"... 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. 8, No. 4, July - Aug. 1979 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

A Matter Of Urgency (6) 61
"Blessed Is She That Believed" 63
Pilgrim Songs Of God's People (4) 67
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (18) 73
Miracles At The Cross 76
Inspired Parentheses (20) ibc



(Studies in John's Gospel. Chapters 13-17)

John H. Paterson


WE come now, in this series of studies, to consider the fourth and last element in the final discourse of the Lord Jesus, recorded for us in John 13-17. I suggested at the start that these four elements are: Example, Explanation, Exhortation and Intercession. In John 13 Jesus gave His disciples an example. In the latter part of that chapter and in chapters 14-16, explanation, encouragements and commands are intermingled. Chapter 17, however, is completely given over to His prayer.

There can be few chapters of the New Testament better known than John 17. So familiar is it, in fact, that there is a real danger that we shall stop thinking about it and take for granted that we understand it! I would like to suggest, however, that much of our usual thought about this chapter is open to challenge and that, in the context of this series of studies, its real meaning is not the one usually attributed to it.

But surely there can be no doubt about that meaning? Surely, everybody knows that it is about the unity of Christians? After all, it is compulsory reading on every ecumenical occasion. Surely it is about believers loving one another -- no division, no denominations; just love?

Certainly, that topic is mentioned. The trouble is that it does not adequately explain why the Lord Jesus chose this particular time and place to pray as He did. For the time and place were very 'particular' indeed. Jesus now had minutes rather than hours left with His disciples. They for their part had a host of questions still unanswered, so that it was not as if He had said everything that they felt needed saying; it was not like those awkward occasions at a railway station when we have said everything but goodbye and there are still several minutes before the train pulls out. If at this moment Jesus turned to prayer, it was because He needed to pray, and certainly not just to fill in time.

Furthermore, if Jesus chose this special moment to pray for the unity of His followers, then there are two other problems. Firstly, why did He devote His prayer to asking for something which He had already commanded His disciples to do? Secondly, how do we live with the fact that His prayer has been so poorly answered? These objections are sufficiently serious to be worth considering a little further.

Two Objections

1. Why Pray?

Firstly, then, it seems to me a general principle of prayer that it should only be used to ask for things which cannot be achieved in any other way. Prayer and action are not interchangeable at will. This is seen in the Lord's Prayer itself, when we pray: "Forgive us our trespasses" -- which only God can do -- "as we forgive those who trespass against us". The latter part is our action. We do not pray that we may forgive, but undertake to act in the matter. Even the phrase: "Give us our daily bread" fits into the same category, if we recall that, in the pre-welfare state days, doing a day's work did not necessarily involve receiving a day's pay for that work. This might easily be withheld at the whim of an unjust overlord or occupying power; hence the need for God's help in the matter. This suggests that it is never proper, for example, to pray that God will do for us what we are commanded to do. Knowing our own weakness, we may well pray for divine help to carry out the command, but we cannot substitute prayer for action.

In John 13 the Lord had commanded His disciples to love one another. It would have been wholly out of character with the remainder of His teaching and His methods if He had then spent His last few free moments praying that they would do what He had already told them to do. If that was the whole matter, then it is not enough to account for the prayer of John 17.

2. Why No Answer?

Secondly, we all know that believers are not united, and never have been since the earliest days. We properly deplore this, and welcome anything which will genuinely break down [61/62] barriers without undermining the truth of the Gospel. But this gives no adequate explanation of the prayer of John 17, for here was the Son of God making His final requests before the end of His life on earth. He made them on the clearly stated ground (v.4) that He had finished the task He had been given to do. In this sense, He was claiming that it was a privileged occasion. He was saying, in effect, what we sometimes say, 'Just one more favour before I go'. Yet if the unity of believers was all He was asking for, how poorly this prayer has been answered! How discouraging this would be to the rest of us in our praying! If His prayer was not answered, and especially a prayer prayed in such solemn circumstances, what hope is there for the rest of us in our prayers?

Two Questions

These objections may not be conclusive but, taken together, they are sufficient to encourage us to seek another meaning, and one which is firmly founded in the context of the prayer prayed by our Lord. Let us therefore ask ourselves two questions:

1. Why did the Lord so pray?

What was there remaining to be done before Jesus left His disciples to return to His glory -- something which could only be achieved by prayer? What was it that the Lord had to pray about, because not even He could bring it about by His own actions? He was very clear: He could, if necessary summon up twelve legions of angels to protect Him (Matthew 26:53). There was so much that He Himself could do, but this other request or series of requests had to be prayed for.

2. What did the Prayer Produce?

We ask what it was that this prayer of Jesus accomplished. What happened as a result of the prayer which could unequivocally be described as an answer to prayer?

Two Objectives

The answer which I want to offer to these questions is that there were two things to be done, which only prayer could do. One was for the Lord Jesus Himself; the other was for the disciples.

1. For Himself

What Jesus prayed for Himself was that He might be received back into the Father's presence (vv.1-8). How wonderfully scrupulous He was in the service of His Father! He had voluntarily laid aside His glory, "the glory which I had with thee before the world was", to come to earth to do the Father's will. Now that the time had come to leave the world, He did not presume that He could automatically return to that glory, simply reversing the events that had brought Him to earth. So much had happened, and was still to happen, before His return!

So Jesus stated, just as we might do, the grounds on which He was basing His request:

-- I have glorified thee on earth,

-- I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,

-- I have manifested thy name,

-- I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me.

And having made out His case, He asked to be allowed to return. It is a solemn thought that this was something which needed to be prayed for. However certain we may be, or He may have been, that the Father would not merely grant the request but would welcome Him back with joy and acclamation, it takes one's breath away for a moment to imagine the Servant-Son feeling He must ask. I think that it gives us a new insight into the meaning of Paul's words that He "took upon him the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7).

How could the Father refuse such a request? We know that He did not do so. The risen Christ returned to the glory and Stephen and others caught a glimpse of Him there. To us it might have seemed a foregone conclusion. But what about the next request? Was that a foregone conclusion, too?

2. For His Disciples

We notice that the Lord Jesus was quite specific: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world" (v.9). What would He ask for them which only prayer could accomplish? In these studies we have already seen how Jesus sought to prepare His disciples for what would happen on His departure. During His earthly ministry He had been the key Figure, the link with God. His disciples had been mere emissaries. His own presence had been vital. Now all that was to change and, with His going, all the responsibility would fall upon them. If anything was to be [62/63] done, they would have to do it. They would represent His body.

But would God accept this? Would He consider an assorted group of eleven fishermen and unemployed civil servants as a proper substitute for His Son? Would He work in and through them as He had been pleased to do through the Son who perfectly anticipated and fulfilled His every wish? Was this a foregone conclusion? We should have to be very presumptuous to assume that it was! The one thing necessary, therefore, was that the Father should accept this relationship, with all that it would entail of possible weakness and breakdown; that He would agree to transfer His interests on earth from the hands of a perfect Servant to those of a group of bewildered and unreliable replacements. Consequently it was for this that Jesus prayed: that the Father would be pleased to make the transfer.

It is this, surely, that gives point to the Lord's repeated words: "That they may be one, even as we are one" (vv.11, 21 & 22). It was not primarily for the unity of believers among themselves that the Lord Jesus was praying: that He had already commanded in John 13. His primary request was that God would now grant to men the same privileged relationship with Himself that Jesus had always enjoyed -- to these particular men and also to "them which shall believe on me through their word". He was asking that they might enjoy the same access to God, be instruments of the same power, draw upon the same resources as He had. Assuredly this was not a foregone conclusion.

And that the prayer was answered there can be no question. If, as I have suggested, the whole of the prayer of Jesus has the tone of someone introducing his friends to a third party, we have only to look ahead to the Book of the Acts to see the outcome of this introduction. For this prayer undoubtedly was answered, and answered much more positively than if it had been simply a plea for Christian unity. God did make the great response by creating a people 'in Christ'. He had no need to. We cannot suppose that, simply to get His will done, He could not do without people, especially people who spend a good deal of their time not doing His will. That He committed Himself to acting through men when He had no need to do so is the gigantic, awe-inspiring product of one prayer -- the prayer of Jesus on the threshold of death.

For my part I find this interpretation infinitely more satisfactory than the 'usual' one. In any case its proper effect is to make us marvel all the more at the greatness of Christ. To have accomplished all this, and for us -- how great He must be!



Bill Thompson

Reading: Luke 1:26-56

MARY should be an inspiration to us all. She gave a most impressive example of faith from which we can learn valuable lessons. Owing to our reactions away from excessive devotion to the virgin mother of Jesus, we have often failed to appreciate what an outstanding servant of God she was and how much we owe to her.

