"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 2, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1973 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster



Harry Foster

THE priesthood of all believers is a Scriptural truth. What does it mean? And what are its implications? Since it is only made possible by a vital, faith association with Jesus Christ, we must first enquire what priesthood means to Him. We have to consult the letter to the Hebrews for this, and there we are told that there are two orders of priesthood, that of Aaron and that of Melchizedek. Christ fulfils both of these orders. The high priesthood according to Aaron was completed with finality when He was both priest and sacrifice, offering Himself to God and so securing perfect and eternal acceptance for believing sinners. We can have no share with Him in this Aaronic priesthood. It follows, then, that our participation must be in association with Him as a priest "after the order of Melchizedek". The essence of the Melchizedek priesthood was that it derived, "not by virtue of a commandment imposed from outside, but from the power of indestructible life within" (Hebrews 7:16 Phillips).

The question arises, Is this indestructible life also working in us? The answer is that by the infinite grace of God, it is. The further question follows, Is the priesthood of the believer meant to be a sharing with Christ of His king-priest Melchizedek service to God and men? I suggest that it is. That this is what is meant by the "kingdom of priests" produced by redemption through the blood of Jesus. I even venture humbly to express my opinion that this was what the writer of the epistle found difficult to explain to his readers because of their spiritual superficiality (5:11). We dare not claim to be better than they, but if by God's grace we can receive some 'solid food', it will relate -- I think -- not only to the significance of Christ as our Melchizedek high priest, but also to our calling in Him to a priesthood which is eternally valid. It is a striking feature of Melchizedek that he had neither beginning nor end. His was an eternal priesthood. If sin had never existed, men would still have needed a priest; not Aaronic, not to provide propitiatory sacrifices, but to mediate lovingly between them and God. When sin, death and the curse are banished from God's redeemed universe, men will still need a mediatorial priesthood and will find that God has provided one -- the eternal 'better' priesthood of Melchizedek. The great difference, however, between past eternity and the future is that by means of the cross Christ has gathered a redeemed people into fellowship with Himself. He is Melchizedek, the great King-Priest, but we are to share His destiny, to reign with Him and minister with Him, a whole kingdom of priests. The Bible finishes on this note, presenting the Church as a city-temple at the centre of God's universe, a glorious community which receives earth's glory of behalf of God and ministers it to Him; and is filled with His radiance in order to illuminate the nations of the new earth. This is to be our vocation. And for this we need spiritual preparation.

Another significant feature about our great King-Priest is that His helpfulness to others is based on the background of His life of suffering. Even the Son of God needed to qualify for His priestly task. Sometimes we are aware of how He is helping us, and we are grateful for His loving concern. At others we are ministered to without knowing how. But in both cases what Christ does for us is based on what He is, and this is closely associated with what He suffered. It is not that He asks us to consider His trials and equate or compare them with our own, but rather that His sufferings have given Him the character of one who can understandingly help people. There can be no doubt about this. The Hebrew letter, which stresses the importance of His priestly ministry, abounds in reminders of what He had to endure in order that He might be fitted for this ministry. I could devote this article to a consideration of our beloved Melchizedek, with encouragements to make full use of His loving, priestly help, but this might still leave us all on a milk diet. God's wish for us is that we may grow spiritually by taking 'solid food' and, as I have already said, this involves a divine call for us actually to share in Christ's priestly work, not in an Aaronic sense but in a Melchizedek ministry.

This is our calling. This is our present privilege and our future destiny. But it can never be a matter merely of names or titles: it must be the outcome of a life with God and of capacitating suffering. In addition to our personal need of disciplining, there are sorrows and sufferings which are specifically aimed at equipping us for priestly service. This was true of Christ, and it was clearly evident in some of His chosen servants -- Stephen, [21/22] Paul, Peter and John. Take John, the one who saw and communicated to us the vision of the Church's eternal destiny as reigning priests. We have a few glimpses of him at the beginning of the Acts, but otherwise we have no information at all about his long and arduous life. We know that he suffered; we realise that even as an old man he had to endure hardship for Christ's sake in the isle of Patmos. What was it all for? The answer surely is that this was what qualified him to exercise his priestly ministry to the churches of Asia and to us all. He started off his great revelation with the personal introduction: "I, John, your brother and companion in distress ...". That is what men need -- a brother and a companion in distress. John was a true priest.

The Old Testament gives us other striking examples of the relation between suffering and priesthood. We have Abraham and Job and many more. We may argue that we are not great apostles like John nor great historical characters like Job. We are very little people and faulty at that. For this reason I call your attention to a man with whom we all feel much more at home -- Jacob. Somehow every Christian feels a kinship with the patriarch Jacob. We are ready to identify ourselves with him and his experiences. His characteristics seem so to tally with our own that we always find help and comfort from his story. He was such a failure in himself; and so are we. But he was truly loved and chosen by grace; and so, thank God, are we. Thirdly he was a man who, in spite of everything, truly wanted God's best; and this should be our spirit also.

Jacob certainly attained to priesthood. In fact this seems to be the one salient achievement of his life, pin-pointed in this same letter to the Hebrews: "By faith Jacob ... blessed the two sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff" (11:21). This is surely the priestly function, to offer worship to God, and to convey God's blessing to others. Even as Jacob did this, though, he gave every evidence that he was a broken man, who had to lean heavily on his crutch. Indeed it was this brokenness which fitted him for his ministry. Seventeen years before his death he had been taken into the presence of Pharaoh, the greatest world ruler of that time, and had there also acted in a priestly way. He blessed Pharaoh! He, the lame old failure of a man who could only describe his life in the words: "... few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained ..." (Genesis 47:9). But the record goes to repeat the marvel of this priestly visit to the Egyptian monarch: "And Jacob blessed Pharaoh". Jacob shows what God can do with any of us, if we put ourselves in His hands. It may seem fantastic to expect that we can ever be reigning priests. It may seem even more absurd to think that even now we can exercise such a ministry. Yet the heavenly praise concerning God's redeemed, priestly people terminates with the words: "And they reign upon earth" (Revelation 5:10 R.V.). This is what we are meant to do, now and for ever. Can we learn from Jacob how to qualify for such king-priest service? We will try to do so by considering four great landmarks in his life. On each one of these occasions he erected a pillar -- a visible evidence of a spiritual experience. The very fact that there were four may give a hint that these truths are universal. They apply to us all.

Pillar 1

We read of the first crisis in Genesis 28:18. This first pillar marked Jacob's realisation that he was a related man, and by that I mean not only related to God, but to all God's people. At a time of deep personal need Jacob was visited by God in a dream, and was shown what he called Bethel -- the house of God. Now he did not see an actual house, but only a ladder of communication between earth and heaven, but he suddenly became aware of the fact that he was not a lone traveller, an isolated individual, but had, by God's grace, become a member of the divine household. The Head of the house was God Himself, the extent of the house the whole earth ("to the west and to the east, and to the north, and to the south"), and the time range also infinitely great. This house is spiritual, but it is real, and what is more, it is holy, so much so that Jacob was afraid and called it dreadful. Now exactly what it meant to Jacob we do not know. Bethel became a central feature of his life, and God pledged Himself to see to it that Jacob came safely back to it. What we do know is that the spiritual fulfilment in Christ is the spiritual house in which we, by grace, have a part. It is ruled by God from heaven. It is found everywhere on earth where two or three are gathered together into the name of the Lord Jesus, and it has reached over the centuries past and is timeless in its range. Jacob was not asked to build a house for God. He exclaimed "This is the house of God". He had found it. He was in it. His business was to learn how to behave himself in it, and this is our [22/23] business too. Jacob had to allow God to discipline his life in accordance with his holy association so that he could bring his tithe -- his whole tithe -- into it.

A place in the household of God is a matter of grace and not of moral or spiritual attainment. It was at the beginning of his career, when he was an empty and discredited man, that God broke into his life with this revelation. Jacob only dimly realised the tremendous significance of this relationship, but he made a positive committal of himself to God by raising his stone pillar, the first of the four. From then on, God dealt with him in discipline as a potential member of His house. How about us? "We are members of this household if we maintain our trust and joyful hope steadfast to the end" (Hebrews 3:6. Phillips). It is always costly to maintain fellowship with God and with His people, to have our personal faults and weaknesses exposed by the friction and discipline of dwelling together in unity. Just as Jacob was glad to get away from Bethel (it was a dreadful place to him), so we are always tending to run away from the tests and even humiliations of keeping a right spirit with our fellow Christians. But God brought Jacob back to Bethel, and He will do the same with us, for it is a basic condition for king-priests that they shall be in right relationship with all other members of God's household. We may argue that we would do this if only our fellow believers were transformed men. The truth is that we are the ones who must be transformed. God must change us from Jacob to Israel. And that is precisely what He will work on, if we will accept the fact that we are related men.

