|Vol. 16, No. 3, May - June 1987
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS THE TEACHER (2)
J. Alec Motyer
THE last article pointed out that two of the great teaching sessions
of Matthew's Gospel took place on mountains. The first is what we call the
Sermon on the Mount and is covered by chapters 5 to 7. In chapter 24, however,
we have a further revelation of the teaching function of the Lord Jesus,
beginning with the words, "As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives" (v.3).
Once again we find the Lord on a mountain, sitting and teaching. This is
virtually another Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a larger whole, beginning
in 21:23 and it terminates with the usual expression of completion. "When
Jesus had finished saying all these things" (26:1).
Rejection by the Jewish Leaders
From 21:23 we have a procession of the leading figures of Jewry coming
in turn to speak with Jesus. These were the official representatives of
God's people. After this we find how Jesus talked with various groupings
or parties among them as these came to question Him and enquire about Him.
"Then came the Pharisees" (22:15), and in their attempt to ensnare the Lord
in His talk they linked up with the Herodians -- a very odd alliance. When
people are opposed to Jesus, they find themselves with very strange bed-fellows.
The Pharisees were fiercely exclusive; they saw themselves as the unique
people of God, exclusive from all others on the face of the earth. The Herodians,
however, were the compromisers who thought that the way forward for the Jewish
people was the way of politics, the way of Herod. For them it was a matter
of getting involved with the Romans in government so that they could thus
secure as much independence as possible. So the exclusivists and the compromisers
made common cause against Jesus.
This teaching session was continued with the Sadducees who then came
to the Lord. The Sadducees were by way of being the radicals who did not
believe in very much that was spiritual. They pretended to be highly moral,
though I am told that this was not actually true of their lives. They were
the moralists who wanted religion without spirituality, and they did not
believe in life after death; in that they were entirely negative. They now
came to Jesus with an attractive man-made story about a woman who married
seven brothers, one after the other because they did not have any family.
They argued that if the life to come is as difficult to imagine and as hard
to fathom as to its problems, it would be better to forget the whole thing
Finally another grouping with the Pharisees came: "they gathered themselves
together and one of them, a lawyer, an expert in the law ..." put his question.
So the procession ended. They thought that they were interviewing Jesus,
but the reality was that He was interviewing them, and basically the theme
of it all concerned the person of Jesus. They began with a question but in
the end Jesus rounded off the whole procedure by asking them a question --
"What do you think about Christ?" (22:42).
They glibly thought that they knew the answer to that question and answered
that of course He is the son of David. Then it was that Jesus cornered them
with His question, "How then does David, inspired by the Spirit of God, call
him Lord?" Now Jesus was not just trying to score what we would call a debating
point. It was a serious question, for this whole chapter was about who is
Jesus and what is His authority. His answer was that He claimed to be not
only the son of David but also the Son of God.
The End of the Jewish System
They would not accept the authority of Jesus, so this spelled the end
for them. We find in chapter 23 that He rounds on them with a series of seven
woes, that is to say according to the biblical law of numbers, that they
were given a full declaration of judgment: "Woe unto you ..."
[41/42] (23:13). We cannot deal with this chapter now, but it is
full of very deep teaching from the lips of the Lord Jesus and it ends with,
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those that are
sent unto you. How often would I have gathered your children together as
a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (v.37).
We notice how gently and quietly Jesus claims a divine position for Himself,
as if saying, 'I, the seemingly ordinary human being talking to you, am the
almighty God. Over and over again, in history past, I would have gathered
you together.' They could, have responded, but they did not do so, with the
inevitable result, "Behold, your house is left to you desolate". They would
still have the shell of things but it would be empty, desolate, in ruins.
They had missed their opportunity.
Nevertheless there was still a door of hope, they could still see Him
as He really is when they found themselves ready to cry out, "Blessed is
He who comes in the name of the Lord." If any were able to give from their
hearts that great age-old acclamation of the Messiah, they would see Him
in terms of salvation. They had lost their system. It no longer had any meaning,
for their house was desolate, but Jesus would still be open to the eye of
faith as One coming in the name of the Lord.
The Coming Lord
Now these two themes -- the desolation of the old and the coming Lord
-- open up the subject of the Lord's discourse in chapter 24. He set up a
sign for them to see, "the abomination of desolation which was spoken by
Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place", by which they would know
that the destruction of Jerusalem was at hand and the temple would be pillaged
for the last time and brought down never to rise again. The Lord then spoke
of the coming of the new, "... then shall appear the sign of the Son of
Man in heaven" (vv.29-30). Chapter 24 is therefore a preview of history.
The Lord Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives and looked forward, seeing the
coming destruction of Jerusalem and, beyond that, the glory of His own Second
This leads us into chapter 25, which is all about waiting for the kingdom.
There are three stories, and while the focus of attention rests on the bridegroom,
the owner of the vineyard and the enthroned king, the real emphasis is upon
how people used the waiting period, and the need to be ready for the Coming.
How well this follows from chapter 24, and what a careful and loving Teacher
Jesus is! He not only spoke of the Coming but told men how to use the intervening
This, then, is the pattern of the great second Sermon on the Mount of
Matthew's Gospel. It begins with the parade of the various Jewish bodies
coming one by one to hear what the Lord has to say, and one by one walking
away as though nothing had happened. They make no response to Jesus except
the response of rejection. Then, in chapter 23, we have the passing of judgment
with its seven-fold 'Woe'. In chapter 24 we have the preview of history, and
then in chapter 25 the threefold warning and instruction concerning preparation
for the Coming King.
It is not possible here to deal with chapter 23, so we devote our attention
to the other three chapters which speak of the Parade, the Preview and the
Preparation. This first passage on the Parade, which commences at 21:23 really
focuses on the authority of Jesus. We who acknowledge that authority can
sit back in worship of Him who is so supreme in His authority, but the sadness
is that this passage records a rejection of that authority.
When the Sanhedrin group came to the Lord questioning His authority,
He replied to their question with three stones. First of all, though, He
questioned them about the authority of John the Baptist and whether they
regarded it as arising from God or simply coming from men. The Lord was
not trying to score a debating point but asking a serious question, for
what they thought of John would determine what they thought of Him. John
was sent as a divine fore-runner. What did they make of that? Of course
He had them in a corner; they did not accept him as the fore-runner but
in that public place of the temple they dare not say that John only had
human authority. [42/43]
The Lord, however, never leaves people in ignorance, but gives them every
chance to believe. This He did by the three stories which follow. The first
concerns two sons who were asked to work in their father's vineyard. The
first said that he would not go, but afterwards he thought better of it and
went. The other son said, "I will, sir" (21:30) but in fact he did not go.
The second story begins in 21:33 and gives the striking parable of the property
owner who let his property out to tenant farmers and began to send servants
to collect the rent which would be a proportion of the crop. Successively
they defied the servants, mistreated them and threw them out of the vineyard.
Luke tells us that at last the owner sent a beloved son, hoping that they
would respect him, but Matthew's Gospel is written by an accountant who did
not dwell on the emotional content of the situation but simply records the
facts in a curt and dried fashion by saying, "Afterwards he sent his son"
(21:37). Nevertheless that was the dramatic moment, and the climax of the
procedure. It is an interesting comment on the parabolic method of the Lord
that He did not tell parables to fox people, or puzzle and mystify them,
as we see by the statement, "when the Pharisees heard His parables, they
perceived that He spoke of them" (v.45). Their problem was not that they
did not understand the parables, but that they understood them too well and
rejected them. This was the Lord's way of answering their challenge to His
authority, and it was perfectly plain to them what He meant. He was the son.
They knew it but would not have it.
The third story is found in 22:1-14 and it told of a king who made a
marriage feast for his son. Once again the Lord emphasised His divine sonship
and the fate of those who would not accept it. Those who had been invited
made foolish excuses, with the result that the king directed his invitation
to the needy of this world, who gladly came flooding in until the house was
full. There was one man, however, who came but made no adjustment to his life.
The wedding garment seems to suggest the imparted righteousness which God
gives and the lack of such a garment refers to the unreality of those who
profess to come to Christ but do not conform to the occasion.
The Lord Jesus told these three stories to the Sanhedrin group to stress
that He has authority, especially in the matter of membership. He alone can
say who belongs to His people and who does not. The first story of the son
who changed his mind expresses the truth that it is repentance which brings
people into His kingdom. The repented are in, Jesus affirmed, but you who
have never repented are out. There is also the matter of acknowledging Him
as God's Son, which is a key factor. If only the men who had rejected the
servants had reverenced the son, they would have been all right. So repentance
must include the acknowledgement of the Lord Jesus, a true submission to
His authority as Son of God. The third story reminds us that in acknowledging
Him we must go on to conform to Him. If we are at His wedding we must be
suitably dressed, with our outward lives conformed to the occasion. If we
belong to Jesus, we must become like Him.