We are largely indebted to Luke for the account given to us. It is wonderful how wisely God chooses the men and women He needs for specific purposes. Peter and John were certainly not suitable for handling this delicate subject. Matthew is quite clear about it, but he could only tell the story from Joseph's viewpoint. Luke, however, was just the man -- he was a doctor and a Gentile. As a doctor, his understanding of these intimate matters was superior to the others, and his ability to gain the confidence of a woman like Mary was such that she clearly felt free to tell him the whole story, including means and timings. Luke opened his Gospel with the reminder that he had given much care to obtaining accurate information from the many actual eye-witnesses involved, and it is quite apparent that this story of the miraculous conception of Jesus and His birth could only have come from the lips of Mary herself. [63/64]

Then, as a Gentile, he had no special reason to wish to substantiate the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Until he knew the risen Christ he probably had no idea that such a prophecy existed. He left that matter to Matthew whose task it was to recount the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. Luke had no preconceived ideas to justify; he had only the simple purpose of accurate reporting. It is to our great advantage that he had this God-given ability to encourage Mary to tell the hidden side of her story.

Doubters have found pleasure in pointing out that the rest of the New Testament writers do not cite the virgin birth as their proof of the deity of Christ. This is true. They did not need to do so. What they did accentuate was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 'This', they said, 'is the proof that He is the Son of God. He rose from the dead'. But is not the divine origin of Jesus implicit in the resurrection? If, at the conception of Jesus, God Himself became manifest in the flesh then, since God is immortal and cannot die, it follows logically that resurrection would be sure to be the experience of Mary's child. It is not the manner of the birth of Jesus but the origin of His Person which was a unique miracle. In a sense we fail to state the true issue when we talk of the 'virgin birth' since we have no reason to believe that the actual birth of Jesus was different from that of any other baby. The miracle was in the conception, the fact that this human mother received an entirely unique impartation of divine seed and became God's chosen vessel for making it possible to bring "Emmanuel" -- God with us -- into the world. Let us not dismiss the matter as relatively unimportant. It is a rock foundation doctrine. Without this there could be no possibility of a human race with eternal life.

We are now concerned, though, not with the doctrinal significance but with the personal experience of Mary, as related in these verses. She has much to teach us of simple, direct faith in God's Word. Now it must be admitted that in her case the message came through an angel. That no longer happens. As we read in Hebrews 1, until Christ came God used a variety of different methods to communicate with men, and one of those methods was by the use of angels, as the Old Testament clearly shows. Now, however, God has spoken all-inclusively to us in His Son, and for us that means that the message comes to us through the Scriptures. In this case God was breaking in from heaven; He was involved in something which was entirely from above. He therefore chose the special angel, Gabriel, to bring His message down to earth to those who were involved in His purpose. This meant Zacharias first and then Mary later on.

IT is most impressive to notice the contrast between the experience of these two people. It is very stark, and the more so as Zacharias had every possible advantage and nothing to lose, whereas Mary was a simple country girl who was confronted with a most costly prospect. Yet she showed a wonderful readiness of faith, which was in complete contrast to Zacharias' sad unbelief. Consider his position. He was not an unbeliever nor a man ignorant of the ways of God. He was a priest. He would claim to believe in angels and miracles. At that moment of encounter he was standing beside the golden altar, engaged in a holy service which surely required faith. As I have said, he had everything to gain and nothing to lose if God gave him the son for whom he had so long prayed. Yet he met the angelic messenger with blank unbelief. Such a man cannot pray, he cannot sing praises to God and he has no testimony to speak to others. So his mouth was closed. He became completely dumb. That is what unbelief always does to a person. It did not hinder God from working. God's purpose was fulfilled, as it always will be. But unbelief on our part will surely hinder our effectiveness and rob us of our joy, as it certainly did in the case of Zacharias.

Mary, however, had a song, as we shall later see. That was the result of her whole-hearted acceptance of God's message. Like Zacharias, she was visited by an angel. Like him, her first reaction was to be troubled. Like him, she had her questions, but here the similarity ends, for his was the question of unbelief, as though God could not do what He said, while hers was simply the puzzlement of how God was going to manage to do it. We are told that she pondered the matter in her heart. It was unique. It was something which she could not possibly understand; but she did not meet it with a closed mind, rather allowing the Word of God to do its own work in her. And that is how faith always comes -- from the Word of God. Her question: 'How can this be?' was more a matter of natural reticence than of doubting God. After all, she had every cause for shrinking from this experience, and doubtless the questions which [64/65] flooded into her mind were: 'What will Joseph say?', 'What will people think'. In many ways it was an agonising prospect.

Unlike Zacharias, she did not question God's ability; she was only puzzled by His methods, as we ourselves may well be. There will always be mysteries in such realms. After all, it was Jesus Himself who told Nicodemus that for human experience the new birth is inexplicable to human reasoning: "thou knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth" (John 3:8). How much more is the person of the God-Man a mystery to our minds! "No one knoweth the Son save the Father" (Matthew 11:27).

The angel dealt very gently with her and covered the matter in three stages. Firstly he spoke of Emmanuel: "God is with thee" (v.28). This brought perplexity and trouble to her but her fears were set at rest with divine reassurance: "Fear not, Mary". Gabriel then went on to give her a full description of the son who would be conceived in her. Thirdly he spoke again in answer to her question as to the 'how' and explained that the Holy Spirit would assume responsibility for using her to introduce into the world the One who was truly the Son of God, adding the information that Elizabeth was already experiencing the almighty power of God's promises. To this, Mary's answer was sublimely simple: "Be it unto me according to thy word" (v.38). Inexplicable it was; costly it might well be; but God had said it, and that was enough for her.

There were seven features of this revelation of God's purposes through the birth of her child and these are found in Gabriel's main message to Mary:

1. His Humanity. "thou shalt bring forth a son". When in the glory of heaven John saw the majestic Son of God, he described Him as being "like the Son of Man" (Revelation 1:13). It was more than a seeming likeness, for Christ is the Son of Man, as He Himself often said. He was truly human. With Mary a new race was being brought into being.

2. His Saviourhood. "thou shalt call his name JESUS". The name Jesus was chosen for its special meaning and was chosen not by Mary or Joseph, but by God the Father.

3. His Excellence. "He shall be great". It is the Epistle to the Hebrews which so stresses the essential humanity of Jesus, but it is this same epistle which expounds the whole subject of how much greater He is than all other beings.

4. His Diety. "He shall be called the Son of the Highest". According to Isaiah's prophecy, a child was born but it was a son who was given (Isaiah 9:6). The new baby would be the eternal God, the Son Who by His own volition would come into the world to do God's will for man. We are privileged in Hebrews 10:5-7 to overhear the divine confidences in the Godhead as the Son spoke of His intention of coming into the world, using words quoted from the psalms concerning the body prepared for Him.

5. His Throne. "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father, David". God works on the basis of kingship as He foreshadowed in the person of David, the man after His own heart. David knew that there was no finality in his kingship, but he was told that in Christ there was to be its full fulfilment. This Baby of the humble Mary was to be Sovereign Lord of the universe.

6. His House. "He shall reign over the house of Jacob". The house, or household, of God's people was glimpsed by Jacob at Bethel. In the incarnation, the God of Bethel and of Jacob was to provide a Head over that house.

7. His Eternal Kingdom. "of his kingdom there shall be no end". This takes us far beyond time and earthly frontiers into the eternal kingdom, showing the infinite and universal significance of this Child of Mary's.

It is amazing that the Lord was able to reveal so much to this simple girl from Nazareth. In some ways it is paralleled in John's Gospel where chapter 3 finds Nicodemus -- like Zacharias -- bewildered and unbelieving, while in chapter 4 the Lord Jesus was able to reveal to the Samaritan woman such deep spiritual truth. The two women were entirely different, yet each became a true worshipper and did so by reason of simple faith. There seemed no limits to this sevenfold revelation of the Lord Jesus which the angel was able to impart to Mary. And she believed it all, as her song of praise shows.

She put her faith into action by going straight off to her cousin, Elizabeth, rejoicing in the news of her coming child, even though she could not then have had any physical evidence of her pregnancy. She wept in faith and because of this she went with a song. Elizabeth's poor husband, [65/66] however, was shut up, speechless and ineffective, because he had refused to believe God's message even though it had been brought to him by the golden altar and by the archangel.

On the whole the women showed up much better than the men on this occasion. Elizabeth is presented to us as a fine, godly woman. There is no trace of jealousy in her conversation with Mary. She did not compare her lot with that of Mary and it never occurred to her to ask why it should not be her son who would prove to be Emmanuel. On the contrary, she showed admirable humility. She was a mature woman, the wife of a privileged priest, and Mary just a country girl, probably still in her teens, yet the immediate reaction of the older woman was to exclaim: "Why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (v.43). It is a mark of real maturity for a member of the older generation to be able to recognise and appreciate God's working in those who are much younger and junior to them. What she rejoiced in most was not her privilege but Mary's faith. By the Spirit's working, her own child gave a leap within her in joyful witness that here was a girl of outstanding faith, and whenever the Spirit works within, some verbal expression is bound to emerge, so she cried: "Blessed is she that believed ..." perhaps with a little pang because her own husband, with so much more to go upon and so much less to believe, had failed to respond with faith.

