Reading: Luke 19:11-44.
"Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation". I want to say a word at the commencement about this word 'visitation'. It is a very interesting word. It contains that which is full of significance, and really does give a very rich character to the sentence in which it occurs, it is the Greek word which relates to the office of an apostle or elder. This was to go from place to place and hold what we might call an enquiry and to look into things with a view to ministering to the situation as it showed itself by this enquiry. An apostle, (you notice it is the same root word), or an elder, would visit an assembly in a certain town, city, or province and there would enquire into things, get to know how things were, what the state of things was, and having enquired and found out how things were, would minister accordingly, and that was called a visitation. And that is the word which is here. Literally, the Lord Jesus is here shown to have come to a people investigating their state in order to minister to them as they had need. In this particular instance He had come in this visitation to take account of their need, and minister to them in grace, mercy, and the love of God. And that is what He meant when He spoke to them about the time of their visitation.
Peter in his first letter uses this same word and you will see in the light of what I have said, the richness of its meaning. 1 Peter 2:12: "...having your behaviour seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation". The day when the Lord comes to His own to take account of their state with a view to blessing them, in that day these may glorify God because of the grace which has been displayed in the saints. The day when the Lord comes to visit with blessing: in the day of visitation.
Joseph when he was dying used this word, and again you will see the significance of it when you read what he said to his brethren in Genesis 50:24: "And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die; but God will surely visit you, and bring you up out". God will hold a visitation and take account of your need, your condition, in order to deliver you from it, and that will be God's visitation. He will hold an enquiry with a view to meeting the need. When the Lord came into Egypt with Moses, it was on the strength of what He had said to Moses: "I have surely seen the affliction of My people... and have heard their cry... and I am come down to deliver them". That was the day of their visitation. God coming in, looking at the situation, in order to bless and to help accordingly.
Now, in many other places in both Old and New Testaments the word occurs and it always carries with it this sense, this meaning. But here in this particular passage in Luke 19 there is a tragedy associated with this visitation. You will see how in the context in this chapter, that there is reference made not once to the fact that He was nigh unto Jerusalem; things are gathered up into that. What He said and what He did is there shown to be because they were nigh unto Jerusalem, and they still went up towards Jerusalem and then when He beheld the city He wept over it and said: "If thou hadst known even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes" (v.42). A terrible forecasting of their undoing; and that part is closed again with this terrible summary: "because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation". "Thou knewest not the time when I came to take account of the situation with a view to ministering in grace to your need - thou knewest not."
We shall best enter into the heart of this word I think, if we take account of some of the reasons why they did not know. And the very first one seems to me to get us immediately onto the ground where we ourselves will have to watch against the same peril. It was:
The Unobtrusiveness of the Visitation.
The Lord Jesus came from the glory to His own. It was not with a fanfare of trumpets, and the marching of armies and the pageantry: the glory of this world. He simply came, He was here, and for the most part men were unaware of it. He came up, as it were, like an unassuming, unostentatious flower from the earth; no noise. He grew up like a tender plant and as a root out of a dry ground, and rather than be something in Himself to attract attention: "He has no form nor comeliness and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him", and He moved quietly among men here and there. There was no ostentation and no obtrusiveness - and they knew not the time of their visitation.
Do you say: "How were they to know though?" Do you say: "Then they are to be excused! The manner of His coming surely weakens any argument against them." Before we are finished I think we shall see that they had no ground to stand upon. But beloved, it is just here that you and I have to be aware and alert. It may be that, as with Israel, months and years of prayer for the Coming One has gone on. It may be there has been much heart-crying for a visitation; a reaching out and a longing that the Lord would come, that the Lord would do something, that the Lord's presence might be a reality, that there should really be a visitation of God - a new thing, a presencing of the Lord. And the Lord comes so silently, and is there and the prayer answered, but we hardly perceive it. That He should come in a way so different from what we expected, and be present in a form so utterly other than what we had built upon, and yet as truly present, but we do not know it. The unobtrusiveness of the Lord's coming is very often the real test of a spiritual state.
