by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 1 - Knowing Christ Through Abiding Union With Him
Reading: Mark 8:27,29; John 17:3.
"But who say ye that I am?"
That is a word addressed to disciples in immediate personal touch with Christ, who have listened to Him, who have followed Him, who have moved from place to place with Him, who have seen His works; and yet He felt it necessary and evidently important to interrogate and challenge them. They had heard expressions of the popular mind about Him. He knew that they were moving amongst men who would not give expression of their thoughts audibly in His own presence, but who talked about Him as people always do of certain individuals in their absence, and say what they think.
The disciples were in touch with the public mind to some extent, and answered Him according to what they had heard men saying about Him. Then He turned directly upon them, and said, "But". Catch the full force of the word. He might have said, 'Yes, and I suppose you agree with them? Do you agree with these opinions, these ideas? Which of them is your own mind?' The putting in of that "but" seems to demand a different position on their part. It is as though He said, 'That is all very well, but I expect something else from you.' "But who say ye that I am?" 'Who do you say that I am, you who have the greater privilege and opportunity of closer contacts, more intimate association?' Upon the answer to His interrogation of the disciples - not only the verbal answer, the theoretical reply, but the nature, the meaning, the depth, the strength of that answer - so much hangs for the disciples, we might even say everything depends on it.
It is the entire question of our knowledge of Christ. It is more than that: it is the knowledge of God in Christ. That is the Lord's word to disciples. It is a question of knowing God in Christ. Too much, and too often, even we who are the Lord's have mentally kept a gap between God and Christ, between Christ and God. The removal of that gap makes a tremendous difference when it is done in a spiritual way.
The Lord Jesus said on this whole matter: "This is life eternal, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent". Here we have the answer to every enquiry and quest of the human heart. Let the need be what it may, the meeting of that need is in these words: "...that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ".
We must not divide that statement into two. There is no such thing as knowing "Thee, the only true God" apart and alone or separate from Jesus Christ. There is no possibility of knowing Jesus Christ in a true way without knowing the only true God. These two are one. This is one thing. It is not new doctrine, but there is a meaning there for all of us which perhaps we have not grasped. God in Christ is the end of all human heart need. It is the perfection of satisfaction, it is the heart gratifying knowledge. It is our need.
What would your answer be if you were asked simply to state what you conceive your deepest, your greatest need to be? Think for a moment what you would answer, what you would set down on a slip of paper as being your deepest need. The answers, no doubt, would be various, and perhaps numerous. Many answers would have to do with victory in this way or in that, light in this way or in that. All the answers would be different things. Now let us say, with considered emphasis, that the need of every one of us, deepest and greatest, is of the knowledge of God in Christ. Given that every need is met, every desire and quest of the human heart is answered in Him. That may not sound very helpful, but we have not got very far yet. If you were to stay with that, and go to the Lord with that and in earnest seeking of Him ask Him to explain that to you, if you made this prayer to the Lord sincerely: "Lord, show me how the knowledge of Thyself, Eternal, Infinite, Almighty God in Jesus Christ, answers my deepest and greatest need", you would be on the right road, and would be in the way of making a new discovery. This is our need, if we did but know it, and it covers the whole ground; the knowledge, not of God, not of Christ only, but of God in Christ.
Not only is this our need, but this is God's aim with us. God's aim with us is to bring us into the knowledge of Himself in Christ. That goes further than you may realise at the moment. The trials and difficulties of spiritual life are countless, and we seek to get through these trials by asking the Lord for certain things: that He will act and work, that He will do something or He will show something. It may be as to our spiritual life, and we have conceived that if only we can have such-and-such a blessing, or such-and-such a revelation or enlightenment, we can go through our trial, we shall triumph in our trial or escape from it. Or it may be to do with our service: if only the Lord would do this or that in relation to His work and our place in it, that would be the solution of our problem.
Now, that is not the case. The fact is this, that what God is after is not to do things for you and for me, not to impart things to you and to me, not to show things to you and to me, but to bring us to some fresh apprehension of God in Christ. The whole matter is a divinely personal matter. It is the realisation of the Person which is going to result, firstly, primarily, and for evermore, not in doing things, not in activities, not in rejoicing in truth, but in worship. Worship is the first, the continuous and the final factor in the knowledge of God in Christ, and is basic to everything else in our relation to Him. True worship only springs from a heart discovery of Himself.
Take your Bible, especially the New Testament, and especially the forty days after the resurrection (if you want that narrowed down to something that you can grasp), and see if that is not true. It was not because He did or said certain things that they worshipped, but because they discovered Him in a way in which they had never known Him before.
God's dealings with us are governed by this supreme aim: that He might make known to us Himself in Christ; but this comes by illumination, and that illumination is by the touch of Christ.
Chapter 8 of Mark's Gospel is a wonderful chapter. You will find few richer chapters. It begins with the feeding of the multitude. That resolves itself into something in the nature of a dialogue, an altercation. "We have no bread." 'Have you forgotten the feeding of the five thousand, the feeding of the four thousand? Do you not understand? Why did I feed the five thousand, and why did I feed the four thousand? It all hangs upon that question. Have you not seen through yet?' Then a blind man comes out of the city. That touch of the Lord Jesus upon his eyes causes him finally to see all things clearly. 'Do you not understand? Are you not getting through to the meaning of this? Who do men say that I am? But who do you say that I am?' It is all of a piece. What is the feeding for? To convey something.
