"... 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. 16, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1987 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

The Golden Lampstand Of The Cross 21
The Gospel Of Jesus The Teacher (1) 25
The Enigma Of The Stable 30
Moving Forward With God 34
Israel's Prophets 36
Bringing Many Sons To Glory (1) 38
On The Way Up (2) - Psalm 121 ibc



Harry Foster

IF we imagine a screen presentation of a large cross fading away, to be replaced by a seven-branched lampstand [See cover of A Witness and A Testimony here ], we will have a pictorial representation of the seven utterances of the Lord Jesus as He was being crucified. There is quite a symmetrical pattern in this image, for the extreme lamps provide prayers to the Father, while the central utterance is the cry, 'My God, My God ...'. This central stem, the cry of forsakenness, came at the end of the three hours of darkness. Between the first prayer and the central cry we have two personal messages to individuals, while between the middle lamp and the seventh, we have two statements to the world in general.

This arrangement, with its Biblical use of the number seven, is not a contrived one made consciously by the Gospel writers, but it emerges surely as a divine pattern. It is the more remarkable since the utterances, or 'words of the cross' as they are called, are scattered throughout the four Gospels. Divine sovereignty ensured that they were seven in number, not spaced out by time yet forming a clear pattern. At this time of the year our thoughts tend to concentrate on the crucifixion and on the truths which are illuminated by these seven lamps of the Spirit.

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). It is no chance arrangement which gives this awesome cry the central place. Within those anguished words lies the very heart of the great truth of the Atonement, the fact that He who knew no sin was made sin for us. Human explanations fall pitifully short of the mystery of this sacred truth. Well may we say in the words of my now glorified old friend, Miss K. Kelly,

O make me understand it,

Help me to take it in ...

but at best our grasp can only be partial. What we can better understand is that the implications of the other six sayings stem from this central branch. Forgiveness of sins, Family life, Future hope, as numbers 1, 2 and 3, all stem from this fourth lamp, while Fulfilment of Scripture, Finishing of redemption and the Father's faithfulness (numbers 5, 6 and 7) do the same. We will take them one by one:

1. Forgiveness of Sins

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing " (Luke 23:34).

Even in that fierce trial Jesus still used the term, Father. What is more, His words show that He displayed perfect consistency of life and teaching by means of them. He who had taught men that they should forgive their enemies, did not deviate from His own high standard even under the greatest provocation.

The chief effect of this utterance, however, is to emphasise that the primary purpose of Christ's sufferings was to bring forgiveness to guilty men. John came baptising with forgiveness in view (Luke 3:3), Christ committed the apostles to proclaim forgiveness (Luke 24:47) and Acts 2:38, 10:43 and 13:38 (with other references) show that forgiveness was the keynote of their gospel preaching.

The sinner's first need is not to feel better nor even to have his life straightened out, but to be made right with God. The first speaking of the blood of the cross is not to those who need it but to God who requires and recognises it. Forgiveness is man's greatest need. I think of that man who was let down through the roof and became a living proof of Christ's power to forgive sins. Inevitably at some later date, he was again carried by others, this time by pallbearers to an open grave. At the end, had they asked if he wished to have as an epitaph, 'This is the man who was made to walk', he would surely have replied, 'Oh no! Write, This is the man who had his sins forgiven'. In life and in death, that is what matters most. Thank God that the first lamp which shines from the cross clearly announces full forgiveness. [21/22]

2. Family Life

"When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing by, he said to his mother, Here is your son, and to the disciple, Here is your mother. From that time on, this disciple took her into his home " (John 19:26-27).

The cross marked the end of an earthly family relationship. Old Simeon, led by the Spirit, foretold the virgin mother that one day a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). That sword cut her off permanently from a whole area of human relationships but it also brought her into the newly-formed spiritual family of the Church, for the sword of the Spirit both wounds and heals. As Simeon had said, the Lord Jesus was destined to cause the falling and rising again of many in Israel, including Mary.

Until then she had known some of the sorrows of her relationship with Jesus. She was hurt at not being consulted about His stay in Jerusalem (Luke 2:48); she was rebuked, though gently, for her attempt to put pressure on Him at Cana's wedding feast (John 2:4); and she, with her family, had been abruptly denied privilege of access when He was occupied with His disciples (Luke 8:21). But she was His mother! She had followed Him faithfully right up to the cross.

Now, however, a total break had to be made. In actual fact it was beneficial in every way. The cross always works like that. It cuts across natural ideas and desires only to introduce something altogether better. With this end to the benefits of natural motherhood she was to know the full reality of her first delight in God as her Saviour. At Pentecost she was to exchange the temporary experience of being with Him for the permanent joy of His indwelling presence. At last she was to have an earthly home in John's house. And she and John were from that moment to form the nucleus of a new family relationship, seemingly with Peter as well as John (John 20:2) and then with all the other believers.

No-one now enquired about the earthly home at Nazareth. That family had happily been integrated into the spiritual family of the Church. James found a different kind of brotherhood by the Lord's resurrection appearance to him (1 Corinthians 15:7) and the whole reunited family shared in the blessings of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). It is Paul who gives us the information that the elder brother of the saints in Jerusalem was also 'The Lord's brother' (Galatians 1:19). What mattered then, and what matters now, are not merely human family relationships but the spiritual ties of the one body in Christ.

In all the medley and muddle of churches, assemblies, fellowships and the like in our modern life, what still matters most is family love and family loyalty. The second lamp still shines brightly from the cross, assuring us that in Christ we belong to the new family of the one God and Father of us all.

3. Future Hope

"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).

The Story of the penitent thief is so familiar, both in its facts and in its implications, that it is difficult to say anything new about it. Following, however, the suggestion of the branching lamp holders coming from the central stem it can rightly be claimed that the fruit of Christ's forsakenness on the cross was an immediate welcome in glory for one of the men most calculated to be described as 'God-forsaken'. Who reported this conversation to Luke? Who, in that motley crowd, cared one jot for this minor character of the great drama? Who could have thought it possible that this wreck of humanity would almost at once be at home with God? Yet the man has become universally preached about and sung about as a splendid example of how the cross offers hope to the hopeless.

At some point in the proceedings at Calvary the giant hand of God had reached down and ripped open the curtain of the temple from top to bottom. This we interpret as a symbol that the hitherto closely guarded Holiest of All was now opened for redeemed sinners boldly to draw near to God. A fairy-story version of history would doubtless depict the holy martyr Stephen as being the pioneer of such an entry, but the plain yet glorious truth is that the very first beneficiary of the blood shed on Calvary was this nameless criminal. 'Amen' said Jesus to him. 'There is certain glorious hope for you this very day'. [22/23]

Can it be true? Well, the Lord had long conversations with His disciples after His resurrection and is it possible that not one of them asked Him about this man? In any case, is it possible that the risen Lord would not have reported it if there had been any doubt or mistake about that final promise of His? It must be true. The forgiven sinner was the very first to be welcomed Home by the victorious Saviour. Morally it sounds unacceptable. Theologically it almost sounds heretical. Actually, however, it is gloriously true. That day the man was with the Lord in Paradise. The third lamp of Calvary shines down on us in hope. There is eternal security and bliss for the most unworthy and unlikely penitent.

4. Forsaken

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).

This was not a prayer. The Lord had prayed the matter through with the beloved Father in Gethsemane (26:39-44) and had committed Himself with blood-like drops of sweat to the sacrifice of the cross. It was not a prayer but a cry of distress, but it was made to God -- His God -- and so may perhaps be classed as prayer since nobody else was involved. Nevertheless we are privileged to read about it, and the utterance brings us on to such holy ground that we shrink from comment. Every word is full of mystery. How could God do a thing like this? How can My God do such a thing to Me ? The question is altogether too great.

We note how Jesus saturated His mind with the Scriptures. In His dark night of Calvary He instinctively used the psalmist's words to voice His dismay. Yet perhaps not instinctively, for it was deliberate. As He had read and re-read Psalm 22. He knew beforehand what was coming to Him.

In our case the future is mercifully hidden from us, and in this matter the sense of forsakenness can never be real if we are true believers. We do not know under what stress of circumstances the psalmist first coined this agonised question, but we do know how often he discovered that after all he had not been left to battle through alone. "I have been young and now am old" sang the psalmist, "yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken" (Psalm 37:25). And however old you get, you never will see that happen. But you would have seen it at the cross. So far as any of us is concerned, the truth is that we may at times feel forsaken but the feeling is not true. With our Lord, though, it was a dreadful reality.