You will see how, if these people had been in a spiritual state, they had any amount of ground upon which to work to make them aware of His presence, to make them alive to the great reality that He was there. But they looked for something else, something different, and His coming so quietly, so unostentatiously, discovered their spiritual state, "and they that were His own received Him not". No doubt if the Lord were to suddenly break into our midst tonight with a great shout, with the voice of an archangel and the trump of God, we would know He was here. No one would be in ignorance, and we should all rise and say: "He is here." But beloved, He is here. He is as truly here now as ever He would be in those conditions. He is here. And He is here in the great visitation of the Holy Spirit. This is the day of our visitation. The Holy Spirit is here to take account of our condition and to minister. And we may just as easily miss the Lord's purpose as did Israel of old. And it is perhaps because of the quietness, the unobtrusiveness, the lack of the alarm that is just making us blind and cold to the great reality. We want something other, something different, but it is all here. He is here.
And I believe with all my heart (how can I do other than believe with the knowledge I have of the gracious enabling?) that He is here at this very time, this very day, for a very special purpose in relation to you and to me. I would say to you from my heart, that it is fitting for us to consider and take seriously into account that this conference may represent a quite deep, unostentatious, but real visitation of the Lord, for a purpose. We are thinking of the next conference, and then of the conferences which follow, but are we sure that we are making certain of what the Lord is here for now? I have in my heart this awful fear that we go through these times, come out in the end, look back upon them and say that they were good, blessed times and the Lord was with us, and we remember them as not in any clearly defined way, but as times when the Lord was gracious to us and good, and it was good to be there, and we carry away and on with us no specific, definite thing which for all time has become the specific thing from God for our lives relative to that occasion. And the Lord does not come, as He does come, without a very special purpose. This, beloved, I suggest to you is a time of visitation.
There is nothing on the outside to glare and blare about the Divine presence, there is nothing that we can outwardly take account of which would force itself upon us as a token; the Lord is here. Oh yes, that may just be the thing which is our peril. Are we reached out to the Lord? Are we stretched out to the Lord? Are we in that spiritual state of keenness, alertness, aliveness, eagerness, which makes it possible for us to register and recognise the Lord's presence, and the Lord's purpose in being present? And it would be a great tragedy for us if we should not have recognised the visitation of God for some specific purpose. I urge upon you that we should challenge our hearts. The Lord is here. What for? Do we believe that this is all a chance thing, that this is all a man-made thing, that we are simply here because of our own whim, fancy, inclination, or against our inclination, or for any reason that could be contributed to some human mood or working or order, or do we believe that having put our lives into God's hand, we who are His, we are here by the arrangement of the Lord?
And let me say to any who do not know the Lord, there may be a marvellous providence behind your being here, to which you are altogether oblivious. There may be the eternal sovereignty of God behind your being in this tent at this moment, and both believers and unbelievers may be here by the ordering of God in relation to a visitation. This may be the night of visitation for an unsaved soul which will find eternity crowded in it and link you with eternity past and the realization of that eternity to be; upon this very hour all may hang.
And for us who are the Lord's, great things may be hanging upon this time and yet the ordinariness of it, the usualness of it, the absence of anything very stirring from the outside, may just be that which constitutes the real peril of this hour; that we should not seek in our hearts to know what is the purpose of God in all this. This may be a time of visitation and we miss it and the Lord has to say: "Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation". And you will say that when the Lord says a thing like that He is putting the responsibility upon them and upon us. We might react: "Well, how can we be responsible for what we do not know?", but obviously the not knowing was their responsibility; that they could have helped the not knowing, that the not knowing lay at their door and not at His. That means that we shall go just a little further in our enquiry as to what may bring about that ignorance for which we are responsible.
And the next thing that I see in their case is this, that they wanted something other than what He was offering them. They were:
Wanting a Kingdom.
He put His finger upon the spot when He said: "...because they supposed that the kingdom of God was immediately to appear", and for them the kingdom of heaven meant personal gain, advantage, place, position, influence, power, glory and that He meant something which would be for them personally a gain; and He was offering... what? A cross and a way of suffering and a way of world rejection as the way of the greatest blessing that God could ever confer upon anyone. He was offering them fellowship with Himself. Can you conceive of anything greater than fellowship with the Son of God? That is the way of blessing.