Pillar 2

This second pillar marked Jacob as a separated man. After twenty years of gruelling discipline he erected his second pillar (Genesis 31:45). This was done in his final break with Laban, and was really an outward symbol of that break. Laban would never pass that pillar into Jacob's territory and, what was more important, Jacob would never again return to Haran, the land of mixture. For Laban's house did not typify the world in its starkest sense. That had been abandoned long ago at Ur of the Chaldees. Haran was the halfway house, the place where God's name was invoked but His will disobeyed. Jacob had lived there for a long time and he had had enough of it -- more than enough! It was a relief to him when God broke into that half and half life, with its mixture of gains and losses, joys and disappointments, saying: "I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise ... and return ..." (Genesis 31:13). It was not easy to break away -- it never is -- and Laban pursued and finally caught up with him. But Jacob would not go back. Laban's God might be the God of Abraham, but He was also the God of Nahor (the halfway man), whereas Jacob was pledged to the one who was not only the God of Abraham but "the fear of Isaac". So they parted, and Jacob erected his stone pillar which was accepted by Laban. They said goodbye to each other, the one to return to his one-foot-in-the-world, religious mixture, the other to move back to the house of God.

So chapter 32 opens with the statement: "And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him". It is always so. This kind of separation is not merely negative, a moving away from mixture, but a positive separation unto the will of God, and as such will receive heaven's approval. When Jesus had repudiated the world, the angels ministered to Him in the wilderness (Mark 1:13). When, in the garden of Gethsemane, He was able to set aside His own will and choose the will of God, "There appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him" (Luke 22:42-43). Heaven is always on our side when we come clearly out on God's side. The separated man is the only really happy man.

This whole subject of separation is a difficult one and it is often misunderstood. If it is only outward, it is pharisaical and detestable to God. The crux of true separation is its inner loyalty to God. What happened to Jacob was inward; he was disillusioned with the life of compromise and eager to get back on to the ground of a life governed be the mind of God. He had not even meant to give outward expression to separation; he had not planned to build the second pillar; this action was forced on him. Not that he was, in fact, a wholly separated man for, in addition to Rebekah's hidden image, there were other strange gods which had to be put away and buried before the party could actually live in Bethel. Nevertheless this was a crisis for Jacob, the crisis of separation unto the will of God. This is a 'must' for those who are called to be king-priests.

Pillar 3

We now come to the outstanding event of Jacob's life, the crisis of his transformation from [23/24] Jacob to Israel. For this, too, he erected a pillar (Genesis 35:14). There were two parts to this experience; the first at Jabbok, where God crippled and re-named him but where no stone was raised, and the second at Bethel where the third pillar was raised. We are probably familiar with the story of the all-night struggle at Jabbok where Jacob met his Waterloo and out of crippling despair found an altogether new experience of God. This was where he first received intimation of his new name of Israel -- a man who could rule with God. The very name brings us close to our subject of king-priests, so we do well to examine the matter more closely. What happened to Jacob was what, in New Testament language, we would call an inner experience of the cross, a realisation that not only have our sins been put away but our entire 'old man'. "What is thy name?" God asked the clinging Jacob, who had to confess that he was Jacob, the twister, the crooked deceiver, the fugitive and the failure. This confession was followed by God's word of transformation: "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob ..." (Genesis 28:27-28). No more Jacob! "No more I ...". The old man is smitten. In Christ he is slain. "I have been crucified with Christ ..."

Words are quite inadequate to describe the soul's discovery of how the cross demands an end to what we are in ourselves. This was the first half of Jacob's crisis, but although it was a revolutionary experience, we note that the sacred record still does not call the man 'Israel'. "Jacob lifted up his eyes", "Jacob said ...", "Jacob journeyed". All of which leads us to expect that there is another part to this transforming experience, and rightly so, for there is also the positive side of the cross: "... no more I, but Christ in me" -- no more Jacob but Israel. So it was that at Bethel God appeared to Jacob again, this time to bless him with the confirmation of the words spoken at Jabbok, for this time it says: "And he called his name Israel". Then God withdrew, leaving Jacob to face this call. He did so in positive terms by setting up his third pillar, with another anointing of oil and the additional element of a drink offering. This reminds us that if we will appropriate our new life in Christ, if we will add to the faith that we have been crucified with Christ the assertion that nevertheless we live, the Holy Spirit will give substance to our faith and make us know the reality of Christ's new life within.

Now this is no fairy story. We are not told that the man was never again called Jacob but always and only Israel. No, it is not like that. We would love to have an automatic end to the old man in us and an automatic continuation of smooth experiences of the new, but this would remove the need for constant faith. Only as faith is alert and active does it work out that it is no more Jacob. So we find that sometimes he is called Jacob and sometimes Israel, at times almost in the same breath and with no clear reason why it should be so. Still the related man and the separated man has now become the transformed man. What more is necessary for God to be able to record: "And Israel journeyed." (Genesis 35:21)? Jacob's fourth pillar will answer that question.

Pillar 4

The fourth and final pillar of Jacob was put up on the way to Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19-20). It represented for Jacob the deepest death, but it also made him a 'resurrection man', a man of resurrection faith. How different are the Lord's ways from ours! When we have come to a new place of utter yieldedness to Him we rather expect that experiences of death are past forever and that from now on we shall be conscious only of life and glory. Yet see what happened to Jacob. Rachael was his great treasure. Theirs was one of the great love stories of all time. Sacrifice was easy when it was made for her; she was always his first and greatest concern; through the last years of his life he never forgot her and he recalled the sad day of their parting when he was on his own deathbed. There was a sense in which he buried his own heart when he buried Rachael. His sinful self had had to be broken at Jabbok, but now his finest love, his greatest earthly treasure, had to be buried between Bethel and Bethlehem.

Why? Let us answer that question by considering what happened. Out of that death a new life was born. Jacob's pillar was therefore not so much an advertising of his loss as an expression of his faith for the future. Rachel called the baby boy, 'Benoni' -- 'Son of my sorrow'. There was no question about the bitterness of the moment. Every experience of the cross's demands upon us is bitter. But the real question is what attitude do we adopt before God and men? Self pity will draw attention to itself -- Son of my sorrow -- saying, in effect, Look what a great sufferer I am! [24/25] Look how much it is costing me to go on with God! 'No', said Jacob, 'not that! Rather look at God's glorious purpose in it all. Even with a breaking heart, welcome the values for Him which will emerge from this death.' So he changed the child's name to Benjamin -- 'Son of the right hand'. Thus it was that in his hour of deep, personal loss he was able to trust and worship, and it was in token of this that he erected his final pillar and then marched on like a prince. "And Israel journeyed ... "

Not that this was the end of his story. There were still further challenges, further failures and further sorrows to come, but it is as though his life had now found its firm foundation on, these spiritual truths. They made him the man he was, the man of God, the princely mediator, the king-priest. And they point the way for us. Let us notice how each pillar required positive faith action on Jacob's part. God spoke and worked, but God did not put up the pillars. Jacob had to do that himself. This reminds us of our need to be positive in appropriating and entering into what is said of us in Christ, so making our calling and election sure. God's kingdom of priests consists of related people, separated people, transformed people and resurrection-faith people. Perhaps this gives a new dimension to the phrase: 'The priesthood of all believers'.


T. Austin-Sparks

WHAT is a priest? He is not an official or a member of a religious caste, but a man who withstands death and ministers life. The one all-inclusive issue of the ages, the great purpose of God from eternity to eternity, can be described in New Testament language as eternal life. As soon as sin entered the world then death ensued, and so men needed an altar and the shedding of blood in order that sin could be countered by righteousness and death be overcome by divine life. Together with the altar there emerged the personal activity of a man called a priest, and so, as time went on, such service grew and grew until it developed into an elaborate priestly ministry.

Death as an active power could only be arrested, nullified and removed by having its ground of sin adequately dealt with, hence the priestly ministry of righteousness, the perfect righteousness of incorruptible life expressed by the blood of the offering. Israel was to be a nation of priests, a people based and grounded on God's own righteousness, and therefore able to face death and defeat it. The Church was called to take up this ministry. The Lord Jesus Himself foretold this by saying: "the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matthew 21:43). Peter later explained that redeemed sinners have entered into the spiritual calling, being the "chosen nation", the "royal priesthood" which has to undertake the great vocation of being God's ministers of life in the earth.

