|Vol. 17, No. 3, May - June 1988
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
WHEN THE BOOKS ARE OPENED
(This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of T. Austin-Sparks
who commenced the ministry of this periodical under the title "A Witness
and A Testimony". His stated purpose (often repeated) was never to be
associated with a special teaching nor to foster any movement, but simply
to influence people for Christ. I gladly bear witness that this desire of
his was realised in a remarkable way. That was all he asked, as the following
extract from an article of his on Romans 16 will show. Editor.)
AN outstanding feature of this chapter is that people are appreciated
as people. The Letter itself is a masterpiece of spiritual instruction, Paul's
supreme exposition of the infinite range of redemption. The more striking,
then, that place should be given for the names of these simple people. Doctrines
can be considered and held in a detached way, but what value is there in
abstract truths if they are not expressed in terms of individual people?
When a person is led to trust in Christ he does not become one more cipher
for statistics, but a live being who matters to God. The phrase "in Christ"
is repeated eight times here, for this is the significance of the names listed,
not what the people were in themselves but what was their spiritual measure
in Christ. The apostle had no thoughts of social niceties or merely of paying
compliments; what mattered to him was the degree in which these friends
of his were counting for Christ. This, of course, presents a personal challenge
to me. I wonder what Paul would have written against my name if I had lived
then. If he had needed to write a salutation to me, what could he have said
about the quality of my life "in Christ"?
Why was Paul so lovingly drawn out to these people? Perhaps because he
could observe the fulfilment in them of the revelation given to him of the
power of the gospel of Christ. It must have been refreshing to pass from
his exposition of the theory of redemption to the living outworking of his
doctrines. So it is that I ask myself what fruit there is in my own life
from the volumes of teaching which I have been giving in my preaching. Are
God's people being helped, are they being made better servants of Christ
by reason of my labours? If not, then in my case all that Paul wrote and
all I teach goes for nothing.
In Rome there was one of the churches that Paul had not yet visited,
but even at this juncture there were a number of people there whom he knew
personally and even intimately. This is more than a mere item of interest.
It seems to indicate something of how in those days the gospel spread abroad
and the churches were established. For one reason or another, for business
purposes or by political compulsion, people had to move about the world,
even as they do today. This may have been inconvenient and at times most
unjust, but behind that movement there was the sovereignty of God, using
everything for the speeding up of the work of the gospel.
This gives us encouragement, to know that once our lives are wholly given
over to the Lord, His sovereignty will govern and over-rule all the ordinary
affairs and circumstances of daily life and make them contribute to His purposes
and glory. Because of the cruel decree of the Emperor Claudius, Aquila and
Priscilla had to abandon their home and business and become displaced persons
in Corinth, but the sequence of events and their commitment to Christ resulted
in the honoured place which they have in this list which we are considering.
Their case opens up to us a world within a world, a world of spiritual romance.
No doubt as we pass from one of the names to another in this list, we would
discover that there had been marvellous providential working of God in each
What is more, when we look more deeply into the chapter we find that
the people here referred to not only had their lives overruled by God but
were themselves intent on the Lord's business and ready to take responsibility
for His interests. They were not just passengers, just people who happened
to come and go, individuals in the crowd; they each got involved to the utmost
in the affairs of the kingdom of Christ. Paul's comments and allusions make
it clear that the gospel was furthered and the churches established because
these men and women put the Lord's interests before everything else, in
their work and in their journeys. They had the urge of the divine imperative.
Like their Lord before them, their lives were not at the mercy of chance
but characterised by the word "must", just as His was.
In the final book of the Bible we are told of the book of life being
opened, but we are also informed that there are other records which relate
to our personal histories: "the books were opened" (Revelation 20:12). May
it be that these books represent God's evaluation of the lives of His children?
If so, what will be the eternal verdict concerning my life? What will the
books have to say of my response to the divine imperatives of grace in my
life? Thank God that all my sins are blotted out by the wonder-working power
of the blood of Christ, so that there can be no accusations against me. Of
that we can all be certain. But I have to realise that although there is
no mention of my faults, there will also be no record of any personal features
or virtues which seem to assume so much importance to me now. No, what will
be recorded for eternity will surely be that which has been true of me "in
Christ". It is what is being enacted daily in my life and walk with God
which will be written there, and that alone is what matters. What will history
-- God's history -- say about me? What will be His verdict?
In the case of these people, it was Paul's own life which had been enriched
by them, as he readily acknowledged. Phoebe had "succoured" him; Priscilla
and Aquila had "laid down their necks" for him; Rufus's mother had been like
a mother to him and Tertius wrote for him. None of these were apostles, yet
by helping Paul they had contributed something, however small, to an apostolic
ministry. They could not do it all, and neither for that matter could he,
but the whole divine purpose was realised because each played their part,
labouring in Christ and for Christ.
So the reading of this heartening list of Paul's friends challenges us
as to how much our lives are counting for God as the days go by. We are
led to believe that the apostle could not always give such cheerful comments
on those whom he knew and worked with. There were unhappy exceptions, those
who, like Demas, seem to have shrugged aside divine imperatives and taken
their own course. They are not mentioned here. Paul writes appreciatively
of each of those who in simplicity remained devoted to the Lord Jesus.
It is people who matter! Nobody is a nonentity in Christ. There is a
place for each one of us in the divine record. And when the stories written
in the books are disclosed, we will exclaim, as Paul does at the end of this
chapter and this Letter to the Romans: "To the only wise God, through Jesus
Christ ... be glory for ever." Amen.
REJOICE IN HOPE
John H. Paterson
"And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three ..." (1 Corinthians
OF the famous trio about which Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, hope is
the neglected member. If you do not believe that, then all you need to do
is to count the number of sermons you hear in 1988 about faith and love,
and compare it with the number -- if any! -- on hope. Why this should be
so is not clear particularly since, as we shall see in a moment, the dictionary
[42/43] definitions of the two words are so close
to one another. Perhaps it is because, to some believers, to say 'I hope so'
sounds like a poor substitute for the firm 'I believe' of faith. Hope has
somehow become a lesser commodity.
To feel that is, however, to do an injustice to the Scriptures and what
they have to say about hope. Paul, after all, goes so far as to say that
we are 'saved by hope' (Romans 8:24). One of Job's comforters, all of whom
had an unfortunate habit of talking in cliches, nevertheless said, 'You will
have courage, because you will have hope' (Job 11:18, Living Bible
), and which of us does not need courage from day to day? For a believer,
hope is a most precious commodity: if we have not realised that, then we are
depriving ourselves of one of the great resources that God gives us to help
us through our earthly journey.
Faith and Hope
Let us, then, be clear what hope is. The dictionary defines both faith
and hope in very similar terms, but with this distinction: that both concern
the future, and confidence about its events, but hope implies a desire for
those events to take place. We may believe, or have faith, that future events
are certainties, but do so with foreboding or fear: the devils, after all,
believe and tremble (James 2:19). Hope means wanting those
future events to become realities: it implies a desired future.
There is, perhaps, another distinction, although it would be hard to
prove from the biblical references. Faith, it seems to me, is something
that grows out of knowledge or experience; it is built up step-wise on the
basis of past events, and reaches out into the future, arguing that what
God has done before He can do again. It is, if you like, progressive. Hope,
on the other hand, takes the long leap; it concerns things for which there
is no present evidence; for which there can be no present evidence
because the thing has never happened before; into which you cannot argue
yourself, for you cannot say, 'Because this, therefore that follows.'
This comes out in Paul's description of Abraham and his faith in Romans
4:17, 18. Notice how the word 'hope' appears in the text, as Paul writes
'... God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as
though they were'; (no evidence!). Then he goes on to Abraham, 'who in hope
believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations.'
There is a sense in which, with a promise so unlikely of fulfilment, Abraham
needed hope to sustain faith, for faith had so little to build on!
So, let us ask: what are Christian believers to hope for! Paul points
out in Romans 8:24 that it is a contradiction in terms to hope for what we
can already see: that demands no hope. I find it, in this respect, very interesting
therefore to notice that when the Lord Jesus was on earth, and teaching
His disciples, He never used the word 'hope' in relation to Himself. Not
once did He tell them to hope. He Himself was there and, so long as He was,
all was knowledge and certainty. What was there to hope for , except
that He would remain with them for ever and a day? That was not a hope that
He wishes to encourage! But in His presence, hope was suspended.
