"... 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. 12, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1983 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Editorial 1
Is There Any Word From The Lord? (1) 1
Powerful And Effective Prayer 5
Danger! 7
God's Concern For The Nations (1) 10
Pictures In A Book [Hebrews] (2) 14
The Second Coming Of The Lord (1) 17
Helped By His Hand 19
Old Testament Parentheses (1) ibc



WITH this issue we begin the twelfth year of TOWARD THE MARK. Every year has brought new proofs of God's faithfulness in providing the messages, the willing helpers, the necessary finance and, above all, the essential prayer support. There are no words adequate to express my profound gratitude to God and to so many of His servants.

If I do not describe the wonder of God's dealings it is only because I feel it wiser to allow the story to be covered until the day when the Lord will bring everything to light "and then shall each man have his praise from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5). When does publicity become self-advertisement? What is the difference between testifying and boasting? I do not know.

That these are not idle questions has been made clear to me by a reconsideration of Hezekiah's experience with the Babylonian ambassadors (Isaiah 39). The king had been miraculously brought back from the verge of death by a divine miracle. Possibly the enterprising Babylonians thought that they could turn this sensation to their own advantage by sending representatives to Jerusalem on a goodwill mission. The outcome must have been a heartbreak to Isaiah. The chapter marks a very striking crisis in his ministry though by no means the lessening of its vision and spiritual power.

No-one can doubt that it would have been quite in order for Hezekiah to have received the embassage courteously and taken advantage of his recent deliverance to tell them of the God whom he had served and who had answered his prayers in such a signal way. It seems, though, that he went beyond this. He spoke freely to the Babylonians of his exploits and achievements, personally displaying to them all his possessions.

One suspects that all the time he was uneasy about his actions, for he neither consulted Isaiah, whose counsel and help he had hitherto valued very much, nor did he inform the prophet of what had taken place. It was only when Isaiah challenged him that he had to admit that there was not a single area of his realm which he had kept sacred: "There is nothing ... that I have not showed them."

It is evident that this indiscreet self-revelation was displeasing to God, so much so that He there and then declared that there would be a total loss of all that had been shown to the Babylonians. Nothing had been hidden: nothing would be left. This was so severe that we must surely conclude that it is intended to be an example to all God's people. If we expose what should be kept sacred, we may lose all its value. If we boast, instead of being humbly grateful, we provoke the displeasure of the God whom we desire to serve.

I think that this principle can be verified and confirmed in the New Testament and I imagine that it is also one which operates in merely human relationships, in the sense that intimate secrets only preserve their value by being kept secret. In my youth I once heard a respected servant of the Lord warn against 'spiritual immodesty'. It is a phrase which I have never forgotten.

In any case it will not be long before we gather in the eternal glory of our heavenly Home. What stories we will have to tell and what discoveries we will then make of the superlative faithfulness of our gracious Lord, when together we know as we have been known and see Him face to face!



"The king asked him secretly in his house,
and said, Is there any word from the Lord?
And Jeremiah said, There is.
" Jeremiah 37:17

Harry Foster


KING Zedekiah was surrounded by so-called 'Prophets', but when he asked this question he was turning to the only man whom he could trust to have a definite message from God for him. Zedekiah was far from being a satisfactory king and he had treated Jeremiah badly; even [1/2] now he spoke to him in secret, for he was ashamed that others should know of his action. We imagine, though, that he was quite sincere when he asked the prophet so earnestly, "Is there any word from the Lord?"

It was a true-to-life situation, this secret appeal to the unpopular prophet. How many Christians have had to bear the unkindness and scorn of neighbours or colleagues, only to find that when one of them was in real trouble, he or she went for help not to their fellow scoffers but to the very person whom they had hitherto reviled? Deep down in their conscience, they know that this is the person who can be relied upon. It was so with Zedekiah. In public he rejected Jeremiah's words (37:2), but when the crunch came, he turned to him with the secret enquiry, "Is there any message from God for me?"

Over thirty years before this, at the beginning of Jeremiah's ministry and in the reign of Zedekiah's father, Josiah, there had been a re-discovery of the book of the law of the Lord as given by Moses. During the cleansing and restoration of the Temple, this long hidden book was brought to light again. Many dreadful things had happened in the reign of the evil Manasseh; the servants of the Lord were slain (perhaps Isaiah among them); the ark of the covenant seems to have disappeared, and the Word of the Lord was driven underground. In Josiah's reign they found the book (2 Chronicles 34:15), a discovery which caused them much dismay but which also brought a new revelation of the Lord and of His will for His people. Zedekiah, however, was not referring to this, nor was he seeking an exposition of the Scriptures in a general way. What he wanted was an indication of what, if anything, God had to say to him in the light of current events.

