Knowing God in Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - God the Father in His Son

Reading: Mark 8.

"He took bread... brake...". The whole of that matter is brought up again when He referred to the leaven of the Pharisees. With a kind of association of ideas, in a superficial way they linked that remark with the absence of bread amongst them. Then He goes back to the feeding of multitudes on two occasions - the five thousand and the four thousand - and gathers it all up into this challenge: "Do you not yet understand?"

Then the movement in spiritual sequence, all of a piece, comes to this point: "Whom do men say that I am?" It is a definite development of what is in His own mind. 'Do you not see through this feeding of the multitude? Do you not understand what this signifies? "Who do de people say that I am?" "But who do you say that I am?" You are not dealing with an ordinary man, but there is something more here: God is here. Have you no understanding?'

Then there is just the smallest fragment, coming in and going out, the religious leaders asking for a sign. "Why does this generation seek after a sign? There shall no sign be given."

Then He opens the eyes of the blind man, with a double touch. The first touch results in that incomplete, undefined, somewhat foggy, certainly imperfect apprehension of things; perhaps the shadows in which the disciples were moving. The man in his first state of blindness was where the wicked of this generation were. With the second touch the man saw all things perfectly. From the place where the disciples were, in a foggy state, they caught a glimpse of Christ, but then there was the need of an advance upon that in another touch where all things were seen perfectly.

Then you notice the spiritual movement in connection with His crucifixion. He began to say unto them, "...the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed...". The Cross comes in for Him and for them. He tells them that except a man deny himself, and take his cross and follow Him, he cannot be His disciple, and he that shall lay down his life shall find it.

There is a perfect sequence of things, and there you see that the whole matter of knowing God in Christ with a perfect apprehension, in clearness, with no shadows, and no partial grasp, is bound up with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. First of all as to His completing the work, and then applied to us and appropriated by us. To know God in Christ demands that twofold thing; all that His Cross and resurrection meant in Him, and now appropriated by us. In simple terms it is, "Take up his cross". It is the appropriation of Calvary by the disciple.

Everything of the teaching, the works, the walk of Christ when here on earth was and is gathered up into His Person. To understand the teaching, to understand the works, to have the real meaning of His walk is indispensable. Until you have that inner knowledge through the eyes of the heart being enlightened, His teaching, His works, His walk are but beautiful things - objective, historical, but powerless and without transforming effect - but to have the eyes upon the Person of the Lord Jesus, is to be introduced to the inner side and to find its power, to know its value; to see an inner meaning in His walk.

By His walk we mean as to how His life was ordered in every movement. There is meaning in it, there is virtue in it, there is value in it. When Jesus moves there is some meaning in that movement. When Jesus stops working there is some meaning in that. There is not a movement in the sand but there is spiritual power in that for you and for me. We have to know Him in the reality of His Person before any of that becomes of practical value in our lives. It is all bound up with His Person.

The next thing is that the Person of the Lord Jesus can only be known in resurrection. You cannot know the Lord Jesus in that way as the historic Jesus, as the Jesus of history, as the Jesus of the creeds, as the Jesus of Christian doctrine. It is only when He appears unto us in a spiritual way after His resurrection that we know Him. It is the risen Lord Whom we have to know, in order to know all the meaning of His Person and what is gathered up therein.

Take again that sevenfold "I am" of John's Gospel, which we reviewed in a brief way in our previous chapter, and bring them once more into review, and take perhaps one or two of them by way of helping us towards this knowledge of God in Christ. See how that sevenfold "I am" of John's Gospel was fulfilled in resurrection. Remember that He appeared after His resurrection by the space of forty days. Israel was in the wilderness forty years. Every time "I am" is uttered in John's Gospel it has Israel's history as its background, so that what we have in the resurrection is a spiritual reproduction of what Israel had in the forty years in the wilderness. The number forty in the Scriptures is a period of probation, or specific government. It was a probationary period, intending to lead out into something more. That is perfectly clear in Israel's forty years. It was intended by God to lead them into a place where they should live according to all that they had been taught during the forty years. Is that not true of the forty days after His resurrection? Was He not laying the whole foundation for the church's history? Surely that was so.

"I am the Bread of Life"

You will remember, of course, that when He said that, in the same part of the Word He referred to Israel. "It is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father..." (John 6:32). So that here we have something in John's Gospel which is the spiritual counterpart of the feeding of Israel in the wilderness. Carry that over to the forty days after the resurrection, and it is perfectly clear when you look at the Word.

Take two quotations from the Psalms: Psalm 78:25: "Man did eat angels' food...".
Psalm 105:40: "...satisfied them with the bread of heaven".