After He returned to glory, however, hope suddenly became relevant. The
certainties had disappeared from life when He left: or, rather, those certainties
had to be re-asserted in His absence. 'Greater works shall (you) do because
I go unto my Father', He had told them. Until they had the evidence to support
that promise, all they had was hope. By the time the apostles came to write
the various epistles, hope was back in fashion again! Their letters are full
of references to it.
Hope for What?
But hope must have content: its object must be defined. A Micawber-like
expectation that something -- anything -- will turn up will not do. Israel,
of course had -- and still has -- a centuries-old hope, which was part of
the nation's thought and history, a hope to which the Old Testament prophets
constantly referred. Paul called it 'the hope of Israel' (Acts 28:20; cf.
24:15; 26:6). It was the hope of a Messiah, of a return to the Land and the
re-establishment of the kingdom of David.
When, however, we examine the apostles' references to hope, we find that
they all point in the same direction: towards eternal life, the coming of
Christ, and the establishment of God's kingdom. Paul's injunctions to Titus
typify the New Testament references: '... looking for the blessed hope
and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ
... that being justified by his [43/44] grace, we
might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life' (Titus
This is, if you like, the Christian's general hope. It can be refined
or defined in any number of different ways, as the apostles realised. For
example, in the 'hope' passage in Romans 8 to which I have already referred,
Paul was setting hope in a particular context -- the context of a creation
made subject to frustration or futility (vs.20), in which not only creatures
in general, but also the saints of God, groan and travail in pain under the
sheer wrong-headedness of everything. The creation is full of mysteries and
calamities -- mysteries that so much good will so often comes to nothing;
calamities which fall on the deserving and undeserving alike. But hope says,
'it will not always be so.' God sees and knows. And one day everything that
has happened will make sense. To the believer it will all be made clear. Our
hope is to see, in that day, how all things have worked together for good
to them that love God and are called according to His purpose (vs.28).
The Impact of Hope
In what ways should possession of this great hope affect us in our daily
lives? The New Testament references point us to several conclusions:
1. It should challenge our behaviour. You can, perhaps, guess the reference
of which I am thinking: 'Every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth
himself, even as he is pure' (1 John 3:3). To appreciate the force of John's
words, however, we need to look back to the Old Testament; for example, to
Jeremiah 18:12 (cf. 2:25). Here God's people said to themselves, 'There's
no hope anyway, so it really doesn't matter what we do.'
But they say, There is no hope: we will walk
after our own devices, and we will do every
one after the stubborness of his evil heart.
John's words provide a necessary corrective. One criticism which, I am
sure, has led the Church to soft-pedal its hopes for the Lord's return and
eternal life has been that, with their thoughts and hopes firmly fixed on
a distant future, its members have been careless about the present, and
have contributed little or nothing to their fellow-men in need. Future hope
must not make us careless about present reality.
2. It should encourage us to turn our attention to the Scriptures: 'that
we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope' (Romans
15:4). This is necessary if we are to be saved from false hopes. We
may hope -- as some believers do -- for all kinds of things; we may say,
for example, 'I hope that there will be no judgement -- that there
will be heaven for all -- that I shall escape the Great Tribulation -- that
Christ will come before next Monday, or Tuesday at the latest!' Our hopes
may be kindly, altruistic, well-motivated, but unless we can be assured of
them by the Word of God itself, they are false hopes.
3. It should reassure us in times of depression or fear. Paul in his
letters speaks twice of the fact that, as believers, we have armour to ward
off the attacks of our enemies. In the less well-known of these references
-- in 1 Thessalonians 5 rather than in Ephesians 6 -- he urges his readers
to put on 'for a helmet, the hope of salvation' (vs.8).
In a suit of armour, the helmet protects the head, the seat of the mind
and thought. Depression and fear attack us first and foremost in our minds;
it is there that we feel them. But to guard against them, to prevent them
from gaining a foothold, says Paul, we have hope -- the hope of salvation.
We are indeed saved by hope.
4. It should bring us peace and joy. The Church today seems to me to
have more than its share of doom-sayers. The study of prophecy by earnest,
believers brings gloom to their hearts, whereas hope should bring joy: 'The
God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing' (Romans 15:13).
And the writer to the Hebrews (3:6) exhorts his readers to 'hold fast the
confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.'
This is not, of course, to say that the sight and sound of moral decay
should make us happy. They should make us weep. But hope says, 'Things
don't have to be like this. Things won't always be like this. There is a
way out, and an end in view.' We may grieve and sorrow over the world we
live in but, to quote Paul again, we do not sorrow 'even as the rest, which
have no hope' (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
The Assurance of Hope
As we continue to think of the importance the Bible attaches to hope,
we are bound, sooner or [44/45] later, to confront
the question: how can we be sure that our hope is not vain? How can we distinguish
between hope and wishful thinking? What guarantee have we as God's people
that we shall -- that He will -- reach the desired end?
The Scriptures suggest two answers. The first is given by Peter, one
of the men who, having known the daily presence of the Lord Jesus for three
years, were abruptly and traumatically deprived of that presence. Peter and
the rest were left gasping: 'But we hoped that it was he which should redeem
Israel' (Luke 24:21). What grounds could there possibly be, now, for a fresh
hope? Well, Peter tells the readers of his first epistle; in fact, he begins
his first epistle with this thought:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who
according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope
by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
Who could have dared to hope for that -- a resurrection? In the first
hours of the Church's new era, all their little hopes -- national revival,
or personal achievement -- were totally outclassed, and rendered redundant
by this great reality. If resurrection could happen, there is no limit to
what we can hope for!
The second answer is given by Paul, in one more reference to hope. If
the historic grounds for hope are supplied by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
the empirical or everyday grounds are given by His living presence: 'Christ
in you, the hope of glory' (Colossians 1:27). The form of that presence may
have changed since the days in Galilee and Judaea, or even since His post-resurrection
appearances, but the presence is real and constant, and it tells us that
we are right to go on in hope.
One last point: how is hope produced? Most Christians worry from time
to time about the strength of their faith in moments of need: do they, I
wonder, worry about the measure of their hope?
For there is more to Christian hope than the hope of a child for a particular
toy on Christmas morning, or of an adult for a win in some lottery. Hope
is produced; and is strengthened, out of circumstances. Hope is, as I heard
it beautifully expressed recently, like a pendant on a chain. The question
is: what is the chain made of?
Paul tells us how hope is produced, and the recipe is not an easy one.
Here it is:
Let us rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only
so, but let us also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that
tribulation worketh patience; and patience, probation; and
probation, hope ... (Romans 5:2-4).
JOHN Chapters 14 to 16 provide what in some ways may be called the most
intimate and sacred teachings of Christ concerning the Holy Spirit. They
provide for us what the Second Member of the Godhead has to teach us about
the Third Person of the Trinity. However before the Lord tells us what the
Holy Spirit would do, He tells us who the Holy Spirit would be. He is the
Comforter. And He is the Spirit of truth. Sometimes Jesus uses the one name
and sometimes the other. Sometimes both. Our consideration will now be of
the Spirit of God as the Comforter.
In the Bayeux Tapestry there is a section which provides a picture of
a soldier, a rather reluctant soldier, not wanting to go into the battle,
but probably thinking of his family and friends at home. Behind him there
is woven the figure of the king who has the end of his spear pointing at the
small of the soldier's back. There is a caption in Latin for this section,
and it reads like this: "King William comforts his soldiers".
We use the word "comfort" to express that which is gentle, soothing and
sympathetic, but the original word does not mean that; not to soothe
[45/46] but to encourage or make strong. As the Comforter, the
Spirit's purpose is not so much to soothe as to stimulate. His function
is to invigorate and strengthen us for the Christian warfare. We have to
stand on our two feet to face the winds and fury of difficulties and opposition
and it is the Holy Spirit's mission and ministry to get and keep us on our
feet. We feel our frailty but Jesus asked the Father to send us the Comforter
so that we can be strong to face the challenges, the contradictions and the
frustrations of our Christian life.
"I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that
he may be with you for ever" (14:16). We note that the Spirit is spoken
of not just as the Comforter but as another Comforter. Now in English we
use the word "another" in two ways: sometimes we mean "other" in the sense
of as an addition and sometimes as a replacement, that is "instead of".
There is a story of a student whose landlady cared for him most carefully
but who had a weakness for rice pudding, the result being that whatever
had been the first course of his meals, the second was always rice pudding.
After about six months of this he plucked up courage and said to her, "Mrs.