Here, however, was Mary, faced with the most impossible of an impossibilities, still with nothing but the Word of God to go upon, released to sing a beautiful song of worship because she rested her faith on God's Word and humbly accepted His will. She is an example to all of us of the importance of faith. Zacharias, the man with status and privilege, was inactive and silent through unbelief, while a girl who readily acknowledged herself to be of 'low estate' was delighting heaven with her praises.

SEVERAL questions arise with regard to Mary's Magnificat. Was it carefully contrived, like most other human compositions, or was it a spontaneous outburst? Did Elizabeth's appreciative reception provoke an unrehearsed psalm which came through her lips with no deliberate preparation of mind? The answer would seem to be that while Mary did not labour in the way that most poets do, she really gave voice to what was already part of her inmost being. The song did not come out from the blue, unrelated to her own experience, but was the fruit of her own personal life in the Word. What she sang were not ideas which had never occurred to her before in her mind, but were part of the very warp and woof of her personal walk with God. When the "chambers of imagery" of the apostate Israelitish elders were exposed, they revealed unsuspected depths of vileness (Ezekiel 8); but when Mary's hidden life was opened up, it revealed only the pure and beautiful features which she describes in her song. What is put into our hearts and minds will certainly come out in one form or another at a time of crisis. Mary's mind was stored with the Word of God and so in an effortless way she was able to compose the much-loved Magnificat.

In these few verses of her song there are seventeen references taken from fourteen psalms. There are six quotations from Isaiah and five from the Minor Prophets. Miriam's song after the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 15), and Hannah's praise at the dedication of her own son Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10) are also referred to. Her Bible had become part of Mary's life, and that is probably the explanation of her simple and strong faith. If your faith is weak and wavering, don't complain about it or seek pity for yourself, but get to work feeding on God's Word, for that is how faith grows.

It is good that her song has been perpetuated with this title, for its whole emphasis is to magnify the Lord. Mary did not want to magnify herself, but her God; she did not want to rejoice in her salvation so much as in her Saviour. She did not even draw attention to her faith but only to her lowliness. She thought not of herself, but of the generations to come who would find blessing in her blessedness. She sang of God's power, of His holiness and above all of His mercy. The rest of Luke's Gospel gives full recognition to this revelation of divine mercy which came to men when Jesus came. Widows, prostitutes and prodigals, stricken travellers and social outcasts, and even a crucified criminal -- they all found evidence of the fact that in Jesus Christ God had remembered mercy.

A final reference is significant. When Gabriel spoke to Mary, he associated her child with David, but when she told her story it was to go still farther back to Abraham: "as he spoke to our fathers, Abraham ..." (v.55). Was this [66/67] humility? Did it seem rather presumptuous of a peasant girl from Galilee to claim kinship with the great king David? Or was it one more evidence of the faith basis of her relationship with God? Abraham had been the first one to believe that this child would be born. Abraham believed and so found blessing. As Abraham's daughter, she followed his faith and entered into his blessing. Elizabeth's words were still ringing in her ears: "Blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord".



(Studies in the Songs of Ascent)

J. Alec Motyer

4. PSALMS 129, 130 & 131

WE now have another 'Pilgrimage of the heart' situation. Psalm 129 shows us a familiar situation. We have become accustomed to the fact that this is the starting point of each of the groups of three, and here it is again. The Church is in the midst of a hostile world. "Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth up, let Israel now say, many a time have they afflicted me from my youth up." Here is affliction in the most disastrous terms: "The plowers plowed upon my back and made long furrows" (v.3). The Church is indeed in the midst of a hostile world. This compares with the opening of Psalm 124, but before we prolong that comparison, let us first of all compare this psalm with 126, the first psalm in the previous group.

The two psalms have one rather striking thing in common, that is, they stand at the beginning of their group of three and yet they make reference to Zion, the city of God. Up to that point the groups had ended with such a reference, but Psalm 126 begins: "When the Lord turned the captivity of Zion". Now, for the second time, the group begins with a reference to the city of God: "Let them be ashamed ... that hate Zion" (129:5). The speaker is already a member of Zion. He does not depict himself as being on his way there, but he begins in the city of God. Nevertheless, as a pilgrim, there is trouble besetting his pilgrimage. It cannot be a matter of mere journeying, because he is there already, so it would seem to be a matter of personal life which is troubling him in his membership of Zion. And this we will discover to be the case.

We may be helped in this if we pursue that other comparison, the comparison between Psalms 129 and 124. In many ways they are so alike. They even have the same beginning: "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, let Israel now say, if it had not been the Lord who was on our side when men rose up against us" compares closely with: "Many a time they afflicted me from my youth up, yet they have not prevailed against me". The two are so similar. They speak of the Church in the hostile world, and they stress that the Lord was the solution to their problem. It was He who dispelled the threat. In Psalm 124 it was having the Lord on their side which made all the difference, whereas in Psalm 129 they were delivered because the Lord is righteous (v.4). He it was who cut asunder the cords of the wicked.

In both cases the Church in a hostile world found the Lord to be sufficient, but it is worthwhile looking at the point at which the two psalms differ. In Psalm 124, the Lord delivered His people because of what He was in His relationship to them -- The Lord was on their side. He had established a relationship with them and He acted it out accordingly. When, however, we come to the similar Psalm 129, we are given a different explanation as to why the deliverance came -- "The Lord is righteous". His action in this case was related not to what He was to His people but what He is in Himself. He is a righteous God, and because of His divine righteousness He stepped in from time to time, as need arose, and delivered His people.

This is the first and only time in the Songs of Ascent that this attribute of righteousness is ascribed to the Lord. We must dwell on this for a moment, because it is of some importance in our study. In Psalm 124 they had various and recurring perils, perils that could be depicted as earthquakes, floods, ravenous beasts or hostile people; out of all of which the Lord delivered [67/68] them because He identified Himself with them. It arose out of their relationship. Here in Psalm 129 they face recurring perils, but in this case they are delivered simply by the fact that the Lord is righteous. This is true about Him. He is a righteous God. This means, of course, that He always does that which is right in His own eyes. The word 'righteous' is one of those words which has a steady meaning throughout the Bible, with no variation whatsoever. 'Righteousness' means that which is right before God. That He is righteous means that He always acts out His own nature. In every circumstance He does that which is absolutely right with Him.

In this matter of the afflictions of His people, He showed the punitive side of His righteousness. Such people are offensive to Him, so He visits them in His wrath because such wrath expresses His own nature as righteous. This solves enormous problems for God's people who find comfort and security in His faithfulness. But if they wrap around themselves the righteousness of God, what happens when they themselves offend Him? If the righteousness of God is such that it is His automatic right reaction to take punitive measures against those who offend, then what a perilous position this makes for those who run into God for safety and then find that they are offensive to Him! So we move from this psalm to Psalm 130.

This is the psalm which raises the question of a pilgrim in his sin. He cannot rejoice in the straight way in which the Lord acts against His foes, without recalling that from time to time -- and more often than not -- he himself becomes God's foe. What then? The very inflexible righteousness which urges God on to keep Zion safe, could be Zion's greatest danger. Look at Nehemiah's prayer: "Thou art righteous in all that has come upon us, for Thou hast dealt truly" (Nehemiah 9:33). There can be no attribution of unrighteousness or deviant behaviour to God when He takes punitive action against His people: "... Thou hast dealt truly!" A writer on the statement, "The Lord is righteous" in Psalm 129:4 comments that the same attribute (righteousness) which compels God to punish, binds Him to deliver, for it involves faithfulness to His covenant; but would it not be equally correct to say that the same attribute which binds Him to deliver, compels Him to punish? So in Psalm 130 we find this pilgrim happily in Zion, the place of security, because his God is righteous, with the awful thought dawning upon him that he, too, by his sin has made Him an enemy. Previously he had to know how to behave when danger threatened, but now he has to ask what becomes of his pilgrimage when sin alienates him from God.

According to these two psalms this is not only a danger, but a much graver danger than any which the world can impose upon him. For, after all, what can an enemy do? "The plowers plowed upon my back" (129:3) -- that is the utmost which the enemy can do, leave us prostrate upon the ground. In the matter of sin, however, God's people can be sunk into the depths: "Out of the depths ..." (130:1). This is exactly the truth which the Lord Jesus spoke of: "Be not afraid of those which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). The enemy may leave us prostrate, but sin will cast us down into the depths. We must be careful, of course, to remember that the doctrine of Hell is not found in the Old Testament. Hell is a New Testament doctrine, chiefly a dominical doctrine, for the main Teacher about Hell in the Bible is the Lord Jesus. The Old Testament, however, makes no mistakes, reminding us that sin will drag people down into the depths and holds up before them the dread possibility of going unprepared to meet a holy God.

Thank God that the pilgrim has an answer for this dilemma. We move on into the calm and beautiful waters of Psalm 131. Once more, the third psalm in the group is the psalm of homecoming, the psalm where things seem to be solved. "... I have stilled and quieted my soul". From the turbulence of the Church assaulted by the world and left prostrate, and the turbulence of the soul that is challenged by the alienation from God brought about by sin, we pass to amazing peace for the humble heart. We hope to find in this succession of three psalms the sweetness of homecoming, with sin dealt with and stillness reigning in the soul.