So we find that as members of Christ's body we have a relationship to Him, the great High Priest, which is analogous to that between Aaron and his sons who shared his work of priesthood. In the letter to the Hebrews, which deals with this subject, we have a kind of New Testament Leviticus. In this epistle believers are addressed as sons as well as "holy brethren", as though Christ regards us as His sons -- "I and the children whom God has given me" (Hebrews 2:13). Through us, therefore, as members of Christ, the great high priestly work in heaven is to find expression here on earth. If we ask what is the significance of the Lord's continuous work as High Priest, the answer is to set life over against death, to nullify the operation and reign of spiritual death. The Church's great conflict is with spiritual death, and the more spiritual a mans becomes, the more he is aware of the awful reality of this battle with the evil power of death.

NO priest or Levite of the Old Testament was ever tempted to become lyrical on this subject or to talk in poetical language as though death were some sort of friend. Oh no, they knew death to be the great enemy of God and of all God's interests. When the Scriptures speak of death as the last enemy, they not only mean that it is the last on the list but that it is the consummate [25/26] enemy, the inclusive expression of all enmity. The effect of priesthood is illustrated again and again in the Word of God. We observe death breaking in because of sin, and then God intervening with His answer of life by means of blood sacrifice. The blood speaks of an accepted righteousness, and by means of it, the priest was able to meet death, counter it and minister life. Finally we are told of the Lord Jesus, who met death in the concentration of all its enmity, overthrew it by means of the perfect sacrifice of His own life's blood, and then entered upon His priestly work of ministering life to believers.

The priest is a man of authority though this is spiritual and not ecclesiastical. He has power with God. The apostle John speaks of the case of one who has sinned a sin which is not unto death, and he says: "He shall ask life ..." for him (l John 5:16). This reference discloses that a believer who is standing on the ground of righteousness by faith through the blood of Jesus, can exercise the power of priesthood on behalf of an erring brother, and so minister life to him. Surely there is no ministry more needed on earth today than such a vitalising ministry. If we minister truths which do not issue in life, then we are wasting our time. God has not commissioned us to be mere imparters of information about divine things or teachers of morals; He has loosed us from our sins so that we might be ministers of life to others by virtue of priestly authority. We live in a world where death reigns. Daily there are multitudes being swept away by a tide of spiritual death. Why? Because of unrighteousness. What is needed is the activity of those who will accept their priestly responsibilities, both asking life for others and offering them that life through the gospel. We must minister Christ. Not mere doctrines about Him; not mere words or commandments; but the vital impact of Christ in terms of life. So every believer is called to stand between the dead and the living giving the answer of Christ to the activities of Satan.

No wonder that the kingdom of Satan was at war with Israel, for the presence of this nation on a right relationship with God proclaimed effectively that sin and death do not reign universally in God's world, but they have been met and overcome by the power of a righteous and incorruptible life. In the end Israel lost this testimony and so lost the priestly ministry. The Church was then brought in to take it up, being no longer a localised people in one land but a spiritual community scattered in all the earth, a people whose supreme calling is to maintain God's victory over death according to the testimony of Jesus. And what is the testimony of Jesus? It is the testimony of the triumph of life over death. He Himself so described it to John: "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and I have the keys of hell and of death" (Revelation 1:18).

THIS testimony was deposited in the Church, and immediately the disciples presented it powerfully among the nations. Alas! In many respects the Church is now failing in its priestly vocation. This vital element of victorious life seems to be lacking. The letters at the beginning of the book of Revelation show that Christ was not satisfied with the churches' many good activities, zealous works, correct teaching, patient persistence in orthodoxy. He sought to call them back to their true task of demonstrating the power of His overcoming life in the face of every challenge. What ministry do we want? To be running around taking meetings, giving addresses, supporting Christian work? All this may be included, but it is of little value if it does not fit into the context of priestly warfare against death, the bringing in of the powerful impact of Christ's victorious life to meet death's challenge.

The book of the Revelation makes it plain that such a testimony provokes the animosity of Satan, but such enmity should be a compliment to us, for it means that our lives are really counting for God. The day when you or I are no longer involved in the spiritual battle will be a bad day, for it will mean that we have lost our true vocation and are no longer providing any real challenge to spiritual death but are failing in this matter of priestly ministry. On the other hand, the painful antagonism of the powers of evil may be a clear proof that we are truly serving as priests.

Test everything by life. The life that is, victorious over sin. The life which delivers from bondage, especially the bondage of fear. The life which expresses itself in terms of love for needy sinners. Not only does John encourage us to ask for life, he assures us that in answer to such prayer God will give it -- "... he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death". We must not fail in our priestly ministry. [26/27]



Roger T. Forster

WE are not to be afraid of typology. It is possible, of course, to argue that since we have the reality we have no need of shadows, but we must realise that light on the great Reality makes shadows which are shadows of Christ, and therefore very important, for they help us to understand Him better. So these pictures which God has given us are meant to help us to know more of the Lord Jesus; to understand and grasp His living truths, and to meet Him. Never let us be so superior that we dispense with Scriptural shadows, but rather let us expect the Spirit of Christ to interpret them to us in our day, showing us the changeless Christ in ways which are relevant to our twentieth century life. We must expect this. We are not asked to limit ourselves to the things written a hundred years ago, or a hundred years before that, but to allow the Holy Spirit to take these shadows and use them to show us more of the Lord Jesus in ways which will meet our own needs in our own time.

It is in this spirit that we study the first five chapters of Leviticus, considering offerings which are five specific shadows of the one body of Jesus Christ offered on the cross. These five offerings were closely associated with the life of God's people, it was by means of them that the Israelites were taught the ABC of sacrifice. This was their schooling; and it is recorded for our help.

1. THE BURNT OFFERING. (Leviticus 1).

The proper animal for this sacrifice was a bullock, though the offering could be taken from the flocks or even from birds. Primarily, however, the burnt offering was to be a bullock. And as the people were agriculturalists, this represented their business life. The Hebrew farmer made a sacrifice from his daily business. As he pursued his task of rearing and fattening his cattle, he knew all the time that the moment would come when the very best of his herd would be given to God. This was the 'olah' offering, the Hebrew word signifying that it would 'ascend' or 'go up'. When he took that best bullock of his and gave it to the priest for the altar, he was really saying: 'My whole business really belongs to God'. That was the implication of the burnt offering.

Now this is one of the many aspects of the cross of Christ which we need to understand. God Himself is a sacrificing God, and if we are His true people -- as Israel of old was meant to be -- then we will be a sacrificial people, making new discoveries of the Lord in every part of our lives. Every sacrifice which we are prepared to make in our business life can be a doorway opening up to Him. People who do not sacrifice in their business life forfeit a vital discovery of the Lord. They may meet Him at the Sunday morning meeting or when they read their daily Scripture Union portion, but what a loss if they are not making fresh discoveries of Him in their business! We often cannot see that Christianity is relevant in business life, and this is because there is no 'ascending up' sacrifice. If there were, it would open the way for others as well as us to find the Lord.

I had a friend who was sharing an agricultural business with another man in the days of the depression. He got converted and began to read his Bible. One day God spoke to him in Matthew 7:12: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them". That very morning his partner insisted that they must lay off some employees. My friend objected, but was told that business was so bad that there was no alternative. Still he insisted, quoting Christ's words and saying that he certainly would not like to lose his job and have to go home and tell his wife that he was unemployed. His partner called him a fool, declined to have any further part in a business which was influenced by religion and broke the partnership, taking out his share of the capital and leaving my friend with a failing business. He was in a terrible plight, and finally came to the day when he had only enough money to pay all the workers except one. On the Friday night he proceeded to pay wages to the men as they left and then, just as the last man came in, a letter was pushed through the door in settlement of an outstanding debt. It was not even paid by cheque, but in cash. The envelope contained fifty pound notes; so the last man was paid without knowing the quandary his boss had been in. The trouble in business today is that men do not believe in the practicality of prayer and, whether employers or [27/28] employees, they do not put God first. To do this would involve cost but it would be a 'going up' sacrifice which would open a door for God to reveal Himself. The man who attends to the burnt offering will find that prayer works and that business is an area for making new discoveries of Christ.