Perkins, I am very grateful for the way in which you look after me. Don't
think that I am ungrateful for those lovely meals which you prepare, but
do you think that perhaps occasionally -- not always, but just occasionally
-- I might have another pudding." Mrs. Perkins responded very warmly to
this, chiding him for not asking before. Of course he should have another
pudding! Next day he sat expectantly at the table and had a great shock
when this time she brought him two rice puddings!
Had he been speaking in Greek there could never have been such a mistake,
for that language has two words, meaning one of the same kind of one of a
different kind. What the student really asked for was the latter, but what
he got was another of the same kind. When Jesus said, "another", which did
He mean? In fact he meant what the landlady mistakenly understood. The Holy
Spirit is another Comforter of the same kind as the Lord Jesus. Everything
that Jesus had been to help and strengthen His disciples in those years of
their pilgrimage together, the Holy Spirit would now undertake as Christ
went to the Father. To His disciples the Lord said that the Spirit would perfectly
take His place, comforting and strengthening them just as He had always done.
In these chapters we read of four ways in which The Lord Jesus promised
that the Holy Spirit would sustain His apostles.
i. By Radiating the Person of Jesus
The Comforter reveals the identity of Jesus; He points to His person
and illuminates Him. There is no other chapter which gives us the closeness
of the union between God the Son and God the Father as John 14 does. "Believe
that I am in the Father and the Father in me" (v.11). Philip had said, "Lord,
show us the Father, and it is enough", to which Jesus replied, "Have I been
so long time with you, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me
has seen the Father." So Jesus was explaining to the apostles who He really
was. And this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to impress upon us the
reality and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We cannot be strong in our Christian lives if we do not know who the
real Jesus is. He is the Son of God incarnate, saying to us, "Believe me
that I am in the Father and the Father in me". This is not what we read in
books about "The myth of God incarnate" -- far from it. The Holy Spirit
bring strength and vigour into us by radiating the person of the glorious
Son of God so that we have an inward knowledge of Him.
ii. By Mediating the Presence of Jesus
The Lord Jesus said, "I will not leave you bereft even though I go to
the Father. I will come to you" (14:18). I will not forsake nor forget you.
Later on He said, "I will manifest myself to you. If a man loves me, he will
keep my commandments and my Father will love him and we will come and make
our home with him" (v.23). Here are words which speak to us of the intimate
indwelling presence of the Lord Jesus and also of God the Father, made possible
by the comforting Spirit of God. Our bodies will be His temple.
Remember that after the children of Israel had sinned, God said to Moses,
"I will send an angel before thee ... for I will not go up in the midst of
thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people" (Exodus 33:2-3), but Moses could
not bear this and argued that he did not want just an angel, but the Lord
Himself: "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence". We would
say the same, for our strengthening comfort is provided by the Holy
[46/47] Spirit who mediates to us the very presence of Christ.
Just as Daniel's three friends were unharmed in the fiery furnace because
of the fourth person there, the Son of God Himself, so we are sustained
and delivered in every fiery trial by the same all-conquering Lord, though
in our case He is not only with us but He is in us.
I think of an African Christian coming back one day to find that his
home had been razed to the ground and burned so that all he possessed had
been turned into cinders, and being able to turn to his enemies who belonged
to a different tribe and say to them, "You can burn me out of my house but
you cannot burn Jesus out of my heart!" That is what it means to have the
presence of the living Christ in our hearts by the work of the Comforter,
turning our frailty into His divine strength.
iii. By Substantiating the Promise of Jesus
The way in which the Holy Spirit strengthens us is by bringing the Word
of God to us. "The words that I speak to you I speak not from myself; but
the Father abiding in me does his works" (v.10). The chapter begins with
the glorious promise of our future inheritance: "I go to prepare a place for
you". That is the promise of heaven. By and large the Christian Church is
scared stiff of talking about heaven in these days. Naturally the secular
and humanist world loathes the idea, and indeed it has no hope for the future.
Christians tend to feel embarrassed but we should not apologise about heaven.
When we do so it is not because we are trying to contract out of our responsibilities
here on earth but because we have something beyond this life. "We are marching
to Zion, the glorious city of God."
Let no-one dissuade you of this, that God has a prepared place for a
prepared people. The Spirit witnesses to this promise and so mobilises and
strengthens our will for the present as our hearts are warmed by the prospect
of the future. One night my wife and I came back quite late and as we came
through the front door we were amazed to hear the distinctive sound of our
electric carving knife. We wondered what our daughter must be doing and if
she had been roasting a joint at that time of night. When we went into the
kitchen there was no joint. There wasn't any food at all. The truth was that
she could not get the dog to come in from the garden, so she plugged in the
carving knife, and in a jiffy he ran in, expecting food. Maybe he was disappointed,
but the Lord's promises never disappoint.
"Why is it", we ask "that in these days so often the Lord's people have
lost their appetite for the Word of God? Is it because they have too much
sweets and crisps instead of nourishing food?" It is sad that so often other
things have come into the churches and crowded out the Word of God. There
should be no famine of the Word of God, for we have it in its completion
and perfection. And if there is a famine, it is often in this matter of listening
to the Word of God, as there was in the days of the prophet Amos. The Comforter
does His work of strengthening us by means of the Word of the Lord.
iv. By Fellowship with the People of Christ
The words of these chapters were not spoken just to individuals but to
apostles in the Upper Room where there was a kind of church in miniature.
It may be possible to have religion with "what a man does with his solitariness",
but that is not Christianity. The Spirit's work is to strengthen us as we
meet with others under the government of the Word of God. In fact we ourselves
have a ministry to strengthen each other as the Holy Spirit strengthens us.
The Church is a social fellowship of God's people gathered in the name of
Christ and round His Word.
John Bunyan writes that "Fellowship among believers is like the several
shrubs in a garden, each with the dew of heaven upon them. The which being
gently shaken by the wind, they let fall their dew at each other's roots
and become nourishers of each other and joint nourishers together." This is
a lovely picture of the Comforter's work in our fellowship with other believers.
This is what God intends, that with the dew of heaven upon us by the Holy
Spirit we may become joint nourishers the one of the other.
So often the love of God reaches us through one of His people. We are
told that Jonathan strengthened the heart of David and encouraged him in
the Lord. And we read that as Paul approached Rome, brethren from the city
came out to meet him and that when Paul saw them, he "thanked God, and took
courage" (Acts 28:15). As we live together in the fellowship of the Spirit,
we shall find that we stimulate one another. The King will comfort His soldiers.
IN his penitential psalm David prayed that his lips might be opened to
sing God's praises (51:15). In Psalm 103 we discover how wonderfully the
Lord answered that prayer as only the Redeemer could, making David the inspired
preacher of the gospel. In case you should think that I have become confused
between the Old and New Testaments, may I point out that Paul says that the
Scriptures announced the gospel in advance to Abraham (Galatians 3:8), so
why not to David also? And if ever a man needed the gospel it was David.
To say that God opened David's lips does not mean that the psalmist made
his mind a blank so that the words would miraculously emerge from his mouth
apart from his own volition. Inspiration was not like that. He had to make
his memory recall what God had done for him, and he had to use his imagination
to find suitable illustrations for gospel truths -- East and West, Heaven
and Earth, Family Life etc. The result of those efforts under the inspiration
of the Holy Spirit is presented to us in this beautiful psalm which I have
described as David's gospel.
There are two ways of preaching the gospel. One is to convince the sinner
of his great need and then to point to Christ as the only but all-sufficient
Saviour. The other is to demonstrate the wonders of being saved and so arouse
a thirst or appetite in others so that they have a heart longing to share
gospel benefits. In this psalm David chooses the latter method; he sings
such a song of thanksgiving and worship that the psalm becomes an invitation
to those who hear it. It is as though he cried, "Mercy is not only for me,
but for all who will respond to God's love, even though they feel as worthless
as I am."
Before considering his glowing account of redemption's benefits, we must
note the background setting of the gospel as it is indicated here. We are
told that God's king rules over all (v.19). If it were not for the salvation
of Christ that would not be true, for fallen mankind in his rebellion against
divine authority would provide a glaring exception. But it is true. God's
kingdom operates among men. And it does so because there is in redemption
a provision which not only meets man's need but God's also, since it means
that from among men there can arise that worship in the beauty of holiness
which is sweet music to Him.
In another psalm (8), David asks why man should be so important to God.
Psalm 103 points to the answer, for its theme is the worship of redeemed
sinners. The crowning peak of this anthem is the reminder that as universal
Ruler, receiving worship from the rest of creation, the grateful thanksgiving
of saved sinners is sweet and harmonious in His ears.