In Psalm 129 the people are prostrate; in Psalm 130 the people are sunk in the depths; in Psalm 131 they are delivered and they are also saved from excessive and undue exaltation: "My heart is not haughty nor my eyes lofty". God wants His people in exactly the right position with Himself. He does not want them prostrate before their enemies, nor does He want them [68/69] sunk in sin, nor does He want them exalted in pride. He wants them exactly right, where He has them waiting upon Him in humble confidence.

This matter of waiting on God runs through the three psalms. Psalm 129 speaks of God's intervention after the people's period of adversity. Maybe as they looked back, they realised that there was no other way. They could see clearly in their history that their prophets had told them over and over again that it was not their part to try to interfere with or upset the divine ordinance for their good, and that if they were under the heel of the conqueror, then they only made things worse by trying to change it. The right thing to do was to accept the God-given circumstances and await God-given deliverance. That would certainly be the implication of Psalm 129 and indeed a clear teaching of Scripture. This thought is carried over into Psalm 130. In this matter of dealing with the sickness of the soul, there is nothing that can be done but wait for God to act. "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits; for his word I hope". Then we have the end of Psalm 131: "O Israel, hope in the Lord". This, then, is the right attitude in which to face every need, that of quiet, restful, expectant waiting. The Old Testament words for 'hope' are basically words for waiting. To wait, to wait with expectancy, to wait with restfulness -- this is the attitude of the whole people of God for all time. With this in mind we now consider each of the three psalms separately.

PSALM 129 -- The Righteous Redeemer

In this psalm we see how God in His righteousness puts paid to the enemies of His people, so I have called it, 'The Righteous Redeemer'. A slightly more descriptive title would be: 'There is no Deviation in the Divine Faithfulness'. Israel's history is one of affliction: "Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth up" (v.1). Notice that it goes on to read: "let Israel now say", and not 'let Israel now question why!' This is a statement, not a query. We must adjust our minds to the fact that Scripturally adversity is a fact of life in the experience of the people of God. Most of the things, my brothers and sisters, which we call problems are simply facts. Far from worrying about them, we should learn to live with them -- at least most of them. There is no query here. It does not say: 'Why has it happened like this?' It just repeats Israel's confession that this is how it has happened. It is in the hands of God.

Nevertheless there is great comfort: no enemy has triumphed. "Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth up, yet they have not prevailed" (v.2). The Hebrew is: "They have not been able for the task". They have not been able! No adversary has yet succeeded. Even the severest affliction (v.3) has been made subject to the Lord's power to save.

"The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows." Ploughing upon the back is, of course, a picture of extreme suffering, but it is more than that; it is a suggestion that the enemies are attempting to get some profit out of God's people, planning to reap a harvest for themselves as a result of their sufferings. But the Lord is righteous. Even the severest affliction is made subject to His power to deliver. He will stand by His covenant pledges; He will not go back on His promises. "The Lord is righteous: He has cut the cords of the wicked asunder". The cords may well refer to the cords which link the plough to the ox. Here are God's enemies driving their plough, and suddenly the Lord dislocates their mechanism and they are deprived of all their driving force. After all, they fail to make merchandise of the people of God. The deliverance, when it came, was not the outcome of human wisdom or action; it was the expression of God's nature as the Righteous One.

In verses 5 to 8 the psalmist looks forward into the future. Once more we may have significantly different translations because it is possible to translate the verbs of these verses in two different ways: they can be statements or they can be prayers. Probably the useful thing to do under such circumstances is to take them both ways and so add to the richness of God's Word. Firstly let us regard them as statements: "They shall be ashamed and turned backward, all who hate Zion. They shall be as grass upon the housetops ... Neither shall they that go by say ...". This affirms that what has happened in the past will happen again in the future. The same righteousness of God which has not suffered the enemy to triumph over His people will guarantee their future, making the enemy ashamed and like grass on the housetops. [69/70]

Here is a great affirmation of future confidence. The picture is one of no continuance: "Let them be as grass upon the housetops which withereth before it grows". If you have a bit of grass in your slates or in your gutter, you do not have to take a hoe to it, but just lift it and it comes clean away because it has no root. It has no continuance. It has no achievement -- "Wherewith the reaper filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth the sheaves his bosom" (v.7). It has no admission to the blessed company of the people of God -- "those who pass by do not say, The blessing of the Lord be upon you!" (v.8). When Boaz met the reapers at work in his fields, he said: "The Lord be with you" and they replied: "The Lord bless you too" (Ruth 2:4). For these enemies there would be no joyful harvest recognition, no admission to the community of blessedness, no blessing for them and no reply of blessing from them. This is a very devastating statement of the way in which divine judgment will work out for the enemies of God's people.

Suppose, however, that instead of being statements, these sentences are prayers. "O let them be ashamed ... O let them be as grass ...". This is something which often happens in those psalms which are called imprecatory because the psalmist wishes the downfall of his enemies and prays for it. Very often these imprecations are so violent in their statement that we, as Christians, become offended that such things should be found in the Word of God. It is well that we should face this issue.

Is it possible that God's instructed people should look at their enemies and wish their downfall? That they should ask God to give them no continuance, no achievement and no admission to the sphere of blessing? Is that a possible prayer for a believer, either Old or New Testament? Well, the first thing to notice is that it is limited to a prayer. At no point, either in this psalm or in any other is there any indication that either inwardly or outwardly, personally or by any other human agency, the speaker intended any retaliatory action. All the psalmist did was to pray about it. Suppose, for a moment, that it was a mistaken prayer, even a sinful prayer! Would it not still be better than taking things into one's own hands and retaliating against their enemies as supposed Christians often do in this twentieth century? Even if the prayers are reprehensible, they are only requests to God. There is no suggestion at any point that they intended to do other than leave matters to His just wrath.

The second thing to take note of is that these prayers are phrased in the realism of God's truth. God has said what He will do in the case of the wicked. Just as He has told us in what terms He will bless His people, so He has told us in what terms He will punish the ungodly. Do you ever pray that our loving God will take vengeance in flaming fire against the ungodly, and punish them with eternal destruction from His presence? You may be surprised to know that you do, for this is the other side of the prayer: "Even so, come Lord Jesus"! God has left us in no doubt that when Christ comes for His own, He will come with condign disaster upon the world.

Such prayer is phrased with Bible realism. Could I pray them? No, I could not, but only because I am not holy enough. It seems to me that if we are to understand these imprecations, so called, in the psalms, then we must realise that we are considering people who were emotionally identified with God, and who therefore could so pray without sin as they associated themselves with His wrath. You may ask: 'Would Jesus pray these prayers'? I can only reply that the book of the Revelation speaks clearly of "the wrath of the Lamb". It is part of the divine nature, not only to reach out with love and longing to save, but to see to the application and enforcement of wrath. The fact that we could not pray these prayers without sin does not mean that they are not valid prayers for those who are holy enough to feel a holy anger. This is worth pondering.

PSALM 130 -- The Sovereign Redeemer

When we pass into Psalm 130 we move out of the realm of the Righteous Redeemer into that of the Sovereign Redeemer. A possible subtitle might be: 'There is no Contradiction in the Divine Attributes'. The psalm begins with someone praying out of a deep sense of alienation from God. "Out of the depths I cried', he says, and yet he knows that somehow or other he may count upon grace, and so he invites God to "be attentive to the voice of my supplications". The word there translated 'supplications' is the Old Testament word which is used throughout for the grace of God reaching out to undeserving sinners. The same person is shown as believing; [70/71] he knows what he believes about sin, and he knows what he can believe about God. About sin: "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord who shall stand?" (v.3). The word 'stand' can be understood as 'stand before the assault of an enemy', signifying that if God challenges and accuses in the realm of sin, then nobody can stand against that onslaught. Or the word can mean 'to stand accepted and welcome in God's presence', as in the enquiry: "Who shall stand in his holy place?". If there is sin, there is no possibility of acceptance and welcome in the holy presence of God.

But alongside of what he believes about sin, there is also what he believes about God -- "There is forgiveness with thee" (v.4). The Hebrew is in a different order and is both emphatic and definite. It reads: "But with thee there is the forgiveness", referring directly to the Lord and speaking not of some vague or partial forgiveness, some human pardon, but of the genuine article, true, God-given forgiveness -- "the forgiveness". In the light of this belief we find him waiting: "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits. And in his word do I hope" (v.5). We may leave out the italics in verse 6 and so read: "My soul for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, watchmen for the morning". This suggests a great longing but it also indicates quiet confidence. Watchmen long for the morning to break but they do so with complete confidence that it is sure, it must come. So it is that the psalmist waits, and then goes on to share his experience with the whole Church of God. This is something which is true; he has found it so and therefore commends it to others: "O Israel", he says, "Hope in the Lord" and then repeats that emphasis on God's character: "With the Lord there is mercy; with him is plenteous redemption", with an emphasis also on the word 'plenteous'. He -- again emphasised, He alone -- "shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities" (vv.7-8). The Lord alone, without any help from us or any others, He and none other, is the redeemer God. The psalmist has found this and shares the message with the whole company of the Church.