So much has been written about the theological answer to this question, this agonised question, that it may be best for us to be silent in wonder and worship. We dimly sense that the whole Godhead, Father and Spirit as well as Son, were passing through costly anguish that -- in a sense -- was mysterious even to them. In another sense we can all answer the question. We say that He was forsaken in order that this might never happen to us. The writer to the Hebrews repeats the 'never' several times over: "He himself has said, I will never leave thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5). The fourth lamp shines more brightly than all.

5. Fulfilment of the Scriptures

"I thirst" (John 19:28).

Since Jesus suffered so very much physical cruelty, it may seem strange that these pains of thirst should be given such prominence. John gives us some explanation of why this is in his comment, "knowing that all things were now completed and so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled". This suggests that there was a sense in which the Lord now felt free to think of Himself since the work of redemption was all but accomplished. How gracious of our dear Saviour to put His own personal concerns last! And how typical of Him, too, as the great Lover of Scripture, to be careful, even in His last extremity, to ensure that the Word of God was fulfilled down to its last detail!

One gets the impression that of the many prophetic forecasts of Christ's sufferings -- the beatings, the piercing, the exposure and the cry of forsakenness -- one last item yet remained and must on no account be overlooked. God's Word stated, "In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21), and this also was literally to be fulfilled.

Most of the other predictions of indignity and pain were fulfilled by Christ's persecutors, but this was one of the few which were the result of His own actions. He had been offered the usual doped wine at His arrival on the scene, and had refused it. Now He had to be given vinegar to [23/24] drink, and He Himself precipitated the fulfilment of God's Word by voicing this physical craving for drink. To Him every word of God was important, and He stressed that importance by His moving confession of human agony.

When Hagar was dying of thirst, God showed her a life-saving well which He had prepared for her and Ishmael. When Israel was in the same dire predicament, God gave His thirsty people water from the rock. Even that waterless army group of which King Jehoshaphat formed a part had to dig trenches in the valley and they received ample supplies from God (2 Kings 3:20). But for Him, the beloved Son of God, there was nothing but the sour vinegar which might well aggravate His raging thirst. This was no private request; it was a public proclamation to the world that Christ the Saviour was in the throes of those very hellish torments which He Himself had described in His parable of Lazarus and Dives.

This stress on a primary need, that of water, gives us one more proof of the true humanity of our Lord. At the same time it reminds us of His repeated assurances that He gives living water to those who come thirsting to Him. He thirsted that we might never thirst again! Now it may be a coincidence that it was in connection with the matter of soul thirst that Jesus once declared that there were Scriptures which backed His offer of living water (John 7:38), and now His own thirst was directly associated with the fulfilment of Scripture. His promise on the last great day of the feast that out of the believer whose thirst had been quenched would flow rivers of living water was certainly confirmed in His own case. From that cross the rivers are flowing more abundantly in our day than has ever been the case before; in all the world sinners are gratefully drinking the water of life, and all because our Saviour once uttered the words, "I thirst".

6. Finishing in Completion

"It is finished" (John 19:30).

John alone records the actual word pronounced from the cross by our Lord, but the other three Gospels tell us that it was done in a loud voice. This, indeed, was a proclamation to the whole world that nothing now remained to be done that sinful men might enjoy eternal salvation.

Moses certainly completed his divine assignment, but he had to hand on the unfinished task to his successor Joshua. Paul could claim to have finished his course, but he did so by handing on the work of the gospel to Timothy and instructing Timothy in due course to hand it on to other successors. Jesus was unique. He neither needs nor has successors. Every just requirement was met, every possible accusation was silenced, every enemy totally defeated, when the one triumphant word 'Finished' was shouted from the cross.

At the beginning of that blackest day in human history, the Lord and His disciples sang in prospect the Hallel psalm, a psalm of victory (Matthew 26:30). Before the twenty-four hours were over, alone and with His dying breath, Jesus was able to announce to the world that it had all happened. The swarm of encompassing enemies had been cut off (Psalm 118:12); the rejected stone had been made head of the corner (v.22); the sacrificial offering had been bound with the cords of holy devotion even unto the horns of the altar (v.27). This Day -- above all other days in history -- was the day which the Lord had made (v.24). It is indeed marvellous in our eyes.

With all the work fully accomplished, the One who in His lifetime had not where to lay His head, laid it on the Father's bosom in satisfied surrender. (The verb translated 'bowed his head' here is the same used in Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58 and translated 'lay his head'.)

7. Faith in the Father's Faithfulness

"Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

With this the seven-fold illumination is complete. The first lamp was a prayer to the Father. The faith of the Son of God had withstood its ultimate test. Once again we have here evidence of the Lord's familiarity with the Scriptures, for He used Psalm 31:5 to make His final committal, only adding His own contribution of faith by means of the word 'Father'.

Now a verse in Psalm 31 which is much more familiar to us is verse 15: "My times are in thy hand". I have no doubt that this was also very much in the mind of Jesus as He gave up His [24/25] spirit. The man who wrote that psalm described in it the fierce enmity which surrounded him. Apparently it was David and he tells how in a besieged city he was able to rejoice in God's marvellous kindness and to affirm his faith in spite of everything: "But I said ... my times are in thy hand". He was no fatalist. He placed no cheap reliance on a doctrine of divine sovereignty. He had committed his spirit into God's hand (v.5) and therefore could rightly claim that all his affairs were in the control of His God who at all times would preserve him. Committal of the spirit must come before confidence about the body.

In the case of the Lord Jesus, the care of His sacred body after death was a matter of paramount importance. Divine sovereignty had restrained the Roman soldiers from mutilating that body, but who would preserve it in reverent burial? Seemingly His body could only be dealt with privately by special license from Pilate (Mark 15:43). The grief-stricken friends and family of Jesus had no place at hand, even if they had been able to manage the affair. In this physical yet all-important matter, how could the Lord Jesus expect that His time would be in the Father's hands?

Well, as often is the case, God's hands were human ones. Joseph of Arimathea's actions have the unusual distinction of being mentioned by all four Gospels -- itself a significant fact -- and he was the man whom God chose to use to implement the divine promise. It seems that at an earlier date this pious Jew had staked his claim to be buried near to Jerusalem by constructing or purchasing a rock-tomb as near to the city as possible. In the providence of God it was also near to the place called Calvary. He was rich enough to do this, and to ensure that nobody else used it. It was available. It was near at hand. He had standing enough to obtain direct access to Pilate. And last but not least, he had his friend Nicodemus to assist him in making this safe preservation for the temporary care of that most sacred body.

So it was that in this sovereign way, the Father responded in faithfulness to the Son's committal of faith not only by receiving His spirit but also by providing for the safety of His body until the resurrection morning dawned. That last lamp of divine sovereignty shines brightly from the cross to give comfort and assurance to all of us who have committed our spirits to our heavenly Father through Christ the Saviour. To every adverse circumstance and in every situation of need we, like the psalmist, may respond: "But I said ... my times are in Thy hand."

Christ is indeed the lampstand all of gold. Illuminated by His cross we echo Paul's words: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us an things?"



J. Alec Motyer

UNDER the inspiration of the Holy Spirit each Gospel writer had his own special view of the Lord Jesus. Matthew was clearly working to a plan, and if we can discern his plan we will arrive at the essence of the particular portrait which he is painting. He begins with those lovely stories of the birth of the Lord Jesus in the first two chapters. From Chapter 3 onwards, he moves into references to the ministry of the Lord. This all leads up to the moment when the Lord Jesus steps on to the public scene.

There is a minor appearance on that scene when He walks by the sea and says to Simon and Andrew, "Follow me" (4:18), an important moment for it is the beginning of His gathering a discipleship band around Him. His first major step on to the public scene is found however where it says, "Seeing the multitudes he went up into the mountain, and when he was sat down, his disciples came to him and he opened his mouth and taught them ..." (5:1-2). Up to that point Matthew summarises, telling us at the end [25/26] of Chapter 4 what the other Gospels give in greater detail.

Five Teaching Sessions

This is a beautifully balanced Gospel. In it we have five great teaching sessions, each one of which ends with a note of completeness (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1 & 26:1). The various translations say 'ended' or 'finished' but the Greek word is the same in each case and implies completeness. The first one is what we call The Sermon on the Mount. The statement is spaced out and deliberate: He sat, He opened His mouth, He taught them. This is the picture of the Lord which Matthew wishes us to have. The session ends with the phrase "When Jesus had finished these words" (7:28). He had brought this time of teaching to its completion and then we are told that they were astonished at His teaching and what He taught them. That is the emphasis given on His ministry of teaching. If somebody present that day had been asked by the people at home, he might report that he had spent the day with Jesus, and if questioned as to what Jesus did, he would have to reply that He was teaching. That is the impression which was created, namely that Jesus was a teacher.