The archangels, like Gabriel and Michael, who served Him perfectly, are
exhorted to bless His name (v.20). The whole host of angelic beings who are
devoted to pleasing Him are also urged to join in the heavenly blessing (v.21).
It is then stated that God's universal activities bring Him a united expression
of praise from the rest of His creation (v.22). If God has all this adoration,
is it not enough? What is He still waiting for? The final verse of the psalm
gives us the answer to this question. He is listening to hear a contribution
from the human race. That is of supreme importance to Him. And He gets it!
David is the spokesman for us all. Listen to the simple contribution
of the forgiven sinner: "Bless the Lord, O my soul." That is how the psalm
begins and that is how it ends. In fact the whole Bible is devoted to God's
successful quest for human love and worship. Above all else, He who is surrounded
by praise, wants to hear a song from His redeemed people, and it is not just
a matter words, however beautiful and eloquent those words may be, for David
calls upon all that is within him to praise the holy name of the
Such a life is like music to God's ears. In the course of the vast symphony
of praise from the entire orchestra of His creation, there is, as it were,
a pause which allows the one melodious solo instrument to be clearly heard.
The divine Conductor, who is also the Composer and so knows perfectly every
nuance of His symphony, points to the seemingly unimportant solo instrumentalist
as being now the essential part of His composition and confidently waits
for this personal contribution: "Bless the Lord, O my soul." David is here
the soloist who intervenes in the cosmic worship to celebrate his own personal
experience and to introduce his own individual tribute to God's great grace.
The psalm is so rich in spiritual content that it is not easy to divide
it up into sections. I will not attempt to do so but will simply seek to
assemble some of its thoughts under suitable headings. We can say that this
1. An Individual Gospel
As I have said, in the whole chorus of creation's worship of the Lord,
man's contribution comes like an eloquent solo. Let us forget for a moment
those exciting stories of the totality of God's people which stir our hearts
as they tell out the corporate mercies which are shared by God's people,
and concentrate, as David did, on the personal blessings for which we praise
Him in individual terms. The Lord blesses His people all together, but each
of us has known singular blessings. It is true that God made known His acts
to Israel, but He made His ways known to Moses in an individual way (v.7).
And if you argue that you are no Moses, and not even a David, I will remind
you that the Lord Jesus spoke about adoration to that unworthy character
at the well of Jacob. She was a Samaritan! Moreover she was a woman! Worse
still, she was a notorious sinner! Yet in effect Jesus assured her that His
heavenly Father was longing for her to sing, "Bless the Lord, O my soul" (John
4:23). To the angels' delight as well as to the benefit of her fellow men,
she did so. And why not, since for that matter David had also been a guilty
sinner, only able to open his lips in praise because he had been cleansed?
The same is true of all God's redeemed people.
2. A Total Gospel
Man's needs are total. This truth is expressed in the three different
Hebrew words which are used to describe our unrighteousness. The word "sin"
expresses our failures; the word "iniquity" describes our crooked personalities;
and the word "transgression" declares us to be rebels against God's will.
In Psalm 51 David uses all these three words, acknowledging that he had offended
God in this total way. Now in this psalm he is happy to report that it has
all been dealt with; everything is forgiven and forgotten.
This totality is actually expressed in such inclusive phrases as, "
all his benefits", "all my sins", "all my diseases".
There is nothing incomplete in God's redeeming work in Christ. From the cross
He Himself cried out, "It is finished" so that as we come in spirit to His
cross, we may have absolute assurance through the gospel. In connection with
the matter of healing, it must be emphasised that David was surely talking
about the spiritual sickness of sin. Diseases of the soul are not only more
serious than diseases of the body but they are also the most difficult to
heal. As a matter of fact we are never told of any bodily illness which David
suffered. If ever he had any, they were clearly not worth mentioning. But
we do know much of the diseases of his soul. They troubled him; they robbed
him of his sleep; they left him like a man with crushed bones. Salvation
healed them all.
This total Gospel deals with the future as well as the past. David exhorts
his soul to bless the [49/50] Lord for what lies before
him, the crowning with mercies and the joys at God's right hand. It is as
though he reports that it is not enough for God to redeem his life from
the pit, wonderful as that deliverance was, but that God completed His mercies
by crowning His unworthy servant with steadfast love (v.4). On various occasions
David had the experience of being literally crowned, perhaps the most notable
one being not the official coronations but the undeserved crowning which
he had after he had idled and sinned at home while Joab fought his battles.
David's general Joab had many faults but on this occasion he acted magnificently
when he called David in to get the credit for the victory and to receive
a heavy gold crown resplendant with precious jewels (2 Samuel 12:30). But
even that was as nothing compared with the greatest crown of all. Not only
for him but also for every other forgiven sinner, the supreme crown is that
of God's love and mercy. That will be eternal, its recipient having his youth
renewed in terms of Christ's eternal life. All is provided: nothing is omitted.
3. A Universal Gospel
David began by telling of his own personal experience, but he then went
on to include all God's children with him. God is willing to work righteousness
for all the oppressed, and to abound in steadfast love to all those
sinners who commit their case to Him. So the psalm passes from the singular
to the plural, from "me" to "us", and in this connection we are told "as
far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions
from us" (v.12).
It is, of course, quite impossible to define a distance between East
and West. The measurement of North to South and vice versa is commonly
known, but who can tell how far the East is from the West? The actual circumference
of the earth at the Equator is very much the same as the distance between
the poles, but there is no start or finish in the eastward or westward directions;
it is an endless circle. If David had lived in the jet age he could have
started off from Jerusalem and travelled eastward, passing over Assyria, India,
China and then right across to America and back over the northern tip of
Africa until he again reached Jerusalem and could have gone on again, always
moving eastward. If he had gone in the opposite direction, flying westward,
he would still have continued on and on indefinitely. Whichever way you go
there is an infinite distance between East and West. It was a fact, whether
David knew it or not, and so by redemption his sins and ours have been removed
to an infinite distance. That was David's gospel, and it is ours.
The same immeasurable fact applies when we look upwards; "As high as
the heaven is above the earth, so great is his love toward those who fear
him" (v.11). However high we go, God is infinitely above us. However high
may be the mountain of our sin, the mountains of God's mercy to sinners are
higher still. In the land of Israel God appointed six cities of refuge to
which offenders could run for safety. They were strategically placed so that
fugitives did not have to travel far to find sanctuary. But a sinner like
David would never have been safe in a city of refuge, for God's law was that
a deliberate murderer must be dragged out to judgment. "Show him no pity"
the Scriptures said (Deuteronomy 19:13). But although there was no refuge
for David here below, the heavens are higher than the earth, so he was fully
forgiven. In heaven we have Christ, the refuge of penitent and believing
sinners, who forgives us when we hardly feel that we can forgive ourselves.
Infinity is not only a matter of distance but also of time, so we read
that "From everlasting to everlasting, the Lord's love is with them that
fear him" (v.17). There are scientists who outdo one another in speculating
about the beginning of the human race. There are also would-be prophets who
predict how much longer humanity can last. Well, like the rest of us, they
are men whose days are as grass (v.15), so they must not be given too much
attention. God is quite different. God is eternal. He was God before the
world was in existence and He will continue to be God when time is no more.
Any believer will accept this truth. The marvel to David, however, was that
God's love to us is equally eternal.
David did not know how this could be. What he did know, though, was that
in his case he did not do the choosing, but God did it. Seven times
[50/51] over God said of his brothers, "I have not chosen him",
but when David came in from his sheep-minding Samuel was told, "He is the
one" (1 Samuel 16:8-12). In case we should imagine that the choice was peculiar
to David the king, we should turn to the New Testament and there read with
the Ephesian believers that "He chose us in him before the creation of the
world" (Ephesians 1:4). Whenever a repentant sinner turns to Christ, God
says to him, "This is the one! My love for this one is an everlasting love."
Humanly speaking, as David says, we are like grass which spends just a brief
space of time here on earth before withering and fading, but the gospel has
brought another dimension into our lives. Now we are children of eternity.