2. THE MEAL OFFERING. (Leviticus 2).

Just as the bullock involved a man in his business life, so the cakes of the meal (not meat!) offering made an impact on the domestic life of his wife. Something had to go from her kitchen for the Lord. It is possible that her husband got the benefit of this fact, for while preparing the meal she would not merely remember that he might be hungry after his work in the fields, but also that one of the cakes she was preparing might have to go to the priest to be offered up as a sacrifice to God. This would surely prevent her from preparing a merely 'make-do' meal, and inspire her to give of her best, since part of what was in her oven might be offered to the Lord. So in this whole domestic realm of activity, she could be lifted out of the drudgery of feeding her menfolk into making an offering to the Lord. Sacrifices in the domestic scene will always lead to new discoveries of the Lord.

Before my brother and I were converted, our parents were just nominal churchgoers, with no vital experience of Christ. Their first encounter with real faith was when in the wartime we were evacuated to North Wales and lodged with a lady who was a true Christian. My parents were frightened to go to the Gospel Hall with her, but in the end they did so because they were tremendously impressed with her life in the home. My mother was helping in the kitchen and the landlady, who was making a cake mixture, informed her that it was a fatless recipe. When she had put the cakes to bake she shut the oven door, kneeled down in front of the cooker and prayed: "Lord, You know that we are short of fat, so I have to leave it to You to bring these cakes out all right. Thank you very much, Lord." My mother thought that this was absurd but, to her surprise, the cakes did come out all right. She borrowed the recipe, but not the prayer, with the result that her effort was a dreadful fiasco of literal 'rock cakes' which nobody could eat. We jokingly said that all they were fit for was to help the seagulls sharpen their beaks. This homely saint showed how wonderfully real can be discoveries of Christ in the domestic area.

3. THE PEACE OFFERING. (Leviticus 3).

When father from his business and mother from her kitchen came with their family to dinner-time, perhaps to eat lamb chops or beef, giving thanks for their meal, they might well remember that all the meat on the table had first been offered to God. Perhaps we should realise that the sacrificial activities in Israel were not confined to literal temple offerings, but were also concerned with the actual eating of meat by the people. So it was that when we read of Solomon's thousands of sacrifices, we must appreciate that these were a part of their feasting, since every killing of an animal was a religious act. With a peace offering only a little bit went to the altar; the rest of it was eaten by ordinary people. The point was that they were not allowed to do their own butchery but, whenever life was to be taken, it had to be done in proper relationship with priestly sacrifices. As a matter of fact one of the Hebrew words for sacrifice is the same word as that meaning 'to kill'. This may shed new light on the sacrifices, this realisation that animals were not only killed as offerings to God but as part of the normal provision for the people's meat eating. It is true that the Israelites ate nothing of the burnt offering, but they did eat of the peace offerings which were, in fact, their daily food.

So every mealtime was a remembrance that their life was the Lord's and was intended to be an occasion for fellowship. Man was not meant to eat and drink alone, but to share with others. That is why in New Testament days believers had 'agapes', love feasts, and remembered the Lord as they ate together. It is in our home life, at our table, in our life together, that we are meant to learn more of Christ.

I have a friend who is a Baptist minister in London, and when he lived in a university area he opened up his home so that students could share his family life. There was a Hindu student who often came to meals and who also spent some vacations in the home. No mention was made of the comparison between Hinduism and Christianity, and no special conversations were directed [28/29] at him, though of course the family loved and served the Lord and this came out spontaneously in their talk. At times my friend wondered if he ought to be more aggressive in his witness and challenge the boy, but he had no strong sense that he should do so. At the end of three years of sharing family life in this way, the student told his host that he had become a Christian. When they chatted together, the boy produced an exercise book, with the pages ruled in such a way that on the left-hand side there was an idea of the ways in which a Hindu would have reacted to given situations, and on the other side his observations of how these Christians had reacted. Meticulously, from the close quarters of family life, he had observed and written down how various matters had been dealt with, difficulties faced up to and problems solved; weighing up the contrast between what he knew of Hindu life and what he now witnessed in this Christian home. All this had led him to Christ.

What a thrill for this servant of the Lord to find that, while he was reproaching himself for not being tough enough and speaking up more, a vital testimony had been given in his home as he had shared it in this sacrificial way. Who shares our home? Who sits down at our table? How about our meals -- are they peace offerings to the Lord in this sense?

4. THE SIN OFFERING (Leviticus 4:1-5, 13).

This, of course, was not eaten; it all went to God, though it went in a peculiar way. Whether in the wilderness or in the land, there was always a rubbish tip, a place for depositing refuse, outside of the inhabited area, and this was the scene of constant fire, for fire provides the simplest means of cleansing, of disinfection. Later, Jerusalem had such a provision; it was called Gehenna, and there the fire never went out. The Lord Jesus used this as a picture of the destruction of sin in hell fire. There the smoke ascends for ever, for only so can the city's filth and rubbish be dealt with. Now the strange thing is that the sin offering had to be carried out to that rubbish tip, outside the camp, so that even in the disposal of their refuse the Israelites were reminded of God. It was out among their ashes that the sin offering of God had to be burnt up completely. I wonder if there is something in our lives that is careless about dirt and refuse, as though this did not matter to God. I was over in Norway a few months ago and was told of sea areas which are so contaminated that all the fish are dying, and this as a result of contamination from British industry. The contamination goes across the North Sea, and its pollution is carried right up into the fiords; and all because we in England do not make provision for burning up our waste products. There is a spiritual parallel to this. We are told that among those things hated by God is "a generation that is pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness" (Proverbs 30:12). This is one of the things which disturbs the earth. It is true that we must avoid the wrong kind of self-preoccupation, but an honest worshipper will bring God into this matter of pollution, seeking always to keep things open before Him and going daily into His presence, so that He can both disclose and put away the defilement. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse away our sins, but we are required to walk in the light, so that unhealthy pollution may give place to the clean and healthy attractiveness of Christ.

5. THE TRESPASS OFFERING (Leviticus 5:14 - 6:7).

This dealt with specific sins and had the special feature that it had to be accompanied by restitution. In this case a man not only gave his sacrifices but he had to pay out a certain sum to the priest as a restitution to the person wronged. This very fact made him associate finance with the idea of the sacrifices, ensuring that even money transactions were made in the light of the offerings which God would require of His people. The Israelites had opportunities for learning more of divine things even by the spending of their money, and could not carelessly dispose of everything when they might need resources to get right over some matter in which God had an interest. Every purchase in the market place, every use of money in the home, had to be made with the realisation that God was concerned with it and that it should be done as before Him.

In one of the communist countries I met a bright Christian brother who was obviously very poor and was told of an experience which he had had while selling some of the meagre produce from his little plot of land. A woman came to his stall in the market, bought some melons and then left her purse on the stall. When he found it, he opened it and found that it did not contain much money, though the little would have been most [29/30] valuable to him. It did, however, contain the name and address of its owner. He was not put off by the fact that she lived at some distance and that from his own very scanty resources he would have to pay a bus fare to take the purse back, but he left his family in their one little poverty-stricken room and took the journey to restore the lost property to its owner. She clearly had no idea of how poor he was, and merely thanked him, but she was so impressed with his honesty that when she next came to the market she questioned him as to the motive behind his action. In reply she received a simple testimony to the power of the gospel, and as a result went herself to the meeting and was won for Christ. So in that money affair there was a sacrifice, not restitution in the biblical sense of the word, but a real opportunity for God to make Himself known.

The five levitical offerings clearly have lessons for Christians. They were intended to maintain a blood-bought society in a relationship of joyful fellowship with God. The one Passover lamb typified the Israelites' redemption, but the daily sacrifices were given for daily lessons in the ways and will of God. In conclusion we take up a phrase which seems to be characteristic of each offering.

The burnt offering was to do with acceptance: "And it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him" (Leviticus 1:4). Of all our fears perhaps the greatest is the fear of not being accepted. We feel inferior, inadequate, and we therefore worry about being accepted. This fear is solved and dispelled fundamentally when we know that God has fully accepted us, and acceptance by God comes when we lay our hands, as it were, on the Lord Jesus as our burnt offering and find the certainty of being "accepted in the beloved".

Concerning the meal offering we are told that "it is a thing most holy" (2:3). The actual phrase is 'holy of holies' and it reminds us that perfection is only in Christ. As Christians we tend to look for perfection in ourselves and we are bound to be disappointed. The flesh has never been any better and will never grow any better, whether that flesh be found in a Christian or a non-Christian. So spiritual stability and progress depend on our personal appropriation of the provision of Christ's perfect life as our own. There and there alone, can true holiness be found.