In all these parables we find just two sorts of people. In the first
there are those who alter their 'No' to a 'Yes' and there are the others
who think that they are agreeing but by their actions say 'No'. In the third
story there are two sorts of wedding guests, those who are conformed to the
Bridegroom and any who are not. It becomes a matter of membership and the
Lord Jesus has the authority to say who belongs and who does not.
Next in the Parade came the combination of Pharisees and Herodians with
their question about the payment of taxes. The Pharisees would have wished
Him to reject these taxes while the Herodians would have liked Him to answer
that they should be payed, for this would confirm their way of political
expediency. So it was a crafty question, counting on the fact that in whatever
way the Lord answered it, He would be out with one group and in with the other.
Certainly if He had discountenanced tax-paying, He would have been in conflict
with the Roman authorities. It was a very clever question.
Jesus answered it by showing that He is the One who has authority for
the direction of life in this world. It was a masterly answer. In this world
we live with a multiplicity of interlocking obligations, and it is essential
to give Caesar the things that belong to him as well as benefitting from
his [43/44] rule. But it is also essential to give
to God what belongs to Him. When they heard it they marvelled, but they did
not say that He must be the Messiah, the Son of God, but they just went away.
When they found that they could not trap Him they didn't want anything more
to do with Him. For us the Lord Jesus has the answer to all our questions;
His masterly authority is our guide for this life.
To the Sadducees (so 'sad-you-see'!) the Lord Jesus developed the theme
of His authority not only for this life, but as the One who rules in the
life to come. He stamps His seal on the reality of the life to come affirming
first of all that it is different from this life. It is an entirely different
situation into which we are going, one which we cannot now comprehend. We
know, though, that our God is the God of the living and not of the dead, so
that no-one that is linked to Him can ever die. The Lord Jesus not only authoritatively
seals our life in this world, but also authoritatively seals our life in
the world to come.
When the Pharisees came to Him the second time with the question, "Which
is the greatest commandment of the law?" (22:36), He took up the position
of the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, the One who has authority
over the divine revelation, not ever to contradict it but only to confirm
it. Having thus established His authoritative position, He Himself asks the
final question, "The Christ -- whose Son is He?" They would not deny that
He was the Son of David, but they have to face the fact that David gave divine
honours to the one who is his son.
The Lord not only addresses His question to the Pharisees but to us all,
who can be equally partial in our handling of the Scripture and refuse the
things which are unpleasant for us. The Pharisees wanted the royal Messiah
who would fulfil all their political aspirations but they did not want Jesus,
so they turned and left Him. Those who do that have nothing to look forward
to except the seven-fold 'Woes' of chapter 23. As we have seen, the door
was not slammed on them, for the way of faith was open to them if they would
recognise Him as the One coming in the name of the Lord, but in using this
phrase Jesus was not talking about His Coming as a future event, but of His
dignity as the Coming One. The door of hope slammed on the old system, but
salvation still awaited those who would acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah.
As we consider chapter 24 we need to remember that when the Lord Jesus
spoke these words to His disciples, He did not invite them to feed in other
Scriptures, but simply said that this is how it is going to be. He gave
them a comprehensive framework of essentials, both with regard to coming
history and to His own coming again. I therefore propose to make as little
additional comment as possible in reviewing the chapter and asking what
it was that He said as He sat on the Mount of Olives.
In verse 1 Jesus went out from the temple and was going on His way when
the disciples remarked on the temple, thinking that it was time He took some
account of its wonders. His reply, 'You see all these things? Truly I say
to you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another', interpreted
to them His own statement about Pharisaic Judaism. 'Desolate', they wondered.
'What do You mean by desolate?' He meant that it would not be there at all,
but would be completely demolished. It was with this in their minds that
they went out with Him and sat on the Mount of Olives. This provoked their
private question, "Tell us, when will these things be?" (v.3).
Please note their words, 'these things'. These were the things of which
He had just spoken to them, the house being left desolate, the temple which
will be demolished stone by stone. "When will these things be"? Then they
went on to ask a further question -- not to be confused with the first but
kept separate from it -- "What will be the sign of Your coming and of the
end of the world?" So they asked Him a double Question. And chapter 24 tells
us how He answered that double question.
He answered it first by giving a preview of certain trends, not specified
events, that will characterise the ensuing history of the world. The
[44/45] first of those trends comes in verses 4 to 8, where the
Lord says that the world will be a troubled place. It will be a time of religious
perversion and also of international social unrest. But "the end is not
yet" (v.6). Trouble and distress will go right on to the end and "these
things are the beginning of travail" (v.8). There is something which will
also go on until the end, and that is the preaching of the gospel of the
kingdom, "and then shall the end come" (v.14). So you see that right up
to verse 14 Jesus was not talking about specific events which indicate the
imminence of the end, but of general trends in the ongoing history of the
world, saying that the world will be full of unrest, religious and political,
while the Church will be giving itself to preaching the gospel to all nations.
Then the end will come.
Up to verse 14, therefore, we have trends, but from 15 to 31 we have
specific events. Out of these Jesus singled out two specific occurrences
which are to be fitted into this framework of history. The first is the
downfall of Jerusalem. He began with something to watch out for, "the abomination
of desolation spoken by Daniel ...". Luke puts it in another way, saying,
"When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies". The Lord Jesus gave them clear
signs to watch out for and counselled them to leave the city and flee to
the mountains when they happened (v.16). Now we know that this event happened
in AD 70 and history tells us that the church of that time obeyed the Lord
and escaped from Jerusalem before its final destruction.
Now it is true that verse 29 says, "Immediately after the tribulation
of those days" but we need to know that in actual fact a large gap has opened
out in church history. It is as if one thinks that a mountain crest in the
distance has nothing beyond but when that summit is reached, a further crest
is seen to lie beyond, with a valley in between. I think that this is how
we are to understand the Lord's words, as if saying, Look at the fall of
Jerusalem as a mountain crest, but look beyond that and you will see a greater
crest, and that is the one you are approaching. There may be intervening peaks
in between but this is the great event of future history.
One significant event is coming soon -- the destruction of Jerusalem.
Beyond that there will be the greatest event of all, His own Coming, and
the Lord Jesus uses the word 'immediately' because He wants us all to be
in a state of readiness for it. The Lord speaks of the appearance of "the
sign of the Son of Man" in heaven. I would like to know what that means,
but we will know when it happens. If I could choose a meaning for it, I would
think that in His infinite mercy to us and to the world, the Lord Jesus would
cause the stars of heaven to take up a new configuration, moving them into
a form that the whole world would see and so declare the imminence of His
Coming. That would be marvellous: it would be dramatic. I do not know, but
certainly the Lord is going to move on a world-wide scale. The sun will be
darkened. The moon and the stars will fail. And Jesus will come again.
From verse 32 onwards, the Lord Jesus gives us four illustrations of
coming events, things which will help us in this matter. First there is
the parable of the fig tree. That is something that can be seen, just as
men know that Summer is near when they see the fig tree developing. Concerning
this, the Lord said, "Verily ... this generation shall not pass away till
all these things are accomplished" (v.34). Jerusalem fell in AD 70; it happened
just as the Lord had said.
What the Lord had to say afterwards concerns what cannot be known. They
had asked Him about two things, the fall of Jerusalem and His Second Coming
-- "that day". About the first He described how events would develop in that
very generation. Then He answered their other question: "Of that day and
hour no-one knoweth, not even the angels, nor the Son but the Father". This
is different. There is no way of knowing when this will occur; it is locked
up to all except the Father Himself.
The Lord Jesus then proceeds with three further illustrations, which
I can only seek to summarise. The first is that of Noah and the Flood, which
I take to be an illustration of what seemed so unlikely. The world was going
on in [45/46] its own carefree way, heedless of the
warnings given by Noah that destruction was coming. The Coming of the Lord
Jesus will be when it is most unlikely.
