifetime of Adam's son (Genesis 4:6). True, they couldn't then have known the depth of meaning of the name, but it will appear that they knew that name and used it. It was on that name that they called (Genesis 4:26) and it was the same LORD who spoke to Noah concerning the world that was to perish in judgment in the Flood (Genesis 6:3). It was also the LORD who came down after the Flood and saw what was going on then (11:5-6). In all these passages it was YAHWEH who was there, even if they didn't know the fullness of His name. So this can be our second lesson, that it was not only writers after the time of Abraham who could look back and affirm the reality of that name; it was also the people before Abraham who knew it. When therefore we get to Genesis 12, we find that the God who spoke to Abraham was already the God of his fathers. The same God who had appeared in those early days of Genesis, now came to Abraham when centuries had gone by. [76/77]

So we can look at the matter in two ways. We can say how amazing it is that the God of the now, the God whom we know, is the same YAHWEH who speaks to us out of those ancient stories. That is why they are so relevant. On the other hand, from Abraham's point of view, it was the God of the then , the God of the past, the God of his fathers, who was now speaking to him in the present. So on one side, the God of now has something to say to us that is right up-to-date, and on the other hand, the God of the then had something to say to Abraham. So the God of ancient history has something to say to us today.

Then there is the third thing about this mysterious name. Although it may be true that Abraham did not understand the name in its fulness, it seems that he must have known it, for he addressed God by it. It is not simply that the later writer of the narrative was able to call God by the name of YAHWEH, even though Abraham had not heard it, but we find Abraham himself using this name. "I have lift up mine hand unto YAHWEH, God Most High ..." (14:22). So he not only knew God as Most High, but also as the LORD. As we read the narrative, we find by Abraham's own words that the name was known to him. Yet although it was known before his time, although it was known after his time, and although it was known in his time, yet still it is a name of mystery, because it is only when we come on to Exodus 6 that we find it fully revealed. As we shall see, it was only for Moses that the truth was made known in its fulness in a way that Abraham could not have known it.

Even if Abraham did not know what God really meant by calling Himself by this name, he was not prevented from using it. This reminds me of the passages in the New Testament which speak in similar terms of our Christian experience. "We know in part ... now we see in a mirror darkly ... now I know in part ..." (1 Corinthians 13:9-12). We only see partially, but we gaze and we adore; we follow on to know the Lord. This was what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13 where he admits his limited knowledge but affirms that he was pressing on to learn as much as he could. From Abraham, then, we learn that there are riches in the name and character of God which none of us fully understand, but we will go on reaching out after Him until we get to glory. There is more excuse for Abraham than there is for us. He could not possibly have known all that was in the name in his day. There are reasons why we know more than he did, so we have much less excuse for not following on to know the name, to use it, and to grow in our understanding of it. It is our duty to try to receive an unfolding of its mystery, always learning more of that name on which we call.


As we go on we shall find what a name of richness YAHWEH is. Abraham only glimpsed it, but he did so right away for it was at the beginning that the LORD told him that he was to be made into a great nation (12:2). What that was going to mean hundreds of years later when God spoke to Moses, telling him that the time had come for the fulfilling of that promise, is found in Exodus 6. The one who said, "By my name Jehovah I was not known ..." now goes on to assure Moses that He had established His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and was about to reveal that name in all its riches. In those earlier days it was simply a promise but now it is about to be unfolded in its rich meaning.

1. The richness of His perfect knowledge

We see what God says to Moses, speaking on the basis of His name YAHWEH: "I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage" (Exodus 6:5). This is the same sort of thing which He had said to Moses in Exodus 3: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people, and I have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows" (3:7). Three times over the LORD makes known the riches of His perfect knowledge. He knew their situation, He knew what they had been going through and He knew all about what was being done to them. There is not a cry nor a groan nor a tear that went up from the land of Egypt but that He knew it altogether.

The LORD affirmed His knowledge in particular in their time of need. When they did not feel that they needed Him quite so much, the question was not so sharp, but now they needed Him and it was then that they began to see what His perfect knowledge means. From the words, "I have remembered my covenant", the LORD went on to say: "Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am Jehovah" (6:5-6), which turns us back to the first encounter at the burning bush when, in reply to Moses' question as to His name, God said "I AM THAT I AM" (3:14). [77/78]

2. The richness of His utter faithfulness

This reflects the utter faithfulness of God. "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (3:14). Who I AM that I AM! You all know what I am. You have been brought up on it, and you are full of the knowledge of what I am. Now I want you to know that the riches of My faithfulness is that that is what I actually am. I AM just that. I never change.

3. The richness of His dynamic power

Because I AM (Jehovah) "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm ... and I will take you to me for a people ... and I will bring you in unto the land ... and I will give it to you for an heritage; I am Jehovah" (6:6-8). What God was saying in those verses was "I will act! You will see that I AM by the fact that I execute My covenant in practical ways".

