Knowing God in Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 7 - The Vessel of Testimony

Reading: Rev. 1:4-20.

It is true that Mary Magdalene was the vessel, in the first instance, of testimony to others. The Lord having appeared to her, she having identified Him in resurrection, her heart having gone out anew in adoration to her re-found Rabboni, He said to her, "Go to my brethren". Then He told her what to say to them. We leave that for the moment.

The first thing is that she became the vessel of testimony to others. Of course, it is clear and very simple that you must have Mary's appreciation of the Lord Jesus before you can be a vessel of testimony to others. We can put that round the other way. The vessel of testimony is that which has such an appreciation of Him as she had. If the church is really to be His vessel of testimony, it must have that kind of basis or background; a deep, worshipful appreciation of the Lord Jesus. The very first thing, and the abiding thing in the life of the church, is worship. The first thing that ought to be the mark of every coming together of the Lord's people is worship. What is worship? It is the heart going out in appreciation of Him, giving Him the whole place and getting right down before Him and setting Him up anew as everything. The church is based upon that. It is out of that appreciation that testimony arises and the church becomes the vessel of His testimony.

These things are very simple and elementary, yet they are not just things said, there is a need for recovery of this appreciation of the Lord Jesus. Oh, to be more taken up with Him, even if we are less taken up with the things which are associated with Him. So often it is the things rather than the Lord. The vessel of testimony is constituted upon the basis of a heart appreciation of the Lord Jesus.

What is the vessel? The vessel is a witness. The vessel of the Lord's testimony, be it the individual member of Christ or the corporate Body the church, is not a repository of truth. It is a witness. The vessel of testimony is not a preacher, in the first instance. So many have made the mistake, with so much loss to the Lord, of thinking that the first thing for a Christian worker to do is to preach. No, the first thing for a Christian (all Christians ought to be workers) is to be a witness. There is a very great deal of difference between a preacher and a witness. A witness is one who possesses personal evidence, a preacher may be one who is telling people a lot of things which may be second-hand and collected from many sources. A witness is one out of whose own life experience and knowledge there arises the thing which they have to say. Mary was a witness. The first thing she said to those men was the thing which she had seen, which she had proved, that which had come to her without any question whatever, "The Lord is risen." You can say that as a preacher and there be all the difference of two worlds between your saying that as a preacher and saying that as a witness. It is so necessary for us to come back to the forty days for the substance of our testimony; that is, to the personal, living touch with the risen Lord, identifying Him ourselves as the risen Lord and being able to say, not because it has been told us, not because it is a part of our Christian education, but because we have come personally, directly, immediately, livingly, with tremendous effect and result in our own hearts into touch with Him risen and alive. The vessel of testimony is a witness; preaching may result, but in the first place it is being a witness.

The church is a witness to the risen Lord; that is, He, the risen Lord, has entered right into its very life, and become its life as He had become the life of Mary at that time when all was lost. It is a matter of knowing Christ in resurrection. Let us set our hearts upon that. It is a matter about which to be before the Lord continually, individually and as parts of a local assembly, or as members of the whole Body, even though we may be physically and geographically isolated. Let us set our hearts before the Lord to seeking that we shall not be people who are just marked by some truth which we state, some doctrine which we reiterate, but we are marked by the personal fellowship with the risen Lord; that others coming amongst us shall first and always have to say, It is not their teaching, it is not the truth that they expound that strikes you most, it is the risen Lord, the Life in the midst which is the thing that you realise. That is the testimony. That is the church's business. So we must continually pray that it shall be like that, and that there shall be a jealous and zealous safeguarding of that testimony. If the enemy can in any way get in a deposit of something that works death, he will do it, for he works towards death. Death is His object as the offset to the testimony of Jesus.

That kind of knowledge of the risen Lord bounds the whole dispensation. The dispensation is bounded by that living knowledge. It began with Mary Magdalene. That is the first movement in the dispensation. It was knowing the Lord as living. There is a sense in which we may say that the dispensation commenced there in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and His first touch with a being here in that risen life.

You go right on to what represents at least a movement at the end, an end time condition, and the great apostle is nearing the end of the course. Writing one of his last letters from prison he says, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection". You see the beginning and the end of the dispensation in a figurative or representative way as set forth in Mary, and Paul related to this same end. You and I will have occasion for knowing the risen life of the Lord right on to the end.