The third illustration is that of preparedness (v.45). How do we prepare
for our Coming Lord? By a life of obedience so that when He comes He will
find us doing what He told us to do. But again we are given the reminder:
"The lord of that servant will come in a day when he expecteth not, and in
an hour when he knoweth not". When we think it is most unlikely, then He
This brings us to chapter 25 with its three parables which all deal with
the matter of preparedness, of getting ready. It is like the ten girls; it
is like the talents; it is like the sheep and the goats. Why were the five
foolish girls not ready? Because they had no oil laid up in store. They
had no secret stored-up reserve of oil. They had the outward appearance of
bridesmaids but they had no oil in reserve. Theirs was an inner lack, a
secret fault. They did not store away the oil of the Spirit of God and of
spiritual reality. Their hearts were empty. In the story of the talents we
find that each was given according to his ability, and the lesson is that
we are only ready for our Lord's return if we are making sure that every ability
which has been entrusted to us is not buried in the ground, but actively consecrated
and committed to the service of the One who gave them.
The third parable is that of the sheep and the goats where the difference
consists entirely in our attitude towards others. The sheep saw the need
and met it, whereas the goats saw the need but made no attempt to meet it.
The Lord made it a matter of relationship with Himself and will tell those
on His right that they are welcomed into His kingdom. From the Mount, then,
our great Teacher not only instructs about the fact of His coming kingdom
but shows us the path of preparation for His Coming.
BRINGING MANY SONS TO GLORY
(The Epistle to the Hebrews)
2. THE UNIQUE SON
"FOR surely not of angels does He take hold" (2:16). Why not? They are
at home in His holy light. They constantly worship Him. They serve Him obediently
and without question. They did all this long before the human race came into
being and will presumably continue to minister to Him into eternal ages.
Why, then, could God not be satisfied with angels? Why did He give preference
to the human race, passing by the angels in order to become so intimately
involved with men? What could the sons of Abraham provide for Him that was
not to be found in the angelic hosts? In a word, 'What is man?' Why should
there be so much concern in heaven about human beings?
It seems that part of the answer to this question is bound up with the
eternal Father/Son relationship in the Godhead and their fellowship of love
in the Spirit. Infinitely precious and sacred as this fellowship is, they
desired to share it. They planned to have those who might also know a living
fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). On
His resurrection morning, the Son would send a message to those whom He
Himself called 'My brothers' and in that message He spoke freely of His
Father and their Father (John 20:17). When He did so, however, He was careful
not to speak of 'Our Father' but made a distinction which we must always
observe, even though He referred to the same [46/47]
Father. Himself He is the eternal Son. For the disciples, and for all believers,
a new relationship had been made possible by His cross, a relationship based
on new birth from above. This is a destiny of sonship which had formed the
divine purpose from before the foundation of the world. The Father predestined
believers to be recognised as His sons (Ephesians 1:5).
In our next study we will consider Christ as the Pioneer and Pattern
of sonship, but the first emphasis of the Letter to the Hebrews is on the
Lord Jesus Himself as the eternal and unique Son of God. This takes us back
far beyond the incarnation and indeed beyond the beginning of creation.
Years ago Christians were sometimes apprehensive about the conjectures of
scientists as to the actual age of this planet earth. They need not have
troubled, for in any case we are assured that Father, Son and Spirit are
eternal, so that all the speculations made concerning earth's beginnings
only accentuate the greatness of God who was there before the beginning.
Being creatures of time, we cannot comprehend this, still less can we
understand that from eternity there were always Father and Son. When the
Scripture says, "This day have I begotten thee" (1:5) it clearly refers not
to Christ's eternal relationship but to His human experience of being raised
from the dead. The resurrection morning heralded the day of which the Father
was speaking. Altogether before His incarnation, however, the Son is said
to have been the exact representation of God's being. He was the One through
whom the universe was created and He was its sustainer then as He still is
now. Already He was designated heir of all things; now in His humanity He
has made believers His joint-heirs by grace. When there was still no human
being called Jesus, He was the Son in the bosom of the Father who, in due
course, sent Him into the world to receive the name which we now honour,
given to Him by God's commandment to Joseph and Mary.
It was as firstborn that He was brought into the world (1:6). He is the
one who laid the foundation of the earth, the unchanging Son of God. Greater
than angels! Of course He was, since He Himself had made them. On one occasion
He told His disciples that He had seen Satan fall as lightning from heaven
(Luke 10:18), an event which surely must have occurred when the angels rebelled.
We may presume, if we care to do so, that the revolt in heaven was associated
with the disclosure of God's choice and plans concerning the human race.
Everywhere Milton is hailed as a great poet, but we must remember that he
was also a man of God's Word. The Fall of Satan was a matter of great significance
in the unfolding of human history.
This Letter does not specifically state that Christ is greater than Abraham,
but He certainly is. In fact the Jews did challenge Him about this and were
answered by an unequivocal assertion, preceded by His solemn Amen: "Before
Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). The comparison is here made with Moses and
in his case the Lord is shown to be supreme, with the implication that before
ever that great man became a faithful servant in God's house, Christ was
already the Son over the house (3:3).
In the course of the argument about the priesthood, Melchizedek, the
typical figure who portrays our great High Priest, is presented to us as
one without father or mother, having no beginning of days or end of life
(7:3). We presume that in the case of the king of Salem, this simply means
that in his case no Scriptural genealogy is given, but this is literally
true of our Lord Jesus. In His final prayer, the Lord disclosed that He had
shared the Father's glory before the world was, and knew Himself to be loved
before creation as well as sent into the world for its redemption (John 17:5,
18 & 24). As to that entry into the world, our writer assures us in his
use of a prophetic psalm, that Jesus came with the express purpose of establishing
the will of God (presumably for mankind). From time to time those whom God
called were able to respond 'Here am I', but how wonderful to hear of that
response coming from the Son Himself. He was ready to do the Father's will,
as is expressed by the quotation: "Here I am. I have come to do Your will"
We notice that here, as at other places, the writer uses the Greek translation
of the Bible [47/48] for his quotation from Psalm
40, and so cites the incoming Son of God as adding the phrase, "A body hast
thou prepared for me", and the writer goes on to say that salvation was achieved
by the Calvary sacrifice of that same body (10:5 & 10). All this adds
up to the simple but certain fact that the Man, Jesus of Nazareth, was also
the eternal Son of the Father. One further indication of the Lord's origin
is given when John tells us that Jesus "knew all men ... he knew what was
in man" (John 2:25). In the realm of human experience Jesus had much to learn
as we shall see, but John wrote this about Him when He was just beginning
His ministry, for even then there was a sense in which He had divine omniscience.
This corresponds with what our Letter says about the living Word of God having
nothing covered or hidden from His eyes (4:13). The truth is that the One
who at Bethlehem made His long-awaited appearance was already the eternal
Son of God. If the unfallen angels wanted His help they could always have
had it, but since it was not to them but to the sons of Abraham that He
was to bring deliverance, it was essential for Him to identify Himself with
Abraham's descendants in every way -- apart from sin (2:17). "He had to
be made like his brothers in every way." There was an obligation placed upon
Him for there was no other way, but the imperative was wholly that of love.
So the eternal Son became human. So far as this earth is concerned, He
lived among men for only a relatively short time, but He has retained His
humanity eternally. When the first readers of this Letter were alive, the
period described in the Gospels was only like yesterday so perhaps that
is why that word was used in the description of His unchanging character:
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today ..." (13:8). Yesterday was
the gospel period to those who received directly the apostolic testimony
and were now being addressed (2:3-4). Something had happened then which
had never taken place before, the appearance of the God-Man, and it must
have seemed only like yesterday. But we cannot live on yesterdays; what
about today? Well, in their today -- and ours -- He is still the same, even
though He has now risen and ascended. He is just the same today. And He
is not only yesterday and today the same, but will remain the same for ever.
He will never change. When He spoke from heaven to Saul of Tarsus, He announced,
"I am Jesus" and when the angels had announced His return in glory, the
phrase they used was, "This same Jesus".
Speaking of that glorious appearance, the Lord Jesus generally employed
his favourite, self-chosen title, The Son of Man. He is what Luther
called The Proper Man. All through this Letter the insistence is made
that He chose this course and entered the sphere of human life in order to
produce a redeemed race of beings whom God could deal with as sons. That
is the objective which salvation makes possible. That salvation can be stated
in three tenses:
1. The Past. The Son was sent into the world to die
The Father who is immortal cannot die. Man who is mortal is doomed to
die -- "It is appointed unto men once to die" (9:27). He is in bondage to
one whom our writer describes as exercising the power of death over all mankind.
It seems that the only way by which this universal reign of death could
be defeated was by the voluntary death of a Man over whom death had no dominion.