4. A Family Gospel
It is the marvel of divine grace that we who have come to fear the Lord
now find that through Christ we now have a heavenly Father. He has brought
us into His family by imparting to us His own life; we have been born of
Him and this guarantees that His love for us will never change (v.13). A Concordance
will show us that the word used for His fatherly compassion for us is the
same as that later employed to describe the legitimate mother of the baby
which was brought to King Solomon by two women. When the king proposed to
solve the problem of ownership by dividing the child, one woman agreed, for
in any case the boy was not hers. The other woman, however, would not hear
of this and preferred to let her rival keep the baby rather than have it
killed in this way. Giving the reason, the Bible explains that she was "filled
with compassion" (1 Kings 3:26). This is how the Lord feels towards us. He
has for us a mother-love as well as a father-love. It is true that He knows
that we were formed from the dust, for it was He who made Adam at the first.
Yet He loves us, not only as the creatures of His hands but as the children
of His heart.
This, then, is the gospel. This is that which prompts David to begin
his song with the words, "Bless the Lord, O my soul", but also to end it
on the same note. That such a great and holy God should treat such unworthy
sinners with fatherly-motherly love seems too good to be true. But it is
true. It is the Good News for all who can rightly be described as fearing
FOURFOLD WITNESS TO THE RESURRECTION
J. Alec Motyer
BY now we are used to the way in which the Gospel writers operate. None
of them sets out to tell us all the facts, any more than any historian does.
Every historian is selective. The four writers picked out the features which
would best emphasise the facts which enabled them to paint their desired
picture of the Lord Jesus, not falsifying the facts but allowing them to run
along a certain revelation of truth.
All the Gospels tell us that groups of women went to the Lord's tomb
on that first Easter morning and were witnesses of the resurrection. There
were groups of women and they all converged to that tomb. We must not think
of the folk from Galilee as living in one place in Jerusalem. They were scattered
all over the city, staying in various homes for their annual visit for the
Passover, some of them named to us and others just mentioned. No doubt each
group consisted of special friends who had agreed together to prepare spices
and take them to the grave. Some were well known and all four Gospels tell
us that Mary Magdalene was there; but the story is much more complex than
that. One thing is sure, and that is that they [51/52]
all bore their testimony to the fact of the empty tomb and they all discovered
that their crucified Lord was now alive.
What we want to do is to look at the four narratives in turn and discover
that one emphasis that each of the four, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, gives
to us in their distinctive portraits of Jesus in His resurrection.
1. MARK Fearful Wonder
Mark stresses the awesome wonder of the resurrection: "They went out
and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come upon them,
and they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid" (16:8). Nothing
could be more typical of Mark's Gospel. In his general portrait of Jesus,
he continually wrote of amazement and fear. In this shortest of all Gospels
Mark uses at least seven distinct verbs of fear and astonishment. This was
a constant reaction in encounters with the Lord Jesus. This was the supreme
astonishment, such as no-one had before known. "They were afraid". They were
silenced by trembling and astonishment and fear. The resurrection did not
match their expectations; they were bringing spices to anoint the body of
the Lord and to stay the process of dissolution.
Luke tells of a group who went home and prepared their spices before
the Sabbath, whereas Mark tells us of another group who waited until the
Sabbath ended, at sunset, and then went off to the shops to buy spices.
They doubtless worked into the night, lovingly blending their spices and
unguents and mixing their tears with them. They were of course thinking
of the normal process of a body after death. Their labour was destined for
the dead. Their money was to go to the dead.
All this is emphasised by Mark's report of their conversation: "... they
were saying among themselves, 'Who shall roll us away the stone of the door
of the tomb?'" (verse 3). It was exceeding large; the priests had selected
some enormous boulder to block the grave in case there might be any tampering
with the body so, rather belatedly, the women coming to anoint the body realised
that they had a problem on their hands. Their expectations were on a body
and their difficulty, the rolling away of the stone, but all their expectations
were contradicted -- there was no stone to be rolled away and no body to
anoint. That was the beginning of their fear.
Not only they but all the others also had failed to register what Jesus
had said about His resurrection on the third day. Probably the could not
register it; it was something beyond their belief. We know what they did believe,
for Luke's Gospel has revealed in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,
that the justified dead are comforted in God's presence. That most terrible
of all the parables speaks clearly of what they believed, what is confirmed
in other Scriptures when it reports that "it came to pass that the poor man
died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22).
They did not for a moment doubt that the Lord would be in the conscious enjoyment
of the blessings of a godly hereafter, and if they had been asked what they
knew about Jesus whose body they had come to anoint, they would have replied
that He lives on in the Paradise which He Himself had promised to the dying
thief. Jesus living on would be a part of their current belief.
Martha had spoken for them all when she said about her dead brother Lazarus.
"I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John
11:24). Here we have a window into the current belief about the dead. They
are alive. They are safe with God and are looking forward to a glorious resurrection.
There are Bible commentators who try to tell us that these stories of the
resurrection do not tell us what happened in fact but were invented by the
early Church to show that they believed in life after death. They would
have believed that anyway. That was part of the stock-in-trade of all except
the Sadducees. These folk did not need to invent any story of an empty tomb
to prop up their faith, for they took it for granted that Jesus was alive
and well in Paradise.
What astonished and frightened them was not that Jesus was alive. They
found themselves face to face with something quite different from the
[52/53] ordinary. It was not just the fact that Jesus is King of
Kings and Lord of Lords. That would make them glad not afraid. The shock
was that they were confronted with the supernatural, something beyond all
human expectation. Jesus had conquered death.
It was not merely that He had survived. All the dead survive. The Bible
assures us that this is so, for both good and bad. There is no suggestion
in the Bible that death means the cessation of existence. Both the Old Testament
and the New tell us that death is not the end. In the case of the Lord Jesus,
though, something quite different had happened; it was not just that He had
Himself performed the enormous and inexplicable task of putting death into
reverse. He had conquered death and is alive for evermore. It was the awesomeness
of the resurrection which caused their terror and astonishment.
2. MATTHEW Divine Authority
Matthew aligns himself with Mark concerning the supernatural wonder of
the resurrection and then goes on to bear his own testimony, which has to
do with divine authority. "Behold there was a great earthquake" (28:2).
When Jesus arose from the dead even the world itself become different. Implicit
in His resurrection was the breaking of bonds which held the creation and
a great release. Powers of heaven operated on earth "for an angel of the
Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon
It cannot be said too often that the stone was not rolled away to let
the Lord Jesus out; in His risen majesty He was up and away and gone. But
God wanted the matter to be made public, so He sent the angel to open the
tomb for our inspection. Just think of all the political and ecclesiastical
pomposity that contributed to that stone being put into place. The Roman
authority was there providing the muscle and the ecclesiastical authority
was there to provide the pomp. Imagine the satisfaction on the High Priest's
face when his seal was affixed to the stone so that none dare tamper with
it, and the dismay when the angel found it so easy to break that seal and
afterwards to sit upon it. I believe that the place of the seal was just where
the angel sat, showing utter contempt for all their scheming.
Matthew's testimony, however, focuses especially on the one word "Galilee".
"Go quickly and tell his disciples, He is risen from the dead, and lo, he
goes before you to Galilee" was what the angel said to the women, "there
shall ye see him" (v.7). But the Lord gave them a bonus, for they were actually
met by the Lord Himself, and when they worshipped Him He said to them, "Fear
not; go tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there shall they
see me". Twice over this name Galilee is repeated, not because Matthew doubted
that Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, as the other Gospels
tell us, but because he has something special to say about Galilee and so
makes this historical selection to stress his point. He goes on to say that
"the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had
appointed them" (v.16). It seems that the Lord had made an arrangement with
them about this, and both the angel and He recalled this to them.
There are hints that there were others with them, some doubting, and
it may well be that this was the occasion when, according to 1 Corinthians
15:6, a great assembly of over five hundred gathered to meet with their risen
Lord. Galilee was clearly an important rendezvous; they kept it and
Jesus kept it when He came to them and spoke those momentous words: "All
authority in heaven and earth has been given to me".
This is entirely in keeping with Matthew's presentation of the gospel.
He tells how the Lord Jesus began His ministry on a mountain in what we
call The Sermon on the Mount. That was how He began and now He comes again
on a mountain to send out His disciples to continue the teaching ministry.
It was as though He said, "Once I sat on a mountain and taught you. Now I
stand on a mountain and send you out to teach others the same things." The
stress is on His divine authority. [53/54]
I love to remember that this mountain top scene indicates the authority
of Jesus over Satan. At the first He went into the desert to be tempted by
Satan and the peak of that temptation was when the tempter took the Lord
to a very high mountain and offered Him authority over the whole world (4:6).