Resurrection is connected with the trumpet. "The trumpet will sound, and the dead in Christ will be raised". The resurrection is connected with the sounding trumpet. As you remember, right through the Scriptures the trumpet is always the symbol of testimony. The silver trumpets of the Old Testament (silver being the type of redemption) in the hands of Aaron's sons, proclaimed, declared and set in order. Here the trumpet comes in in connection with resurrection. It is the trumpet which sounds forth the note of testimony that redemption is complete, reaching unto the very body lying in the grave, redeemed from this mortality, this body of corruption. For this dispensation Mary was the first one to blow the trumpet. In a spiritual sense, she sounded the first dispensational note upon the trumpet of testimony as to resurrection Life. You and I are entrusted with the trumpet of testimony, to sound forth the fact of resurrection as including redemption from death, from the grave, from all that has to do therewith. The whole dispensation is governed by the trumpet. The first sound with Mary and the last sound of the trumpet when the dead shall rise, its note ever and always is that Christ lives, Christ is risen. Resurrection in Christ represents complete redemption.

The next word about Mary is this, "Go to My brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, unto My God and your God." Here is the message for the vessel of testimony. Here is the message for the age: "My Father and your Father, My God and your God". I wonder if we catch the significance of that. "My Father (then He is His Son) and your Father (then I am His son), my God (that puts Him in the place of Man, but what a Man!) and your God (then with that Man you are united, and God becomes the God of one united Man in Christ)". Simply it is this: the combined and the combining Person of Christ. What is the combined Person? God and Christ joined in the most vital and intimate relationship. That relationship is for you in resurrection. That is the resurrection family, that is the wonderful message which the church embodies and represents and has to give. In the resurrection of the Lord Jesus everything has been put away that stood in the path of the closest relationship with God, even such a relationship as Christ and the Father. "In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you". What do you make of that? We are not putting ourselves in the place of the Godhead, of Jesus Christ, and saying we become absorbed in the deity of the Godhead. We are saying that here is set forth a relationship in sonship. Paul says so much about, "We were predestined to the adoption of sons"; "Because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts by which we cry, Abba, Father". "My Father and your Father". That is what is contained in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the removal of every obstruction to that kind of relationship. It is something new, something that never was before. The marvel of it all is that that position, that relationship, that union which Christ had with the Father is our blessed privilege, our right, available to us and to all in resurrection union with Jesus Christ. Go and tell that. Go and announce that. That is the church's first experience and that is the church's message. "Go to My brethren, and tell them..."

"My God and your God". Gathered up in the Manhood of the Lord Jesus one new Man is brought about, that one new corporate Man in Christ. Great, eternal, infinite, almighty Lord God is our God. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our God.

When you have said that you must take the next step, and this is where the wonder reaches its point of greatest ascendancy. That God, that Infinite God, that Almighty, that Eternal God, Who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is in Christ. God was in Christ, Christ is God manifest in the flesh. He says, "We (My Father and I) will come to him and make Our abode in him". All that we think of the great God in Christ is our possession. We cannot grasp that, we cannot believe it, we cannot understand it, but this is what comes to us in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It is a thing we have to learn all over again in a new way. We so often part these two, and think of Jesus Christ as Someone apart from and perhaps less than God, Jehovah. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." Oh, to be able to grasp it! To have Christ is to have God. "My God and your God". This is the combined and combining Person of the Lord Jesus.

Just for a few moments we will say a word or two on something more general, but of very great practical value. It is concerning the potentialities of resurrection Life in union with Christ. The thing that we are so slow in recognising and grasping, which comes to us so late, is the very reality of union with Christ. We are dealing with something very real. We are not dealing with so many things as we might find in a bookcase or upon a shelf, taking them up and using them, and looking into them, and then putting them down: they are lifeless, powerless things. We are dealing with something very terrible and gloriously real when we deal with risen Life in union with Christ. If you and I have that union and that Life, there is that in us of which the potentialities and capabilities are altogether beyond our imagination, and if that life in union with Christ is given a chance, given what it requires for its expression, for its fulfilment and realisation, it can carry us through to no less a place than the glory which He has with the Father, to be glorified together with Him. But, oh, the tremendous things that that Life can do on the way. How wonderful they are!

Let us illustrate this again from the forty days. What was one of the features of those forty days so far as Christ was concerned in resurrection amongst His own? The result of His appearances was to draw from them a wondering acknowledgment, recognition and attestation of His Lordship. Mary will say, "Master". Thomas will say, "My Lord and my God". That is the spirit of things; that is the atmosphere. Presently, before He leaves them, He will say to them in clear words: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and in earth". Now that Lordship, that universal Lordship, that coming to the place of virtue and spiritual enthronement as Lord of the universe, is by resurrection. It is not just official, by appointment, by placing; it is moral in its background, it is because of certain things. "For this reason God highly exalted Him". It is because of things that He has done. He has come to the place of Lordship, and it is the resurrection that brings that about, brings that into being, brings that forth. He reigns as the Risen One because He is risen. This is the potentiality of resurrection. There is that in resurrection Life in union with the risen Lord which can bring into complete spiritual ascendancy, and in the end land us at His side in the Throne. It is that mighty thing which overcomes, and makes overcomers.