In the case of the peace offering the stress seems to be on food -- the Lord's food (Leviticus 3:11). We all need food to satisfy us, and the Lord has food for His satisfaction, too. The fat and the blood were His special portion (verse 17). The difference between the Old Testament offering and the New Testament fulfilment in the Lord Jesus, is that we now share with the Father the rich satisfaction which He finds in the Son. What was forbidden in the Old Testament is commanded in the New, for we are told to take and eat and also to take and drink.

The sin offering was to be carried forth without the camp "unto a clean place" (Leviticus 4:12), so in this case we are reminded that cleanness comes to us through the complete condemnation of the cross. When the Lord Jesus died He was made sin for us. God treated Him as sin. And in that utter condemnation of His, we find our old man rejected and fit only for the burning of Gehenna. This, for us, is the secret of living in a clean place.

Finally the trespass offering serves to make amends (Leviticus 5:16). This is the only sacrifice in which amends were to be made for wrong doing. There are, of course, some things in our lives for which we can never make amends, but there are other areas in which amends can and must be made. Many Christians are harbouring resentments, bitterness or an unforgiving spirit towards others, and yet cannot understand why they are not enjoying God's blessing. Well, they may be forgiven men so far as God's statute book is concerned, and therefore safe for heaven, but they will never enjoy the experience of God's forgiveness here on earth if they do not forgive and make amends. They are probably waiting for those whom they feel have wronged them to make the first move, and as they wait they are missing a great blessing which could come into their lives if they realised their own need of the trespass offering.

Shadows of Christ? Yes, but very helpful shadows, for they can make us face up to the reality of the kind of life which is pleasing to God. [30/31]



Poul Madsen

"Again the next day after John stood and two of his disciples,
and looking upon Jesus as He walked he said, 'Behold the Lamb of God!'
And the two disciples heard him speak and followed Jesus.
" John 1:35-37

This portion of Scripture starts with the little word 'again'. The word speaks of repetition, and life consists of repetitions. We can make them dull and dead, a mere routine, or we can make them a wonderfully new character-builder, because living repetition is what produces perseverance and steadfastness. The manna was repeated day by day throughout thirty eight years. The Israelites gathered it again and again, getting up in the morning, going out into the fields, stooping down on the ground, and picking it up. Was that a dull monotony or a daily miracle? The Israelites often found it irksome. That was their fault. They said. 'Is there nothing else than this manna? Must we have it again and again?' Quite often I hear people talking like this. Are we going to a meeting again? Are we going to pray again? Are we going to have another conference? They complain of what is to be 'again'. But it is up to us to make the repetitions of life a means of building up a character of perseverance and strength. Nowadays repetitions are not appreciated. Superficial people want novelties. They do not like the word 'again', but always want something new. And so believers run here and there, living a shallow life, whereas the character of a man of God is built up by the daily repetition of the essential things of life. Novelties quite often speak of escapism from the path of duty. It takes real determination to do the same thing in a new way day by day.

HERE was John the Baptist again. John did not seem to be interested in variety, as such. He was centred in God, and he therefore had no need for novelties. He concentrated on God day by day; remained on the spot where God wanted him to be; in the place which God had appointed for him. John was ready to do things again and again, and yet again. You could always find him in his place of duty, which is just the place where you can always find God. If you want to meet with God, then remain at the place of your duty. Learn to persevere, learn to do the same thing again and again in a living way. Do not seek after novelties, but live day by day with God and in Him in the place of duty. So it was that John stood 'again', presenting a picture of man as God wants man to he; a man of strength; a man of steady character; a solid man. In our hearts we know that a real man should be like this. Those who are always running after the latest new thing cannot be relied on. They will often be where they ought not to be; they themselves think that they are seeking God, but if they seek Him in the wrong place, they should not be surprised if they do not find Him. God is found in the place of duty.

We may ask what John was doing on that important day. We know that the day before had brought him a wonderful experience. On the previous day he had seen the Lord coming to him. It was a great day for him when the Lord came to him, and John gave his testimony and baptised his Lord and saw the Spirit of God come upon Him. Now what would happen on this next day? Would it not be an anticlimax? The day before had been full of the wonderful glory of the Lord, and now what could he expect today? He could not count on the same experience, and yet in spite of that he had come to the same spot again. Why had he done this? Because in true life with God every day is unique in its own right. Every day links us to the past, and yet every new day offers something hitherto unknown. Every day we can rightly say: 'this is the day of the Lord', and if we face it in this spirit we shall be very grateful for the repetitions. This is the day of the Lord, therefore I read my Bible. I have done it a thousand times before, but this day it will be unique. This is the day of the Lord, and therefore we meet together. We have done it hundreds of times before. We may imagine that we know all about fellowship; nevertheless this is unique. This is life today. For this reason John was on the spot, not to repeat yesterday but to live this new day fully for the Lord. He shows us how to redeem time. If we redeem time, then time gives us something, but [31/32] if we let time pass by in dull repetition, then we not only lose the day but lose something in own character.

WE do not know what John had done that day until the tenth hour but one thing is sure, he did not speak of his experience of yesterday. He had faith enough to keep quiet and to concentrate on the Lord, waiting for what was new and for what he should speak. John was a wonderful example of little activity but tremendous power; never being found on the periphery of things but always in their very centre; living hour by hour with the Lord and only speaking and acting out of a new living experience of Him. So we are told that "Looking upon Jesus" he spoke. Jesus had not repeated His approach of the previous day. Then Jesus had actually come to him, which was wonderful, but this day it only says that he looked on Jesus as He walked. This was a new way, yet John was not disappointed with the Lord, only taking a fresh look at Him and then speaking. He made no demands on the Lord; he did not try to tell Him how to walk; he just took a fresh look at Him and as a result he was able to speak with fresh power. What is preaching but just this, looking afresh on the Lord and then speaking fresh, warm words about Him. We may even say the same thing about Him. It may appear to be only a repetition. We have spoken about the Lord so often, but if before speaking we are allowed to see Him in a new way then there will be power in our words. This is the secret of preaching, to live every day so that the repetitions are ever new, to look afresh on the Lord, and then to speak. We need no more. But we cannot do with less. This was why John had both a message and a testimony. He could say "Behold" because that was just what he himself had been doing. He called others to see what he could see. Everyone who really sees the Lord freshly says either directly or indirectly, 'Behold! Concentrate on the Lord! In the midst of everyday life with all its repetitions, take a new look at the Lord'; and the repetition becomes life, a new thing. Go into your room alone and behold the Lord. Come together with others for worship, and behold the Lord. Come to another conference, not as a matter of routine but to behold the Lamb of God. In this way every day and every experience can be unique.

No man had taught John that Jesus was the Lamb of God. As he pursued his duty, lived with the repetitions of life always being prepared for God's surprises, light came to him from heaven. If you are prepared to be faithful in repetitions, then God can teach you many things, things which you will never discover if you are out for novelties. Such knowledge does not come from books, but from the routine of daily life. Sometimes the Lord will come to you in one way and at others will just show Himself to you, but you will get to know Him and so you will have a vital testimony.

THE day before, John had had a testimony. He had said: "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world". Until then John had been preaching about people's sins; sins were the problem. After this experience, though, he realised that the real problem was deeper than the remission of sins; not only what the world does but what the world is. John thus realised that his own ministry was insufficient, and that Christ's was much more profound, getting to the heart of the matter. To take away sins is not really to solve the problem. John learned some thing which no human reasoning could have taught him, that this Lamb of God had come to take away the sin of the world, the satanic element in humanity, the self-dependence, the self-sufficiency and the pride.

That was yesterday, but this day he had another emphasis, not this time on the work of the Lamb but on His person. "Behold the Lamb of God" -- he dared not say any more. He did not multiply words, he did not try to give explanations; he had seen something which no human words could explain, even the wonderful person of our adorable Lord. Whenever you see Christ in this way, you feel that you need to keep quiet in case you spoil what you have seen by too many rewords. The Lamb is too great for words -- you only want to point to Him. Such an experience so dominates your whole being, your thoughts, ideas, emotions will, conscious life, subconscious life, the depth of your personality, in an overwhelming manner which makes talk impossible. You can talk about His work of bearing away sin, but the greatness of His person is such that it leaves you speechless. You marvel at the grace of God which has given you such a glimpse of the Lamb.