Zedekiah needed more than a quotation from a book -- he needed a voice which would convey to him the authentic speaking of God. Alas, when he had it, he did not obey what was said, but his enquiry expresses what is surely our own need. We too are justified in asking if there is any word of the Lord for us. The Lord will only speak through the Bible, but it is well that we should know what God has to say to us through His Word. It is not enough to have a faith which is kept going by choruses, isolated texts and favourite promises; we must know what the Lord has to say now to us. The prophet did not tell Zedekiah to go off and study his Bible. He did not send him away with generalities. He was dealing with a desperate man. And he himself was so in touch with God that he could give an immediate answer to the enquiry, for we read that "Jeremiah said, There is!"

Our first enquiry, then, is concerned with the man Jeremiah. How came it that he could speak so clearly and positively for God? What makes anyone a true prophet, a man to whom God could say, "Thou shalt be as my mouth" (15:19)?

1. Divine Initiative

The opening chapter shows how God took the initiative in his case. Concerning the self-appointed or man-appointed prophets, the Lord complained: "I sent not these prophets, yet they ran; I spake not unto them, yet they prophesied" (23:21). They were not necessarily bad men. They probably began with a genuine desire to serve God. Perhaps they had had some inward urge or some outside influence which had persuaded them to volunteer to devote their whole time to work for God. And now they had to get a living at their job. I have met men like this and have felt sympathy for them as they lacked openings and searched for a post 'in God's work'. How much better if they had kept at their ordinary work until moved by a divine initiative!

Even before his birth, Jeremiah had been marked out by God for his life's ministry (1:4). Far from being conceited to hear of this predestination, he could only respond in deepest humility: "Ah Lord God! Behold I cannot ...". He never wanted the task nor did he feel competent for it: it was God's idea and not his. Later he claimed not to have run away from his pastoral responsibility (17:16), which seems to suggest that he often wanted to do so. But he persevered. The constraint upon him, though, was not that of having to live up to his status as a prophet, but rather the knowledge that God's hand was upon him for the work. None of us should be content with anything less.

Again and again Jeremiah writes, "The word of the Lord came to me ...", and indeed the book opens with the disclosure that it was because that Word first came to him that he [2/3] recorded "the words of Jeremiah". It first came in the days of king Josiah and "it came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah ... unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive" (1:1-3). Vivid as was that first speaking, it was but the beginning of a lifetime of his uttering God's word because that word first came to him direct from God. No man is justified in speaking for the Lord unless the Lord has first spoken to him.

All through the book stress is laid on Jeremiah's personal experiences of hearing God's speaking. The Lord called him by name (1:11), He touched his mouth (1:9) and He undertook to give him full support (1:19). The Lord told the prophet where to go (7:2 ff), told him not to marry (16:2) and told him when and what to write (30:2). After he had wisely remained silent in answer to a challenge, the Lord told him when it was right to speak up (28:11-12) and the Lord advised and instructed him in preparation for the visit of his cousin (32:6). On one occasion the Lord kept him prayerfully waiting for ten days before speaking to him (42:7) but however long the delay and however strange and difficult the message, God always took the initiative in speaking to His prophetic servant. This, then, was the first explanation of how Jeremiah had a clear answer for the man who asked if there were any words from the Lord.

2. Continual Communion

Jeremiah responded to the Lord's initiative by taking care to maintain close communion all through the long and varied experiences of his ministry. However busy he was, and however unpleasant his surroundings, he was always diligent in keeping close contact with the Lord. God's charge against the false prophets was that they had never "stood in his council" (23:18 and 22). That could never be said about Jeremiah. The passage on the false prophets says that they borrowed (or stole!) their message from one another (23:30), that they said things which their own hearts suggested (23:16) and that they tried to make themselves particularly impressive by recounting their dreams (23:25-28). In contrast, Jeremiah waited on God and withdrew from his merry-making companions to be alone with Him (15:17).

There is a beautiful passage which describes one of these times of sacred communing with the Lord: "Thy words were found and I did eat them, and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart, for I am called by thy name" (15:16). We have already referred to the discovery of a book which happened to king Josiah. Strangely enough, when he found that book, the king did not enquire of Jeremiah but of Huldah the prophetess (2 Chronicles 34:22). That was a public event. This discovery of Jeremiah's seems to have been much more personal and intimate --- "for I am called by thy name". What is more, the prophet speaks not just of God's word but of His words, as though the plural indicated an experience of having God speaking directly to him word by word. Above all, he gives a graphic slant on this crisis by saying that he had grasped and masticated every one of those words -- "I did eat them!"