We move on into Chapters 8 and 9 of the Gospel and there we find some lovely stories about Jesus, concentrating on the power of the touch and the words of the Lord and then, in Chapter 10 we find a further block of teaching given to the disciples who were now themselves being sent out to preach. This session ends with the repetition of the words "When Jesus had finished ..." (11:1). So here we are given the Lord's complete statement of what people need to know when they go out to tell others about the Lord. He was the complete Teacher in this realm of ministry.

Through Chapters 11 and 12 we are back to stories of Jesus, stories which as a matter of fact focus on His kingdom, and on the element of judgment involved in that kingdom. Arising from that we have a further block of teaching in Chapter 13. We call these The Parables of the Kingdom. So the Lord turns again from practical demonstration to offer them a complete section on the judgment of God which is inherent in the kingdom. Again Matthew closes this section with the words, "When Jesus had finished ..." (13:53).

After this we have more stories, focusing this time on the growing revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, including Matthew's account of the Transfiguration where some of the disciples actually had a vision of His divine glory. All this leads up to Chapter 18 where we find a teaching session on discipleship. The more they knew Jesus, the more they needed to know what is involved in being a disciple of such a great Lord. In Chapter 19:1 we have the same Greek word used to round off the discourse: "It came to pass when Jesus had finished these words". It was not just an ending but a completion of everything they needed to know about discipleship and the relationships of disciples within the family of Jesus. He is the complete Teacher.

Finally we have stories and parables as Jesus moves towards Jerusalem, and then a further teaching session begins in 21:23. The centrepiece of this discourse is found in Chapter 24, where the Lord looks forward to the day of His Coming -- the climax of the kingdom of God in the Return of the Son of Man. Probably their minds were moving towards the idea that the coming of the kingdom was to be immediate, so the Lord alters their thinking by saying, 'No, not yet. The great Coming is yet for the future'. That is the substance of His teaching in Chapter 24, and it is followed by three parables in Chapter 25. For the last time we have the statement that "when Jesus had finished all these words" (26:1). So the perfect Teacher ended not because He had run out of breath or out of material, but because He had given a completed teaching about the great future of His Coming. In these five instances we are assured that if we want to know the full truth from the lips of God Himself, well here it is. Then Matthew rounds off his gospel narrative with the story of Christ's death and resurrection.

So Matthew's Gospel is a sort of Peak District among the Gospels. Luke's is more like rolling countryside, but this one has great summits, like peaks shooting up into the air. The wonderful thing about the four Gospels is that in dealing with so much identical material they can yet bring out different facets of the marvel of the Lord Jesus. For Matthew He is the complete Teacher. He is the one who came to present men with the finished truth. If you care to do so, you can call it the Gospel of the instructed Christian. Here we come to learn from this marvellous Jesus who sits and teaches; and who goes on teaching until He has completed His work of teaching. [26/27]

The Sermon on the Mount

Of course all the sessions of teaching that our Lord Jesus gave to His disciples are authoritative and of equal importance -- all five of them. Nevertheless, two of them seem to be singled out in a specially solemn way. There are, in fact, two mountain-top sessions in the teaching of Jesus. The first is in Chapter 5 and the second in Chapter 24, and in both cases we are told that Jesus spoke them sitting on a mount. So they match. The first and last have this mountain-top motif, as though marking them out as of special importance. As a matter of fact the Gospel also ends with a mountain: "The eleven disciples went into Galilee unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them" and it was there that He came to them and said, "All authority has been given unto me ...".

There is one word which appears in all the sections of the Sermon on the Mount, appearing in different ways in each section. It is the word 'righteousness'. There are four such sections:

i. The Beatitudes (5:3-16)

If ever there were a deepfreeze amongst words it is this word Beatitude. Whoever would want to know about something bearing that title? It is due to the fact that the sayings begin with the word 'blessed'. That is a lovely word. If only they were called the Happiness Sayings, for this same word is elsewhere translated 'Happy'. That is lovely. Everybody wants to know about that. The first word which Jesus said when He came from God to teach us is about happy people. The Lord sets out to make us happy, fulfilled people, blessed in our own personalities. 'Oh how happy are the poor!' In verse 6 we encounter our key word for the first time, 'Oh how happy are they who thirst after righteousness!' It appears again in verse 10, 'Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness'.

So Jesus preached a four point sermon, with righteousness as the common like between the sections. The first part deals with righteousness of character, because the Lord says that the happy people are people of certain characteristics. There are those that mourn, there are the meek, there are the merciful. This is what His happy people are like. It is instructive to look at the connection between verses 10 and 11, where the first speaks of us and the second of Himself.

"Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake." It is not being persecuted that makes them happy or brings them blessing but it is for the persecution that comes as a by-product of going all out for righteousness. They are not looking for persecution, but they are looking for righteousness. Now notice how the Lord rephrases this, "Blessed are you when men shall ... persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake". For MY sake! It is not being ill spoken of or evil done by [others] that brings the blessing, but the fact that you suffer because you are putting Me first. The Lord was not speaking of self-righteousness or self-effort, but of being true to Him. In the beatitudes what He is really saying is that if you are really right with God, these are the characteristics on which you will put a premium.

In this list of blessedness sayings there is a link between verse 3 and verse 10. The blessing is to possess the kingdom. "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom" (v.3). It belongs to them. Then, "Blessed are they who have been persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God" (v.10). The first beatitude begins [the blessing] and the last rounds it off. The various blessings give a complete statement of what constitutes true happiness. These are the people who possess the Kingdom of God.

It is difficult for us to translate this inner qualification, of 'poor in spirit', for we do not admire a poor-spirited person and tend to regard the description as the reverse of a compliment. The real meaning seems to be that these blessed ones are consciously beggars in spiritual things. When they think of themselves before God they know their own spiritual poverty. They are beggars: the only thing they can do is to ask, and they ask for what God alone can give. The inner qualification for the kingdom is to know that I cannot commend myself to God. I cannot buy or merit His favour. I cannot climb a ladder to get into the kingdom. I can only come as a suppliant to His gate and say, 'Lord, I have no strength to work for my salvation, nor ability to achieve any merit in Your sight. I am in spiritual poverty.' We have all to seek and all to gain. Like the prodigal we have to come saying, 'Father look at me! I am no more worthy to be called Your son. Make me ...".

But Jesus says that the true member of the kingdom must also show that outwardly, and [27/28] this is where verse 10 brings in the balance. There must be the proof of going all out for righteousness, even at the cost of persecution. The inner reality must have an outward display that authenticates it, with the working out of that righteousness which comes to us as a gift. People should be able to say that they can see it by the way we live. We really are all out for Jesus. It is not just talk, but living reality.

This same balance is found in verse 4 and 5. First, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" so that when we come mourning to God because of our sinfulness, He ministers to us a gracious comfort. That is something which we can only know inwardly and for ourselves. If we are that sort of people, how will we be outwardly towards others? Verse 5 answers this, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." If we are really mourning before God, how can we be arrogant to others? The two sides of our personality would be in conflict with each other. There is no possibility of a true repentance before God that is coupled with arrogance before men.

We move on to the next blessing, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled" (v.6). We would like to put that the other way round, imagining that if we can only enjoy the fullness then we will hunger for righteousness, but it cannot be like that. We have to hunger and thirst first. Righteousness is an aspiration which God will meet if He sees us really longing to be like Jesus. To have this inner experience of finding our needs graciously met from God's fullness should mean that we will have an outreach to meet the needs of others, so "Blessed are the merciful" (v.7). So we see how the beatitudes match. The Lord Jesus wants His people to be whole people, with what is true at the centre also true at the circumference of their lives. If we are freely receiving, we should be freely giving. We have this same balance in verses 8 and 9, for the pure in heart, who live in the blessed reality of an unbroken, unclouded relationship with God will be the ones who are peacemakers. They will seek to bring others into the peace they enjoy themselves, and they will be called the children of God.

ii. Contrasts (5:17-48)

The next section is one of contrasts. There are six such contrasts in the rest of Chapter 5. Jesus is teaching very dramatically. To them it must have seemed very daring for Him to challenge their accepted ideas. The clue to these contrast sayings is found in the words "I say unto you, except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, you shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven" (v.20). The scribes and the Pharisees were the professionals; in popular estimation they were the gold medalists in righteousness, but Jesus said that their kind of righteousness would just not do. He wants us to have a different sort of righteousness.