Like John, you will be so thankful that you went back again to the same place, doing the same duty, for it was there that you saw Him. Yesterday was wonderful, but today is unique. [32/33] You live. you live now. You have found such fullness in His presence that you do not make a sermon, but are just left with a testimony, a message. you do not have to do live in the past. You do not have to wait for the future. You see Him today, and you see Him as you repeat what you have done times without number, just return to the place of duty and stand for the Lord there. Such a stand is what makes a man, a real man. We cannot do without our duties. We cannot do without our responsibilities. We cannot do without our repetitions. This word 'again', rightly understood, will make us able to see the Son of God in a new way, day by day.

I think that the daily life of routine and repetition is a wonderful gift of the Lord. We run away from surprises when we run around looking for novelties. We need to gather our inner powers to stand steadily in our daily duties, for so we may expect to find the Lord in new ways. The Bible is the same book, and yet it becomes a new book. Prayer is the same thing, and yet it is a new thing. Fellowship is quite new, although it is still the same. Words may be the same and yet they can be the means of a totally new experience of the divine freshness of God's grace. The Germans have a saying: "Happiness is where you are not". It is not true. Happiness is just where you are -- in your kitchen, in your office, at your hospital -- if you are there with God. Today you can behold the Lamb of God. Open your eyes and become a rich man or a rich woman, not tomorrow but today. A fresh sight of Him can make all things new.


J. Alec Motyer

Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

The outcome of the saving work of God in Christ is the creation of the Church, and the present task of believers is to live in the good of church life, making it their business to keep that unity of the Spirit to which they have been called. This, in a very real sense, is a part of the ministry of all Christians. There is, however, another and a parallel aspect of Christian ministry which consists of testimony to a needy world. To pursue the former without this other would be to retreat into monasticism, and to ignore the importance of always seeking the balance of truth in the Scriptures. One Biblical truth must never detract from another, but must be held in balance. For instance, there are two illustrations of the Christian life which superficially might seem to be mutually exclusive: that of a sheep carefully tended by its shepherd and that of a soldier armed for battle. These are both essential truths and they are parallel. There must never be a moment in my experience when I am not, at one and the same time, resting in my Saviour's care and also fighting His battles. It is necessary to observe the balance of the Word of God, not treating any one aspect as the whole truth, for to do so would be to become distorted in outlook.

So we see that in addition to that inward aspect of ministry described in Ephesians 4, it is important also to consider the outward aspect which is stressed in 2 Corinthians 4, where we encounter the double thrust of God's Word as it affirms that our conversion commits us to testimony and commits us to conflict. The first eighteen verses of this chapter stress that the very fact of our belonging to God and to Jesus Christ, commits us to the out-going ministry in which we are called to share the good news with those who do not know it yet. We see by verse 1 that our conversion commits us to this ministry: "... we have this ministry, as we have received mercy ...". We have the ministry because we have the mercy. Every Christian rejoices to claim that the mercy of God has reached down to him and found him. Very well, then, if we are to be true to the Scripture, the man who has received the mercy has also received the ministry. It would be a denial of the plain truth of this verse and of very many more, if we laid claim to the mercy of God and yet stepped back from the ministry to which that mercy commits us.

THIS ministry is the duty of sinners. After all, mercy is the outreach of God to sinners. I remember very well that in my early days as a Christian I was afraid to open my mouth in testimony [33/34] of any sort whatsoever because I knew that my family would reply: 'Who are you to talk to us?' It often happens that our mouths are closed even from the simplest testimony because we know that the person to whom we speak may round on us because of our own failures; whereas the whole point of this ministry is that it belongs not to those who are free from faults but to those who are keenly aware of their need of divine mercy. Far from being abashed and silenced by the worlds challenge: 'Who are you to talk to us?', we should humbly agree that we are sinners and then proceed: 'Isn't that what I am trying to tell you about? A God who bothers with sinners like us. This is indeed good news, that there is mercy for such as us.'

You must not say: 'I am not able', for the mercy which has saved you will carry you through. God does not begin by showing you abundant mercy and then withdrawing it at the point where you want to serve Him. No, mercy never ceases. The ministry carries with it its own empowering -- "... even as we have received mercy, we faint not ...". One translation of the verb used here might be, 'We do not go back on the job'! Another way of putting it might be, 'We do not become like bad fruit', that is, not like the fruit which looks all right until the would-be purchaser examines it and finds it bad inside. 'We do not turn sour'. The God who places us in every situation where we are to minister, carries us through. We do not go back on the job.

It is our conversion which commits us to this ministry, and it does so in such a way as to take from us every excuse. Many can look back on the actual date of their conversion, some even on the hour of the day when it happened, and yet they may object that they have never been called to the ministry. You must be! Even as you received mercy, you received the ministry. If you insist that you have no ministry, then the Scriptures suggest that you have no real experience of mercy. There is a simplicity about this ministry of talking to others about the Lord Jesus. It means that you find your next-door neighbours in trouble and you share with them the fact that there is a God who answers prayer. It involves finding someone who needs a word of comfort and saying to them: 'Look, I can show you such a word in my Bible. Take it, and read it for yourself.' This ministry is not concerned with public preaching, but with the simple matter of sharing the knowledge of the Lord Jesus with others in the ordinary ways of life -- in the gangway of the supermarket, in the office, over the garden wall, in the house of sickness or bereavement. Do not be afraid if the world rounds on you with hard questions, but just reply: 'I'm sorry. I don't know the answer to that.' After all we are sinners saved by grace and not walking encyclopaedias. Let us tell what we do know of Him whom we have believed and whom we are trusting to keep us.

FROM verse 3 onwards we see that conversion not only commits us to ministry, but also involves us in conflict. Observe the honesty of the apostle Paul who makes no secret of the fact that his gospel is veiled. He does not present a success story, but rather a failure story. Far from giving a glorious account of thousands being converted, he brings before us a tale of the hardness of the task, and the fact that the gospel is presented but not received. This warns the Lord's disciples that they have got to be involved in the conflict of the gospel. Their discipleship does not lead to a pushover, an easy victory, but to a head-on collision with the powers of darkness which have entrapped and blinded the minds of men. This ministry, then, involves a face-to-face conflict with Satan.

We are provided with an explanation of the veiled gospel, which is that the god of this world, working on men who are perishing and focussing his efforts on their minds, plans to keep them blind to God. The result of this is that the mind of man, left to itself, is incapable of grasping saving truth. We are told what is the outward expression of such a blinded mind, namely unbelief. Men will not trust in Jesus for salvation. The Scripture also reveals the motivation of the powers of darkness, which is to prevent men from seeing the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Why does Satan blind men? Because of the intensity of his hatred of the Son of God. Oh, the plight of people without Christ! They are "perishing". The word denotes that they are 'destroyed from their original purpose'. They cease, in the best sense of the word, to be human. The original purpose of man included a destiny to share eternity with God, so that destruction of that original purpose means that instead they will go down into an adverse destiny which was never intended for man, a destiny reserved for the devil and his angels. It is not the Church; it is not even the [34/35] Father; it is Jesus Himself who will say: "Depart from me, ye cursed ..." (Matthew 25:41). What a tragedy that men should perish from not believing, just for want of a simple, heart reliance on Jesus. And what makes it so sad is that all over our country, in church after church, some complicated reasoning is being set before men and women, instead of the wonderfully simple gospel truth of the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross. The great need is for the simple faith which comes to Him saying: 'Lord Jesus, can I have You as my Saviour, because I believe that You have died in my place?' Can anything be simpler? For want of this faith men perish, because Satan has blinded their minds.

We are involved in a conflict with the devil. The Word of God leaves no question as to the reality of Satan's power and purpose. It speaks of him as "the god of this world", not because he is a god, but because he exercises a god-like and determinative force over the hearts and minds of men. He persists in doing this in so far as his great but limited power extends, making every effort to prevent men from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. How are we to win this spiritual battle for men's souls? What instruments can we use in this terrible struggle? This passage not only warns us of the conflict, but it also shows us our armoury. "For we preach ... Christ Jesus the Lord: and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake". This is the answer. Preaching is the divinely appointed counter-action to the hold that Satan has upon the minds of men. It is only God who can open blind eyes; but He does so through the proclamation of the lordship of Christ.