It is good to look back again on the whole psalm. Look at the sinner! There is nothing that he can do. His alienation is too great; he has no rights; he is totally helpless and hopeless. His cry about what would happen if the Lord marked iniquities means literally: "If thou shouldest keep a list or diary of my iniquities, I could never stand"! Utterly hopeless and helpless, he can only wait, but his waiting is marked by great longing and with more than a hint of the certainty of help at the end. The morning will come, but though it comes it will do so at its own inexorable, unhurried rate; its coming is out of man's hands and the sinner can do nothing to decide when relief will arrive. We know that weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning, yet we have to wait. The morning cannot be hurried. All we can do is wait.

Having looked at the sinner, we now look at the Lord. Up to verse 7, where the psalmist commends the way of salvation to the whole people of God, we notice that he had been engaged in three activities: he was praying (vv.1 & 2), he was believing (vv.3 & 4) and he was waiting (vv.5 & 6). In each of these three sections of the psalm, he says the same things about the God to whom he is addressing himself. In verse 1 he calls God "LORD" which is the curious way in which the English Bible makes reference to the divine name Yahweh, or more commonly Jehovah. This is God's personal name, the name revealed in its full magnitude at the Exodus when He saved His people and judged His enemies. Yahweh is a double-edged name, it speaks of Him who is the God of mercy and of wrath. In verse 2 we have 'Lord' in small letters after the capital L. This word means sovereign, master or king. The God of grace and wrath is also the God of sovereignty. Verse 3 contains both of these names, LORD and Lord, while verse 5 reads: "I wait for the LORD" and verse 6, "My soul waits for the Lord".

It is as if the psalmist finds himself in a dilemma concerning the divine attributes. As he looks up to God, he see One who is grace, who is wrath and who also is sovereign, that is to say able to do whatever He wills. If God chooses to exert wrath, wrath it is, and there is nothing that can be done. If He chooses to exert mercy and salvation, then saving mercy it is, and nothing can be done. A God who can [save] if He will, but if He does not will, then there is nothing that anyone can do. As he looks to this God, his cry is for grace to a God who is known to be gracious, for his supplication is a cry for grace. It is in forgiving that God reveals Himself as God. Notice the amazing statement: "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared". This means that in the work of forgiving sinners, He reveals Himself in all His awesomeness as [71/72] God, and obtains the reverence which is due to Him. Israel is to hope in the Lord for "with him there is mercy" (v.7). The word 'mercy' there signifies God's steadfast love within His covenant; the love which does not deviate and cannot change, being eternally the same. There is not just the fact of grace, and the ability of God to deal with sin, but there is also with God a changeless, loving willingness to do so. The second part of the verse reads: "with him there is plenteous redemption", which indicates the means He employs, for the word used speaks of a redemption-price equivalent to the demands of the situation -- the price which meets the need. God can deal with the situation -- with Him there is forgiveness. He will deal with it -- with the LORD there is loving fidelity. He has the means whereby He can settle the question -- with Him is ample redemption payment. He will do the work alone, and share it with no one else -- "He shall redeem Israel" (v.8). And when God takes the work in hand, we may be sure that it will be a total work -- "He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities". If He should mark iniquities, however many or however few, such an action would be sufficient to bring condemnation, but when He sets out to redeem from iniquities, however many or however few, then they are all covered by His redemptive action. In this we observe the harmony of the divine attributes.

PSALM 131 -- The Revered Lord

The whole of this beautiful little psalm breathes a spirit of deep reverence towards the beloved Lord. A good sub-title might be: 'There is no Place for Pride in the Divine Presence'. The psalm faces us with a deliberately cultivated lowliness. "My heart is not haughty, my eyes lowly; I do not exercise myself in great matters, or things that are too much for me". Pride is here spoken of in three possible ways: as a possible condition -- the haughty heart; as a matter of bearing and arrogance of demeanour -- the lofty eyes, the proud look; and as a mode of action -- exercise only in the great things. The word 'great' probably means those things which are great in the estimation of men, as though one would decide only to do the important jobs and not the little ones. For those things which are truly great and amazing in God's estimation, the word used would be, 'wonderful'. Here, however, we find the psalmist eschewing either in his heart as a condition or in his eyes and look as a demeanour or in his behaviour, the presence or expression of any kind of pride.

In verse 2 he speaks of a deliberately cultivated quietness: "I have stilled and quieted ...". 'Stilled' means stilled from restlessness, entering into the place of rest, while 'quieted' means stilled from noise, coming out of the place of clamour. There was a point when, like some disturbed infant, he thrashed about restlessly and shouted out his needs; that baby phase of spiritual life has been terminated. There is a time when our little ones are turbulent and noisy, because that is the only way in which they can make known their needs -- even at three o'clock in the morning! They have an ache or a pain or a need, and all they can do is to clamour for Mother.

Happily there will come a time when the child has grown out of this stage and be more able to communicate. It will need Mother as much as ever, but in a different way. The first enquiry on coming home from school will be: 'Is Mother in?' not that the child wants her for anything special, only to know that she is there. It is weaned, but it still loves being with Mother and can enjoy the quietness of companionship. This is what the psalm is about. "I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child ... my soul is beside me like a weaned child", as though he were saying: 'I have taken myself in hand; I am still a child and very dependent, but I am no longer turbulent and clamourous but able to enjoy humble communion'. Such deliberately cultivated humility is part of our self-care as believers. Others cannot help us in this matter, and it will certainly never happen automatically. It is for us to reject all pride and high thinking and quieten our spirits as we practise humble and expectant waiting upon God.

Both Psalm 130 and Psalm 131 conclude with this exhortation to Israel to hope in the Lord. It is as though the psalmist was speaking to his church of his own experience and then, after telling how blessedly things had turned out for him, turned to the others and said: 'O, I do hope that you will hope in the Lord as well! I do want to encourage you to hope in the Lord'. In reply then to any enquiry as to just how one does this, he goes on in Psalm 131 to explain how it is done. It is a matter of bringing yourself into the place of lowliness alongside Him. Whether it is relation to circumstances of life or to vexations of spirit, to stop thrashing around in turbulent [72/73] clamour and quietly wait upon God -- and to start right now: "from this time forth and for evermore".

Every time we come to this phrase in these psalms we have asked the same question: 'When does it start?' The two previous occasions concerned great blessings from God. When do they start? From this time forth! Now we are treating of quiet waiting upon God. When should it start? From this time forth! And it should go on for evermore.

(To be concluded)


Poul Madsen

18. MAN'S RESPONSIBILITY (Chapter 9:30 to 10:21)

As we saw in the previous section, the whole nation of Israel was not chosen for salvation. Yet Israel bears the responsibility for its rejection by God, and that is what this section teaches us. Like so much else in life, these two facts cannot be reconciled by the human mind. To us they do not make sense: God's creative will as well as His saving will cannot be contained within any human system.

In the first chapter Paul described the condition of the heathen. To say that they did not follow after righteousness is to put it mildly. Israel, on the other hand, did, for their great desire was to be righteous before God. Such a desire, however, did not give them any advantage over the Gentiles, since "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (3:23). If all are guilty before God, Israel cannot claim that the Gentiles deserve to be rejected but they deserve to be accepted.

Israel never reached the righteousness they followed after. Paul described these kinsmen of his as being zealous for God but without knowledge (10:2). We might argue that this gave them an advantage over the heathen who were neither zealous nor understanding, but we would be wrong. We reason like this, and it is possible to hear preachers asserting that it is better to be zealous without understanding than to be understanding without zeal. Such an assertion reveals the preacher to be a moralist rather than an evangelist. Zeal for God without understanding was no advantage to Israel but rather proved to be their calamity. It was this mistaken zeal which caused them to reject Christ.

Salvation does not depend on him that willeth nor on him that runneth (9:16). If it had depended on human effort, it seems likely that Israel would have been saved, whereas the Gentiles would not. Salvation, however, depends entirely on God who shows mercy, and in His sovereign liberty He has decided to show mercy to those who believe. This Israel refused to do. They refused to gain righteousness from God by faith, insisting rather on seeking it by works. In this way they excluded themselves from God's promises and were not saved.

The only righteousness which is valid in God's sight is His own, that which comes from Him. In the gospel this righteousness of God is revealed (1:17). Israel would have none of this righteousness from God but clung to their own righteousness. Therefore they were rejected. In the gospel, the righteousness which is revealed comes from above, but Israel did not want it from above, preferring to build up a righteousness from below. It is therefore their own fault that they were set aside, it was what they deserved. This does not mean that we can say that the Gentiles' failure to seek righteousness made them deserving of anything. No, they were justified freely, that is, undeservedly, by God's grace (3:24).