What is the overcomer? The overcomer is the one in whom the power of His resurrection has had its fullest expression, in whom the risen Lord has been proved and known in the power of His resurrection. In risen union with the Lord and the deposit of His risen Life in us by His Spirit, there is the potentiality of the Throne. It is spiritual now. So far as this world is concerned now, Christ's sovereignty is a spiritual thing. He is expressing His Lordship in a spiritual way. In your life and in mine His Lordship is not official, it is spiritual. Every challenge of that Lordship is a spiritual challenge. Will we bow our minds, our reason, our will, our affections, our judgements to Him? Anyone who has prejudices has not owned the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. They have put their own judgements in front of Him, not submitting everything to Him. Anyone who takes into account and allows the cost and the consequences to influence them in a reservation, in a hesitation, in a delay, has not bowed to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. In ten thousand ways that Lordship has a spiritual association and application, and so in this world it is not His official position, it is His spiritual power and His moral position which is governing everything.

The day will come when literally and officially He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. At present His Kingship is spiritual, and it begins in the church. It is the power of resurrection, the power of Life, the mighty potentiality of that risen Life, in union with the risen Lord, and it is capable of bringing us into spiritual ascendancy and spiritual dominion. You know quite well that in the Name of the Lord you cannot assume literal and official authority in this world today. The Kingdom of God is not a temporal state. At present the true church is not a temporal power, but there is spiritual power, spiritual authority, spiritual ascendancy in union with Christ which makes the temporal forces yield, which makes differences and changes all around, and usually (I think we should be right in saying invariably) the working of that spiritual potency takes place when some new experience of death and resurrection with Christ takes place in us, when we pass into some new place of letting go of self. It is then that we conquer. Hold on to your own way and you are weak, you have no power; cling to your own judgements and you are defeated. Yield to the Lord and to His Cross the self-life, the self-will or whatever it may be, and you come into a new place of power, spiritual ascendancy, spiritual influence, and something happens; changes take place and you see that the Lord orders things. Oh, the potentialities of resurrection union with Christ! They are in the direction of His Lordship.

Then another thing in the forty days in resurrection, as we have already mentioned, is sonship. What potentialities there are there! Resurrection Life in union with the resurrected Lord produces sonship and brings sonship into view. You need to read again the letter to the Hebrews to understand the values of sonship. If you have all that the New Testament has to say about sonship, you will see that it points in the direction of that responsible fellowship with the Lord in government. A son is not a child. A son is one who has come to the place of maturity and authority, and been placed to represent the Father in responsibility; entrusted by the Father with a position of honour. That is the meaning of sonship, and the whole of this vast creation is creaking and groaning and agonising and travailing in a state of inward ferment and revolt. Things are not right, it is as though there is dislocation in all its joints, and it is an aching creation. It is saying as within itself, I was meant for something, but I am not realising that, and I cannot; something is holding me back, something is arresting, something is hindering, there is something that I am waiting for and when that something comes about, then all my purpose and intent will be realised; but I am waiting, and as I wait I groan for that day of deliverance. What says the Word? "Waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God". All the creation, for the realisation of its eternal intention, hangs upon and waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. By what means shall that manifestation come about? It begins in resurrection Life in union with Christ - that which you and I have now in us if we are Christ's. The end of this is intended to be such a manifestation that shall release the whole creation. If you are in living union with the Lord Jesus, that Life is within you. The end of that thing in the will of God is such a manifestation as the universe shall recognise, and find itself in joyous satisfaction and redemption in that moment. Oh, the potentialities of resurrection Life!

That with which we must close is this: You and I must let the risen Lord in His risen Life have His way. We can put hindrances in the way of that Life. We can arrest even the risen Life of Christ in our own hearts. Doubt will do it. Unbelief will do it. Fear will do it. Mistrust will do it. Disobedience will do it. What a lot of ground disobedience will cover! It is our compliance with the risen Lord, it is our utter subjection to Him. It is that we do not by any means or in any way allow hindrances and checks to come in the way of the working of the Life that is in us, that we always keep the way open in prompt obedience, swift response, open-heartedness to Him in simplicity and purity of spirit, abiding in His love. He says, "Abide in my love". What does He mean by that? That it is possible to get out of the love of the Lord? "Who will separate us from the love of God"? No, it is not that. The only way of getting out of the love of God is to cease to believe in His love. He would say, 'Always believe that I love you, no matter what the circumstances are, what the situation, no matter what you are passing through; always believe that I love you, and, having loved you, know that I love to the end. I am unchangeable, there is no variableness with Me, no shadow cast by turning; I change not, My love remains the same for you. Although it may sometimes seem that I am not loving you, but may seem just the opposite - it looks as though I am against you - believe always, at all times, in all conditions that I love you; abide in My love.' That is the way of Life. That is the way of giving opportunity to this mighty, risen power which has in it such potentialities as to bring us at last to glory.

The Lord teach us in our hearts this lesson for His Name's sake.

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