by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Hebrews 2:1-3:1.
We are now going on to another revelation which came in the Person of Jesus Christ, that is, the revelation concerning man. It was a very wonderful revelation!
It is true to say that in all the philosophies of all the ages man is the central object of attention and interest. Even the idea of God, whether in the Hebrews, in the pagans, or in the Christians, is only of interest as it relates to man. No one has ever been interested in God other than in so far as He might in some way relate to man. Man has been the centre of interest. The questions asked are: 'What is man?' 'Where did man come from?' 'Where is he going?' 'Has he a future after this life?' 'What is he in this world for?', and many other questions like that. They are all gathered round this kind of being called "man". Man looms up so large in the universe that everything is made to serve him, and must give him attention. I say that is true in the Old Testament, which was the Bible of the Hebrews; it is true of the philosophies of the pagans; and it is very true in Christianity - the place the man has in this universe. That is the statement of a fact.
But there is another thing about this: in all these philosophies there is invariably a contradiction. On the one side it is the greatness of man. What a great and wonderful creature man is! What a lot has been made about this wonderful thing called man! But right alongside of that, on the other side, is the depravity of man. What a sinful creature man is! And the strange thing is that the people who have made so much of the greatness of man have also made so much of his depravity. That contradiction is the very part of the whole great question with which we are going to deal.
Look at this contradiction in the Old Testament! It is there that those words which we have read in the New Testament occur: "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man that Thou visitest him? ...Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet" (Ps. 8:4,6). Do you know who said that? It was David. And what else did he say about man? "I am a worm, and no man" (Ps. 22:6). What a poor picture we have of man in the Psalms! Poor David (who said these wonderful words about man) was the one who said the worst things about him. He said: "My sin is ever before me" (Ps. 51:3). Here you have the contradiction, and the Old Testament is full of that. On the one side, man made in the image and likeness of God and made to have dominion over the works of His hands, and, on the other side, this terrible revelation that we have of the sinful depravity of man.
And this is a problem which is startling and bewildering men today. This contradiction is in the very constitution of mankind.
I suppose that in the last twenty-five years the greatness of man has been revealed more than in all the centuries before - and we could make it a much shorter period than that. Just think of what has happened in the last year or two! All this scientific discovery, invention and application; visiting other planets and the sending of mechanical bodies far out into space. Even while we are sitting here, round and round the earth they go, sending back their reports and giving information to men. Why, it makes our heads ache to think about it! What a revelation of the greatness of this creature called man! And it goes on and on. We are all wondering what things will be like in ten years if they go on at this pace! I don't think I shall be here, but some of you will be taking your summer holiday on the moon! Here is a revelation of the greatness of this thing that God called man, and we are all amazed at it.
But what about the other side? What is the verdict of two world wars? Is it not the verdict of the most awful, terrible, and horrible things that man can do? We don't want to speak of it in a gathering like this, but there has been an uncovering of a depth of iniquity in man such as the world has never known. You know what I am talking about! And since the last war our daily papers are just full of crime, and it is not the old-fashioned kind of crime - it is scientific crime. All the latest discoveries and inventions of this clever man are being turned to crime. With all the wonders of this man, many of us are wondering how much longer it will be possible for us to live on this earth. Men are becoming afraid of life and are coming to feel that this world is getting an impossible place in which to live.
This is the great contradiction: a great and wonderful creation, and a terribly sinful creation. That is the problem which the Son of God came into this world to solve.
What has Jesus to say to all this? The contradiction meets in His own Person. I do not mean that He is a contradiction, for there is no contradiction in Him, but this great contradiction converged upon Him and met in Him, and it was His great mission to this world to solve that problem. His coming, His teaching, His works, His death all point to the greatness of man in God's thought. On the other hand, they all point to the depravity of man. If man was not worth something, the Son of God would never have come into this world; but, on the other hand, if man did not need salvation, He would never have come into this world. The basic doctrine of Christianity is the incarnation, that is, God manifest in the flesh. "God was in Christ", says the Word, "reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19); and when the Son of God came into this world, He called man to Himself. It was man He called to Himself, and He laid great demands upon him. Listen to this: "Ye shall be holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). Well, that is a tremendous demand to put on man.