By the incarnation through the virgin birth, God provided such a Man, His
own Son. One explanation of the atoning work on the cross is described for
us in these words that Christ partook of human nature "so that through death
he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil,
and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime
subject to bondage" (2:14-15). Basically that is one explanation of the
coming to earth of God's Son, namely, deliverance for man from the prince
of death by the death of the Prince of Life.
God has no blood, for He is Spirit. We read then, that the Son was sent
to share the flesh and blood so that He could then provide that mysterious
redemption price of our salvation. Sinful man owed the debt that he could
never pay; the sinless Son of God paid that debt with His own blood which
had to be shed for remission of sins, "the precious blood of Christ, a lamb
without blemish or defect" as one apostle reminds us (1 Peter 1:19).
He hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, He sin o'erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death, by dying, slew.
At several points in this Letter we are reminded that Christ's shed blood
is "the blood of the covenant", the new covenant which not only pardons all
the past but imparts new inward life by the Holy Spirit. The eternal Son
became Man and came to earth in order to begin this new relationship of sonship
for the believer. If this Letter is anything to go by, it is impossible to
exaggerate the importance of that one sacrifice which Jesus made on the cross,
but we must not think of this as an independent action within the Godhead,
for Father and Son, yes and the Holy Spirit too, were involved in this marvellous
work of redemption, as witness the lovely Trinitarian statement: "... Christ,
who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God ..."
(9:14). For us the whole idea of sonship would be a hollow mockery if it
were not for the precious blood of Christ. In His infinite grace He may call
us 'brothers' but in our adoring wonder we can only call Him Lord.
2. The Present. The Son was exalted upon the throne to intercede
If we are among the many sons being brought to glory, we owe our hopes
not only to Christ's atoning death but also to His session at the right
hand of God on our behalf. We have been saved, but we also need to go on
being saved. It would be wrong so to misunderstand the finished work of
Christ as to conclude that now He and we can take everything for granted
as though it followed automatically. Those who are called to be sons must
have more than just a Birth certificate, they must bear the family likeness,
and to this task the unique Son is devoting Himself in this Church age. He
is on the throne for this very purpose.
Several times the Letter to the Hebrews reiterates the sequel to Christ's
triumphant death and resurrection, namely, that "when he had made purification
of sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (1:3). The
Father specifically commanded Him to do so. We rejoice at the honour paid
to our beloved Lord, while realising that this was not a first-time exaltation
but a restoration to Him of the position which had always been His, though
with added significance because of His redemptive sacrifice. There has always
been a throne of grace. It was set on high from the beginning (Jeremiah 17:12).
That is nothing new. What is new, however, is that, as a Man, Christ now
appears there for us. He is devoting His enthroned life to the perfecting
of our sonship: "He is able to save to the uttermost all them that
draw near to God through him" (7:25). The present daily needs of God's sons
are provided for by the sovereign rule of the great Son whose sanctifying
work will one day give Him the satisfaction of being the central Figure among
a great band of worshipping brothers (2:11-12).
3. The Future. He will be sent back in a display of glory
We are also looking for salvation in the future. The whole Church of
the firstborn ones, including the spirits of just men made perfect, are
eagerly awaiting what our older versions call 'The Adoption' but which is
in truth the public recognition of God's sons (Romans 8:19 & 23). This
Letter assures us that "He who shall come, will come, and will not tarry"
and even encourages us by saying that this will happen in "just a very little
He will again come as the Son sent by the Father. It has always seemed
strange to me that concerning the Day of God, Jesus said that the date was
not known even to the Son (Matthew 24:36). I do not pretend to understand
this but at least it underlines Peter's promise at Pentecost that God would
send the Christ appointed for us -- "even Jesus, who must remain
in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything ..." (Acts 3:20-21).
As we have remarked, it is noteworthy that when the Lord Jesus spoke of
His return in glory He was accustomed to use His self-chosen title of Son
of Man, so emphasising His essential humanity. The great moment
[49/] for which the whole universe waits will be the revelation
of the glory of God in a human context. In this Letter it is called 'The
Day' (10:25) and its imminence should mould our present behaviour. By grace
we will have a part in that wonderful event but supremely it is the Day of
Christ. On that day He will come again to be glorified in people as
well as admired by them (2 Thessalonians 1:10) but, though the glory
is to be seen in the sons, it will be altogether and only His glory, the
glory of the only Son coming from the Father.
That is the future to which we rightly look. It is that which gives meaning
to everything, or should do so. When the Lord Jesus sat down at the Father's
right hand, we are told that He did so in expectation -- "Until ..." (1:13).
The word 'until' is again repeated in 10:13: "From henceforth expecting until
his enemies be made the footstool of his feet". Sensational as was the triumphant
moment of ascension, when Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Majesty
on high, it was not a final action. He will rise to come again in the clouds.
The Father has promised Him and us that this will be so and, as part of
that promise, He has said that He will shake not the earth only but also
the heavens. Note that this is not announced as a threat but offered as
a promise (12:26-30). His people, heirs of Christ's unshakable kingdom,
are only too glad to welcome the Day when God's consuming fire will deliver
us from all that is not truly of Christ.
* * * * *
The Lord Jesus Christ is in Himself both the Author and the Perfecter
of our sonship. The Holy Spirit does not add to His work -- that would be
impossible -- but He communicates Christ to us, and so He is called "The
Spirit of his Son" (Galatians 4:6) who has been sent into our hearts to ratify
and fulfil our sonship in Christ. It may not at once be clear why a treatise
aimed at maturing God's children should devote so much of its space to the
perfect Son, but of course it is His perfection which alone can make us
perfect. In his most valuable book on Colossians, R. C. Lucas points
out the vital connection between Christ's supremacy and His sufficiency: "Possessing
pre-eminent authority Christ must be a perfect Saviour. His sufficient adequacy
depends on his supreme authority." Having fully established that Jesus is
the perfect Son. we are ready to learn lessons about our own sonship.
(To be continued)
RIVERS OF LIVING WATER
"Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto
me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath
said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
But this he spoke of the Spirit ..." John 7:37-39
AS we come once more to the season of Pentecost, it is most helpful to
have in so few words, the Lord's teaching about the fullness of the Holy
Spirit. He uses the phrase, 'rivers of living water' to give us a pictorial
illustration of the Spirit's activities and [to] reinforce His own promise
by the Holy Scriptures. He tells us who are to have this experience of the
fullness -- "He who believes in me, out of his innermost being will flow
the rivers" -- and He also implies a process concerning this fullness.
The Picture of the Fullness
First of all we have the picture which the Lord Jesus paints. Since the
Bible is full of illustrations it should be no surprise to us that He uses
a picture to help us to grasp this very special truth. There is no way in
which we can actually see the Holy Spirit. In the very nature of things He
is invisible, so the Lord offers us a pictorial explanation.
This pictorial river of God flows through the whole length of Scriptures,
as Jesus indicates. At the very beginning it was to be found in Eden where
it watered the garden, and it flows on through the books of the Bible. It
flows through the history of God's people as He brings them into the promised
land, being found in the book of the Psalms again and again. "You visit the
earth and water it ... The river of God is full of water" (Psalm 65:9), a
reference which I take to speak of God-given rain. This is the river which
is said to make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4). It is beside this river
that the man of God finds himself flourishing (Psalm 1:3 -- see also Jeremiah
This river flows on in the magnificent vision given to the prophet Ezekiel.
As it flows, so it broadens and deepens, bringing life in its course. On
both sides of the river banks Ezekiel saw that all kinds of trees were growing,
trees whose fruit was for food and whose leaves were for healing. At the
end of the Bible we find that John saw this again: "There is the river, in
all its eternal fullness, as it flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb,
through the middle of the street of the city, and on either side of it the
tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit and its leaves for the healing
of the nations."
The different verses speak of a land which is fresh and green, and there
are passages which speak of a desert blossoming and of a watered garden.
What is this picture intended to mean?
It is certainly a picture of sufficiency for men. Here they find their
needs met, their thirstiness quenched, their problems solved and their emptiness
filled. It was Jesus Himself who said that if any man was thirsty and came
to Him, he would discover in Him that never-failing river of freshness and
fullness. It is not a good thing to preach the Word in a way that focuses
primarily on the needs of man, so perhaps it is better for us to think of
this river as supplying not so much what man wants -- although it does that
-- as what God wants, because that is also true. The river flows for God.