The apostle Paul had a very large knowledge of things and of the Lord. He had a great knowledge of what blessing was, and in his last days in that connection his ambition was expressed in these words: "...that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings". For that, said he, everything else was as refuse. Fellowship with the Lord, even in His sufferings, was a blessing coveted by the apostle at the end of a long experience as being something greater than all other things of which he knew. Yes, that is something very other than what the flesh wants. Flesh has no ambitions in that direction. They wanted something so different from what He was offering and because their hearts were set upon something other, something else, something different, because their hearts were set upon what they would call blessing, which for them meant something for personal gain and advantage, their setness of heart blinded their eyes and they saw not the time of their visitation. And do we not find our fleshly heart, our fleshly will, our fleshly mind so often reacting in that way? "Oh, why the emphasis upon that way, the way of the Cross; why always that? Can we not have something that is more delightful to contemplate, that brings more instant gratification, what we would call blessing?" It is the Christ of Calvary who is visiting, not now the Christ of glory - that will be later - the way to the glory is the way of the Cross. It may be that you are not just open to the way of the Cross, that you are not just open in heart to go that way, and the time of visitation is bound up with that, for the greatest blessing that can come is in that direction. "Oh", you say, "they are words..." and doubtless you would take hold of them and interrogate the speaker with them: "Do you believe that with your experience?"
I think that you and I in our great longing for still something greater and better in the larger range of vision which we have, are rather inclined to underestimate what we have got. And when we look back to a past time when we did not have what we have now, we have to ask ourselves: would we go back there? Even if it meant an easier road, without coming to the place we have come to now, and for what we have now, would we go back and take that easier road? For my part I must say, "No", and it has been the way of the Cross, and it is the way of the Cross, but in our heart of hearts we know we have something that makes it worthwhile. And if we in our little measure can say that, oh, does it not help us to understand the apostle Paul? Ask him if, in reviewing his life from the end, and he had the two things from which to choose again, his position as a Jewish Rabbi, an elder, a member of the Sanhedrin with all the prestige, all the influence, all the authority, with every advantage which he had religiously and socially, all his inheritance, everything there that was at that time of such great account to him now held to him in exchange for what he has, with all the suffering, the imprisonment, the scourging, the slander, the nakedness, the peril, the sword, shipwreck and everything else, what would his answer be? We have not to look far for his answer. "This way of the cross, this way of suffering has brought me into a place which makes all the other as the utmost refuse."
Our flesh does cry out for an easier way, our natural man does shrink from the suffering of the Cross, and yet we know that is the way of blessing. That is the way of the fulness of Christ. But it may be, because we are not prepared, we are unwilling to go that way, that we are blind to the fact that He has come in a visitation to enrich us along that line; and this is a time of visitation for enrichment. He takes account of our need, and offers to meet it in a very large way, but in a way that our flesh will not rejoice in. Are we willing? And I am quite sure that it was unwillingness on their part to have it in His way that blinded them to the time of their visitation.
There was another thing. It was:
Prejudice which padlocks the heart and the mind, and which never gives a chance to any proposition or presentation. The thing is all closed beforehand. Prejudice! It is the prejudice which says: "Yes, I want the blessing but I will not have it that way, and I will not accept it there, and I will not take it from that channel." That is prejudice. "Oh yes, I would like to reach the end but I will never touch that means of reaching it." We find here and there in the course of His life, those two things come into collision. There was apparently an honest enquiry as to the way of life, but immediately He presented the means it was made perfectly clear that while they wanted the life, they were not going to have it that way, by that means. "No I will never accept it in that way." And I believe, beloved, that God very often chooses that way of testing us as to our reality. The way of the Cross seems to embody that very principle; that God has wrapped up some of His greatest blessings in something most unacceptable, something against which all our prejudice rises, and our attitude is, yes, we want the thing, but we will not have it that way. He brought unto them eternal life but it was because of the "He" as they saw Him from the natural side, that they would not accept.