It takes resurrection ground to fulfil those Scriptures spiritually. You can clearly see what they indicate. Angels' food! The bread of heaven! That quite clearly means that it is not something of earth. It is something of heaven that the Lord's people are to be fed upon, with which they are to be nourished, preserved, built up, satisfied; with that which is heavenly in the Person of the Lord Jesus or to put that round another way: that which is in the heavenly Person of the Lord Jesus. But "Are they not all ministering spirits...". How can spirits feed on bread? It is the spiritual enjoyment of Christ, it is for the spiritual life. You get that in resurrection, not before. It required the resurrection to fulfil this "I am". The risen Lord is the Bread of Life to His people. What does that mean? If it is of heaven, if it is angels' food, then it is most certainly on the ground of our separation from this whole world system. Come back to Mark 8. These people who were supplied with bread had come out to Christ. The man who had his eyes opened had come out of the village, and the Lord said, "Do not even enter the village".

Apply that principle, and you will find that in all of the occurrences of "I am" in John's Gospel it holds good.

"I am the Light"

How did that come in? When they had excommunicated the man from the synagogue.

"I am the Door"

It was said at the same time. When they had excommunicated that man, and he had come out and found the Lord outside as the rejected One, without the camp, then in the next phrase the Lord Jesus begins to speak of Himself as the Door and the Shepherd, and He leads them out. It is out to Christ.

So in every case you find that the governing thing for the benefit, the blessing, the discovery of Christ, is His separation from this entire world system even as a religious thing. Everything is bound up with Him. Its association, its union, its fellowship is with Christ. It is God in Christ. "I am the Bread." You know quite well that you will not find the bread of complete satisfaction in any system as a system. It is only God in Christ. It is a wonderful thing to think that it is not Christ only, but God in Christ. It is a wonderful thing to realise God Himself has assumed the responsibility for the maintenance, the preservation, the sustenance, the nourishment, the building up of the life of His own, and He has come in the Person of His Son to be into His own in a spiritual way. What our very bread is to us in a natural way, God has taken that responsibility for us upon Himself.

So the Lord Jesus directs our hearts through Himself in this way, "Our Father... give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11). God has assumed the responsibility of a Father, and has taken up those responsibilities to meet them in and through His Son. The enlargement of that in Christian utterance is found in Philippians 4:19.

This means Christ recognised, Christ known, God in Christ, and that on the ground of our utter separation unto Him. But note: it is God's gift. He says that it was not Moses that gave the manna in the wilderness, but His Father. Then it is not the result of man's labours, it is the issue of God's grace. Are you labouring for spiritual growth? How we have striven and strained to increase our spiritual measure and our spiritual stature. What a burden we have taken upon us in relation to the maintenance of our own spiritual life! We have almost assumed the whole responsibility for our spiritual life, and made it as though it depended upon our labours in prayer, our labours in the Word of God, our labours in the Lord's service, our effort, our stress.

No one will think that we have made little of prayer or the Word. No one will think that we have said you must have no care whatever for your spiritual life, but there is such a difference between assuming responsibility for ourselves and recognising that God has assumed that responsibility. And because God has assumed the responsibility we should cooperate with God. There is all the difference between trying to work for our justification, and working because we are justified; between trying to work for our perfection, and working because our perfection is secured in Christ. The difference is not merely technical, it is practical, and of immense value. Sometimes it is necessary for the Lord to say to us: "Look here, you are making far too much of your own praying, far too much of your own business in the Scriptures, you are unconsciously coming to think that everything depends upon how much and how fervently you pray." And then you go out and talk to other people about your prayer life as a kind of setting up against their own. You do not mean it, but the implication is that this is what accounts for your growth, and it is going to count for other people's growth. That must not be a cause but a result. 'The cause, the secret, the spring of everything is Myself, and sometimes you will just have to cease straining, and rest back in Me, in loving trust. Learn to do that a little more, and then you will pray better, and I shall be able to do something more!'

It is the gift of God, not the result of our labours or man's toil. It is a miracle all the time, and you and I are not able to work miracles. The manna was a miracle, and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was a miracle. There is a miracle going on all the time in our spiritual sustenance. We are maintained and sustained and kept and carried on. We know well enough that there is nothing here to account for it, and there is nothing but starvation in this world order, but is it not marvellous that, having perhaps to live the life in the very atmosphere of this world, its worldliness, its godlessness, its vulgarity, its artificiality, the Lord, Who knows that it is necessary for some to live their life there not by choice but of necessity, maintains their spiritual life and keeps them alive in famine. It is a miracle, and that makes it all of God. The inclusive miracle of all miracles is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, in which He is given to us in risen life.

It is a mystery as well as a miracle. When the Israelites saw the manna they called it that name which means, What is it? It is something which always has a question mark after it, and which abiding question mark represents the end of man's understanding and the beginning of God's. "I am the bread of life". That is something beyond us in all our wit and wisdom, but God knows the mystery. The risen life of the Lord Jesus is inexplicable but it is very real, very true. Resurrection is a mystery.