We can follow the river from Genesis to Revelation and we see that from
the first it flows through a garden which is sinless. It waters the ground
in the garden of God's perfection, as does its counterpart at the other end
of Scripture. It is the river of paradise. The river of Canaan flows in
the promised land when God's people recognise and obey the law of God and
are grateful for His grace. Whenever they turn to God and make Him the centre
of their thoughts, there the river of God flows and overflows. When His
people want what He wants, then His blessing flows and fruitfulness results.
The landscape through which this river flows is not less attractive,
surely, because we can only have it on God's terms and not on our own, for
what God wants for us must be far better than what we want for ourselves.
If that river flows out through your life, you will find that God wants something
greater and better than all that even you could desire for yourself. It is
as if God says, That is where My river will flow; it will flow through My
country, through the land where My writ runs, and if you belong to that country
you will enjoy the benefits of that river.
It is a marvellous picture of the most desirable life you can ever imagine;
it is here, by this river, that all your needs are going to be met, all your
questions answered and all your ills cured. You will find all possible refreshment
and above all, the fruitfulness of service for the Lord. Jesus was speaking
of the fullness of the Spirit when He spoke of these rivers of living water.
The Promise of the Fullness
What the promise means is that the power of the Spirit of God will flow
out from the Christian to those around him. It was of this that He cried
out to thirsty men on that last great day of the feast. In the first instance
it flows out to other Christians in terms of the fruit of the Spirit
. Other [51/52] people around you will be affected
if you are producing the fruit of the Spirit, if there is love and joy and
peace in your life, and long-suffering, gentleness and goodness. If in you
there are found faithfulness and meekness and self-control, others around
you will know the same blessings as those which God the Holy Spirit gives
The result will be found in another New Testament phrase which is
the fellowship of the Spirit. The river will bind you together as it
flows out from you to them and from them back to you. That kind of fellowship
overcomes all sorts of natural barriers, and brings together people who normally
could not mix. This will produce the unity of the Spirit -- another
great New Testament expression.
That is what the Spirit does, He produces fruit, creates fellowship and
unity, and this is what is implicit in the promise which the Lord Jesus uttered.
His assertion is that the rivers will flow out of us and beyond us. It is
a great thing to belong to a community of Christian people in which the
power of the Spirit spreads to and fro in this way, but the Lord intends
that it shall spread further than that. The Spirit will flow out into the
unbelieving world around the church; the river will convict the world of
sin and righteousness and judgment as it flows out through us. Did the Lord
Jesus not say 'As the Father has sent Me, so send I you? He gave Me the
Spirit in fullness, and so He will do to you.' Having said that, He breathed
on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. It is in that power that you
go out from the church into the world, and the Spirit will flow out, a river
of living water, unto the unbelieving world outside.' And so it is.
As we pass on from the Gospels into the book of Acts, we find the Lord
Jesus promising that His people will first be baptised in the Holy Spirit,
and will then go out to witness in the power of the Holy Spirit. When the
church prays, then the Holy Spirit says, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul
to the work to which I have called them." And so He goes on speaking, all
It is the Spirit who directs, because the Spirit is flowing out through
God's people into the world that needs His message. 'I promise that I will
do it' says Jesus. 'Out of the innermost being of him who believes in Me,
rivers of water will surely flow.' The inspired comment on this is that the
Lord was speaking of the Spirit, saying that where that river flows, everything
will live. He made it a promise, so it will surely happen.
I wonder what your reaction is to all that. I suppose that it is possible
that when I speak in these terms concerning the wonderful picture of the
Holy Spirit and the promise that Jesus made concerning flowing rivers, you
may say, 'I wish this did happen. I see all too little of it. Why is that?'
We must try to deal with that question, but first let us lay hold of the fact
that the Lord Jesus really did make the promise.
The Experience of the Fullness
Jesus spoke of the person who has the Spirit -- "He who believes". Now
we need to be clear about what He was saying here, because some believers
would say that their experience does not measure up to what they were led
to believe might happen when the Spirit took hold of them. We may ask ourselves,
'Why don't I experience this? Is it a question of how I believe? Perhaps
I am not believing properly. I feel so dry. Can it be that I am not believing
sincerely or fervently enough?' But to reason in this way is to talk about
a kind of so-called faith which is contrary to what the Bible tells us faith
is. The moment you begin to talk about how you are going to believe,
you depart from Bible teaching [by thinking] that believing means something
that you cannot rely on, as though you were saying that it depends on you.
Faith means resting entirely on what the Lord has done. If I ask, 'Am I believing
wrongly?, I am asking the wrong kind of question.
If we ask the question of whom we shall believe, the answer is right
here, for Jesus said that this experience is for the one who believes in
Him . That is all. It is not believing in some particular doctrine,
not even believing in the Holy Spirit, but in Jesus. Those are the terms
of the promise. Perhaps you will ask the question of when it will be. Is
it a question of something that you must wait for until you are more mature
as a Christian, until you understand a bit more, until you have had a special
revelation from God about it or until you have had a second blessing equivalent
to your original new birth? [52/53]
The question of 'when' is dealt with in the next verse, in the explanation
which John gives of the promise. The reason that it was to be a future experience
for those disciples was simply that the Spirit had not yet been given for
Jesus had not yet been glorified. But now Jesus has been glorified; He has
sent down the Holy Spirit and the matter is no longer future but is immediate.
What you have to do is to put your trust in Jesus and you will have the living
waters flowing out from your heart. This is what the Word of God says, even
if your experience does not tally with it. The question about your experience
is sharpened up more than ever.
The Process of the Fullness
For this reason I want to suggest something which I feel that this promise
implies, namely that there is a process in this matter of experiencing the
Holy Spirit's power. For that I want you to notice particularly that the
Lord Jesus does not say, 'Out of him ...' but rather 'Out of his heart, out
of his innermost being, out of the core of his personality, will flow rivers
of living water.' It is as if when we were born again God set, in the inmost
core of our being, a spring of unquenchable water, which is the Spirit of
God. He is there permanently at the central point of our personality. It
follows that before there can be any outflow from me to the world around,
the river of living water has to flow from my innermost core, out into the
rest of me. I need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has been given to me by my Father in heaven when I was
born again and given in order to convict me first. He has come to teach
me, before He can teach others through me, to re-fashion and empower, not
simply the Church but me myself. The Holy Spirit is here to sanctify --
that is why He is called the Holy Spirit -- and as He flows out from my innermost
being, He is set to fill me, and to make me like Jesus, and then to flow
out through me to other folk around. If there is no outflowing from me to
the fellowship of Christians around me or to the world beyond that, it may
just be that I am hindering that flow within myself.
The Bible has plenty to say about the Spirit being grieved or quenched.
If perhaps you think that quenching does not properly express the right picture
of a river, then we can think of a river being dammed up, or blocked off.
There are all sorts of ways in which I may hinder the power of the Holy
Spirit. He is there, waiting to flow out into my mind, my eyes, my fingers
and my feet, waiting to govern the way I walk and act, but I can hinder
Him from doing just that. But He is there. When I pray 'Spirit of the living
God, fall afresh on me. Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me', I may be praying
a good prayer, but perhaps I ought to be rather thinking. 'Spirit of the
living God, enable me to start obeying You quite deliberately in matters
where I know I ought to be obedient. Help me to begin to tailor my life to
Your wishes as I know I should. I need actually to allow myself to be led
by You, actually, in practice, moment by moment, to permit You to conform
me to the image of my Saviour.'
If we were to let the Spirit of God flow out into every moment of our
day, every thought of our mind, every action of our life, then of course
we would overflow. That is what the Lord was talking about, the genuine overflow
of His own life through us. His supply is unlimited; our responsibility is
to keep the channels clear.
WHERE TWO WORLDS MEET
A Note on the Communion of the Lord's Supper
John H. Paterson
"The things which are seen are temporal; but the things
which are not seen are eternal" 2 Corinthians 4:18
IN the last issue of Toward The Mark I drew attention to the existence
of two worlds, the world of appearance and the world of reality -- or of
"manifestation", to use the word employed in the older versions of the Bible
to translate what Paul said to the Corinthians. Repeatedly, the Scriptures
distinguish between two types of phenomena: earthly things and heavenly things;
things seen and things unseen; things of time and things of eternity.
Not only is the Christian believer called upon to live between these
two types of things, but he or she confronts the problem that the two are
often total opposites. What in one world appears to be strong or powerful
looks, in the other, feeble and foolish. Consequently, the Christian has
to learn constantly to be ready to convert from one world's currency or
values to the other, and back again.