Israel did not understand the righteousness which is from God, but sought to set up their own righteousness, and in so doing they "did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (10:33). Notice this emphasis. The gospel strikes a fatal blow at every form of spiritual pride and self-righteousness, and that is why it is so objectionable to those who prize their self-esteem. To subject himself and relinquish all claims to be more righteous before God than other sinners is something more than the self-righteous person can possibly bear. [73/74]

CHRIST is the end of the law. There exists an absolute and irreconcilable contrast between righteousness by the law (righteousness by works) and the righteousness from God (righteousness by faith). He who believes in Christ does not believe in the possibility of gaining righteousness before God by his own efforts. For the Christian, Christ is the end of the law because every effort which he might make to achieve righteousness has been abandoned. There never can be a bridge between righteousness by works and righteousness by faith. Nor can man by his own choice or decision bring to an end his relationship to God on the basis of law so that he can thenceforth live by faith. Such an end demands no less than God's initiative and God's working. This working of God has taken place in Christ.

When the apostle states that Christ is the end of the law, he means that the law has come to an end not by being set aside but because its goal has been reached. The object of the law was righteousness, but nobody could use it for this end. When Christ came, this righteousness which was the objective of the law became realised in everyone who believes. The real goal of the law is therefore Christ, and he who believes in Christ finds that he has reached that goal. He has fulfilled the law. It is faith in Christ which is the Christian's act of obedience.

MOSES himself knew that faith in Christ and thereby righteousness by faith is the real objective of the law, as he shows by differentiating between the righteousness which the law demands and that which comes only by faith. As to the former, he wrote that the man who does the law shall live thereby. But it is quite different in the case of those who have righteousness by faith. Dealing with this, Moses rejects the idea that there can be anything more for the man of faith to do in order to get righteousness. His words, "Say not in thy heart", silence the heart and refuse to allow it to voice its own suggestions. The heart would like to ask, 'Who shall ascend into heaven?' wishing to get Christ down from there since He is the only One who has practised perfect righteousness. It longs to know how to get Him down to us who have so failed to fulfil the law, but the righteousness which is by faith forbids the asking of any such question. Nor does it allow the request for someone to descend into the abyss which the natural heart would like to make as it senses its own helplessness. Such questions suggest that there is still something to be done before we can have a share in Him who has so perfectly fulfilled the law. They are really both despairing questions, revealing that the questioning heart sees no solution to its problems, for it knows very well that no one is able to ascend into heaven or to descend into the abyss.

Such great feats cannot be performed, but nor are they needed, for righteousness which is from God and by faith silences any such questions in any and every situation, and insists on speaking not of what remains to be done but what has already been accomplished. "The word is nigh thee, in thy month and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith" which rejoices in what God has already done in Christ. Faith, the divine gift, gives the believer everything and is therefore characterised by the fact that it possesses what seemed unattainable. That which others despairingly seek in heaven or in the abyss, has now become mine. It is just beside me, indeed it is within me, that word of faith which has no need to seek Christ, for God has sent Him to me, and no need to raise Him from the dead since all that has already been done. The incarnation and the resurrection are the two mighty works of God by which Christ has been sent to us and is always near us.

So the apostle continues his argument about speaking the word of faith in the confession that God has raised Jesus from the dead and made Him Lord. The confession affirms that everything necessary for full righteousness has already been done and that He who has done it is none other than the Lord. Paul's words must not be taken schematically, as if the faith of the heart and the confession by the mouth are points one and two in God's scheme of salvation. We must not think that the gift of faith in the heart is God's contribution but the confession with the mouth is man's. Paul does not think of the faith of the heart and the confession with the mouth as two different things, but as an essential unity, wrought by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

The argument from the Scriptures which the apostle uses in verses 6 to 8 may not at first sight seem convincing. He refers to Deuteronomy 30:11-14, in the context of God's commandments: "For this commandment which I command thee this day ...". Nevertheless Paul reads it as dealing with the word of faith and confession of Jesus as Lord. This is not a misinterpretation, but a right understanding and insight, since the [74/75] end objective of the law, as already asserted, is Christ. He whom the law points to and proclaims is really Christ. The commandment which Moses gave the Israelites was not an appeal to try to win righteousness by their own works, but instruction about believing in Christ. It was, in fact, "the word of faith which we preach".

THERE is no distinction between Jew and Greek. This is the second time that Paul has made this assertion. The first was in 3:22 where the lack of difference between Jew and Gentile was negative, that is, none of them is guiltless, since we have all sinned and come short of God's glory. Here in verse 12, the lack of difference is expressed positively, that is, that all have the same Lord, rich to meet the need of any who call upon Him, for "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved".

The way of salvation is, then, the same for all, be they Jews or Gentiles. Twice over Paul uses the word 'whosoever' to emphasise this fact (vv.15 & 18). Jews cannot be saved by any other way than Gentiles: Gentiles are no less welcome than Jews. The question arises: Then why have the Jews as a whole not been saved? Several possible explanations are offered:

i. Is it because they have not heard the gospel?

ii. Is it that they have heard but not understood?

iii. Is it because God has rejected His people?

iv. Is it that their fall is final?

Each time Paul takes up one of these possibilities for consideration, he begins with such words as: "But I say" (vv.18-19) and "I say then" (11:1 and 11). This seems to prove that the problem weighs heavily upon him and that he proposes to examine it very thoroughly.

i. 'Did they not hear?'

"How shall they believe him, whom they have not heard?" This is not just a matter of hearing about Him, but of hearing Him directly. One must really hear Christ -- either in person or through those who proclaim Him -- in order to have vital faith in Him. Faith only comes when we hear Christ Himself speak and so are brought face to face with God in this way. It follows that those who preach must not do so on their own initiative or in their own authority, but they must be sent by God.

Does this mean that God must take the initiative in sending out preachers? It certainly does. This is firstly God's business and then the responsibility of those whom He sends. This is in agreement with the rest of Scripture, and is an important link in the bringing of God's mercy to man: "How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things". Whether the instrument were prophets or apostles, the speaker was God Himself.

But neither the prophetical nor the apostolic witness to Christ was acceptable to Israel as a whole. Not all obeyed the gospel. They were not prepared to receive the message when it was brought to them, as is made evident by Isaiah's sad enquiry: "Lord, who hath believed our report?" Again we ask, Have they not heard? It is true that God has sent them out true preachers with the glad tidings, but is it possible that somehow this preaching did not reach them? Has it passed them by? No, for "their sound went out into all the earth (the world at that time), and their words to the ends of the world" (v.18). In this connection Paul quotes Psalm 19:5 which speaks of the universal, though wordless, witness of creation, and applies it to this matter of the preaching of the gospel. His thought seems to be that Israel have no more excuse for not having heard the preaching of God's gospel than men have for not having 'heard' the witness of creation to its Creator.

ii. 'Did Israel not know?'

Have they not understood? The apostle answers that they ought to have done so, for both the law and the prophets preach the same message of the righteousness and mercy of God.

First there is the law. Moses says: "I will provoke you to jealousy with that which is no nation, with a nation void of understanding will I anger you" (Deuteronomy 32:21). This quotation testifies to the fact that unbelieving Israel will be put to shame by believing Gentiles -- a subject which is enlarged upon in chapter 11. Then there are the prophets. It was Isaiah who said: "I was found of them that sought me not; I became manifest unto them that asked not of me" (Isaiah 65:1). This quotation, telling how people who had not sought or asked after God, learned to know Him, goes on by expressing deep regret about Israel's rejection of the message in the words: "All day long did I spread out my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people". [75/76] We are faced with the tragic fact that Israel, with all their advantages, failed to receive God's good news when it was brought to them.

Israel's unbelief is a mystery. The Gentiles' faith is a corresponding mystery. Through His prophets, in His Son and by means of His apostles, the Lord had stretched out His hands towards Israel in loving entreaty, only to be repulsed and rejected by the large majority. But although this is a mystery, it must not be regarded as an accidental or unexpected occurrence for it is something which is written. We have therefore to discover just how this fits into the purposes of God which are always based on His desire to save and His will to show mercy. Our next chapter will tell us more of God's plan for Israel.

(To be continued)


Harry Foster

THE events of Christ's crucifixion were affected by a series of amazing miracles. From His side there was, of course, the miracle of His refusing to call in the twelve legions of angels who could very easily have dealt with Rome's military powers and scattered the Jewish rulers in terrified confusion. They were at hand, but He declined to summon them. Then there was the supreme miracle of His refusing to come down from the cross when He could so easily have done so. In this connection it may perhaps be pointed out that God's greatest miracles can sometimes be quite unsensational at the time, done in the quiet dignity worthy of His name.

The above-mentioned wonders were negative. For His part the Lord Jesus refused to perform miracles of self-deliverance. Nevertheless the Father did some positive miracles for Him in the matter of His crucifixion, as we shall now see. As we do so perhaps we may record a further spiritual truth which is that God finds Himself free to work amazingly for us if we will only commit our cause wholeheartedly to Him.

The Manner and Time of Christ's Death

The Jewish leaders planned Christ's death but they had no power to make it death by crucifixion. The angry mob at Nazareth tried to throw the Lord over the cliff (Luke 4:29) and the outraged men of Jerusalem wished to stone Him (John 8:59 & 10:31), but in both cases He was miraculously delivered. It was not yet time for Him to die, which was important, but what was much more important, that was not to be the manner of His death.