The offer was rejected but now in this mountain top scene at the end of the
Gospel, the risen Saviour announces that it has been given to Him by the
Father and on the Father's terms. The Lord would not accept rulership on
Satan's terms, but it was given Him at His resurrection and so He is able
to send His disciples out into all the world in His name and with His backing.
The authority of the risen Christ is an authority which is expressed
through evangelism, since He says, "Go therefore ..." In every part of the
world the Lord Jesus authorises evangelism, and so those who preach or speak
the gospel message can know that the authority of the Lord Jesus is behind
them. By His grace we may go or sit or stand in the good of the authority
of the risen Lord Himself whenever we seek to pass on to others what He has
This authority of the risen Lord is also an authority recognised in obedience.
We must not take too lightly the promise, "Lo, I am with you always." Of
course it is true. He will always be with us; He will never leave nor forsake
us, but that is not what Jesus was saying to His disciples then. What He said
was, "I will be with you as you go into all the world and make disciples."
That was a promise to those who are moving on in obedience, daily obedience.
3. LUKE Scriptural Fulfilment
Up to the account of the empty tomb (24:12) Luke is telling what is basically
recorded in the other Gospels, but his account lays special emphasis on the
matter of fulfilment. His three stories about the resurrection, the empty
tomb (1-12), the Emmaus walk (13-35) and the evening visit (36-49) all refer
to this fact of Scriptural fulfilment.
At the empty tomb the angel said to the women, "He is not here, but is
risen; remember how he spoke unto you when he was yet here in Galilee saying
... and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words" (vv.6-8).
Luke is the only one who points out that what had happened was in accordance
with the Lord's own words. He said that He would rise, and He has risen!
The well-known story of the Emmaus walkers is very beautiful, but it
is not for us now to dwell on its details but simply to point out that when
Jesus found the two perplexed about Him, He did not immediately show Himself
to them but directed them to the Scriptures. "... beginning from Moses and
from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things
concerning himself" (v.27). What He was saying was, "It was predicted and
now it has happened: it is all a fulfilment of God's Word."
The same procedure marked the Lord's encounter with His disciples in
the Upper Room. After He had finally persuaded them that it was really Him,
notably by having a hearty meal with them (and leaving the fish bones on
the plate!), He turned as it were to the real business and proceeded to say,
"These are my words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, how
that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of
Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me. Then he opened their
mind, that they might understand the scriptures" (vv.44-45).
In this way we see that, without any forcing, Luke makes this his theme.
"Didn't He tell you?" asked the angel. "Didn't the Scriptures tell you?"
asked the Lord on the Emmaus road. In the Upper Room He reasoned, "But it
is all there! It was written and it has happened!" So three times over Luke
underlines this matter of the Scriptures.
He has already told us that this was how Jesus began His public ministry
in the synagogue in Galilee. Having read the passage from Isaiah, He rolled
up the Scriptures, sat down and said, "Today these words are fulfilled in
your ears" (4:21). [54/55] So Luke's Gospel begins
and ends with Jesus as the Fulfiller of Scripture.
I would suppose that those two going to Emmaus were man and wife, going
home. Their conversation was all about Jesus and what they had heard on that
amazing morning, and it served only to perplex them. Had Jesus done at once
what He subsequently did and opened their eyes, all their problems would
have vanished. They would have exclaimed, "Oh, we are not puzzled any longer.
You really are alive"; but He did not do that. He allowed them to remain
in blindness until He had done what seemed to Him the most important, the
most basic thing, namely to give them a Scriptural revelation. We see where
He put the emphasis.
This is true to Luke's Gospel, and it is true for us. The primary focus
of the knowledge of Jesus is the written Word of God. It was reiterated in
the Upper Room, with something added. If we take the first and the last portions
of that story we read, "It is written ... that it might be preached." It
is not our experience that must be preached, but the inspired Scriptures.
It is as though Luke tells us that the risen Lord puts the Bible into our
hands, saying, "Do you want to know Me? Then turn to the Scriptures. Do you
want to declare Me? If so, turn to the Scriptures."
4. JOHN The Good Shepherd
Like all the others, John starts with the empty tomb, but he has his
own account of the matter and it concerns Mary Magdalene. She assumed that
the body had been stolen, so she ran like the wind to find Peter and John.
She told them that they had stolen the body from the tomb, so the two men
ran to see for themselves. John arrived first, stooped down and saw the
linen clothes. Peter followed and -- typically -- leapt before he looked.
John then entered the tomb and saw something about the way those clothes
were lying that made a great impact on him. Notice very carefully that it
does not say that they had any such effect on Peter. He went away wondering;
John went away believing.
After this, John's Gospel takes up the matter in a way which is different
from the other three. He tells us two stories at the tomb, two stories in
the Upper Room and two stories at the lakeside in Galilee, and in each case
the second story tells us of Christ's ministry to a troubled soul. The first
of these describes how He dried Mary's tears. The second tells us how He
dispelled Thomas's doubts. The third records His ministry to Peter who had
denied Him three times and was now given the opportunity to testify three
What, then, does John say? He tells us that the Lord Jesus is still the
Good Shepherd, caring for the poor, battered, failing flock. Where there
are tears, He is there to dry them; where there are doubts, He is there to
solve them; and when there is a soul who has grievously fallen and needs to
be lifted up, dusted down and set on his feet, He is there to do just that.
The risen Lord is the Good Shepherd.
To the weeping woman at the tomb, Jesus just calls the name "Mary", and
she cries out in response, "Rabboni". Who but an inspired writer could tell
the whole story in two words like that? We might almost think that the Lord
was waiting around especially to comfort that distressed woman, especially
as He informed her that He had not yet gone home to the Father. He gave priority
to shepherding care.
When the disciples said to the absent Thomas, "We have seen the Lord",
he replied that he just could not believe that. I suggest that to call this
man "Doubting Thomas" is to do the great man a disservice. Was he not rather
one of those people who always find it easier to believe bad news than good.
Some people cannot help being like that. He needed to be persuaded. It may
well be that he had been at the cross and had seen the wounds of Jesus and
so said, "I cannot believe that. Why there were wounds in His hands big enough
to put your fingers in and you could have put your hand into that hole in
His side. Please do not expect me to believe that the Lord is alive again."
Eight days later, this time when Thomas was present, Jesus came again,
and obviously was well aware of what Thomas had said. "This was what you
wanted", said Jesus to him, "now here are My hands and My side." To all intents
and purposes Jesus had not been present when Thomas spoke as he did, but
in fact He must have been there and overheard, so He knew what Thomas's problem
was. The Lord was, as the old wall text card says, "the Unseen Listener to
every conversation". The implication of that card is a warning to be careful,
to beware of His presence, but it was not like that. Jesus is indeed the
unseen listener to our conversation, but not in order to criticise or condemn,
but to know our needs and attend to them. So he listened to Thomas and returned
in order to solve his problem. That was His loving ministry to the puzzled
Thomas, to help him to faith. It produced the adoring response, "My Lord
and my God!"
And what shall we say of poor Peter who had three times betrayed his
Lord. I feel sure that after the meal Jesus arose, put His arm through the
arm of Peter and suggested a little walk. In the course of the walk He three
times gave Peter a chance to confess his love. They were back together again
and then Peter could be encouraged once again by the call, "Follow me". This
is a lovely revelation of the risen Jesus; He is still the Good Shepherd.
At what better point could we conclude this study? Still we have the Good
Shepherd to dry our tears, resolve our doubts, pick us up, dust us down and
set us on our feet when we need it. Still He points us forward, telling us
to follow Him. He ever lives to intercede for us.
"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give
the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him" Ephesians
WITHOUT in any way denying human responsibility, the Word of God makes
it plain that spiritual life depends upon divine revelation. Before He gave
His invitation, "Come unto me", the Lord Jesus categorically stated that
no-one knows the Father unless the Son chooses to bestow a revelation of Him"
(Matthew 11:27). He had already offered praise to the Father because it had
given Him pleasure to reveal spiritual truths to what He called "little children".
God must come to us before ever we come to Him. This makes the matter of
revelation something of vital importance to us all.
When Paul prayed that the Ephesians might be given a spirit of revelation,
he was not suggesting that they would have new light apart from the Word
of God. There are those who would limit the idea of revelation to those unique
experiences of privileged men who wrote the Scriptures. It is true that Paul's
claim to have received special light from God in this way was entirely valid:
"the gospel ... came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians
1:12). No Ephesian, and no modern Christian, gets that kind of revelation.