The heart that receives and chews over God's words is a happy heart. Jeremiah reports that for him this experience was one of great joy. The world of his day -- and of ours -- classifies him as a dismal kill-joy, which is not surprising since the world has no way of knowing the deep and satisfying pleasure of heart communion with God. The prophet found his heart warming as he gratefully absorbed God's message to him. I wonder how much or how often we share that thrilling experience. Perhaps it cannot be very frequent, but it must be if we are to speak for God. Jeremiah had his dark moments. It may be that for us also life can be so difficult that we are tempted, like him, to regret that we were ever born, but it was just after such a bout of depression (15:10), that he had this visitation and comfort by a new discovery of the Lord in His word. We have to go down into the valleys, but we are also lifted up to the heights.

Not all of us have to endure such sore discipline as that, but many of us will have some fellow-feeling with him on the occasion when he decided to keep silent in future: "Then I said, I will not make mention of him nor speak any more in his name" (20:9). But it cannot be! The man who has such vital dealings with God finds that the word burns like a fire in his bones, and he has to give expression to the inner urge of God's speaking, as the passage goes on to record. So Jeremiah's ministry was inspired and maintained by this constant communion with his God. He knew that there was indeed a word from the Lord. There will always be a word from the Lord [3/4] through us, too, if we are careful to maintain constant communion with Him.

3. The Work of Intercession

Communion with God naturally involves praying, but not all prayer is intercession. God's prophet must first be God's intercessor. I doubt whether Jeremiah could adequately have responded to the king's plea for a word from the Lord if his answer had not come from the background of a life of earnest intercessory prayer. He belonged, of course, to the priestly family and was consequently committed to intercede before God on behalf of the people, but in his case it was more than an official office, for he had a heart deeply exercised concerning the people among whom he lived and worked.

In a consideration of Jeremiah's prayers, it is difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps one of the most startling features of his secret life with God is that more than once he was told to stop praying (7:16; 11:14; 14:11). This, of course, does not mean that God was displeased with his intercessions -- far from it. In any case, Jeremiah just could not give up. "I am pained at my heart," he exclaimed, "I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war" (4:19).

It was not that God did not want Jeremiah to pray, but more probably that He wanted the prophet to know that there could be no immediate and superficial answer to his prayers for Jerusalem. Right throughout his ministry Jeremiah constantly appealed to God for his beloved people and city, and history shows that after his death those prayers were fully answered (2 Chronicles 36:22). The immediate lesson for us, though, is that the man who spoke so powerfully for God only did so because he had first learned to speak to God.

Among the many discouragements to prayer can be the indifference or even wilfulness of those for whom we pray. Jeremiah had to face this but he never gave up his work of intercession. After the majority of the people had been taken away captive, the few who were left begged him to pray for them, which he readily agreed to do (42:4). Alas, they were no better than the others had been in refusing to answer the guidance which came after ten days of prayer by Jeremiah. "You have dealt deceitfully against your own souls," he told them. You asked me to pray for guidance and promised to obey it when it came, and now "you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord God in anything for the which he has sent me unto you" (vv.20-21). This is a common happening; people ask for your prayers and your advice when they really only want you to confirm them in their own ideas and plans. When you cannot do this, then they go elsewhere or act on their own. The real test is, do you still go on praying? Jeremiah did.

His last words are found in chapter 51 (v.64). The occasion was when Jeremiah sent Seraiah to express God's condemnation of Babylon by throwing the book into the Euphrates. Notice that the prophet first told him to cover the matter with prayer: "Then thou shalt say, O Lord ..." (51:62). All this emphasises the fact that the man who can answer the question, "is there any word from the Lord?" is the man whose whole ministry is saturated with prayer.

The prophet's first ministry is prayer. The very first mention of the word in Genesis makes this plain: "He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee" (Genesis 20:7), and Jeremiah challenged the false prophets in this very matter: "If they be prophets, and if the word of the Lord be with them, let them now make intercession to the Lord of hosts ..." (27:18).

4. A Positive Objective

If ever a prophet might have seemed to have a message of despair it was Jeremiah. In fact, though, as we will see in our next study, the true thrust of his message was that of hope. Twice over he calls God "the hope of Israel" (14:8 and 17:13). Consider such utterances as these: "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (29:11) and "There is hope for thy latter end, saith the Lord" (31:17). If a man has no positive message of helpfulness, then it would be far better for him to remain silent. Certainly the purpose of the gospel in speaking to men is to offer them blessing and comfort.