The righteousness which He requires is not different in quantity only but different in quality and nature. We must keep this basic difference in mind as we read these contrast statements. So often people interpret these contrasts as though Jesus was contradicting the Scriptures of the Old Testament and putting something better in their place. He never does that because He never could. He Himself says that He came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfil them, adding that heaven and earth will pass away before one jot or tittle of the law shall pass. What He does deny is the way the scribes and Pharisees had twisted and misunderstood the Old Testament, whereas He had come to bring out the full flavour of its meaning. He says, "You have heard what it has been said by them of old time" to contradict the way in which the Pharisees understood Scripture and to put it back on its proper footing.

There are six contrast sayings, and they seem to belong together in pairs. The point of the first pair is the purpose of the Lord Jesus to take Scripture at its full meaning. The first of this pair is in verse 21 and the second in verse 27 where the Lord speaks of the inner significance of adultery. Now that is part of Old Testament teaching -- the sin of the heart. It is actually in the Ten commandments for they not only say 'thou shalt not commit adultery' as the seventh commandment, but also in the tenth commandment forbid the coveting of your neighbour's wife. Jesus is therefore neither taking away from nor adding to the Old Testament, but stressing it in order to deny an unnatural restriction imposed by the Pharisees. They were outward in their righteousness, teaching that you were all right so long as you did not commit the actual adultery. That is Pharisaical righteousness; it observes the letter of the law and ignores its spirit. 'That will not do', [28/29] says Jesus. 'You are to be holy people, stamped through and through with the hallmark of authenticity. Your heart must be in the same condition of righteousness as your body.' Then we have the second pair of contrasts: "It was said also ..." (v.31) and "again you have heard it said to them of old time ..." (v.33). Now the point of these two contrast sayings seems to me that we must take Scripture in its direct meaning, without embroidering fresh meanings upon that which is actually said. It is right to take Scripture as our exclusive authority, but we must not add fancies of our own upon its truths. When the Lord Jesus says, "swear not at all" He is clearly forbidding what the Pharisees had involved them in, which is what nowadays we would call jesuitical reasoning. It was part of Pharisaic thinking that an oath depended entirely upon the form of words used. To sware by the gold in the Temple did not commit you. In fact they had lists of oaths. To use some terms made the matter binding, but if stated in other ways you could be free because what you said did not really constitute an oath. So Jesus commanded His people not to get involved in such a casuistical way of thinking whereby you can sometimes be trusted and at other times not. We must covet to be persons whose word always means what it says, which is of course exactly what the Scriptures already commanded.

In the third pair of contrast sayings, the Lord Jesus calls us to use Scripture in its intended application. The first saying is "you will have heard that it was said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (v.38) and the second, "you have heard that it was said you will love your neighbour and hate your enemy" (v.43). Well, right enough, the Old Testament does say an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth -- and thank God it does. What it says is in relation to a judge who sits in court, and every society should have a judiciary that can make an exact balance, and especially not admit the exaggerations of malice. Three times over the Old Testament says, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". It may sound savage, but in fact it is just equity.

The Pharisees, however, made this a law of personal morality, permitting me to do back to another the wrong that he has done to me. Jesus reminds us that this is said to the judge in court, and rightly so, but it must not be carried over into personal retaliation. Let him hit you on the other cheek rather than that. Let him take your cloak also. There is a different law for personal behaviour. The Scripture must be applied with exactness. This law was made for the judge; it must not be made a rule for the ordinary citizen.

It is true that the Old Testament told us to love our neighbour, but it nowhere tells us to hate our enemy (v.43). No doubt the Pharisees argued that it was logical and that the Scriptures by implication allow us to hate our enemies. Well, I suppose that there is a sort of demented logic about that, but what it involves is taking a Bible saying and misapplying it. The Lord Jesus does not want us to be un-biblical, He did not come to destroy the law and the prophets. What He did come to do was to fulfil that law and bring it to its true meaning and application. The distinctiveness is between our own righteousness and the righteousness of God.

iii. Distinctives (6:1-18)

Next Jesus moves into what I will call the distinctives. He says, "When you give your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you ..." (6:2). He is drawing a distinction between His people and others who might do identical things. It is as though He takes up this matter of righteousness and applies it to practical things. You will be involved in works of charity. So are many other people, but there is to be something distinctive in your case. Jesus then goes on from works to prayer: "When you pray you shall not be like the hypocrites" (v.5). There are other people who pray, but there must be something distinctive about your praying. He then takes up a third area of distinctiveness, that of fasting (v.18). There are other people who involve themselves in self-denial, but there must be a distinctive element about you.

Why does He do this? He begins, "Take heed that you do not your righteousness before men" (v.1). We would say that the righteousness of the Beatitudes is a matter of character, whereas here we treat of a righteousness which shows itself outwardly, in works of righteousness which characterise a manner of life. In this area we must take care that the outward works are matched by that inward character of His kingdom righteousness of which He has already spoken. It is all a matter of righteousness, but the living [29/30] of the righteous life has to have a certain inner principle about it which makes it different from anybody else's, even when the actions are the same.

As we have seen, there are three areas of life dealt with by the Lord. There is the realm of charitable works, reaching out to help the needy among mankind (v.2). Secondly there is the area of prayer, that is to say, reaching upward in our relationship to God (v.5). The third are is where we reach inwardly to ourselves, to self-discipline and self-denial (v.16). So here we are doing things that many other people will do, but there is to be a distinctive mark about the Christian in doing them: it is that they are done for the Father. That makes all the difference. "Your Father who sees in secret" is to provide our true motive. What is done is not for personal glory nor even only for the benefit of those helped, but it is done to please Him. The same applies to prayer, "pray to your Father who sees in secret ..." (v.6). Finally, "that thou be seen not by men to fast, but by your Father who is in secret ..." (v.18). That is to be the distinctive mark of the Christians who live out the life of righteousness; it is all done for the Father. How Jesus, the perfect Son, delighted to honour His Father, and He points us up to the Father as He sets our feet on the way to righteousness. Everything is for the pleasure of the Father.

iv. Directives (6:19 - 7:27)

We now come to the last section of the Sermon on the Mount where we have six commands, so I call this the directives. The first three are negative: "lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth" (6:19); "judge not" (7:1); and "give not that which is holy to the dogs" (7:6). We do not drift into holiness. It doesn't happen to us by accident or wishful thinking. We have to set our feet in the way of holiness. Having said so much about righteousness, Jesus tells us that we will only have this if we really want it and go all out for it.

For this reason the Lord brings us down to the brass tacks of six commands. Three of them are negative -- 'Don't do that' -- and the other three are positive. The first [positive command] is a command to pray (7:7). The second positive command is to enter (7:13), and the third is to beware (7:15). Why does He give us these six commands? Because He wants us to seek righteousness, the righteousness which comes from an obedient life. He is the perfect Teacher. There is a marvel of symmetry, balance and forcefulness in the way He teaches. This part of the Gospel ends with the comment that He taught as one having authority. How important it is, then, to hear His sayings and to do them.

(To be continued)


John H. Paterson

ANOTHER Christmas has come and gone and, with it, that familiar story of a baby, a stable (or was it really a cave?), shepherds and wise men. For many of us, it has come to have the quality of a favourite seasonal and, in that case, we are not likely to take it too seriously. What new truth could it possibly contain?

Reviewing the events in the story, I have to say that, familiar as it is, there is something about it that has always worried me. To explain what that worry is, I can best borrow an analogy drawn from our own times. You know, I am sure, that in America (and perhaps in other, relatively "new" countries), a politician running for office is often helped in his campaign if he can claim to have been born in a log cabin. He is anxious to show that his rise in the world is due to no advantage of birth or inherited wealth; he has succeeded on his own merits alone.

So much is this the case that the politician will stress -- will overstress -- his humble origins, with the comfortable family home shrinking in his speeches and his imagination to the required degree of poverty and simplicity. The public, in turn, comes to expect this and eventually grows cynical about these claims. To use the phrases [30/31] with which our everyday language provides us, the log-cabin theme has become too much : the claimant has "gone over the top".

But now: What about the birth of Jesus? Is not that "too much"? -- a bit "over the top"? That He should not have been born in a palace we can accept: after all, He was due to come out of Bethlehem-Ephrathah, and there were no palaces there. That His parents might be relative unknowns we could understand, just so long as one of them, at least, was of the House of David. But a stable: that, surely, was unnecessarily theatrical!

It is true, of course, as a thousand preachers point out every Christmas, that His birth in these circumstances linked Him from His earliest moments with the poorest and most needy of mankind. But I for one have never been able to accept that as an adequate explanation of this extraordinary episode in divine history. A thing may be true without necessarily explaining itself: the explanation requires that we know why a thing is true, and not simply that it is so.

No: for so important an event as the coming of His Son into the world, God must have had some very serious purpose behind His planning. If there was a full house at the inn, and shepherds in a field, then those circumstances were intended to serve us notice of something of real importance. The question is: what?