You are not dealing with ordinary men here. You are dealing with God in Christ. What you need is your eyes to be touched, the finger of the Anointed upon you to see all things. 'Who do you say that I am? One day you will see all things clearly. You are only seeing men as trees walking now, seeing with imperfect vision, but one day you will see all things clearly, and you will understand, you will see God in Christ, you will know Who I am, but before ever that can be, the Son of Man must be rejected and slain and the third day rise again.' Then, as demonstrating that he was only seeing men as trees walking, Peter said: "No Lord, never!" and to him the Lord said, "For you are not setting your mind on God's interest's, but man's". 'You are not seeing, Peter, although you made the declaration, "You are the Christ"; but one day Peter, you will see all things clearly, Who I am - God in Christ. You will have to have the touch of the hand of the risen Lord, and this is life eternal (deathless life, on that side of the grave), to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ... as One.'
Is it not impressive that Mark 8, with all that it contains in knowledge of God in Christ, full, clear knowledge, hangs upon the Son of Man being crucified and raised? John 17 is the chapter of the High Priestly prayer in the presence of the Altar, the Cross. To know is by way of the Cross. In Mark 8 He said, "Except a man take up his cross and follow Me, he cannot be my disciple". He might have said (for this is the meaning), "He cannot know Me", for what is the object of a disciple but to be taught to know his Master? You have to let go your own life to have this knowledge.
Our whole need is in this direction. Is it heart satisfaction? Surely that is the need of every one of us. Then the Lord Jesus will say to us, "I am the bread of life." 'This is life eternal: to know Me, in the fulness of My Being, God in Christ, with full satisfaction of heart. It is not something that I am going to give, not something that I am going to do with you or for you, it is your heart apprehension of Me. Your discovery of Me is going to answer all your craving: I am the bread of life.'
Is it illumination? So we go on praying, Lord give me light; Lord show me this, show me that. He will answer, 'I am the light of the world. When you have come to see Me, to know Me truly, in a heart way, you have illumination.' You may not have a verbal answer to all your enquiries, but you have got a heart answer, you are settled on your problems, you know the Lord.
Is it access to the place where the Lord is with His own, from which place all who do not know Him in this way are excluded? Do you want to be in fellowship with His own? Shall we pray, O Lord, bring me in? He will answer, "I am the door." 'When you know personally who I am, God in Christ, you are in. There is no way in except by the knowledge of Me. This is the place of life eternal.'
Are we seeking leadership, protection, that the Lord shall assume responsibility for us and for all our future, and protect us, look after us? Shall we ask to be led? Shall we ask for protection? He will answer, "I am the shepherd."
Do we want to know the Life which overcomes death and is victorious? Shall we pray for victorious Life? He will answer, "I am the resurrection and the life."
We shall not stay with these sevenfold occurrences of the words, "I am"; we just mention them, but only seek to indicate the point. "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day", said Martha (John 11:24). That is making the resurrection a matter of time. "I am..." 'When I am here, time goes; is dismissed for ever. Have Me, and the last day is here.' It is the knowledge of the Person that means everything.
Is it that we are seeking fulness of attainment, reaching out to attain to the fullest, to the whole thought of God? Oh, how many ways we have of seeking to realise that heart desire for full attainment. We pray this way and that, and for many things which we think will bring us into fulness. The Lord will answer, "I am the way, the truth and the life." 'Have Me and you have got everything.'
Do we want to escape from barrenness and fruitlessness of life, to come to the place where life will have something to show for God's satisfaction; not emptiness and barrenness but fruitfulness of that kind which will give Him pleasure? How are you seeking to be fruitful, by what means? You ask the Lord in many ways about fruit-bearing, He will answer, "I am the Vine." You cannot bear fruit unless you are in the fruit-bearing Vine, and if you abide in Him, you will bear fruit. It is as natural and spontaneous as anything can be; it is a question of knowing abiding union with Him. It is a matter of knowing Him.
All these things should bring to us heart rest. I have not been the least of those who have striven, and agonised, and strained, and pressed and reached out for all that the Lord would have, all that is possible. It is possible to wear yourself right out, and kill yourself in a spiritual quest, and the Lord at last says to our hearts: "If you only know Me, things will happen; it will all come to pass without any of your strain, struggle and agony. I am going to bear this fruit. I will bear it through you by way of union and fellowship. Remember that the holy, blessed secret of fellowship is just resting in Me, abiding in Me."
If you saw all the branches of the vine every day groaning and agonising, and writhing in order to bear their fruit, you would see something which is altogether unnatural. As a matter of fact you will see nothing of the kind. You will see them abiding there and bearing fruit. It is what we often speak of as the rest of faith.
What is behind the rest of faith? It is not bringing yourself to a passive state, when you inwardly sink down and say, I am just going to rest. It is knowing the Lord, God in Christ; for the way in which God has joined Himself to us is in Christ, not apart, and the way in which we have been joined to God is in Christ, not apart. The answer to every need is knowing Him in this way.
His answer is comprehensive. The Lord's ability to crowd vast ranges into small phrases is amazing. He compasses the whole range of human need, and answers every heart cry in a simple sentence of two words: "I am".
I cry for resurrection, for Life, for something to happen, for a filling, a consciousness, a sensation, a movement, an energy, a "something". The Lord's answer is, "I am the resurrection and the Life at any moment, in My will, anywhere." Oh that we might live on that "any moment - anywhere", because of Him! He would woo us away from subjects, experiences, teachings to propagate. Such a course has done much harm. The people of God are divided into groups, larger or smaller, around some thing, some experience, some truth, and the all-embracing and all-uniting reality is lost. Away, then, with things, experiences, truths, to Him. "This is life eternal, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent". 'Do you not understand? Who do you say that I am?' With a touch of divine illumination in your heart you see the thing that you have known so long. Only the Lord can do that. That is the direction of inquiry. The Lord set our hearts on that.
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