It is true that there was no hope for the people of Jerusalem in those days, in spite of the pious platitudes and false expectations of the false [4/5] prophets. There was no hope for Zedekiah if -- as happened -- he rejected Jeremiah's call and persisted in his own self will. That way lay disaster, so that the story of that period, whether as told in the Chronicles or in Jeremiah, is one of ever-deepening calamity, as it was bound to be. God's servant, however, kept his eyes on the eternal throne and the faithfulness of his covenant-keeping Lord, so he always had a message of hope for those who would receive it. Part of his ministry was to warn both kings and people that all their ideas and efforts were bound to fail, but the other side of that same ministry was to hold out before them the prospect of mercy and ultimate recovery if only they would heed what God said.

It is most important to realise that God's intention in speaking His prophetic word is always a positive one. The preacher can get a great sense of power while pronouncing judgment upon his hearers, but this, as is well known is often illusory. The real power lies in the positive communication of God's grace through His Word, but it may well leave the speaker painfully aware of how weak and unworthy he is. Later we may be able to consider the contribution which Jeremiah made to the recovery of God's testimony in Jerusalem and the tremendous significance of the prophet's message about the New Covenant. For the moment we re-emphasise the simple fact that his message was full of positive content and that this was his real response to the question, "Is there any word from the Lord?"

The book of Revelation gives us a final and inclusive seal to this matter and focuses it all down upon the very person of the Lord Jesus. It was an angel who informed John that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10). What does this mean? Surely, that the very essence of all the messages of all the prophets of both Old and New Testament is the living reality of the truth as it is found in Jesus. So if any of us are confronted with the question as to whether there is any word from the Lord, our answer must always be: 'There is! It is all in Jesus!'

(To be continued)


J. Alec Motyer

"Is any among you sick? He is to call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him. " James 5:14-15

THIS is, of course, a passage of Scripture which is used in the context of a healing ministry, but I want to suggest that it must be considered in a much wider context if we are to understand it properly.

1. The Context of Trouble

The whole passage concerns the diversity of circumstances in life, and particularly the subject of trouble. It starts off by asking "Is any of you in trouble?" The word used is quite general, not focusing on any particular trouble which we call sickness, but trouble of any kind. Such a man is to pray. It may be that he is feeling cheerful; in that case let him sing praises. It begins with trouble, but I would prefer to speak of this context as that of divine providence. How are we to behave through the whole of life?

It is comparatively easy to be cheerful and to acknowledge God's goodness when the sun is shining and everything is marvellous, but life is by no means always like that. Neither, of course, is it always all of the other sort. Life is an extra-ordinary mixture, containing periods of trouble and periods of cheerfulness and sometimes a blend of both of them. The opening question of this passage in James 5 really amounts to this [5/6] question: 'Is your God big enough for the whole of life?'

Some people have a God who is big enough for the cheerful bits, but then they are completely bowled over by the adversities of life. Their God is not big enough for every experience, and so the call in verse 13 is that we should refer the whole of life to God. He is big enough for every situation; if there is trouble, then He offers the resource of prayer, and if there is cheerfulness, then there is the resource of praise.

2. The Context of Prayer

This gives us the key to the second context relating to our verse, and that is the context of prayer. Really this, I think, is what the whole passage is about. If we look from verse 13 onwards to verse 17, we find that prayer is mentioned in almost every verse. This whole passage is concerned not with a healing ministry but with the prayer life of the believer: "he is to pray" (v.13), "let them pray over him" (v.14), "the prayer of faith" (v.15), "pray for one another", "the supplication of a righteous man ..." (v.16). From then until verse 18 we have our attention drawn to the prophet Elijah at prayer. So the whole passage is about prayer, so much so that if we wish to understand what it has to say about a healing ministry in the local church, we must be careful that we do not interpret the reference to healing in a way that violates the whole doctrine of praying.

There is the wonderful promise that "the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up" (v.15). Does that mean that there is always going to be automatic healing if we operate the technique as specified in verse 14 and get it right? To say that would be to violate the Bible doctrine of praying. When we read what the Scriptures have to say about praying, we find that over and over again we are enticed into the of place of prayer by blank cheques from God. 'Whatever you ask you will receive.' 'Come on,' says God, 'ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.' If we want to change the metaphor, we may say that the door of prayer swings open wide, though I prefer that of the blank cheque. We are drawn into the place of prayer by the sheer bounty of God. We must never forget, though, that there are Scriptural safeguards in this matter. "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7). Commenting on this verse, Calvin says, 'God does not permit us undisciplined asking'. Over and over again, prayer is hemmed in. If we ask contrary to His Name, He will not give us what we ask. Pessimists may comment that they knew that it was too good to be true and that they knew it couldn't happen like that. What I want to ask you is if you ever thanked God that it can't happen like that?