The last man to do so was John who terminated the Scriptures by his book
of The Revelation [56/57] of Jesus Christ, and finally
completed the number of prophetic writers.
Nevertheless the word "revelation" is rightly used in a more general
way when it describes the work of the Spirit which gives the individual
some fresh illumination as to the Word which the apostles and prophets were
inspired to write. This is something more than mere Bible knowledge and
can only be obtained as a gift from God; it involves a mental appreciation
of truth which produces a transformation of life.
Revelation began for Paul, as it must do for all of us, when Christ as
the light of the world broke into his dark night of unbelief. Looking back
on that moment, Paul stated that "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me"
(Galatians 1:16). That does not mean that somebody gave him a Bible, for
all his life he had possessed and studied the Word of God. It does not mean
that someone explained the gospel to him, for he already knew the facts about
the Lord Jesus though, far from being enlightened by them, he fiercely contested
them and did so sincerely and in ignorance. Later on he explained: "I verily
thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name
of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). Until Christ met him, the revealed Word
of God was entirely ineffective in his case.
The moment of revelation is best described in his own words: "For God
who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts, to
give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus
Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Until that moment, Saul's soul was in the darkness
of natural chaos, and remained so until God said "Let there be light". The
change came, not by human explanations of the truth about Jesus, but by the
sudden intervention of God, an intervention as miraculous and inexplicable
as what happened at the beginning of time.
This was much more than a change of thinking or conviction. Otherwise
Saul of Tarsus, imposing on fellow Jews his own understanding of Scripture,
would have become Paul of Damascus imposing on fellow Christians his revised
interpretation of Scripture, something which mercifully never happened. In
His great grace, God had given His servant a spiritual revelation of Christ,
and now that servant spoke and wrote and prayed that the same light might
come to others.
Though it came to Saul of Tarsus in a unique way, the principle is not
peculiar to him but is what happened to everyone of those believers in Corinth
and has happened to all of us who know Christ in a living way. The initiative
is with God. May I perhaps illustrate the difference between information
and revelation? Luke tells us that the first recorded interchange between
Jesus and others took place when the Lord, at twelve years of age, surprised
the learned Temple professors by His explanation of spiritual things. They
marvelled at His words and doubtless discussed this phenomenal event after
He had returned to Nazareth, but not a single one of them had any true idea
as to who He was. At the end of his Gospel, Luke tells us of the Lord's last
interchange which took place from the cross. There, a seemingly benighted
individual, and a criminal at that, saw the essential truth of Christ as he
was dying on his own cross and committed his soul to Jesus the Lord. Surely
that was a miracle of saving revelation.
Now the Ephesian Christians had experienced that initial revelation,
had believed and had been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, and yet
the apostle did not question their need for further revelation. As he began
writing to help them, he was so conscious that they needed to receive spiritually
what he was seeking spiritually to convey to them that he laid aside his
pen, got down on his knees, and offered prayer to the Father that by the Spirit
He would give them a fuller knowledge of His Son. So aware was he of the
essential initiative of God in this matter that he interrupted what he was
about to say in later pages of his letter and once again turned to prayer
(Ephesians 3:14). He thanked God for their faith; he did not ask God to give
them individual experiences of revelation apart from the Scriptures, but
he prayed that they might have ever yet more light. The background to his
prayer is that the mystery of Christ is so great and deep that anyone would
be foolish to imagine that they did not need further unveilings of Him by
the Spirit [57/58] who has been given to the Church
for this very purpose. This, I think, is what is meant by the work in Christians
of "The Spirit of wisdom and revelation".
In further articles, I hope to take up the three areas of Paul's prayer,
namely, Revelation of the Glory, Revelation of the Church and Revelation
of the Cross. Meanwhile may I offer some simple comments on this matter of
1. The Basis of Revelation
The basis of all revelation is free grace. "It is not of him that willeth,
nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy". So far as Paul was
concerned, it all happened because God decided it and felt pleasure in His
decision. We cannot disassociate the apostle's gifts from his own earnest
studies and prayers. Few had such a vast and detailed knowledge of the Scriptures
as Saul of Tarsus. In his case, however, as the Lord Jesus had declared: "The
Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing" (John 6:63) and as he himself
later wrote: "... the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians
3:6). So, in spite of his sincerity, the state of this Bible student's mind
remained like the primeval darkness of pre-creation chaos until God Himself
intervened in revelation.
No credit can be given to the man. According to Luke he was "still breathing
out murderous threats" when Christ met him, and he later admitted that he
had been "exceedingly mad" against Christ's Church. But there was a light
which shone above the brightness of the sun, and he heard a voice speaking
his own language and calling him by name, and so he had his revelation of
God's Son. In a sense his experience was unique, necessarily so, but the
principle is the same for us all. Faith is not the discovery of one who has
been searching for God so much as a humble acceptance of divine revelation.
What is more, this principle applies not only to the miraculous element in
a sinner's conversion but also to every spiritual grasp of the truth.
There was nothing of chance in this encounter. Paul was convinced that
the revelation had always been intended by God. It did not come because
Judas left a vacant place in the apostolic band and so obliged God to look
for a replacement. We often have to improvise: God never does. The decision
had been made before Saul was born. There was, of course, another man, not
of the twelve, who had a similar breadth of character and insight: that
was Stephen. It seems that he had to be removed before Saul came to Christ,
and may well have been the human agent involved in Saul's conversion. But
we dare not suggest that if Stephen had been preserved from the infuriated
Sanhedrin, the Lord need not have commissioned Saul. No! The Lord who later
miraculously preserved Peter from Herod could easily have delivered Stephen.
He did not do so. It had to be Paul who was to "make plain to everyone ...
the mystery" (Ephesians 3:9). Grace had planned and in God's own good time
grace acted in providing revelation. If we so wish we can congratulate ourselves
on our skill in Bible knowledge. The pre-conversion Saul often did that.
But the least gleam of revelation of spiritual truth leaves no room for
self-conceit. It comes because God pleases it and not because we deserve
or accomplish it.
There was a well of water within reach of Hagar when she thought that
she and young Ishmael would die of thirst, but it was only when God opened
the desperate mother's eyes that she discovered it. There were hosts of God's
armies encircling the prophet Elisha, but his servant knew nothing of this
until Elisha prayed: "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see"
(2 Kings 6:17). The beggar Bartimaeus made his plea "Lord, that I may receive
my sight" and immediately his request was granted (Luke 18:43). These historical
incidents give a background to Paul's prayer for the Ephesians that in a
spiritual way, the eyes of their heart might be enlightened. It is an operation
which gives much joy to the Lord when He works for us in this way, and our
revelation is always in terms of a fuller knowledge of Jesus.
2. The Circumstances of Revelation
The preparation for revelation can often be provided by some new sense
of need. After his conversion Paul might well have wondered why God had
waited so long before enlightening him. He could have enquired why Christ
had not appeared to him earlier. Why the wasted years? Why the mad follies?
Why not in Tarsus? Why not in Jerusalem? Why did he have to await the Damascus
road? These are the kind of questions which can arise in our minds. There
is a very [58/59] simple answer. A person has to be
ready for revelation. And that readiness is often brought about not by a gradual
rising to a fresh point of vantage but by sinking to a new depth of bafflement
Saul had to be disillusioned about his own efforts to please God. And
so do we. He had also to be disillusioned about his mistaken interpretation
of the Word of God. That can also be the case with us. He had to learn not
just to make prayers but really to pray (Acts 9:11). Most of all, he had to
be disillusioned about himself as a man, to know that the ignorance of his
unbelief was the result of a corrupt nature and that he, the proud Pharisee,
was in fact "less than the least" of those saints whom he despised and persecuted.
When he came to that level, he was ready to receive divine revelation.