I think that it is most significant that when God tells us what He is, He doesn't use vague abstractions. He doesn't talk about Himself in nouns which are like high currency notes, but talks in the hard cash of verbs. When He says, "What I AM, I AM" He means that He is the One who is going to redeem by bringing out and bringing in. It is true to say that He is Love. He is Justice and He is Omnipotence and much more. All those things are true, but when God reveals what He is, the terms in which He describes Himself are full of verbs. "You want to know what I am? Well, I am the sort of Person who does things." He is not just a static Being but One who is rich in dynamic power. Our God is not an academic God but one who does things.

4. The richness of His redemptive grace

All those things which God promised to do can be summed up in the one word, "to redeem" which means to rescue and to save. That is the richness of the name which could only be glimpsed by Abraham, for it was closely tied up with the events of the exodus. It was impossible for anyone before the time of Moses to have understood the name in its fulness, for it had to do with redemption.

Nevertheless I believe that Abraham did have some glimpses. I think, for example, of God's words, "I will make of thee a great nation" (Genesis 12:2), which gave just a hint of the kind of thing that God was going to do. Then later: "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them ... and that nation whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterwards they shall come out with great substance" (15:13-14). So Abraham had an inkling of redemption.

But maybe the clearest glimpse of all is described in the extraordinary story of his near-sacrifice of Isaac. When Abraham had offered his son on the altar and in the very act of lifting the knife, had been prevented from killing the boy, found a ram in a thicket. Genesis 22:14 tells us that he called the name of the place Jehovah-jireh -- "In the mount of the Lord it shall be provided". And so it was! But the margin informs us that equally it could be rendered "he shall be seen". It was provided for the immediate need but on a deeper level, it was seen. I wonder whether in that extraordinary hour, Abraham's eyes were opened to a glimpse of what God was going to do in the salvation of His people in the time of Moses and later in the time of Christ. He saw something of the redemptive grace of the Lord, the covenant God, in terms of salvation.

It was a name of mystery to Abraham, but there was a richness in it which maybe Abraham did know a little about. He could not know the full richness of it, because it was waiting to be seen in the time of greatest need of the people of God, so that it was all those years afterwards, in the time of Moses, that it could be seen more fully. YAHWEH was going to do His greatest miracle at the time of the exodus and concerning that He was able to say, "Ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God" (Exodus 6:7) to His own people and also to say "And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD" (7:5). Both the people of God and the world would come to know the richness of His name at the time of the exodus.

It may seem strange that in order to know the reality of what Abraham knew of the name of God we have to move on into the next book of the Bible, but Exodus is in one respect the key to the whole of Scripture. It is the centre of the Bible. There is no other theme in the whole of revelation than the theme of the exodus. That is why we are told that on the mount of Transfiguration, Jesus spoke to Moses and Elijah of His exodus which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). What happened in the [78/79] time of Moses was simply a foreshadowing of the great salvation to be brought about on Calvary. That is why in Revelation 15:3 the redeemed sing in heaven "the song of Moses ... and the song of the Lamb". There is only one song, the song of redemption, which in heaven celebrates the deliverance of God's people out of slavery and into freedom, out of death and into life.

When Abraham on Mount Moriah was saved from killing his son, he exclaimed, "In the mountain of YAHWEH it shall be seen". What was seen? The pattern of the exodus and beyond Exodus, the vision of the cross. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad", Jesus said (John 8:56). I think that this is where it happened and in itself it gave a foretaste of the meaning of the great name Yahweh.


In Exodus 6 it was about to come then and there and it was opened up in concrete detail. Although this was long after Genesis 12, it was taking up the same promise given then to Abraham in connection with the name. It was the LORD who promised Abraham, "I will" and now to Moses He confirmed the promise, for the original can actually mean "I WILL BE that I WILL BE". So the last thing to notice about this great name is that it is the name of promise. God will always be what He is.

It is over this point that Hebrews 11 interjects something about Abraham and the people of God. Talking about those generations, it says: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar ..." This was because the promises could not come true in their time. There was a sense in which Moses and his generation actually did receive the promise, for they received it at one level in the fulfilment of the exodus. Abraham could only have had a glimpse of it so that, so far as he was concerned, the name was the name of the future. It spoke of what God was going to do, but he did not know when it would be. It was years hence, centuries hence, that God was able to say that the time had come for the fulfilment of His promise.

And what a promise it was! You know that the margin of Exodus 3:14 gives the alternative: "What I will be, I will be". Whether we take it in the present or in the future, it is the name of promise. "When I say to you, Abraham, I will make of you a great nation then I WILL. When I say that I will bless you, then I WILL bless you. It is not just something that I say. And when I say to you, Moses, I will rescue you, then I WILL. When I say that I will redeem you, I WILL. When I say all those things, I mean them." This is the name of promises which shall be fulfilled.