What tremendous promises He gave to man! Think again of the great Christian revelation concerning man's eternal destiny: "Bringing many sons to glory" (Heb. 2:10); and again: "If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him" (Rom. 8:17).
You remember that when they were stoning Stephen, just as his spirit was about to pass to the Lord, he looked up and said: "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). The Son of Man! We know that Jesus took that title because it was His intention to bring man where He would be. Jesus in glory is the representative of all those whom He is going to bring to glory. What a tremendous prospect for man! Yes, the Son of God came to get man.
But then you have to put alongside of that this tremendous revelation of man which Jesus gave, and what a revelation that was! We have already seen what man was like in His eyes. He said: "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Man had gone astray and was lost - yes, this wonderful man! How true are the words of the prophet Isaiah: "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isa. 53:6); and Jesus took up those words in His parable of the lost sheep. He looked upon man as lost sheep and said: "Other sheep I have... them also I must bring" (John 10:16). Do you remember His parable of the ninety and nine and the one lost sheep? Don't make a mistake when to read that parable - Jesus was not saying that ninety-nine were not lost and only one was, but that ninety-nine thought they were not lost - but they were just as lost as that other one. The one was really the representative of all the others in a spiritual condition. I think, if Jesus was referring to the Jews, He was saying: 'The Jews are very much more lost, as a matter of fact, than this one which has gone astray'. In the eyes of Jesus man as a whole was lost.
Again, in the eyes of Jesus, man was lame to the point of absolute helplessness. We saw that in the sign of the man at the Pool of Bethesda. He had been lying on that bed all his life, utterly helpless, and in healing him Jesus was only saying in effect: 'This is the state of all men. No man can really walk before God and be pleasing unto Him. Every man is hopelessly and helplessly lame spiritually'. That is how Jesus looked upon man.
Then, again, in the eyes of Jesus man was blind and without the faculty of sight. We saw that in the sign of the man born blind, and Jesus applied it to the state of all men.
And, again, in the eyes of Jesus man had no invisible means of support. We are, of course, back with the feeding of the five thousand. Neither Philip nor Andrew knew where the bread was coming from, but there was an invisible source of supply. The five thousand did not know where that was, nor did the disciples, but Jesus did. In that sign He was only saying: 'All men are without that invisible source of supply'. That is how Jesus looked at men.
But He went further than that. He said: 'Man is dead'. In the eyes of God all men are dead, that is, spiritually without Life, and Jesus showed that the very best type of man here in this creation has to be born again. He has to go right back to the beginning and start life all over again. That is the meaning of the interview with Nicodemus.
Now, you see, the whole teaching and work of Jesus was set over against that condition of man. It was set over against man's sin, his helplessness and hopelessness. His teachings and His works were against all that. The ordinary people drew out His sympathy, not because they were better than any others, but because they knew how much they needed God. They drew out His compassion: "He saw a great multitude, and He had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd" (Mark 6:34), but the important, religious people drew out His anger. Oh, hear how strongly and hotly He spoke against them! But all men were sinners and those who knew it found His compassion. Those who did not believe that they were sinners brought out His wrath. But whether it be compassion or whether it be anger, it was all because of sin. His anger and His compassion were because of man's condition.
So let us say this again: the coming, the living, the working and, most of all, the dying of the Lord Jesus were to redeem man, to recover man from this lost condition and bring him to the place to which God always intended him to come.
Now, it is man's sin that makes this great contradiction. There is no doubt about it that this man that God has made is a great man, even in his sinfulness. Mankind is the crown of all God's creation. When God had made man He rested from His work and, in effect, He said: 'I have reached the end of all My activities. Man is the crown of all My work. Now I have man, I can take My rest'.
Yes, man is a very great creation, but there is this terrible contradiction, and Jesus came to remove that. We have said that it is sin that makes the contradiction. What a wonderful creature man would be if he were not a sinner, and what a wonderful world this would be! Jesus came to take away that contradiction: "Who His own self bare our sins in His body upon the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). He took away that thing which made the contradiction, for it is man's sin that ruins his greatness. Oh, what a wonderful creature he will be when his sin is all gone!