Oh, beware that you do not miss the end, and fail to see the time of your visitation by having your eyes too much upon the way in which the Lord would bring it to you, the means by which the Lord would lead you to it; the instrument. We would take it from some but not from others. The Lord tested His servant Paul upon that very early in his experience. "Rise and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." "That settles it Lord, if You like to tell me here straight from heaven I will have it, and I will do it. Or if You like to send along one of Your very important people, or someone acceptable to me, all right, but Damascus, and the people there?! Who are they? What are they?" - you see, he would have lost it all. The grace of God triumphed in him and he was prepared to accept his instructions from the very vessel that he was out to destroy, and at the lips of a man who was not an apostle and of whom we know practically nothing else; but he got the blessing, and proved that he meant business. Oh, are we prepared to sweep aside all our prejudices? If so we may come into a very great blessing, so much greater than ever we imagined or ever we saw. And some of us, in the course of our lives, have had to deal with our prejudices, and when we have, we came into a blessing along the line to which we before were utterly prejudiced. We have had to have a real battle with our prejudices and have said we would never touch that, but the Lord has said that was the way the blessing lay. We have had to come right on to it. Their prejudice blinded them and they knew not the day, the time of their visitation.
And their pride was bound up with their prejudice. Pride is a great obstacle to blessing, perhaps the greatest obstacle. It is strange that the Lord has chosen all along the line, the humble, shall I say the mean ways of expressing our reality. A tank of water is a good challenge to the pride of some people. There is no virtue in the tank of water itself, but the Lord has used it very often to discover whether people mean business. I do not put that in as any kind of appeal, only by way of illustration. The Lord has chosen ordinary, humble, and mean ways of testing our reality, and it all comes to a question of pride. The way is the way which demands a good deal of humility and meekness and letting go what other people may think or say about us, and coming right down to a very lowly place, and that is the place of blessing. Is there not pride blinding us to the time of visitation, which is the time when the Lord has come to minister great blessing to us? We must search our hearts and must make quite sure that there is nothing to which we would not bend if the way of the blessing of the Lord was that way. "Bend me, oh bend me" - that is the way of blessing.
And so we might go on, touching this thing and that thing which we see as being a possible and probable hindrance to the knowing of the time of visitation. To close with we might mention an unwillingness to let go on some matter, or to give up something upon which the Lord has put His finger. On many things we have no hesitation or reservation, the Lord has no quarrel with us at all, but there is just that one thing, and all the ninety-nine other things are arrested and held up because of that one thing. And we are not prepared to yield that one thing, not willing to let go that one thing, not willing to let the Lord have that one thing; unwillingness to give up something the Lord has asked. And that one thing has in it the power of closing the door of a large blessing that the Lord wants us to have. The enemy is ever near us to say: "Well, if you give up that, if you let that go, you will have nothing left". He was a liar from the beginning, for that is the way of enlargement, not the way of loss. It is the way of increase, not the way of straitening. Have you got something about which the Lord has had a controversy with you? You answer back to the Lord: "But Lord, on all these matters I am with You, I am for You, I am unreserved in my devotion to You on all these lines; there is just that one...". Oh yes, but the Lord says that is obstructing the way to a blessing; that one thing will make all the difference in your life.
The Lord is here, beloved, this is a time of visitation, and He is here for a large purpose, but some unwillingness in some one direction - some pride, prejudice, ambition, or desire to have it other than the Lord offers it, some cherished thought which seems to be threatened by the way the Lord is leading - yes, any one of these things is enough to make us not know the time of our visitation and to be for us what that was for Jerusalem: the parting of the ways, to be desolation in the coming days. Desolation! It was not worth it, was it? Oh, may this not be a parting of the ways for us because we "know not"!
Now, I told you at the beginning I did not know why the Lord has led this way, but there it is. I have said what is on my heart, and I do not want anybody to be depressed, or feel distressed, that a great burden or weight has been put upon you; and yet we have all got to look to the Lord and say: "Lord, is it I? Is there some unwillingness to take the way that You are indicating? Is there some unwillingness to let go something upon which You have put Your finger? Is there some pride that is keeping me from yielding and bending? Is there some prejudice which locks me up and says, in that way I will not have it?" Is there some ambition or cherished thought that seems to be threatened by the way the Lord has indicated? If you can face the Lord with these questions and these matters and come out with a clear issue and peace in your heart, you will be all the more joyful for having another search and another examination and this will not weigh you down in heart. But beloved, if in the search you should discover that any one or more of these things is true, well, then it is the parting of the ways, it is Life or death.
The Lord give you grace to deal with anything He may show you as standing in the way of your blessing in this time of visitation - for His sake, and for yours.