We all learn currency conversion when we travel abroad. We look at the
price tags in shop windows and then we ask each other, "How much is that
in our money?" Provided that we know the rate of exchange, there
is no difficulty in shopping that way for food, or clothes, or souvenirs
-- things we can see and assess. But it is very much more difficult to do
when, as our opening verse reminds us, we are dealing with things which we
cannot see! What kind of calculator did Moses use to come to the conclusion
that "the reproach of Christ (was) greater riches than the treasures in Egypt"
(Hebrews 11:26)? What of that other, greater currency exchange by the Lord
Jesus which Paul described: "Who, being in the form of God, counted it not
a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, ..." (Philippians
In the world of spiritual things, this ability to "convert currencies"
is not something that comes naturally to us: it is the gift of God through
His Holy Spirit. It does not "come naturally" to us because by nature we
have no perception of the world of spiritual or heavenly things at all. This
was, of course, exactly the point that Jesus made to Nicodemus in John 3.
Without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit we should not even know that
there is another world; much less be able to learn its values; less
still be able to enter it and live there. That which is born of the flesh
is flesh, and we must be born again (John 3:6-7).
But through God's grace we have access to that world. We have the privilege
of living in two worlds, and the problems that arise from doing so -- from
being amphibians! And one of those problems can be expressed in this way:
how to keep our balance between the two -- between what we can see
around us and what we can only appreciate by faith, when we are born again.
It seems clear that, as between the two worlds, the spiritual and unseen
always takes precedence over the material and visible. It also seems clear
that the material can never create the spiritual; the earthly can
never do more than point to, or remind us of, the heavenly. Yet here we are,
stuck, so to speak, in the material world! The problem of balance is very
Let me suggest a simple illustration. These days, many of us have in
our homes or cars a machine for playing music. These machines commonly have
two loudspeakers, and a gadget for tuning them so that, wherever we are sitting,
we get the same volume of sound out of each. We balance the two speakers
to get the best effect.
But now let us try to imagine that one of these speakers does not emit
ordinary musical sounds, but those high-pitched noises that only dogs can
hear! To the ordinary listener, nothing at all is coming out of that speaker;
yet he is supposed to balance what he cannot hear against what he can. It
would be quite a problem, would it not? -- exactly the same problem which
the believer confronts in the realm of sight: how to balance what he cannot
see against what he can!
So, what might help us in solving that problem? It seems to me that one
useful thing would be if it was possible to find a point at which these two
worlds touched, however briefly; what we should probably call nowadays an
interface, or common boundary; better still, a crossing-point where we might
pass from one world to the other.
You may be familiar with C. S. Lewis's delightful and thought-provoking
parable, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. In that story of two
worlds, the entry-point into the second world, beyond the everyday, was the
wardrobe. You got into it, opened the back, and found yourself in a different
world! To use Jacob's phrase, spoken in much the same context, "this is
the gate of heaven."
Is there any real-life counterpart to the wardrobe? Is there anywhere
that these two worlds touch? They touched, of course, in the life of
the Lord Jesus; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). They
touched in Old Testament days when God came and lived among His people,
in tabernacle or temple. In a broad [54/55] sense,
they may be said to touch in His present dwelling-place, His Church (1 Timothy
3:15), although that is a theme for another occasion. It is the Church's
understanding of this role which we are trying to clarify.
It seems to me that there is another answer to the questions I have just
posed; another touching-point of these two worlds which is central to the
lives of us as believers. Right on the interface between spiritual and material
are two small, everyday objects: bread and wine. On the one hand, they are
undoubtedly part of the material world. On the other, they have been endowed
with very special spiritual meaning. They form, we could perhaps say, the
very tip of the spiritual realm -- in a sense, the point at which it becomes
They occupy a unique position, because they are the only materials
singled out for special status by the Lord Jesus. Christians use water for
baptism but few of us, if any, would argue that the water, in itself, has
special material status -- certainly not the dirty Jordan water in which
Jesus Himself was baptised! But the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper
are recognised by believers as being in some way special.
I use the loose phrase "in some way special" quite deliberately for,
as almost everyone knows, believers' understanding of the status of the
bread and wine is enormously varied. Indeed, the best indications of how
important is this meeting-point of two worlds are to be found in the very
variety of doctrines which have developed around it! To some Christians,
the bread and wine are simply visual aids to the remembrance of the Lord's
death. To others, they have the quality of sacrament; that is, they are
a channel of grace or, in the terms we have been using, this is indeed the
door of the wardrobe. And since it is inconceivable that material things
could, of themselves, confer spiritual grace, blessing or any other quality
upon those who receive them, some have thought it necessary, in order to
preserve the logic, to assert that, in the course of the Lord's Supper, the
material is transformed into the spiritual, the bread and wine not of earth
but of heaven.
What we can all, however, probably agree upon is that, at this point,
the two worlds approach each other very closely. And that, I hope, may help
us with our problem of balance. For the bread and wine have a message for
us in both our worlds.
When we "lose our balance", it is most often by drifting into a material
frame of mind; by becoming preoccupied with the affairs of this world, and
the problems of survival or success. It happens when we allow ourselves to
share the common attitude that it is what we have that counts; that what
we see is what we get: there is nothing else.
Well, what stands in the way of our accepting that outlook? What contradicts
it? Two small objects, unquestionably part of the material world, but which
speak to us loudly and clearly at the Table, reminding us that not all material
things are of the same quality. Here are at least two tiny parts which are
different; which cannot be taken simply at their face value; which cannot
be manipulated, bought or sold for our own profit; whose true worth is not
to be reckoned in this world's terms. Evidently, there is material and
material: material which leads to death and material which leads to
life; material from the hand of man and material from the hand of the Lord
And then there are other times when, as believers, we may over-balance
in the opposite direction; that is, towards a belief that only the
spiritual matters. The tell-tale signs of this attitude are an impatience
with earthly ties, a desire to avoid any association with the world around
us, and an effort to confine our contacts to the company of heaven.
To such Christians, and at such times, the Table of the Lord serves,
I think, as another reminder. Real bread and real wine call on us to recognise
that He has, for the time being, put us here, in a world of material things:
in particular, of material people. We shall always err -- always over-balance
-- if we forget that He has made us human:
"We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together
until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which
[55/56] have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves
groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption
of our body." (Romans 8:22-23)
To want to get away from all the pain and suffering of the creation is
understandable enough, but to think of that in terms of an escape just for
believers, leaving the rest of the creation to groan and travail, is to
deny the fact that we are part of this creation; that we are, for the time
being, here as humans, and that "the creation itself also shall be delivered
from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children
of God" (Romans 8:21). Over some of the material world we can rejoice; over
much of it we can only weep. And we should weep: in a telling phrase
of the late Francis Schaeffer's, "Woe to us if we have no tears." What greater
sources of joy and tears than the bread and the wine?
So the Table of the Lord challenges us, as we come to it: one world or
two? It calls on us for balance -- to assert the supremacy of the spiritual,
to adopt the values of heaven, and yet also to live with compassion, concern
and hope as humans in a material world.
The bread and the wine come to us from the hands of the Lord Jesus. How
perfectly balanced was His life between the two realms of heaven and earth!
How clearly He adhered to the values of heaven, while sharing the life of
men on earth! He set the example, and then gave to His disciples the simple
material reminder, and the simple command, "Do this in remembrance of me."
And at the Table, and in the remembering, two worlds touch and meet.
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
IN the January issue of this magazine my friend John Paterson
raised a question at the end of his article on "All the Counsel of God".
It concerned that remarkable book of God's dealings with His servant Job,
and his question provoked a further one in my mind, namely, is it always
necessary to pass through trials to learn more of the Lord? This set me
thinking again about the unusual phrase which we find in what is commonly
called The Lord's Prayer, that is the request that we may not be led into
temptation but delivered from the evil one (Matthew 6:13). I wondered if
this implies that perhaps we can be spared the need for testing. I have no
doubt that most believers use the other phrases of this pattern prayer with
a measure of understanding and heart-felt meaning, but I wonder how many
know just what they ask when they say, "Lead us not into temptation."
Does God in fact lead us into temptations to sin, to steal a loaf of
bread or to tell a lie to save our own skins or that of others when we are
in a tight corner? Does He tempt us to violate moral restraints under sexual
pressure or a host of other situations which are possible in an evil world?
I am sure that all will recoil from such ideas and respond with emphatic
denials. No! No! God would never do that, any more than a loving earthly
father would put his weak and needy child into an impossible situation. Yet
it was the Lord Jesus who taught us to pray this prayer.