THIS passage is full of the idea of the creation. God said: 'Let light shine in the darkness', and by proclamation of the gospel God can say: 'Let light shine into the darkened, blinded heart of men'. Satan cannot limit or nullify God's working, for all the immense power which brought the creation into being is pledged to bring the new creation into being. And this power operates through preaching. Not necessarily platform preaching. Not necessarily from a pulpit -- six feet above criticism! No, preaching means sharing our knowledge of Christ with others in whatever circumstances God has placed us. If we read Romans 10:17 backwards, it will suggest to us the sequence of how God works. There is the preaching of the Word of God; there is the hearing of it by others; and there is the resultant faith in their hearts. In other words, if we get on with our work of testifying about Jesus, God will get on with His miraculous task of opening blind eyes, unstopping deaf ears, creating in dead men's hearts the power to believe in Jesus. This brings us to our need for confidence in the complete sovereignty of God.

Our discipleship not only commits us to preaching the truth and to the conflict with Satan; it also commits us to whole-hearted reliance on God. "Seeing it is God who commanded ...". He is the Creator, and we can rely on Him and be sure that His action was and is a matter of free giving. Salvation comes by the will of God. Salvation accomplishes what only God can do. It is by His creative act that light can shine into a man's darkness. Indeed the whole idea of a Christian as a new creature involves a sovereign act of God as Creator. All man needs to do, all he can do, is to be a grateful recipient. James speaks of a Christian as "new born". Now it is clear that a new born baby is not consulted about his being: his life is a matter of decision by others. The Christian is also described as having been raised from the dead, and we know that what is dead neither contains life nor does it contain the capacity to produce life. If life is to come to the dead, it must come from outside. God must be the giver and man the recipient.

"In the face of Jesus Christ". This indicates that Jesus is to be made plain, we are not talking here of the character of Jesus, which is invisible, but of His face which is what can be seen. As we make plain to others what Jesus is like, as we focus their attention on Him, saying: 'Now do you see what He is like', God gets on with that sovereign work which is peculiarly and exclusively His, of bringing dead sinners to new life.

One final truth which emerges from this passage is that Satan is not angered when we talk about ourselves. What enrages him is when we preach Christ, especially when our words are the result of heart appreciation of our wonderful Lord. If we were to preach ourselves there would be no spiritual conflict; Satan would not bother us because he knows that there is no saving help for others in such talk. What makes him mad with hatred is when we accept our committal to go and testify, to share with others the light of God's love which streams into our hearts. This is what the fight is all about, and this is our ministry. [35/36]




T. Austin-Sparks

2 Kings 2:19-22

While Elisha was at Jericho the men of the city came to him concerning the state of the waters, and the effect of that state upon all the fruit of the land, which was that it never came to maturity but fell before its time.

Before we consider Elisha's confrontation by this deputation of worried men we do well to consider the city's past history. It is necessary for us, in order to get the full significance and value of this incident, to pass our eye over the history of Jericho in relation to the Lord's people up to that time. The first encounter with Jericho on the part of the people of God was when they were about to take possession of the promised land.

Jericho represents the strength of the flesh as energised by spiritual forces. Jericho was a problem which was altogether beyond the power of man to deal with. When the spies returned with their report they gave their opinion that the task was quite beyond their powers. They had seen cities great and walled up to heaven and giants, their judgment being that this was more than flesh and blood could contend with, an impossible proposition. And they were quite right in a sense, but their trouble was that they did not leave room for the Lord.

When we read Romans 7 we find that the flesh is indeed too much for man himself to cope with. It seems to be energised by Satan and every attempt to overcome it only leads to despair. "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" This is the groaning cry of a man who is utterly unable to master his flesh. The whole of this section in Romans 7 discloses how the flesh is energised by an active law of sin and death. It is not a passive condition, but made worse by the extra factor of the forces of evil. So it is that the flesh has an uncanny way of trapping us, just at the moment when we least expect to be caught. It is not even flesh working automatically, but rather that which is strangely calculated to work against any values for God.

Closely associated with Jericho was the sin of Achan which expressed itself in two forms, the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment. The wedge of gold appears to have been the form of currency used in that part of the world at that time. The gold had been claimed by Jehovah. When the city was taken, it was commanded that its gold should be devoted to the Lord. The gold was to be His property by right. Achan was therefore guilty of appropriating what belonged to the Lord, and seeking to turn it to his own account. This is what the flesh always does. It takes for itself the glory which rightly belongs to God. As to the Babylonish garment; that was a part of the whole system of things which needed to be utterly destroyed. It represented a foreign element which was a link with the Babylonish religion, a spiritual system and realm in antagonism to God, a worship energised by the god of this world usurping God's power and glory. The whole order needed to be utterly destroyed because of its denial that God is the only God. Achan sinned deeply in preserving it.

SO Jericho was typical of the whole land, both in its selfish hold on God's property and its false worship of another god. It is interesting to compare the seven nations greater than Israel (Acts 13:19) which had to be dispossessed, with the seven days in which the city had to be encompassed, and the seven circuits of the city on the seventh day. Since seven is the number of completeness, this suggests that Jericho gathered up in itself the significance of the whole land in its resistance to God's rights and worship.

Joshua cursed any attempt to rebuild Jericho, not out of any personal spite but in spiritual token of the fact that a divine veto, a curse, does rest on all the Satan-energised works of man. The reality of the curse reaches back to the garden of Eden at the beginning, and it holds good throughout all history. The features of the curse are an expression of the positive, evil activity of spiritual death. Far from being a mere cessation of existence, spiritual death works with tremendous activity, though it can never produce a result of lasting value. Here, for example, Elisha found a state of affairs where men laboured fruitlessly. They spent [36/37] themselves in the fields, cultivating, tending, working and watching for results, only to find that the promise of success and a harvest was never fully realised. Up to a point it was all right, but then there was total failure. This is just the nature of spiritual death. Paul called it 'vanity', and remarked that it is the inevitable outcome of what is done in the energy of the flesh. The works of the flesh can never reach the full measure of the purposes of God; they flatter only to deceive; they promise but can never fulfill. Even when such works are ostensibly done for God, the apparent success with which they may begin will only give way to disappointment and failure.

This mark of vanity seems to be typical of much that is nominally Christian. It seems to flourish for a time, but it has no lasting value for God. There may be considerable activity, organized and well-meaning efforts. Work may he done for God with the best of intentions; and yet the promised results turn out to be disappointingly temporary and evanescent. It is just as important for the Lord's people to realise that there is no possibility of lasting achievement on the level of the old creation, as it is for non-Christians to do so. This creation, says Paul, "was subjected to vanity", and there is no escape from this spiritual death element which is found in all the works of the flesh.

THE original victory over Jericho's power was by a work of faith. Round and round the Israelites went, day after day, with nothing seeming to be accomplished at all. On the seventh day they went round and round repeatedly, still with no sign of anything happening. Faith was being extended to the fullness of the seventh degree, and then it was expressed and given a voice in the presence of so much that seemed to make it nonsense. When faith reached that full culmination, however. God vindicated it with a mighty victory. This is what happened at Jericho in the beginning, and now Elisha had to fight the battle of faith all over again. We are to consider how he dealt with the challenging situation. We know that Elisha represented the power of resurrection, and it is therefore not surprising that he was destined to have much to do with death. This experience of Jericho was his first encounter with that great enemy.

We have already said that his roots were in Jordan, and in fact he had proved the reality of victory over death when he took the mantle of Elijah and smote the waters of Jordan, saying: "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" The waters parted and he passed over, proving the power associated with his ascended lord and proceeding on his way to be -- as it were -- an Old Testament example of the resurrection victory of the cross.

He had received the anointing of the Spirit and was, in fact, the only recorded case of an anointed prophet. Anointing always brings authority for it indicates that God's own authority is committed to the anointed one. This explains what happened as Elisha later climbed up the road from Jericho and was ridiculed by a gang of hooligans. It is unfortunate that the A.V. tells us that they were little children who mocked him, saying: "Go up, thou baldhead". This was evidently a considerable band, for over forty of them were mauled by the bears. This large company of young men was scoffing at the idea of Elijah's ascension and were, in effect, suggesting that Elisha should justify his incredible assertion by showing them how it was done. We must not imagine that Elisha's rejoinder of cursing was a selfish outburst, but realise that he used judicial authority to express the judgment of God on rebellious blasphemers. As a matter of fact his action was the direct result of the anointing.

In a typical way, therefore, Elisha represented the new creation, and so it was logical that the remedy for Jericho's trouble should be conveyed to its source in a new cruse. The cruse itself was not the answer, but it became the means by which the divine remedy was communicated to Jericho's faulty waters. As we have said, this new creation's standing with God is based on its being founded on the cross, deriving its life from resurrection power and its authority from the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This is God's new cruse -- the new creation in Christ Jesus -- and it is the only answer to that rejected creation which is under a divine ban and subjected to vanity.