Why The Stable?

I do not know what your own answer would be to the question which I have just poised, but here is mine. The circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus were intended to serve notice upon us all that, in God's dealings with men, the appearance of things will always be deceptive. To go by appearance alone, in other words, will always involve the risk of our being misled.

This principle, of course, was not new; it should already have been known to the Jewish people. It was simply one more reminder -- and perhaps the most pointed -- of what God had been telling them for a large part of their history. Periodically, God served this same notice upon them. There was their great national leader, Moses, who had come to them as a baby out of the river. There was Gideon, who started with 32,000 men and ended up achieving victory with only 300 -- and those armed, so far as we know, only with pitchers and lights. There was the story of David and Goliath, and Elijah with earthquake, wind and fire and God in a still, small voice. And there were countless reminders in their prophetic writings of the way in which God works. "Not by an army, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6 R.V. margin).

That God should have chosen this, the moment of His Son's coming, to provide the most dramatic reminder of all of this principle suggests to me not only that it was going to be particularly necessary during the lifetime of Jesus, but also that He attaches very great importance to it. So, let us restate this principle, this time a little more broadly. Mankind is dealing with a God who is invisible, but who is working to a plan for His creation. It follows from this that the most important part of creation's history is the part we cannot see. Like the iceberg which sinks the ship, the visible part above the surface is only a small fraction of the whole: it is the part out of sight under the water that matters!

It then becomes the problem of the Christian believer to keep track of two quite separate histories which are unrolling in and around him -- the history of visible things, of appearances, and the history of God's purposes, which is just as real, but unseen. Not only are these two quite separate, but they may at any particular moment actually be opposites. No one could have explained this more clearly than Paul:

"God chose the foolish things of the world, that He might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that He might put to shame the things that are strong ... and the things that are not, that He might bring to nought the things that are, that no flesh should glory before God" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

Now to keep track of two histories unfolding side by side is just as difficult as thinking in two languages at once! But it is a skill which God's people need to learn. For the Scriptures insist on this distinction between what appears to be true and what is the reality behind the appearance. Once again, our best guide to this distinction is Paul. The key passage is found in 2 Corinthians [31/32] 4 - 5, and it centres upon that familiar reminder that "we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (4:18).

Appearance and Reality

In these two chapters, Paul distinguishes between "appearance" (as in 5:12) and a reality for which he uses another word that the Revised Version of 1881, consistently if rather pedantically, translates by "manifest" or "manifestation". (The Authorised Version almost, but not quite, follows the same course: it breaks down, as we shall see, at a crucial point in 5:10.) So, there are things which appear to be true and then there are other things which emerge as true when the moment of manifestation comes -- when God's light shines on them -- but which may contradict the appearance. These are the things referred to in 2 Corinthians 4:10, 11; 5:10, 11. They are, if you like, the things that are really real!

In order to follow Paul's train of thought, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the connection between his first and second letters to the church at Corinth. As we have already seen, the first epistle contains, in Chapter 1, the principle of the two histories, of the visible and the invisible, with which we are here concerned. It contains, too, the germ of the contrast between appearance and reality which was to be developed in the second letter: "... the Lord ... who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Tragically, that first letter had also to contain a blistering attack on the life and practice of the Corinthian believers. The church there was in a shockingly bad state. But it is clear that, when the first epistle arrived in Corinth, the reaction of the local Christians was not to say, "Yes, it's all too true: we must do as Paul says and put things right!" What they actually said was, "Who does he think he is, telling us how to run our own affairs?" And incredibly, just to show that they not only had a disorderly Church but had misunderstood everything in that first letter, they chose to reject Paul's rebuke precisely on grounds of appearance! They said, in effect, "He doesn't [32/33] look like an apostle! He doesn't sound like an apostle!" It was the equivalent of being rebuked by a minister today for immorality, and rejecting the rebuke on the grounds that he has red hair or a green tie, whereas you think that ministers ought to be bald and wear black!

So Paul had to begin all over again in the second epistle with the lesson of appearance over against manifestation. To "appearance" he referred twice, in 5:7 (RV margin) and 5:12. He was up against "them that glory in appearance", and the rest of this epistle through to Chapter 13 is, in a sense, a rebuttal of their viewpoint. What God is interested in, said Paul, is not appearance but manifestation -- the reality shinning out behind, or even in spite of, the appearance of things. He knew, better than anyone, how unimpressive was his appearance as an apostle: "pressed on every side ... perplexed ... pursued ... smitten down ... always bearing about in the body the putting to death of Jesus" (4:8-10 R.V. margin). But, he said, the reality of all that was "that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (4:11).

And however unimpressive he might appear to be, he was confident (5:11) that the reality was known to God, who would assess the true value of his ministry as an apostle: "we are made manifest unto God". Indeed, he argued, however superficial the judgement of these shallow and ignorant Corinthians might be; however they might denigrate him on account of his mere appearance, he was sure that their own consciences would rebuke them for such a shallow assessment, and make them face the truth: "I hope we are made manifest also in your consciences."

To repudiate Paul might not seem anything very serious, but the consequences of their action were likely to be far-reaching, for here we come to the key verse (5:10): "We must all be made manifest before the judgement seat of Christ." It is a pity that the authorised Version of our Bible, apparently following Tyndale's lead, has "We must all appear ...". To appear before the judgement seat of Christ is one thing that nobody will do; that nobody can do! In that place and at that time, there will be no appearances; only reality, with the bright light of God shining on all men and women, illuminating the reality of their lives and exposing what is merely appearance, pretence, hypocrisy or play-acting.

Living in Two Worlds

To follow Paul's argument in these chapters is certainly helpful in understanding our problem as believers, but the problem itself remains: how to live in two worlds; how to keep in view two histories; how to decide what is reality and what mere appearance; how to convert the values of one into the values of the other. This is the essence of that quality which we refer to in believers as discernment -- the ability to penetrate appearances and perceive reality; to see the apparent and instantly to convert it into the currency of heaven; to hear wisdom and know it for foolishness.

It was a problem which people constantly encountered with the Lord Jesus Himself, and that long after He had left the stable and had become a public figure. People saw and heard Him, but it was always a question as to how they saw Him -- as the real Him, or only as some nine-day wonder. John began his Gospel with the assertion, "We beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father" (John 1:14), but it took John himself long enough to realise that, and his Gospel narrative is full of stories about people who did or did not -- mostly not! -- behold His true glory.

To return to the principle from which I began, was it not more true of the Lord Jesus than of any other figure in history that, if you judged by appearances, you could only be misled? If the stable was an enigma, what of the Cross? No wonder that Paul, long afterwards and in the very passage we are considering, wrote: "Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more" (2 Corinthians 5:16). The flesh was the appearance; the manifestation was the glory that shone through.

All this is very confusing. I do not know whether, on the television, you have seen those advertisements in which two images of the same person are made to merge into one. One image has a cold and the other a sore throat, but if you take the right medicine the images come together in a single healthy person! This, I think, is how we may visualise those two tracks of history of which I spoke earlier. Making them merge is our problem, as it has been the problem of God's people all along. To return once more to 2 Corinthians 5 (verse 7 R.V. margin), "we walk by faith, not by appearance."

To state that in its simplest terms: let us never forget, as the days go by, that alongside our own unfolding history is another history -- that of God's unwavering purpose, and in the long run that is the one that counts.

Many years ago, I came across a comment in one of the travel books written by the late H. V. Morton, In Scotland Again, which I still think captures, as well as anything could, the Christian believer's problem of living in two worlds. Morton describes how, in a little town in Scotland, he came across a weaver who could weave two Scottish tartans at the same time on opposite sides of the same rug:

'I watched him at work on a rug of Grant tartan, the reverse side of which was a Maclean. It was an extraordinarily complicated process. "How on earth do you do it?" I asked. "Well, my eye's on the Maclean and my mind's on the Grant!"'

The Merging of Two Histories

What I have said so far is only a bare introduction to a very large subject, but you can pursue the outworking for yourself. I cannot end, however, without asking and answering one further question: will these two histories -- worlds -- sets of values -- never merge of their own accord? Are they parallel lines which will never meet?

Happily, this is a question which we can answer positively and precisely. They will meet, and we know when! We have the answer in that marvellous verse of Paul's tucked away rather obscurely in 2 Thessalonians 1:10: "When He shall come to be glorified in His saints and to be marvelled at in all them that believed."

(The Revised Version's "marvelled at" is much preferable to the A.V.'s "admired", for the Greek expresses astonishment rather than admiration, and that is the whole point!)