The word 'temptation' then obviously must mean something other than being
led into committing sin. James makes this quite clear when he writes: "When
tempted no-one should say, 'God is tempting me', for God cannot be tempted
by evil, nor does he tempt anyone ..." (1:13). Now James knew all about Job's
sufferings, referring to them and their glorious outcome in 5:11, so that
when he used the word 'tempt' he was speaking about trial and testing, and
this seems to be the meaning behind the Lord's words that we should pray
not to be led into temptation. Are such testings made necessary by a weakness
on our part? [56/57]
Now we know that in Job's case the whole experience was initiated by
God and had important spiritual issues far beyond him personally. Evidently
some testings can result from a man being involved in the Lord's own reputation.
Nevertheless the end of the story shows that Job himself had some lessons
to learn and learned them. Apart from Job there were two other notable
men whom Scripture describes as having had similar experiences, though in
their cases no whole book was devoted to their story as happened in his case.
Peter, like Job, was led into trial and clearly needed the discipline
of such a testing, for the Lord Jesus said to him: "Simon, Simon, Satan
has asked to have you, to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that
your faith fail not" (Luke 22:31). It was a most painful experience for
the apostle, but it brought spiritual gain, as is so amply demonstrated by
the book of the Acts and by his own two Letters. Then there was Paul
, who at one point drew aside the curtain holding his deeper life and experience
with the Lord and told us how he was led into a harrowing and perplexing time
of suffering which he called "a thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
In his case the trial was also fruitful for from it flowed deeply understanding
and comforting messages to the Corinthians and to us.
The Issue at Stake
There are three common factors in these three situations and we do well
to notice them. The first is the issue at stake, namely, that each man had
something of self that had to be dealt with. With Job we may say that his
was the problem of self-righteousness. He felt sure that he was right;
he could not budge from this deep-seated conviction and seemed quite unaware
of it until the painful trial served to open his eyes so that he cried: "I
am unworthy" (40:4) and "I despise myself and repent ..." (42:6). Alas, many
of us tend to suffer from this sense that we are the ones who are right,
and may need to be disillusioned about ourselves.
It is quite obvious that the issue at stake with Peter was self-confidence
. He felt sure of himself, that he could do it, and went so far as to
say to Jesus "Lord, ... I will lay down my life for You" (John 13:37). The
Lord Jesus knew that this was idle boasting and that the only way for Peter
to discover his true self was by painful trial. In a sense, he had to be
led into temptation.
The third man concerned was Paul, and his peril was self-pride
, the danger of becoming conceited by reason of his great revelations. He
candidly confessed, "Lest I should be exalted overmuch, there was given
to me a thorn in the flesh ..." (2 Corinthians 12:7). This danger, enhanced
by virtue of his gifts and special revelation of the Lord, evidently called
for a severe trial, even though the revelation may have been some compensation
for the sufferings which he endured in the course of his ministry. But self-conceit
was the issue at stake.
The Agent of the Trial
The second factor which is common to the three cases is that it was not
God but Satan who was the agent of the trial. With Job it was Satan who was
allowed to touch his belongings and his body, as is made very clear. In
Peter's case, the Lord Jesus actually stated that it was Satan who had demanded
to sift him. Paul himself discerned that the thorn in the flesh was the
result of Satan being sent to buffet him. In each of these cases God permitted
what happened. It is often the Enemy who takes the initiative in works of
evil, but God could always have said 'No!', and refused to allow it. He
did not do so. He planned to triumph through the evil things and turn them
to good for His servants. The Evil One who tries to blind us is the one
who in fact is himself blind; he does not seem to realise how his purposes
of evil can be turned to spiritual good.
The third factor -- in some ways rather a sad one -- is that in each
case what happened was a necessary procedure in order to obtain spiritual
profit and to remove massive obstacles in the path of spiritual progress.
The trials proved fruitful; each man concerned learned his lesson through
what he suffered and in the end gained new values as a result. Job lost
his self-righteousness and was richer at the end than he had been at the
beginning (42:12). Peter spoke boldly for the Lord in a more fearful situation
than that of the high priest's house; knowing his own weakness, he was able
to receive divine power. Later he slept soundly while facing imminent execution
and was delivered not by his own efforts but by divine power. It seems that
he used his experience to warn us: "Be self-controlled and alert, for your
adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may
devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Paul, having prayed three times for relief, found
that he must accept the necessity for such a trial in view of his natural
[57/58] strength -- for pride feeds on strength
and grows by reason of it, whereas spiritual power grows upon natural weakness
and increases when this is accepted.
The question arises as to whether those trials were absolutely necessary
or whether those concerned might have avoided them. Could they have learned
or gained without them had they humbly prayed, 'Lead me not into temptation'?
At least it is possible that this part of the Lord's Prayer might carry such
a possibility, always with the final sure request of deliverance from the
evil one. I take it that I may learn a lesson and profit from these stories,
and at the same time I am thankful that if, by reason of my own foolishness,
I have to be led into temptation, the Lord will still turn painful experiences
into gain for others and me and glory for Himself. In any case it is surely
best that I should not fail to include in my prayers the petition which
Jesus taught which was "Lead me not into temptation".
Christ Himself Suffered
Yet, having said all this, I am driven back to the Scripture which reminds
me that it was precisely because Christ Himself suffered when He was tempted
that He is now able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18). Here
was One who knew nothing of self-righteousness, self-strength or self-conceit.
One who for His own part never needed to be led into temptation, and yet
who was so led, and that by the Holy Spirit of God, in order that He might
be tempted of Satan. It was strangely necessary for Him, but only that He
might be understanding and merciful in every way as our faithful High
In the case of all three men Satan was completely defeated, and so it
can be in my case since victory belongs to the crucified Saviour. He was
tested in the wilderness and He triumphed with a threefold victory. In the
Garden of Gethsemane He endured the fiercest of trials and conquered by His
thrice repeated prayer. If I then have to learn obedience by suffering, I
can know that my sinless Saviour trod that path for me and will help me to
triumph. On all accounts, Satan will be defeated. The kingdom, the power
and the glory belong to our victorious Lord.
STRANGE ANSWERS TO PRAYER
"I beseech you, brothers ... that you strive together with me in
your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them
that are disobedient in Judea, and that my ministration which I have
for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints; that I may come
unto you in joy through the will of God ..." Romans 15:30-32
THIS urgent appeal for prayer is unusual and perhaps unique. Paul only
rarely asked for prayer for himself and then in general terms for his ministry.
Here, however, we have three distinct matters about which he requested Christians
whom he had never seen to share with him in earnest intercessory prayer.
The three matters were his deliverance from his Jewish enemies, the acceptance
by the Church in Jerusalem of love-offering from the Gentile believers and
his own safe arrival among his readers in Rome.
These were not general prayers, but were quite specific. It is therefore
reasonable to enquire if they received definite answers. Is prayer just a
calming spiritual exercise for those who pray, or is it a matter of definite
requests and just as definite answers? We certainly find our own spiritual
strength renewed as we wait on God in prayer, but if we are quite honest
we will have to confess that at least some of our petitions do not seem to
provoke an answer from God. [58/59]
To the superficial reader this might well seem to be the case in all
the three matters listed by Paul. He was not delivered from the disobedient
Jews in Jerusalem but, as a result of their opposition, was condemned to
long and painful experiences of imprisonment. While the leaders of the Church
in Jerusalem did express some thanks for his gift, they immediately confronted
him with a request which may have been well-intentioned but which proved almost
disastrous, and was occasioned by the fact that there were many ungrateful
and suspicious church members. Their proposal cost a lot of money (the Lord's
money!) and helped to provoke the riot in the Temple court. What is more,
it separated him from his Gentile companions without really helping in the
problem with the Judaising Christians. As it was, the Scriptures record in
one sentence, with only a feeble comma in between, their expression of thanks
and their appeal to him to try to ingratiate himself with his judaistic critics.
Surely this was not what Paul had envisaged when he prayed for a warm acceptance
of the sacrificial gift.
The third request concerned his going to the Roman church in joy. He
had already made it clear what was in his own mind when he voiced the petition,
namely, a plan to visit Spain and look in on Rome during the journey and
perhaps get help from the saints there to proceed to Spain (vv.24 & 25).
Did he ever go to Spain? We would like to know but as the Scriptures are quite
silent on the subject we conclude either that he never did or that it does
not concern us. He clearly was not prospered in that enterprise.