May I make a suggestion about the passage in Romans 7:7-25 which I regard
as autobiographical? It is that Paul received his spiritual understanding
of the difference between the old man and the new, between what I am in myself
and what I am in Christ, as the result of deepest personal exercise. He
found, as if we are honest we all do, that conversion had not automatically
transformed his whole being as to make him sinless. The Saul who was a devout
and witnessing Christian went through such inner agonies over holiness that
he cried out in desperation: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver
me out of the body of this death?" In those depths he met Christ in a new
way. His triumphant answer shows that he had found deliverance: "I thank
my God through Jesus Christ our Lord, So then ..." Light from heaven had
flashed in on his dark perplexity. A Christian must learn to live not by
what he is in himself (verse 25) but by what he is in Christ (8:1). So long
as we are in the flesh this will have to be a constant exercise, to find
deliverance from what we are in ourselves -- those who want to do good but
fail in their efforts -- and to live by putting on Christ, the new man. This
conception of the two natures in the believer is one of Paul's most helpful
If this is uncertain, there can be no doubt about two visions of Christ
which Paul had subsequent to the one on the Damascus road. The first was
at Corinth. Paul had always felt a burning desire to evangelise Jews. At Corinth
he was finally disillusioned and had to shake his clothes in repudiation of
the synagogue and declare, "From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles" (Acts
18:6). This was no impulsive decision, but it must have been a heartrending
disappointment, so much so that in the dark hours of that same night the
Lord Jesus gave him a fresh revelation of Himself. "I have much people in
this city" He told Paul -- even though they are not Jews. It was as though
He said to His downcast servant, "Forget your own desires and ideas in your
work for Me, and persevere in My plans." Paul's night of need became a time
of new revelation.
The second occasion was connected with his appearance before the Jerusalem
council. He had the brilliant idea of defending himself by claiming to be
a Pharisee and so precipitating discord among the Jewish leaders. His stratagem
worked, for Pharisees and Sadducces were soon quarrelling so violently that
the chief captain had to snatch his prisoner away to safety. I imagine, however,
that later Paul felt, as many of us have done at times, that human cleverness
was not what God had really wanted and had a bad reaction. The Lord did
not blame him, even if that was the case. He comforted him with a new revelation
of Himself (Acts 23:11).
3. The Outworking of Revelation
The Lord has definite purposes in revealing His Son to us. If revelation
means something more than mere mental understanding, it must result in transformation
of life. In the matter of his ministry as well as personal holiness, the
apostle was able to say that it pleased God to reveal His Son in him, "...
that I might preach him ..." Here we have the double effect of revelation,
the subjective effect in the one who receives the revelation and the objective
result in his conveying of that revelation to others. Information which does
not produce transformation is not really revelation, and transformation without
communication is a doubtful blessing.
As to the first, the language used by Paul suggests that something happened
inside him when the revelation came. Paul later reported that when the surprised
Christians in Judea heard of the revolution in his life, they did not merely
rejoice that he had changed his mind but "they thanked God for what had happened
to me" (Galatians 1:24). New light brought new life. Christ was not forced
upon him, but as he opened his heart Christ entered into him by the Holy
Spirit, and he was never the same again. [59/60]
I have already spoken of Hagar who gives an Old Testament illustration
of this truth. On the occasion of her first flight from Abraham's home she
was found of God by a well, questioned and comforted by the Lord and able
to describe that well, Beer-lahai-roi, "The well of the Living One who sees
me" (Genesis 16:13-14). On the second occasion, however, she could not see
a well and wept that she and her son were about to die of thirst. Here life
depended on light. They were saved from death because "the Lord opened her
eyes and she saw a well of water" (Genesis 21:19). We do not even read that
she was told to look, but only that her eyes were opened. The well was there
and close at hand, but it needed divine action to enable her to see it. How
often this is true in the case of dire spiritual need. The blessing is already
provided in Christ and is near at hand, but we have to have the eyes of
our heart enlightened in order that we should grasp what is rightfully ours
This kind of inward revelation is not an added luxury but an absolute
necessity if we are to live for God. Mental understanding must lead to faith's
heart appropriation. Still we must say that the blessing is not to be limited
to us, for the second aspect of revelation is that we hold something in trust
for others. We are to be both recipients and transmitters of revelation,
it being our privilege to make others see what the Lord has shown us. The
expanded version of what happened to Saul is found in his testimony before
Agrippa when he said that Christ's words to him were: "To this end have I
appeared unto thee, appoint thee a minister and a witness both of the things
wherein thou hast seen me, and of the things wherein I will appear unto thee
... to open their eyes ..." (Acts 26:16 & 18).
The whole story, as recorded by Luke in Acts 9:6 and onwards, shows that
in point of fact the Lord Jesus did not unfold to Saul what his future was
to be, but gave the message later through Ananias. This demonstrates an important
point, namely, that revelation by the Spirit may be given to us through
another person. Indeed more often than not this is so. The God who longs
to give men a revelation of His Son usually employs a human agent for the
purpose. The book of the Acts describes three such cases.
One is the Ethiopian eunuch who had the Scriptures -- and the right section
of those Scriptures -- in his hands but was quite in the dark as to their
meaning until God set Philip to him. "Understand?" he asked, "how can I understand
except some one shall guide me?" So Philip, a man himself enlightened by
the Spirit, was able to introduce him to the Lord Jesus.
The next one not only had the Word of God but he also had a visit from
an angel. This was the centurion, Cornelius, whom the angel instructed to
send for a man to bring him the light. This man was, of course, Simon Peter
who at that very time was receiving, very reluctantly, a new revelation
about the Gentiles. In theory he knew very well what the will of God was,
for he had been instructed personally by the Lord Jesus, but in practice
he shrank from implementing that knowledge, and he had a shrewd idea of
the upset it might cause at Jerusalem. He did not feel very happy
about this revelation and his obedience to it, but mercifully our feelings
are nothing to go by and can be ignored. Peter went and God worked, with
the cheering results of light and salvation there in Caesarea. The revelation
came in power to Cornelius and his household, but it came through a man.
Then there was Saul himself. It is true that out on the road he saw Christ,
the true Light but, as we have already said, he was not at that moment commissioned
but was only instructed to go on into Damascus. It was Ananias -- also a
somewhat reluctant envoy -- who confirmed the revelation with the words, "The
God of our fathers has appointed you to know his will, and to see the Righteous
One ... for you will be a witness for him" (Acts 22:14-15).
Neither Philip nor Ananias did what we would call preaching. Peter did
start on a sermon, but he was soon interrupted by the intervention of the
illuminating Spirit. No-one could doubt that what took place was a revelation
of the Spirit on the Word of God, but it came through a man. It can be by
preaching -- it often is -- or it can be in other ways, but God is always
pleased to reveal His Son in us and through us. So we see that revelation
is not a hobby, a luxury or an aid to self-improvement, but a liberating
work of God's Spirit for the making known of Jesus Christ the Lord. That
was what Paul prayed for.
(To be continued) [60/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (9)
Psalm 128 GROWING UP
THE domestic theme of the previous psalm seemed to point us towards God's
city, reminding us of how it is built and can be preserved. This psalm continues
in an atmosphere of domesticity but is more individual and personal, stressing
God's interest in the homelife of His faithful people.
THE picture is a beautiful one. All too often we fail to appreciate the
importance of a godly home. In these days of emancipation many women are
finding new spheres of usefulness and fulfilment both in the world and in
the church, and this is to be welcomed. Our weakness is that so often we tend
to overlook or undervalue the rich worth of home-making. All too many devoted
servants of the gospel have neglected their own children and taken their
loyal wives for granted.
THE complete man does neither of these things. For him the mother of
the family is like a delicately-scented vine, spreading its sweet influence
over the whole house, while the children around his table glow with healthy
happiness like young olive plants.
THIS is the ideal. Thank God when it is realised, for it not only helps
those concerned to grow up spiritually but provides also an atmosphere which
can point visitors upwards.
THE Scriptures, however, provide very few examples of this kind of sanctified
home life, even in the case of prominent servants of the Lord. Domestic bliss
is seldom encountered in the histories of the patriarchs or prominent Israelites.
Joshua and Isaiah provide possible exceptions.
THERE is not much in the New Testament either. It is cheering to realise
that Paul's last stay in a home before the dreadful sequel of imprisonments
began was when he stayed with Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8).
THIS member of the Seven certainly fitted into the description given
in our psalm, he feared the Lord and walked in His ways and he did this
in an outstanding way. He was the man who started to witness in the seemingly
unpromising city of Samaria and who then left his successful mission there
to evangelise and baptize the Ethiopian in the desert. Caught away by the
Spirit, he pursued his witnessing walk in the ways of the Lord until he arrived
at Caesarea where, in keeping with this psalm, the Lord gave him to eat of
the fruit of his labours with blessings and prosperity. He was given a faithful
wife and four devoted daughters, and nearly twenty years later they had the
privilege of acting as hosts to the apostle Paul and his companions.
WE are not told any more about them. They prayed with Paul and they wept
for him, and they doubtless continued to pray for him after saying their
sad farewell. Thank God for women-folk who are home-makers. The Lord will
bless them from Zion all the days of their life, especially if they are also
given to hospitality.
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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