When the Lord Jesus comes "in that day" of His return, the spectators are going to be confronted, says Paul, by an astonishing spectacle. This astonishment will arise from the presence with Him of a lot of people who have lived their lives here on earth with every appearance of being very ordinary folk. Nothing in that appearance will have prepared the onlookers for the [33/34] astonishing fact that they are now with Him. From everybody's lips the bewildered questions arise: "What's so special about them ? How did they get there?"

And the answers to those two questions are, firstly, that what is now being seen is the manifestation of His saints' true worth, concealed for so long behind their very ordinary appearance and, secondly, that they are there because, says Paul, they believed. But believed what?

These saints are there because they believed in the reality of that other world, those other values, even when they could see nothing to confirm their belief. They went on believing even when every accumulating appearance seemed to shout "This is all there is! What you get is what you see, and nothing else!" And because the accumulated evidence pointed ever more strongly to the conclusion that there is no God and no divine purpose behind history, it is utterly astonishing that there should, in the end, be anyone present on that great day who has gone on believing to the very last, and so shares in His splendour.

But there will be -- [it will be] those who have "endured as seeing Him who is invisible", until one day faith became sight; the two images merged and the rest of creation could do nothing but marvel -- and glorify Him who was so enigmatically born in a manger.



David Godfrey

"The people shall go up every man straight before him" Joshua 6:5

IT cannot have escaped your notice that detailed instructions were given to Joshua before the attack upon Jericho. Between the fall of the walls and the final orders concerning the spoils, however, the soldiers had but one order, and that was that each man must march straight forward into the city. This one matter is drawn to our attention twice by the Holy Spirit, who both records the command and states that it was obeyed, "... the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him" (Joshua 6:20). On the seventh day and after the seventh circumnavigation, there came a call to halt. All the men turned to face the city, saw the walls fall down before them, and each man marched forward in the path that God had chosen specifically for him.

Their experiences must have varied greatly. One soldier might have been appalled at the obstacles which immediately confronted him while not so far away his fellow soldier was faced with a relatively easy way through. There were some, of course, who had halted right in front of the gates. For them the immediate approach would be easy, with no masonry to bar their way, but since there would be guards posted at the gates, they might later encounter fierce opposition. At some places the walls may have literally fallen flat, with rubble that could easily be negotiated, but those who had been halted right opposite a tower would have to face far greater obstacles and have to struggle through huge piles of masonry which barred their progress. The instructions, however, were quite explicit and they were that each individual should move straight ahead and not seek an easier way.

This is very true to life. We Christians are in the Lord's battle and as we move forward we face a whole variety of circumstances in the path appointed for us by God. Some Christians seem to sail through life, with little difficulty, little apparent effort and a minimum of suffering, while others have to battle on and face problems of family, of health or perhaps employment. For them nothing is easy. If, however, we believe that we are God's own people, fighting in His battles, we must believe that it was He who chose our path for us, saying 'This is the way, walk in it.'

Returning to Jericho, do you not think that a soldier facing a heavily fortified sector did not look with envy at his neighbour who was confronted by a less guarded section or by less masses of rubble? He might have reasoned that if the march had been stopped some minutes earlier he could have finished up just there. He could easily envy his more favoured neighbours and allow some trace of bitterness against his [34/35] commander who had been responsible for his location. No consideration had been given to him; he had been ordered to stop just there and then to turn and go straight ahead.

It would have been natural enough to complain. It is easy for us to envy our fellow believers, resenting our own lot and arguing that if we had been born in another place and at another time our lot might have been so much easier than it is. I have travelled a lot in Eastern Europe and have often been appalled at the sufferings of God's people there in those countries of oppression and deprivation. Suppose that some of us had been called upon to endure those trials because of our faith! We do well to pity them, though in fact I have heard them pitying us in the West who are called to be true to God in our affluent society.

Our course is marked out for us; every man must go straight before him. I don't know how justified I may be in applying this Jericho experience to us, but I do know that it was for all of us that Solomon wrote: "Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you ... do not swerve to the right or the left ..." (Proverbs 4:25 & 27). At the very beginning of this campaign the commander, Joshua, was instructed not to turn to the right or left from the law of the Lord.

Now each Israelite soldier had to look straight before him as he moved forward into victory. He must not concern himself with the activities of his companions. While in other ways we must be careful for one another, in this sense we must not be pre-occupied with the movements of others, but pursue our own God-given way. If the attention of an Israelite was distracted by considering others, he might easily stumble and fall as he clambered over the ruined walls.

At the very beginning of this book the commander, Joshua, was instructed not to look to the right or to the left as he moved into the land with God's people: "Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded thee; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest have good success ..." (Joshua 1:7). For the soldier not to go straight ahead but to veer to right or left would do one of two things, either it would leave a gap, an empty space, which no-one else could fill, or it could cause others to stumble and be a hindrance to them on their onward course.

Everyone is responsible to our great commander, and it is to Him that we must give account. We are not called to answer for the way our fellows are taking, but we are responsible for our own progress: "So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more; but judge ye this rather that no man put a stumbling -block in his brother's way, or an occasion of falling" (Romans 14:12-13).

In that resurrection episode by the Lake, Peter wanted to know what John's way would be but, when he enquired of the Lord, he was told to mind his own appointed task (John 21:22). Each one is different. As these soldiers moved forward to take possession of the city, some were able to move quickly, while others lagged behind, but they were all involved together in the taking of Jericho, and were in good order so long as each kept to the way chosen for him by the Captain of the Lord's host.

This brings me to my final point. If each warrior that ringed the city went straight ahead as he had been commanded, then they must all have met at a central point. What a meeting that would be! What celebrations of victory would thrill them all! Those who had fought so hard, those who had been wounded, those who had hardly a scratch and those who were exhausted by their efforts, would all meet, knowing that by taking their God-chosen way they had come to have a share in the glories of His total victory.

Imagine the scene! There were those who had struggled painfully, those who had fought hard, those who simply plodded on and some whose tears mingled joy with sorrow. But they were at last together. They had come through. Some may even have avoided the difficulties and deviated in their path, but God was gracious to them all. He gave them the victory.

As to us, we know that one day we will all meet in celebration of Christ's victory which He has expressed through us as we sought to move forward with Him. Even now we are all moving towards that great Day. Some, scarred with the battle, are coming from frozen Siberia, others from easier circumstances in affluent lands; some from flourishing churches and some from struggling groups or even lonely outposts. But they all have a story to tell of God's faithfulness as they moved straight forward in His will. [35/36]

"They shall come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:29). And all of them will have learned the lesson that the secret of victory in this spiritual warfare is to accept God's appointed way and move straight ahead with Him.



Poul Madsen

IN the books of the Kings and Chronicles we have the short histories of two small kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The former lasted for about 200 years, while Judah continued as a kingdom for some 350 years. In these small kingdoms God raised up men who stood before Him and could rightly proclaim, "Thus saith the Lord". Such men are among the greatest in the world's history. They represented God and spoke for Him, so perhaps it is not surprising that their words have never been assimilated into human wisdom but have rather been overlooked and neglected.

Standing Before the Lord

As a matter of fact, though, these were the men most worth listening to. It was so in their own day and is still the same today. Their foretelling of events at times was marvellous, but that was only a small part of their activities. The function of a prophet is to speak for God, and this demands an intimate relationship with Him. The first man whom the Bible calls a prophet is one who would not normally be considered as such, Abraham. God told a heathen ruler, "He is a prophet, and he will pray for you" (Genesis 20:7). At that particular time Abraham had behaved rather badly, but still he had audience with the Lord. He never preached a sermon; he never faced a congregation; but he stood before God and so was able to intercede effectively. Standing before God is an essential in prophetic ministry, for prophecy is not some sort of magic but the outcome of holy living. This was emphasised later, when it was said of Moses, "There has not arisen a prophet like unto Moses", with the explanation, "whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10).

A Man of God

We are familiar with the title 'prophet', but may be helped to a better understanding of what it involves when we consider the description 'A man of God'. This is often used, and it indicates that the one concerned was God's man, chosen by God and possessed by Him. In the case of Moses we know that from the beginning he was specially chosen by God. He was drawn out of the Nile where he lay at the point of death, and carried this truth with him all his life by reason of his name Moses. In this sense this sovereign choice made him a man of God. In a much deeper way, however, he was a man of God because he understood and accepted that he no longer belonged to himself but lived a God-appropriated life. So it was in the case of Elijah who came much later who was truly a man of God although in himself a nobody. He had no hesitation in declaring to the king Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, liveth, before whom I stand". He was thus a man of God. Indeed this was a feature of all the prophets. They were God's men because He had selected them in a special way and also because they practised fellowship with Him.