A thousand years earlier, the psalmist had foretold the pierced hands and feet (Psalm 22:16), and had also prophesied of the suffering and prolonged exposure to shame which were to be the lot of God's chosen Servant. Hanging was not normally a Jewish method of execution. It was not unknown, for in anticipation of this dreadful happening a Mosaic decree had stated that there was a special curse involved in death by hanging (Deuteronomy 21:23). But this was something more than hanging. A particularly shameful method of leaving men to die in long drawn out agonies and with pierced hands and feet such as is described in the prophetic psalm was only introduced when the iron rule of Rome spread over the world.

It was not within the power of Jewish rulers to prescribe crucifixion, yet from the beginning Jesus had affirmed that He was to be "lifted up" (John 3:14) and in His last visit to Jerusalem, after members of the Greek world had asked to see Him, He actually explained the kind of death He was going to die with a phrase about being "lifted up from the earth" (John 12:32-33). His executioners, then, had to be Romans. No one else could put a man to death in this diabolical fashion. So the first miracle associated with His crucifixion is that it was carried out just as had been explained in ancient Scriptures, even though the agents of it were completely ignorant of those prophecies.

Before we proceed to consider further details about the manner of Christ's death, perhaps we should pause to marvel at its perfect timing. So far as prophecy was concerned this was decided by the initial Passover which took place almost 1,500 years before. All through the centuries this special day in the year had been marked out as the time when Israel's redemption depended on [76/77] the sacrifice of a lamb. With the advent of the Lord Jesus this matter was cyrstallised by John's announcement: "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). It was clear, therefore, that if Jesus were to be sacrificed, it must be at the time of the Passover. This might not have been so difficult if the plotting priests had not decided that this was the one date when they did not intend to kill Him. They came to a unanimous and final decision that they would avoid possible clashes with an indignant and hostile crowd by postponing their murderous assault until after the feast, when the large crowds would have left the city and returned to their homes (Matthew 26:5). In view of Christ's popularity over the raising of Lasarus and their dismayed sense that the whole world had gone after Him (John 12:19), they agreed to let the Passover period pass before they had Him killed. What caused their change of plan? They had said, "Not during the feast", but the Scriptures demonstrated that it had to be just then. Here was the miracle. They judged it best to wait but God's Word, which cannot be broken, made it clear that this was the time, so the cunning schemers had to go back on their decision. And if we ask who was the human instrument used by God to bring about this change of plan, the answer is: Judas Iscariot!

'Judas!', we may well exclaim, 'Can Judas have served God's interests?' The answer is that all things are God's servants. He often uses good men, but He can as easily use bad men if that is necessary for His purposes. It seems quite plain that in the last days Jesus kept His movements hidden from the public eye. Nobody knew where He could be found. Judas, however, rightly sensing that Jesus Himself was now expecting to die and would not resist or avoid arrest, hurried off to the priests and demanded his price for facilitating a quick and secret betrayal. Did he first take the band to the Upper Room? He may well have done so, but by then they had left. He was not baffled, though, for he well knew the private sanctuary of Gethsemane and was able to take the soldiers there.

It is a tragic story. And yet it was a triumph for the will of God since, contrary to all the plans of the priestly party and in spite of the attempts of Pilate to avoid or delay the execution, the Lamb of God was offered for the redemption of God's people at the very moment of the very day which prophecy had indicated. God's timetable was observed to the very hour, even though it had waited for a thousand years for that hour. It was an amazing miracle. God is strong enough and wise enough to make even a treacherous Judas contribute to His perfect plans. If we wish to speculate, we may ask what would have happened if Judas had never been chosen, or had been sent away in disgrace by his outraged Master. Would it have meant that there could be no hasty and last-minute alteration in the plans of the Jewish leaders? God left it very late. He often does. But He is always right on time. It is idle, therefore, to speculate. All we can do is to wonder and worship. And may we not be encouraged by this to believe that in our case, too, God will always overrule men's folly and malice for the perfect realisation of His will in our lives, and that while He may leave the margin very close He will always be on time?

Christ's Companions and Guard

We return to the circumstances at the cross. The first couple of miracles related to the manner and time; the next pair are concerned with those who took some part in the proceedings. There were clear prophecies about the character and behaviour of people who were present at the crucifixion. We shall now see how two of these were fulfilled by those concerned, so demonstrating once again the complete reliability of God's Word.

The first relates to the other two crosses. Isaiah had foretold that Jehovah's Suffering Servant would be condemned in bad company: "they made his grave with the wicked" and "he was numbered among the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:9 & 12). This was literally fulfilled, Christ being Number Two of that condemned trio. The whole procedure must have been most irregular. Jesus was not in prison and had never been tried or sentenced. (Incidentally that is why there was no legal 'superscription' ready for His cross and Pilate himself had to improvise one.) The fact was, however, that three men were in the condemned cell with their day of execution fixed and the crosses and suitable superscription boards all ready. We are familiar with the way in which Jesus was substituted for Barabbas at the last minute, so that He was not crucified alone -- which otherwise might well have been the case -- but made one of a group of three. The words used by one of the crucified men to the other suggest that this might well have been a guilty trio of murderous bandits, [77/78] with Barabbas perhaps as the leader. How painful it must have been for our sensitive Lord to be associated with them in this way! Doubtless it was much to the pleasure of the Jewish leaders to use this additional means of discrediting Christ and heaping shame on Him, but whether it was they, or the clamour of the crowd, or the cowardice of Pilate, the ultimate explanation is that the Word of God prevailed, even in this. It was a literal fact that the Lord Jesus was "numbered with the transgressors". To the infinite comfort of all believers, the rest of Isaiah's words were also fulfilled: "Yet he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors".

The accompanying miracle in this pair was fulfilled by the four rough soldiers: "They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots" (Psalm 22:18). All four Evangelists record this activity, a fact which in itself emphasises its importance. One thousand years before, the psalmist had foretold that this would happen, and the overruling sovereignty of God made sure that it did.

John, the last of the Evangelists to write his record, concludes his quotation of the amazing prophecy with this terse comment: "These things, therefore, the soldiers did" (John 19:24). What is more, he gives an explanation of how this seemingly contradictory prediction was fulfilled. In our impatience we might well ask, 'Well, what did they do? Did they divide the clothes or did they toss up for them?' It seems impossible that both actions could have taken place. But they did. John tells us the story of the seamless robe and why they cast lots for it. It may well have been quite a valuable garment. Love had provided this costly robe and perhaps loving hands had knitted if for Him. I am so glad that my Lord was well cared for. But I am gladder still, and amazed with wonder, at this miracle of fulfilled Scripture. A thousand years before, God had said that they would do it in this way and now, "These things therefore the soldiers did". If ever I suffer loss at the hands of godless, unscrupulous men, let me remember that they can only do what God has foreordained. Even coarse Roman soldiers, jesting and gambling while men gasp out their lives in agony near by, could only do what long ago had been written of them in those Scriptures which Christ so rightly said, "cannot be broken".

The Body of the Crucified

It was the soldiers, too, who were the instruments for the fulfilling of the next pair of miracles, the miracle of Preservation and the miracle of Demonstration. In the first place, "not a bone of him was broken", and in the second His blood was seen freely to flow. John laid great stress on this second point, writing: "He that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye also might believe" (John 19:35).

First of all, though, we notice how it came about that not one of the Lord's bones were broken. The normal agonies of death by crucifixion consisted of a fiendish exposure of the victim to the slow death of exhaustion caused by exposure: often men hung dying for days before they actually expired. On this occasion, though, as we are told, the imminent Holy Day made it imperative for the Jewish leaders to ask that the bodies be got down from the crosses before dusk. Ready to accommodate Jewish scruples, the authorities settled the matter by ordering the victims to be battered to death. This was not necessary in the case of Jesus, for He had already yielded up His spirit. The miracle was that the soldiers realised this and refrained from breaking any of His bones.

Was it perhaps their centurion, who had already been greatly moved by the manner of Christ's death, who ordered them so to refrain? It probably was. But in any case the rough soldiery was fulfilling a most important feature of prophecy without knowing it for, as John tells us, the command concerning God's lamb was, "A bone of him shall not be broken" (John 19:36). Unlike the other two bodies, this one was to be preserved whole for the resurrection morning and the soldiers were God's agents to make sure that this was done.

The superficial reader may suggest that this was relatively unimportant, for no broken bones could hinder the mighty miracle of resurrection. This may be so, but the importance of the injunction in God's Word related to much more than this, for it was the Passover type which had to be so preserved, so that if the Scriptures were to be exactly vindicated it was essential that not one of the Lord's bones should be broken. The matter is much more than a further instance of divine inspiration; it is full of spiritual significance. [78/79]

There is only one Lamb of God. At the passover in Egypt, if households were small, others had to be invited in to share the meal, for nothing of the lamb was to be taken out of the house to be eaten elsewhere. In this setting, with extreme stress being laid on the avoidance of any dividing up of a lamb, God gave the command that not a single bone of it should be broken. There is only one unique Lamb of God, sufficient for the whole family of the redeemed who shelter under His blood, so it was essential that His should be an unbroken body. To demonstrate this fact of the undivided sacrifice, God did the miracle of restraining impatient and callous Roman soldiers. They marvelled that Jesus was already dead and so, "they brake not his legs". Who dare dispute the manifest fact that every detail of God's will is important, and that He will see to it that it is carried out, even by blind godless agents if that is necessary?