We have to say today: 'Yes, he is all very clever, but...' - 'It is all very wonderful, but...' - and we have to add 'but it is very dangerous'. We cannot go all out with our heart and say: 'It is all good'. However great it is, we cannot say: 'It is all good'. Indeed, we are becoming afraid of man's greatness, and man is becoming afraid of it. Oh, what a lot they are trying to do to set aside the things that they have discovered, and if only they had confidence in one another they would do it. But there is no confidence in human nature - that is just the contradiction.
There is no contradiction in Jesus Christ because there was no sin in Him. He said: "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46), and they were all silent - they had nothing to say. Jesus was not two men, a good man and a bad man together. He was wholly good, and therefore God glorified Him. He was able to do so because there was no sin in Him, and God can never glorify anyone or anything where there is sin.
Now, the Lord Jesus came into this world to remove sin from man so that he could be glorified by God.
Dear friends, we know that Jesus has taken away our sin and we are on the road to glory. Glory is our destiny and we have just a little evidence of that. We say: 'It is a glorious thing to be saved! It is a glorious thing to know Jesus Christ as the Saviour! It is a glorious thing to know that our sins are forgiven and that God has put them away behind His back, never to remember them again!' That is not only a glorious doctrine - it is a glorious Gospel! It is a touch of glory, but we have other touches as well.
Here we come up from all parts of the world, from this sinful, troubled world, to the mountain and we have a week or ten days of blessed fellowship together. I hope you are able to say, as I can: 'This is a glorious thing!' We are perfectly sympathetic with Peter on the mountain top: "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles" (Mark 9:5). 'Why must we go down there to London again, or to Zurich, or to some other place? Why can we not stay here?' That is just a little touch of glory.
But what will it be like when sin has gone right out of creation altogether, and we are all together with the Lord where sin is no more, where there are no more contradictions, and when our fellowship will be perfect? Yes, that will be glory - and that is what we were created for, but we lost it in the sin of Adam. And that is what Jesus came to bring back; to redeem us from all iniquity, and to bring us to glory.
Now these words which we have read in Hebrews: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?", surely take on a new meaning in the light of what we have been saying. So great salvation! Most people think of heaven as that which saves them from something, and it is, of course, a great salvation to be saved from sin, from judgment, from perdition, but it is a far greater salvation to be saved unto glory! Oh, the "so great salvation" refers to the wonderful destiny that we have through Christ Jesus, that is why this apostle cries from his heart. In this Letter he is saying what a great salvation we have in Christ, but if you read it again you will see that it is nearly all about what we are saved unto. He says something of what we are saved from, but nearly the whole of the Letter is taken up with what we are saved unto. The "so great salvation" is that which Christ has come to bring us into, not only what He has come to get us out of.
Now, if all this is true, what a valuable thing a soul must be in the sight of God! Perhaps you and I find it the most difficult thing to believe that we are of any value. Well, that is quite true, but for Christ; and God puts an infinite value upon a soul in Christ. Oh, how valuable man in Christ is to God! Therefore the salvation of a soul is a very costly thing. The apostle says: "Ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold... but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish" (1 Peter 1:18) - the very cost of the life of the Son of God. It is a very costly thing to save a soul, but in God's sight a soul is something for which it is worth making a great sacrifice. When the merchantman, looking for goodly pearls, finds one of great price, he goes and sells all that he has that he may have that pearl, and in that parable Jesus was teaching the value of souls. He is the One who is seeking, and in this creation He has seen those whom He wants for Himself. He wants men more than anything else, and He has let go of the glory of heaven in order to come down and find them.
This will not make us proud or self-important, but very humble: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). How valuable a soul is to God! Yes, man is great in the sight of God, but his greatest greatness is when he is redeemed from his sin, and Jesus came especially for that.
But, of course, if it is important for a soul to be saved, it is very important that he should go on to full glory. So the New Testament is just full of that - "Let us... press on unto full growth" (Heb. 6:1 R.V. margin), and, as we have read: "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling". We are called to the glory of God in Jesus Christ, and that is the value that God sets upon man.
We must think about it and let this message work in our hearts. We must say: 'If God wants me like that, if He wants to do that with me, if He wants to have me like His Son, then He must have me altogether and He shall.'
May that be the result of our talk together - that the Lord has all that He came to get in every one of us.