Standing before the Lord means as close to Him as is possible and giving Him the priority over everything else. If at times these prophets were lonely, finding themselves rather isolated from the broad religious life of the community, that was the price which they had to pay for their close fellowship with the Lord. They did nothing to make themselves extraordinary, but their position as men of God was brought about by their determination to wait upon God. Not being quite like ordinary men of their day was the inevitable result of their living in God's presence.

It was because of their intimate communion that the Word of the Lord came to them and was given through them. God spoke to them and they obediently repeated what they had heard. They did not just make up sermons or sit down and think up what they thought might be the right ideas or interesting subjects; they waited on God and so they became men of God. They were not supermen or eccentrics but men just like us, as James says of Elijah (James 5:17). [36/37]

After Elijah came Elisha. It is striking that of this successor of the great prophet, the great woman of Shunem said to her husband, "I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God" (2 Kings 4:9), yet all we know of Elisha -- or rather all she knew -- was that when he was passing that way, he stopped to have a meal in her home. Such a simple contact nevertheless brought a very real sense of God's presence to that home. Holiness does not consist of religious forms; it comes from a close walk with God.

A Seer

Another term used to describe some prophets was that of Seer. The suggestion is that they saw and understood God's will and God's way, and that this spiritual insight enabled them to speak for Him. They did not act on their own impulses or initiative; they waited on the Lord for instructions. They were not showmen, seeking a place in the limelight; they often risked their own lives in communicating to the people what had first been shown to them. They acted without fear of man, yet were free from unseemly forcefulness or arrogance. They could rightly affirm: 'this is what the Lord says'

False Prophets

There were of course others who used the phrase, 'Thus saith the Lord' and who called themselves prophets and were generally reckoned as such, but who were false prophets. They do not seem to have been conscious deceivers but they themselves believed what they said, yet they were blind and certainly not seers. We can argue for what we think is right as though it were God's truth, whereas actually it comes from our own deceitful hearts. Mankind has fallen so deeply into deception that it is all too possible for any of us to be false without knowing it. Only true humility can save us from that.

The prophet must not indulge in wishful thinking. This is a tendency common to most of us but it is fatal in one who would be a prophet. As an example, we read of a man called Zedekiah who doubtless thought and hoped that the blessing of God must rest on an alliance between his monarch Ahab and the good king Jehoshaphat, so he accordingly prophesied that the kings would be victorious, saying: "Thus saith the Lord ... thou shalt push the Syrians that they be consumed" (1 Kings 22:11). Jehoshaphat himself was not convinced so, in spite of Ahab's declared prejudice, another prophet, Micaiah, was called. He spoke from God and gave a completely different prospect to the kings, not because he wanted it to be like that but because he had a command from the Lord. On the face of it, no-one could say which man was really the one who spoke for God and which was only making it up. Micaiah was content to be judged by the outcome and replied to his persecutors, "If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me."

Very often it is the outcome which provides the proof of the true or false. Certainly non-fulfilment of what purports to be predicted in the name of the Lord completely discredits the speaker and labels him with God's charge of being a false prophet. Now the false may not be a deliberate deceiver, but can be led astray by his own ideas or impulses. This is especially so when there is an element of conceit or self-importance on his part. Such a conceit in spiritual things brings a great risk of self-deception, a fact which should humble anyone who dares to speak in God's name. If the false prophets were themselves deceived, that made them much more dangerous to others.

The Lord has warned us that deceivers will arise and deceive many. Jeremiah describes the basic faults of such men: "I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people" (Jeremiah 23:21-22). Perhaps the greatest need in Christianity today is quietness; not a lazy passivity but an active quietness before God which is seemly for those who aspire to be His servants. We must stand before God in the first place, and listen to what He has to say and then communicate to others. That is what God's prophets did.

Eternal Values

The prophets did nothing to make themselves important yet their words, which were often quite brief, had eternal values. They cast light on life from an eternal viewpoint. Of course their messages were relevant and vital to those who first heard them and had a timely communication from God about their own circumstances, nevertheless the heart of all prophecy is the revelation of God's eternal purpose in Christ and is therefore of supreme importance.

The prophets did nothing to make their words more acceptable, for they believed that He who spoke through them could open deaf ears and enlighten blind eyes for their hearers and readers even as He had done this first for them. They [37/38] realised that they said more than they themselves fully understood, for it is through them that we have the revelation of the mystery of God, who is Christ. All the fullness of the godhead dwells in Christ and it is through the ministry of the prophets that we learn of Him. Through their Scriptures little people like us who have small understanding and limited perspectives may learn something of those "riches of the full assurance of understanding" which the Bible promises.

It is because the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy that the history of these two humanly-speaking insignificant nations comes with life-giving power to our hearts. The ministry of God's prophets points us to the Head of the Church who radiates a glory which casts light on the whole creation. The significance of the prophets is inexhaustible. The history of Israel and Judah is more important than national history, contemporary history or world history, because through it we are given entrance into that world which is beyond all human capacity to realise. We can only know God by His making Himself known to us, and He has done this through the prophetic Word. "You should give that word your closest attention, for it shines like a lamp amidst all the dirt and darkness of the world ..." (2 Peter 1:19 Phillips ).



(The Epistle to the Hebrews)

Harry Foster


GOD the Father has an Only Son. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. This book of the New Testament lays great stress on His unique greatness. At the same time God has, in Christ, a whole family of sons, and it is to them that this Letter to the Hebrews is especially directed. It is not so much a Letter to any group or locality as a treatise on spiritual matters for all believers. I rather favour the suggestion that Chapters 1 to 12 represent the main body of the work, with Chapter 13 as a covering letter of 'few words' (13:22), possibly written by Paul himself. Looked at it in this way, we have a message which commences with the statement that God has spoken (1:1) and ends with an appeal not to refuse Him that speaks (12:25).

It is true that it has been given the title which says that it is for Hebrews, but the truth is that nobody knows who were its first recipients. It is clear that its readers were presumed to have a detailed knowledge of the Old Testament, something which every Christian should aspire to have. The readers are called 'holy brothers', not only by the writer but by the Lord Jesus Himself (2:11). It follows, then, that the message is for all of us who by new birth are members of the family of God, directly begotten by the Father and therefore described as 'The church of the firstborn ones' (12:23).

The apparent historical background of Jewish believers, tempted to apostatise back to a formal religion, does not greatly concern any of us today, for even modern Hebrew Christians cannot possibly return to a Temple, priests or sacrifices. Heaven-born saints, whatever their nationality, have no permanent city here on earth (13:14). The call of the book is to us all. It is not only against going back but is an urge not to stand still either, but to press on towards the mature experience in which children become sons. God's speaking to us is in terms of sonship. With His unique Son at His right hand, He is engaged in bringing many sons to glory. The main thrust of this whole document is the Fathers call to His children to press on towards their appointed goal, namely, His public acknowledgement to the universe that they are His sons and heirs.

This is not an evangelistic tract for non-Christians, though it repeatedly emphasises the foundation truth of salvation by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. To have one's sins forgiven is indeed a wonderful blessing, but the reference to 'such a great salvation' (2:3) which must not be ignored, implies that there is much still to be realised of redemption's purpose. We can never hear too much about God's remedy for sin, so we treasure each statement which the writer makes concerning that one great sacrifice of the cross. I find, though, that we are told not to circle round and round the fundamental bases of our faith, but to leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity (6:1). Justification by faith is not an end in itself; it is the opening up of the prospect of a glorious destiny. The Father loves His little children whose sins are forgiven but He wants them to make progress in an increasingly mature knowledge of His will. [38/39]

God's Human Family

It may seem surprising that most of the first two chapters is taken up with the subject of angels. The objective is not to inform us about these extra-territorial beings but rather to convince us of the supreme importance to God of the human race. The prospect in view is 'the world to come' (2:5) and its rulers are not to be angels but Abraham's descendants (2:16). The Lord Jesus demonstrates to us how important we men are to God. The superiority of Christ to the angels is set out in a series of most convincing arguments. Those who believe that the Son is the exact representation of God's glorious being will readily accept that. Yet a whole chapter is devoted to proving it. The last verse gives a clue to the reason for this, since it reminds us that the humblest heir of salvation is being ministered to by angels. So far as God is concerned, it is His sons who matter most.

It is rightly stated that, as Co-Creator with the Father, the Lord Jesus is in every way superior to privileged angelic beings. That could never be in question. What can it mean, then, that He has inherited a more excellent name than they? As the eternal Son did He not always possess a name infinitely above all angels? The significance of His inheriting such a name can only be that in His incarnation, and as a Man, He has total superiority to angels. It was at the time of His incarnation, when He was brought as firstborn into the world, that they were commanded to worship Him (1:6). Why this command concerning One whom they had always worshipped hitherto? The point seems to be that the Father insists on honouring the Son in His humanity. Indeed it is in that humanity that the Lord Jesus has been re-instated at the Father's right hand. Christ has brought sonship into the realm of flesh and blood (2:14). The eternal purposes of the Father God are bound up with us men. Angels are real beings and they serve to further the glory of God, but they do not satisfy His longings for love, for He is Father as well as Creator, and from eternity He has planned to have a great family of human sons.