One of the soldiers seemed not to have been altogether satisfied by this procedure. He dare not disobey his commander by breaking Christ's legs but he could -- and he did- - plunge a spear into His side. This brings us to the companion miracle, the actual outpouring of the blood of Jesus. I will not intrude into technical explanations of that mysterious blood and water, and indeed I am not competent to do so, but it is clear enough to all that up to this point, although the Saviour had died, He had not shed His blood. It is true that the thorns, the scourging and the cruel nails must have caused some loss of blood, but this is not what the Scriptures describe when foreshadowing His sacrifice. It was essential that the sacrificial Victim should not only lose some drops of His blood but should pour our His life's blood for all to see. He had not done this. And, as everybody knows, dead bodies do not bleed!

The Father, who looks on the heart, doubtless saw the blood of the cross, but how could the onlooking world know about it? The informed observer could have opined that once the Lord had died it would be too late for His blood to be shed. He might consider that although it had been fulfilled that not a bone of Him should be broken, which was right, there was something faulty about the fact of the blood still remaining in the body. What had gone wrong?

Nothing had gone wrong after all, for it is at this point that we are informed of a further miracle. The most stony-hearted of that group of callous mercenaries thrust a reckless spear into the side of Jesus -- just to make sure that He was really dead. Whether this was deliberate or not, the spear-head broke into the pericardium, and out flowed the Saviour's most precious blood, for all the world to see! The impossible had happened!

John was so impressed by it that he drew his readers' attention to the fact that he was an actual eye-witness of the flow of blood and water. At that time it does not seem that this produced any immediate faith in his own heart, but it does provide a basis for saving faith. The apostle closes this section of his Gospel with the reminder that here is the ground for vital faith, namely to know that Jesus broke His heart over sinners and made a full atonement for them by shedding His life's blood: "He knoweth that he saith true, that ye also may believe".

Once again may I emphasise how evil men were overruled by God for the perfect fulfilling of His will! Judas, Pilate, Roman soldiers; truly God's sovereignty governed them all. John's simple comment on these events which he himself witnessed is: "These things came to pass that the Scriptures might be fulfilled". They are recorded not only that we might worship God's sovereignty, but also for our comfort, so that we may be sustained in all our trials. When, by His grace, we take up our cross and follow the Lord Jesus, we may be upheld by the assurance that His Father is our Father now, and He will work every necessary miracle in our case to ensure that it is His will which governs every detail of our lives.

The Virgin Tomb

We have considered three pairs of miracles; we now come to the seventh, the final miracle which stands alone and is connected with the burial of the body of Jesus. What a good thing it was that the Lord specified to the penitent thief that in a matter of hours he would have the Saviour's company "in paradise"! They were certainly not together in the grave -- far from it. We are not informed what happened to the forgiven sinner's body. Was it buried, or burned, or left to scavenging birds? We do not know, and he did not care. In the case of the Lord Jesus, however, it was a matter of supreme importance both that His body should be carefully preserved and that the evidence of His resurrection on the third day should be irrefutable. [79/80]

As they stood watching their beloved Lord die, the women and John may well have had the problem of the burial as an additional care to their already overwhelming sorrow, but they had no need to worry. The Father who had prepared a virgin womb for the incarnation and provided a virgin mount for the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, had taken every precaution to have a virgin tomb ready also for the time which lay between the cross and the resurrection morning.

This time it was not an ungodly man who served God's interests but a believer, although a secret one. Joseph of Arimathaea was a godly man who was very concerned about what should happen to his body after death, as many people still are today. Being a pious man, he wanted his grave to be as near to Jerusalem as possible, and being wealthy he was able to gratify his wishes. Naturally at the time he had had no thought of providing a tomb for the service of God, but simply made a reasonable preparation for his family. He had searched for and found such a site in a cave near by and had ordered it to be excavated and made suitable for his family burying-place.

He had no way of foreseeing how convenient and timely the provision was, but he was undoubtedly guided by the Father who marked it out as the one place which could best serve His purposes. Had not Isaiah foretold that God's Christ would have a wealthy tomb: "He was with the rich in his death" (Isaiah 53:9)? The verse seems to make an antithesis as though saying that men wanted to make His grave with the wicked (as apart from Joseph's intervention they might well have done), but God intervened and changed things so that in fact His body was laid in a rich man's tomb. There was something unusual about the burial for, according to John, Joseph of Arimathaea had to make a direct appeal to Pilate for the custody of that sacred body. "Pilate gave leave" (John 19:38). He also gave the Pharisees permission to mount a guard and seal the entrance stone, so making it all as sure as they could (Matthew 27:65).

The story of the burial and the glorious events of the resurrection morning are familiar to us all. It is not my purpose to dwell upon them, for that leads us to the greatest miracle of all. But I hope that it has been encouraging to us to consider these seven lesser miracles which the Father did to ensure that His perfect will was fulfilled, and often fulfilled by the very enemies of Christ who were fitted into the Scriptural programme by the Master-Hand which makes all things serve His will. None of these was a sensational sign to gratify men's flesh. Most of them are recounted in a simple manner as though they just happened. The last of them was made possible by a man whom we might well have despised -- a secret believer. All the more glory to our wonderful God who has promised in our case also to make "all things work together for good", even as He did for His Son.


"Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgot him"
Genesis 40:23

Was this forgetting really an accident? Was it not rather a divine over-ruling? Joseph could have been set free, but for what? To hire himself out to some Egyptian and get lost in the crowd? To find his way home to Canaan only to get involved in the famine which could have killed the whole family of Jacob by starvation? In either case to be overlooked and forgotten was not as bad as it seemed.

The great point is that God was as much in Joseph's being forgotten as He was in the subsequent remembrance of him, for it meant that at the right moment Joseph was brought to Pharaoh's notice and easily located in the royal prison.

As I read the story, I am comforted to realise that when quick relief does not come to me, it is because God has some better thing; that when I am badly treated, overlooked or forgotten, it is not the unjust calamity that at the time it may seem, but all a part of God's perfect planning and timing.

The waiting time may be long and the restricting circumstances irksome to my soul, but I shall find, as Joseph did, that God works very quickly once His moment has come. He always remembers! He never forgets! [80/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(whosoever they were, it maketh no matter to me:
God accepteth not man's person
)" Galatians 1:1

THIS parenthesis hardly sounds like inspired Scripture at all. It seems rather to be a somewhat sour reference by the apostle to the three pillars of the Jerusalem Church. For his part, Paul was not prepared to attribute any special dignity to them. He even brought God in on his side and insisted that He too would give them no precedence over other Christians. Was Paul really in the Spirit when he wrote these words? Is this the way in which one spiritual leader should speak of others, especially of those who were senior to him so far as church membership was concerned? "It maketh no matter to me!" These are hard words.

PERHAPS the first thing to be said in his defence is that his intolerant heat was not personal: he was fighting not for his own status but for the truth of the gospel. Not that the other three apostles were less faithful to that gospel than he was, but their names were being used by unscrupulous false teachers, and therefore it was perhaps inevitable that some of Paul's indignation should appear to denigrate them.

THE next thing to observe is that Paul was writing to Galatians whom he had pointed to Christ, and not to Jerusalem Christians who quite rightly gave special honour to their own church leaders. What right had the treacherous judaizers to use these popular characters to unsettle Christians to whom they were but names? God deals in truths, not in names. He stands by His truth, but He owes no obligation to men, however distinguished. If He had used James or Peter or John to instruct Paul, then no doubt the apostle would have been guided by their teaching, but Christ deliberately by-passed His own chosen Twelve to deal directly with this apostle to the nations, so that Paul had no reason for referring back to them, and had no intention of doing so.

THIS perhaps explains the rather peremptory way in which he swept aside reference to these men of God. Whoever they were, and whatever they were, the gospel did not depend upon them any more than it did on Paul himself. Christ's ambassador was under no obligation to consult them, and he felt it to be helpful to the impressionable Galatians that he should refuse to allow his message to be confused by the use of their names.

THE truth is, of course, that there is only one gospel, as these godly pillars of the church at Jerusalem gladly recognised (v.7). And though there are many churches, none of them is under any obligation to any central institution. The Scriptures seem to make this matter quite clear. The Head of any local church is Christ Himself, who exercises His authority by the Holy Spirit and through the Scriptures. The Galatian churches were not branch establishments of the Jerusalem mother church, for it is the Jerusalem which is above which is the mother of us all. The Galatian elders ought to respect the Jerusalem elders and profit from any spiritual ministry they could provide, but they should never abdicate their own responsibility to Christ in favour of servitude to men, however godly.

THE subsequent verses make it plain that, far from brusquely slighting James, Peter and John, the apostle Paul greatly appreciated their right hands of fellowship as fellow workers. But they were nobodies! He too was a nobody! The Lord Jesus Christ is all and in all!


[Back cover]

1 John 2:28

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