So what shall we say? On these three points must we conclude that there
was a breakdown of communications between earth and heaven and that the prayers
remained unanswered? Paul's use of the verb 'strive' reveals that this kind
of prayer was not easy. It is possible that the Roman believers failed to
take up the challenge. Modern Christians often do. But we are told in this
case that Luke and the saints at Caesarea did pray earnestly for Paul, even
though they disapproved of his visit to Jerusalem. In any case we must rid
ourselves of the idea that the only prayers which God answers are those
offered concertedly by large numbers of people. Corporate prayer is extremely
important, but there is nothing in the Bible to justify such a mentality.
Prayer is prayer, irrespective of the number of people who take part or their
skill in praying. Were these prayers answered? As I have said, to a superficial
observer it might have seemed that they were not.
We believe, though, that God is committed to answer our prayers, so we
will probe deeper into the matter and enquire what really did eventuate
from that visit to Jerusalem.
Taking the third request first, we have to record that Paul did go to
the capital city. There is a note of relief, perhaps even of triumph, in
Luke's terse comment: "So we came to Rome" (Acts 28:14) or, as Phillips renders
it: "So we finally came to Rome." Paul had at last arrived, even though in
such strange circumstances, after delays and hazards which he never could
have foreseen. It is often the case that God has strange ways of fulfilling
Paul had asked the Roman Christians to strive or struggle with him in
prayer and in fact their prayers had to contend with murderous rioters and
plotters, with unjust and corrupt administrators, with a greedy shipowner,
with a dreadful storm at sea, with treacherous sailors planning to desert
ship, with a narrow escape from summary execution by soldiers, with shipwreck
and even the peril of a poisonous snake. Nothing was easy. It never is in
this spiritual battle; but prayer was answered and Paul was delivered and
his ministry continued.
The answer did not come in the way or at the time that praying friends
could have imagined, but then that is typical of God's dealings with us
all. It is true that Paul did not call in on Rome as part of his journey
to Spain as he had expected, but he did get there and, as he had so confidently
foretold, he came in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
We return to his first petition, which was that he might be delivered
from the enemies of the gospel. His faith must have been tested to the limit,
but he was delivered -- usually in seemingly natural and unsensational ways,
yet by veritable miracles. The alert Roman tribune who so promptly reacted
to the threat of a riot became God's instrument to rescue the apostle (Acts
21:32) and though his troops were hard pressed to get Paul away from the mad
mob, they succeeded. Then Paul's nephew -- probably not himself a believer
-- made a vital contribution to the saving of Paul's life (Acts 23:16).
Rome -- or God! -- provided a mount for the normally foot-slogging apostle,
with two centurions and nearly five hundred soldiers to keep him safe. It
is true that Paul had to spend over [59/60] two years'
captivity there in Caesarea but that may have been the only safe place for
him with fanatical murderers all around and under oath to kill him. God hid
him from them.
The story of the shipwreck is well known. Everybody, including apparently
Luke himself, at one time gave up all hope, and even the apostle needed a
special vision to reassure him of deliverance. But he was delivered! And
not by sensational happenings, such as our flesh delights in, but by human
actions, including, of course those legal procedures which allowed citizens
to appeal to Caesar.
Paul had not been enabled to walk majestically through the murderous
mob, as Christ had done. He had not been able to quieten the winds and the
waves. It was not given to him to walk on the waves as the Lord Jesus had
walked; he had to get wet like the rest, though whether he was among those
who could swim or whether he just had to cling to a wooden spar, we do not
know. Far from being independent, he had to urge the authorities to keep
the sailors from deserting ship to save them all from perishing. Paul was
indeed delivered in answer to those prayers, but God did things in His own
way and used whom He chose to help in the matter. In answer to prayer God
will always deliver us. His method, however, will often be such as to make
us humbled rather than exalted by the experience. This is surely one of the
lessons we may learn from the apostle's story.
We are left with the prayer that Paul's gift from the Gentiles might
be warmly appreciated by the recipients. It is true that it is said that
Paul himself was welcomed gladly and that the leaders glorified God at the
account of how God had blessed his ministry but, as I have already commented,
Luke's account hardly suggests that much attention was paid to the sacrificial
gifts. Two things can be said about this, or perhaps three. The first is
that even in answer to earnest prayer the Lord will not force His people
to be grateful. That is their responsibility. The second is that what matters
is not what others feel, but what God Himself feels. We may be sure that
the offering which Paul brought from the Gentile believers was precious in
His sight -- "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable and well-pleasing
to God." If Paul's prayer was not altogether answered in the way in which
he could have wished, it was certainly answered exceeding abundantly above
all his thoughts.
The third comment is really only a corollary, but it is far from unimportant.
Suppose that, as I have suggested, the considerate believers had been able
to persuade Paul not to linger in Jerusalem but to withdraw unostentatiously
when once his task was done. How would he ever have got to Rome? And how
would he have borne Christ's message to kings as had been prophesied (Acts
9:15)? What is more, how would the apostle have had relief from his evangelistic
activities and had time and opportunity to write those momentous and deeply
spiritual messages of his prison epistles without the enforced seclusion
of his captivity? How much poorer would be the Church throughout the centuries
without Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians? (Perhaps
the humble Onesimus might be allowed to pose the question as to how he would
have come to know salvation if the apostle had never been a prisoner in Rome!)
So all three prayers were fully answered, and not only separately answered
but blended together and divinely arranged for the fulfilment of God's highest
will. The final lesson for us, then, is that there are times when answers
are delayed and the seeming contradictions of life are really God's strange
but marvellous activities which are direct answers to our prayers. We may
not have been able to recognise that it was so at the time, but either in
this life or the next we will rejoice in God's utter faithfulness to His
Luke must have shared in all the traumas of those delays and strange
developments. If nobody else agonised with the apostle in his prayers, he
did. It must therefore have been with deep joy and real worship that he not
only reported Paul's safe arrival in Rome but was able to terminate his whole
account with the assurance that the story was yet 'to be continued'. The
way he did this was by using as his very last word the triumphant term 'unhindered'.
That is the Greek word which concludes this record of God's workings which
we call The Acts of the Apostles. It is the only time that this word is used
in the New Testament, but it opens up a vast prospect of how God goes on answering
His people's petitions. What an outcome for those praying saints: "He taught
about the Lord Jesus with all boldness -- unhindered!" (Acts 28:31).
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (3)
Psalm 122 JOINING UP
SO far the Pilgrim's songs have been wholly personal. This is as it should
be for we rightly respond to our heavenly calling with individual faith.
At first he feels alone in his venture. But not for long. His quest for holiness
brings him into vital relationship with others who are on the same road and
heading for the same destination, the house of the Lord in the top of the
HE is glad to find himself in such company. At times we extol the merits
of some district by saying that one can walk for miles without meeting another
soul. Well, that may be all right for a holiday but it is not possible, neither
is it desirable, for the Christian pilgrim.
NOTE how the singular use of 'I' and 'my' give place to the plural 'us'
and 'our'. The tribes -- all of them -- are on the move and they journey
together in the will of God. We are joined up as we journey up. Such relatedness
brings its problems but it brings divine joys -- "I was glad when they
said unto me, Let us go ...". It is a great privilege to be given a place
in that happy band of pilgrims.
THEIR hope is so vividly real that they feel as though their feet are
already standing in those sacred precincts, though actually they are tramping
a dusty road. They are there in spirit. Their first impression seems to be
of the marvellous compact unity which is a feature of God's house. They see
also that they are in the realm where God alone rules -- "there are set
thrones for judgment". The very prospect inspires the psalmist to an appreciation
of his calling to be joined up to brothers and companions in this upward
THE welfare of these friends and companions will now be a governing factor
in his concerns and prayers. He began with personal preoccupations and found
assurance that God would watch over them; now he is joined up with the rest
of God's people, so he will concentrate on their affairs too. He will pray
for the peace of Jerusalem not only because it is his home but because he
knows it to be the home which he shares with all the rest of God's people.
THOSE who are compacted together and ruled by God's throne in their heavenly
destination should surely strive for harmony on the way up and gladly submit
to the judgments of the throne even now. The psalmist's final words show
that he realises that the united testimony of the redeemed is of paramount
importance to the Lord Himself. He accepts that his right relationship with
others in this great tribal movement upwards is supremely for the pleasure
of the Lord. The house they are going to is God's house. The peace that really
matters is God's peace. The invitation which he has received is not only to
join up with special friends of his own choosing, but to play a loyal part
in the concerted progress of all God's pilgrims, who are his brothers because
they are God's children.
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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