Our destiny is referred to in the context of Psalm 8, where the writer asks the question as to why man should be so important to God. This is an unusual psalm, for it makes no mention of sin or redemption, yet sets the dignity of man in the context of God's excellent name in all the earth. What is man? He is the being whom God has chosen to be crowned with glory and honour, and to rule the whole creation. Will it ever happen? It has already happened in the person of the Lord Jesus and for the moment that description can only truly refer to Him. So far as the rest of us are concerned it is not yet true (2:8). Not now! Not yet! But already we see in Jesus the present realisation of that prospect, for He is already crowned with glory and honour, and we are reminded that His tasting of death for us makes possible the eventual bringing of many sons to glory. It is true that Psalm 8 does not mention redemption but it does give us some clue to the greatness of our salvation. One day the whole groaning creation will rapturously greet the revelation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).

God's Desire for Growth

Chapter 3 repeats this amazing destiny which awaits the redeemed, informing us that we are members of God's household (or family) (v.6) and sharers with Christ, provided always that we keep going on (v.14). In this connection the Holy Spirit has already provided a warning in Psalm 95. There were literal sons of Abraham who, however, never attained to his inheritance. There were men who were shepherded by the faithful Moses yet who were finally disqualified. We are not to be downcast. Every provision has been made for us in Christ. The Holy Spirit still assures us that 'Today' we have a glorious future in view. And just as Abraham had a timely intervention from God in the persona of Melchizedek, so we have the heavenly Melchizedek in the person of our exalted Lord (4:14 & 5:10).

Here again we are confronted with issues which are not directly concerned with the forgiveness of our sins. For that forgiveness we have the perfect sacrificing priest who had settled the sin question and brought us into the family of God as His dear children. But we have more than that. In the same Saviour we have the One who was high priest before man ever sinned and will still be high priest when sin has for ever been put away -- "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (5:10). We will always need Him. We will always have Him. Let us be sure to make full use of His gracious help.

It is at this stage that the writer underlines a basic requirement for God's children which is that they should grow up. The writer was inhibited from developing the Melchizedek theme by reason of the immaturity (seemingly the culpable immaturity) of those for whom the message was first given (5:12). I would love to know what are these many features of Melchizedek that could [39/40] not be divulged. Am I also immature to a degree that silences further revelation? It may well be so. It is possible that some of the implications are so sacredly spiritual that it would not be safe for most of us to pursue them fully until we are in eternity. Nevertheless we are told to grow up. We are encouraged to believe that the Lord is ready enough to instruct us further, provided that we will be found among those growingly able to digest solid food.

I do not hold that there is any technical difference between the two designations of 'children' and 'sons'. I do not know. But I do sense that there is a great need for God's children to put away childish things and grow up spiritually. In this connection I would highlight Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians, "Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults" (1 Corinthians 14:20). It is not my purpose to draw attention to the context of the apostle's words, but only to underline the importance of spiritual growth. New birth is instant; our public recognition as God's sons will presumably be instant too; meanwhile, however, we must take seriously the fact that God is dealing with us as those whom He is instructing in the ways of holiness with sonship always in view. We must take very seriously the exercise of growing up.

This Letter was not written just to draw out our admiration of God's great Son, though that might be reason enough. It is more; it is an impassioned appeal to us to see Him as our Forerunner and to be whole-hearted in growing to be like Him. In ourselves we are slaves: in Christ we are made to have dominion.

The Call to Action

From first to last our salvation is a matter of sheer grace. The throne to which we come for help is essentially a throne of grace. The Lord Jesus reminded us that being anxious will not assist us to grow. But when all that is taken into account we are still left with an important Scriptural document which alternates between encouragements to action and warnings about inaction in this matter of sonship.

By constant use of the verbal form which is translated 'Let us ...' the writer entreats us to be resolutely active in our Christian growth. We can drift out of the will of God but we can never drift into it. We have been born by reason of God's will, but we will not grow up into that will without constant effort on our part. As I have said, the divine family in which Moses served is constituted of believers (3:6), who have become partners with Christ (3:14) but both of those verses lay down the condition of holding fast our hope firmly to the end. The individual responsibility is underlined by the express desire that each one of us should show the same diligence to the very end, in order to make our hope sure (6:11), while the more general call is that we should give diligence (or make the effort) to enter in (4:11). This call for effort is far from being contrary to the repeated assurance that Christ has sanctified and perfected us by His one offering of Himself; it is in fact a reminder of God's expectation that we will give an active response of faith to His provision in Christ.

We must note the repeated call to patience or perseverance. So much is made to hang on this, indeed it forms perhaps the main thrust of the whole document. It seems to me that there are two ways of considering spiritual attainment. There is the obvious one of beginning at the bottom and working steadily upwards, but there is also the view that we have been launched from the beginning on the heights, but need to take care not to slip down to lower levels as time goes on. Both are valid, and both appear in this Epistle. The first is expressed in the words: "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (12:1), where the imagery suggests the steady progress of growth. In the second, the readers are praised for the early enthusiastic days of their first love, when they behaved as responsible sons of their Father, and then urged not to throw away the values of those golden days by losing heart and sinking to a lower level (10:35-36). It is as though they began in the full life of true sonship, and must now be careful to keep it up. If both aspects are true neither of them leaves any room for complacency.

There are costs and there are perils associated with this calling to sonship, as the Letter will make plain in the continuation of our studies. There are also wonderful encouragements and incentives, as we shall also see. The Lord Jesus who began our life of faith is the One who will also bring it to maturity (12:2). We need to keep looking away to Him. But even if we fail to do so, He will not turn from us since His great preoccupation in His life on the throne is to make salvation bring us to this divine goal -- "He is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near to God through him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us" (7:25). The same Spirit who is bringing children to birth is also bringing many sons to glory.

(To be continued) [40/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


Psalm 121    STARTING UP

NO sooner has the pilgrim set out on his journey than he catches a glimpse of the ultimate destination which is on the high hill of Zion. This raises in his mind the question as to how he will ever make it. "From whence will my help come?" How can I possibly climb to those heights?

TWO main factors arise, namely, how he can obtain and maintain strength for such a strenuous journey and how he can find protection from the many dangers and difficulties of the way. An inspired voice answers his questions. He will be kept by the power of God.

FOR his strength he may confidently look to the Lord, since He is the One who made both heaven and earth. He made those hills and He can therefore safely be trusted to enable the traveller to reach the divinely set objective. He is also the pilgrim's Maker so that if He sets this goal before him, He will provide all the needed strength that it may be ultimately reached.

THIS has its spiritual parallel. The heights of holy perfection in Christ are so daunting that we may well ask ourselves where we can find help to reach them. The question, however, answers itself. Our God is the faithful Creator. He planned our destiny and He will give us help to reach it.

THE second problem concerned the perils and difficulties of the rugged way to the top, the dangers of the stumbling foot, the scorching sun and the treacherous moon. The answer is the same. The Lord who is the pilgrim's Creator is also his Keeper. Whatever various renderings may be given in different translations, the R. V. tells him six times that he will be kept .

THE same Lord who keeps the whole Church will keep the fearful individual, and the keeping will be total -- "He will keep thee from all evil; He will keep thy soul." The daytime perils of the sun may be very real, but he will be kept under the divine shade. The nightly perils of the moon may be quite imaginary, but mercy will keep him from them too. God's vigilance is perpetual; twice over we are assured that our Keeper is always wide awake and will not relax His watchful care of us for a single moment.

FINALLY the questioning pilgrim is told that now and for ever his heavenly Keeper will take care of his goings out and comings in. The N.I.V. uses a more familiar expression, 'comings and goings' but God does not express it in this order. He never concludes with going out where His own are concerned. For them there will always be a coming in. Our psalm not only deals with the matter of setting out on the journey but of safe arrival.

WE go out trustingly in the morning; we come in gratefully at eventide. We go out of this world in weakness, but that is not the end, for we go into our heavenly home in glory. For the last time we will go out of that sweet blessedness when the Day of Christ comes, but the eternal coming in will follow, when dead and living will be gathered to the Lord at His appearing. And the Lord will preserve each going out and the subsequent coming in. With that assurance we can keep moving on our way up to our Home in God.


[Back cover]

Psalm 119:72

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