All this makes it perfectly clear that we are dealing with another Christ than the Christ of doctrine, of creed, of history; we are dealing with a heavenly Christ, we are dealing with a resurrection Christ.

The point which arises for us is this: that much teaching does not necessarily mean much spiritual stature or spiritual health. There are many of us whose spiritual healthiness is far, far behind our doctrine and knowledge. The teaching we have received, and have got in our minds we have not come up to, and yet there is always the peril of thinking that much spiritual knowledge represents much spiritual attainment. Not at all. Not necessarily so. It is not the doctrine, it is the living Lord that makes for stature, spiritual health and strength.

Sometimes a wilderness is necessary in order to discover Christ in this way. Israel had forty years in the wilderness in order to learn the secrets of God in Christ in a typical way, and so we see that the forty days after His resurrection from the side of the disciples were in a wilderness. Have a look at those two who went that same day to Emmaus, and ask whether they were not in a waste and howling wilderness. They walked and were sad. They asked if He were a stranger in Jerusalem and had not heard the things which had come to pass there concerning Jesus of Nazareth. They said, "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened." Here are men in a wilderness. Everything was desolation. And they discovered Christ in that wilderness.

What was true of those two was undoubtedly true of the rest. The indication is that they had lost everything. It was desolation. Poor Mary in the garden said: "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him..." (John 20:15). It was all a wilderness. But what a discovery they made in that wilderness.

May this not be true in the Lord's dealings with you and with me? Ah, it has proved true many times. The Lord has found it necessary to put us in a wilderness to make a new discovery of Himself, and He is doing it all the time. All, or most, of our fresh, glorious discoveries of the Lord have come in wildernesses. What is a wilderness? It is the place where man's effort is unavailing, all his labours can produce nothing, he is at the mercy of heaven, he is dependent entirely upon resources outside of this world. He is shut in and now it is a matter of Life or death, and Life by an intervention, Life by a discovery. Poor Hagar knew life by a discovery. The Lord has to shut us off from ourselves and our own labours (even religious labours sometimes) to helplessness and dependence, where we are at His mercy. It is a matter of Life and death, and Life only if we make a discovery, otherwise it is death. But that is why He takes us into the wilderness, in order that we might know God in Christ as the Bread, the miracle of spiritual preservation, in order that God may put Himself in Christ between us and death. It is not that we discover something, some pool of water, some fading resource, but we discover Himself. When there is nothing between us and death, He steps into the breach, and becomes our Life. It is then that we know the Lord.

As for Israel, so for the disciples in the forty days, there was a table prepared in the wilderness. What was the table? This is the whole point: It was the Lord Himself. "The Lord is my portion, says my soul..." (Lam. 3:24).

With all that we have said we realise the impossibility of making clear and living the difference between things and the Lord Himself. You have to make that discovery for yourself in your own heart; no one can explain that. But let the truth be stated, let the fact be emphasised. Our need, whatever that need, is not to find fresh truth, fresh things in a spiritual way, it is a new discovery of God in Christ. Now that may be merely something said, but if that breaks upon you, you will know why it has been said, you will know something that no man can convey to you. This is one of those things which make for such (almost foolish) exclamations which the man who has received his sight says: " I see". We had some idea in a mental way before, but there is all the difference between an idea and the thing seen and known in reality. The only thing for you and for me to do is to turn to prayer, and ask the Lord to make that difference clear to our own hearts.

God has chosen to be approached, to be touched, to be known in Jesus Christ. God is not somewhere else, God is in Christ, and you and I shall have to learn our lesson anew perhaps, and think and speak of Jesus Christ as God. The whole weight of the Word, of the Scripture, warrants that. This Jehovah of the Old Testament is Jesus of the New Testament. This Jesus of the New Testament is Jehovah of the Old Testament. They are one, and the man side is but the gracious method of making Himself available to us and making it possible for us to come near.

Oh, for a fresh apprehension of this Person of Christ... And then we have got the Creator, the Sustainer, the Perfecter, the Consummator as our Father, and we have personal fellowship with Him through His Son. What more need have we? Let us never think that we have to persuade Jesus Christ to get the Father to be kind to us. If Jesus Christ is regarded by us as good and kind, ready to help, going about doing good, always kindly to the needy, then that is God also. God has not to be entreated by His Son to be kind to us. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). 'You have seen Me all the time, therefore you have seen the Father all the time.' If you have Jesus Christ you have Infinite, Almighty, Eternal God. All that you know to be the truth about the Eternal God is true of Jesus Christ, and if you have Him, you have got God, and there is no other.

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