WHAT did the new cruse contain? Salt. Now salt is the symbol of that which is incorruptible, and which therefore stands against the challenge and domination of death. So it speaks to us of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus offering a challenge to death and corruption. This was what Elisha brought to the source of the waters at Jericho. And it effected a lasting transformation.

We turn from this illuminating type, with its clear setting forth of the victory of resurrection life, to ask what is the spiritual interpretation and [37/38] application to ourselves. The answer is clearly seen in Romans 8:20-25, where we are given the spiritual background to the whole creation. The apostle points out to us that creation itself was subjected to vanity by a divine act. It seems that there was a time when God put a ban on the creation which resulted in fact that it can never realise its full end, except on one ground. Apart from this one remedy the creation is in the grip of that which makes impossible the realisation of the end for which it was originally intended. We are all involved in this situation. Our bodies are affected by it. We groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, that is the redemption of our bodies. Nevertheless the statement affirms that the creation was subjected to vanity in hope.. It is not entirely hopeless. But where is the hope? It is in the Lord Jesus -- the perfect fulfilment of the new cruse and the salt. So it was that He took the whole matter representatively in His own Person, entering as Man into its state, even to the point of bearing its curse. The very thorns with which He was crowned were symbols of the thorns and briars which sprang up immediately when God cursed the earth. So He died with that curse resting on His head, and to men it looked as though there could be no hope. Yet it is precisely through that death that hope has been brought in, for all the hope consists in the fact that God raised Him from the dead.

In the resurrection of the Lord Jesus we are delivered from the curse, that is from the working of vanity, and brought into the place where we can go right through to the divine end, the full realization of God's purpose. The fruit of life can endure and come to perfection now, because the power of death and the curse has been cancelled by the power of resurrection in Christ. The enemy is always trying to get children of God back on to a ground of condemnation, in order to obscure or reverse this testimony of Christ's resurrection, and to spoil the fruit of union between Him and believers. "There is ... no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1) is of great importance. It is essential that the believer should be absolutely certain and settled in his faith position over this matter if he is to make real spiritual progress. The power of the enemy to spoil spiritual fruitfulness is destroyed for those who are truly rooted in the cross of the Lord Jesus, living in the power of His resurrection and united with Him by the Holy Spirit of anointing. The passage in Romans 8 goes on to declare that "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death". This is the reality of that salt from the new cruse, the spiritual counterpart of a new element in life which replaces the frustration and vanity of the old creation by the lasting fruitfulness of the new creation in Christ Jesus.



Harry Foster

Men are like sheep. This is one of the reasons why, in accepting responsibility for His people, God describes Himself as their shepherd. (Ezekiel 34:12.) It is clear that He sees no incongruity nor lack of dignity in picturing Himself as a working man, even as belonging to a group of workers often regarded as low class or even unclean. Moreover He promised to provide His chosen king to be a shepherd to tend His flock (Ezekiel 34:23). Townsmen may enjoy the picturesque symbolism of a pastoral imagery; ecclesiastically-minded Christians may attribute status to the office of 'pastor', but the blunt fact is that the tending of sheep under Bible lands' conditions was a rough, dirty, taxing and thankless job which any of us would be glad to leave to somebody else (Genesis 31:40). The whole point of Ezekiel's prophetic chapter was to assure God's people that He does not leave it to others, but undertakes the work Himself.

What is more, when His Son became incarnate in order to give the world a comprehensible revelation of God's nature, He took up the name of shepherd and made it His particular self-description. Nobody gave Him the title. He adopted it Himself (John 10:11), and used it as a means of bringing comfort and assurance to His "little flock" (Luke 12:32). And in case any should imagine that He only favours the orthodox [38/39] or well-behaved, on more than one occasion He told the story of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4) to illustrate the shepherd's concern for the wandering and wayward. In addition He made it clear that non-Jewish sheep are equally precious and eligible members of the one flock of which He is shepherd (John 10:16).

In Old Testament days God had honoured the shepherd, Abel (Genesis 4:4); prospered the shepherd, Jacob (Genesis 32:10); trained Moses to lead Israel by giving him a forty years' apprenticeship as a shepherd (Exodus 3:1); and called His great king, David, from the family sheepfolds (Psalm 78:71). It was Jacob who initiated the prophecies of the coming shepherd (Genesis 49:24) and it was David who bequeathed to posterity the exquisite psalm which we treasure so dearly if we can truly say: "The Lord is my shepherd" (Psalm 23:1). The prophets took up the message about God's chosen shepherd (Isaiah 40:11), and finally He was born in the Bethlehem stable. It was no coincidence that the only rejoicing neighbours at that birth were themselves shepherds, the men best able to appreciate something of the sacrifices involved in the task of shepherding people -- and sinful people at that (Luke 2:8). For the shepherd is a man who does not spare himself, but works "not for gain, but out of sheer devotion" (l Peter 5:2 NEB). David risked his life for his father's lambs (l Samuel 17:34-35); Christ actually gave up His life for the sheep (John 10:15).

His sacrifice on the cross was not the end of His shepherding. He died in full expectation of taking up His life again in order to resume His role of gathering and leading the flock (Matthew 26:31-32). As Good Shepherd He had completed the task of recovery but He well knew (as any pastor ultimately discovers) that God's redeemed people are still sheep and, as such, need the constant care and protection of the shepherd. In this connection He is called the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). It is not surprising that this description is found in the same epistle which is devoted to the matter of priesthood. The two functions have much in common. Our need of a high priest and our need of a shepherd will never cease and will -- thank God -- always find their sufficiency in the Lord Jesus.

In the eternal bliss of the blood-cleansed redeemed there will still be the shepherd to lead us to the fountain of living waters (Revelation 7:17 R.V.). So even in eternity we shall still want to sing:

"The king of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never."



Harry Foster

It was wonderful to be seventeen! For a long time Roy had been waiting for this landmark in his life, for his father owned a car and had promised to teach him to drive as soon as he was old enough. Now the day had come, and Roy wasted no time in buying the provisional licence and the two 'L' plates.

His two younger brothers were very amused that Roy should have to own that he was a learner, for in most things he was so ready to put them right, as if he already knew everything. So they joked quite a bit about the large letter 'L' which he was forced to carry around, and they even asked him when he was going to add the letters 'G.B.', for 'getting better'. Roy, however, paid no attention to their mocking. It is true that his main concern was to be rid of the 'L' plates, but that could only be by attending to two matters. The first concerned a person, and the second a book.

The person whom he depended on was an experienced driver. Sometimes it was an instructor and sometimes his father, but always there had to be a person sitting by his side when he was actually driving. At times his companion just reached out a helping hand and at others he spoke words either of warning or encouragement, as well as instructions as to what to do and when to do it. Roy was most grateful to have such a companion by his side, especially when difficulties [39/40] arose, but his great objective was to be able to drive alone. That could not be, though, until the knowledge and experience of the companion was actually inside himself, till the day when it was, as it were, an inner voice which warned or guided rather than someone outside of himself. This would enable him to discard the 'L' plates, for he would have acquired personal knowledge.

The other matter to which he had to give his attention was a book, the Highway Code. Here again, he could only pass the test as a driver by proving that its information was not only in the book which he carried around with him, but inside his mind because he had read and digested its contents. It would be no use to repeat parts of the book by heart, he needed to know how to act in accordance with its rules.

Came the day of the test. Was the book really inside him? His answers to the Examiner proved that it was. Was his driving knowledge inside him instead of in another person sitting by his side? Again, he was able to prove that it was. So, to his great delight, Roy was told that he had passed the test and was now a driver. He could hardly wait to remove those 'L' plates, and his father shared his joy. Later, however, his father explained kindly to him that although he no longer had to carry the plates he must remember that he was and should always be a learner. After all, Roy had already taken his stand as a Christian, and what is a disciple if not a learner?

And when you come to think of it there are similarities in this matter of driving and in the whole business of Christian living. We, too, have a book -- the Bible, which is God's Highway Code. It must get inside us, so that we not only become familiar with the words but have our lives governed by its message. We also have a wonderful Companion and Guide. The great purpose of the Christian life is to learn how to proceed and be governed by His inner presence, so that we have a heart experience of His warnings and promptings. This was what Jesus meant when He explained about the Comforter, saying: "... you know him for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:17).



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