And when the LORD says, "I will hear those who call upon Me", He will . And when He says, "I will receive those who come to Me", He will receive us. And when He promises to hear our prayers, He will hear them. And when He says, "I give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Me", He will do just that. Moreover when He says, "I will come again and receive you unto myself", HE WILL! That is what the name of promise is all about.

What I AM, I AM, because I am the LORD. "This is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations."

(To be continued)


[Harry Foster]

IT sometimes happens that our feet are led into strange paths, so much so that we tend to question the Lord's wisdom in His government of our lives or what He permits to happen to us. It is then that we need to remember His prayerful words about us: "As thou didst send me into the world, even so have I sent them into the world" (John 17:18).

Many years ago, when I was visiting a city on the Amazon, I went to see a Brazilian Christian who was in deep trial. The man belonged to an up-country village to which the gospel had been taken, with the happy result that he and his family had received the Good News and turned to Christ. For a time he gave a faithful testimony, and then a great calamity fell on him. He [79/80] contracted leprosy. At that time there was no cure, so this meant that he had to become an outcast. He left his happy home and was exiled to the leper colony, which was just a group of sufferers, collected in rough shacks on an island in the river.

Here was he then, facing a lingering death in loneliness and poverty. How strange are God's ways! This brother had truly consecrated his life to Christ and yet now he found himself among a group of human derelicts. As a young missionary, preparing to go into the jungle. I was greatly moved by his story and decided to pay him a visit. My purpose was to take him some material and spiritual comfort, though I confess that I wondered what might have happened to his sorely-tried faith.

I need not have wondered. Imagine my surprise and joy when I arrived there and found him the central figure among a little band of Christian lepers, everyone of them led to Christ by his radiant testimony. He told me that at first he had entered on his life on that island with a heavy heart, but soon he had come to realise that he was in that dreary place by the will of God. As Christ had been sent into the world, so he had been sent to his needy fellow lepers, to carry God's message of hope to them. If his newly converted friends had known the Scripture, they might have exclaimed, "How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things" (Romans 10:15). Even a leper's feet can be beautiful!

For me it was a humbling and an inspiring experience to hear this dear man's prayer as he poured out his heart in praise to God for the privilege of serving Him in that place.

Not so many years afterwards he went to be with Christ. No doubt his life's work was done and it was fitting that he should go from that squalid island to the Father's Home. The same Lord Jesus who had stated in His prayer that He was sending His disciples into the world had also requested that they might eventually go to that Home, to be with Him in the glory.

He left His disciples in the world, and He has left us there. He sent them into the world, and He has sent us. No need, then, for unbelief to question why we are where we are, but rather for faith to rejoice in the privilege of being in the place of His sending, and of staying here so long as the Father has a purpose for postponing the call for us to "come up higher". Editor [80/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel,
but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel
had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal
for the children of Israel and Judah;
)" 2 Samuel 21:2

THE vengeance taken on Saul's descendants which is described in this chapter makes very unpleasant reading, only marginally redeemed by the devoted behaviour of Rizpah. Nevertheless it is inspired Scripture and therefore has a message for us. This parenthesis reminds of the early days of possession of the land when Joshua did what from time to time most of us do, he judged by appearances and acted without prayer.

AS our passage tells us, the Gibeonites were really outsiders, but they had been given a place in the land by the solemn promise of Joshua and the princes of the congregation (Joshua 9:19). After all those years, Saul broke that promise and even though his intentions may have been sincere, his action was not only repugnant to the Gibeonites but wrong in the sight of God.

FOR us the lesson may be summed up by the words, "He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not" (Psalm 15:4). God's standard is that we should not renege on our promises, even when they become inconvenient to us. It possibly seemed a minor matter to Saul, but it was serious in God's sight. It is no less so today.

HOW many Christians make promises on their wedding day, only to break them when the promises may seem to turn out "to their own hurt"! How many Christians make vows at their baptism and then ignore them because the keeping of them proves inconvenient! How many Christians join a local church and publicly promise to be active and loyal in their membership, and later cause division or go off in a huff when things do not work out as they think right! Alas, the latter group is a very large one.

NOTHING happened when Saul broke his involvement in this solemn promise. It was only years afterwards that the long drawn-out famine forced David to enquire of the Lord as to what was wrong. That also, I suggest, is part of the lesson to be learned here. We can blissfully ignore our broken undertakings and not be conscious of any special controversy with the Lord, but in due course it will catch up on us. And others beside Saul suffered.

IS there a continual famine in our case? Do we blame God or others for our spiritual dryness? May the truth not be that we have forgotten the psalmist's reminder that one of the conditions for God's favour is that we should keep our pledged word, even though there may be good enough reasons for breaking it?

GOD'S wise man wrote: "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools; pay that thou vowest. Better it is that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).


[Back cover]

Ephesians 4:3

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