If automatically we got just what we asked, when we asked for it and in the way that we have asked for it, we might soon be frightened ever to pray again. Prayer is such a magnificent instrument that God can never give it in an unrestricted way into the unwise hands of sinners. If we got automatically whatever we asked, we would visit upon ourselves not blessing but a bane and would minister to our friends not blessing but cursing. Prayer is hemmed around by the benefits of the restrictive will of God so that He will only give us that which is good.

I assert that there is nothing that I would not do for my son, yet in fact I would never give him a razor blade, however much he asked for it. He does ask, of course, for small boys have what amounts to a lust for razor blades! The human father safeguards his gifts to his children and our heavenly Father safeguards the wonder of prayer by the wonder of His own will. No, God does not permit us undisciplined asking, and thank God for it! I feel very deeply on this. What makes heaven to be heaven? It is the fact that there God's will is perfectly done. The will of God is not restrictive on the bounty we would grant ourselves; the will of God is the lifting of ourselves into the bounty that He would grant us. It would not be right to focus this section of James' Letter to a ministry of healing in a way that sets it outside its own chosen context as a passage dealing with praying believers and a praying church.

3. The Context of Sin

This third context of sin has to be mentioned. It says here that "... the Lord shall raise him up, and if he has committed sins, it shall be forgiven him" (v.15). There is no automatic connection between the commitment of sin and the onset of sickness. As we know in our own experience, we do not suffer as we might deserve, because the Lord graciously stands between us and the manifold disabilities which our sins [6/7] deserve over and over again. If it were not for grace, they would overtake us. We must remember, however, that equally from time to time He lifts His restraining hand and allows His laws of providence to operate, bringing afflictions upon us in the proportion in which He Himself has judged to be right. A time of sickness is certainly a time for self examination by believers, not in order to find the sin that has caused the sickness but lest there should be anything outstanding in which they have grieved the Lord.

4. The Context of the Local Church

What singularly appeals to me in this passage is that it applies to the continuing ministry of a local church and its officers. There is no reference here to people who have singular gifts, but only to those who in the providence of God hold some status in the local church. The ministry of healing is said to be a continuing ministry of the local church, performed through its regular officers. The words read: "Is any among you sick, then he is to call (3rd person singular, imperative) for the elders of the church". English is a difficult language into which to translate many statements. The expression, "let him call" may suggest to us the idea of what is permissive, but the Greek makes it imperative -- "he is to call".

This command has two implications. The first is that the sick man knows that this ministry is available in his local church. It is clear that the elders must know that this is a God-given ministry which they are to exercise, so that those concerned may know with confidence that they can ask for the ministry of prayer with anointing. The ministry itself is a ministry of prayer but to be performed with the symbolism of anointing with oil: "Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord". The second implication is that of submissiveness -- the prayer is in the name of the Lord.

The practice of the prophets in the Old Covenant was sometimes what we call, the acted oracle. That is to say, the prophets used visual aids, but these were more than illustrations, for they introduced divine actions. We are told that Jeremiah took an earthen vessel and smashed it into pieces. It was a visual aid of the shattering of the community, but it was much more, for it was the embodiment and the release of the almighty word of God which would effect that which it declared. When the prophets used such a visual aid they reinforced their words. They did not just bring home the words with more vividness to the mind of the hearers; they actually enhanced the vigour of the word to be effective in that situation and to accomplish that of which it spoke. So the anointing is an essential and vital part, because it encapsulates the healing word of God. That which is asked for in prayer is accepted in faith and applied in the power of the anointing.

There is no reference at all to the laying on of hands. We need to be very careful to limit ourselves to what Scripture says. This is an action of prayer which is visualised and applied by the action of anointing, but it is all in the name of the Lord. That is to say, it is subject to His all glorious will. It is not a technique for twisting the divine arm -- it is submission to the name of the Lord. It is not a coin in the slot which ensures the value of that coin coming out at the other end, but it is a personal commitment to the will of God. For this reason, although the verse goes on to say that the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up, that is subject to how the Lord wishes to respond to that prayer in that given situation. The Lord may dramatically raise the sick man from his bed or He may leave him on his sick bed and take him dramatically to glory. That is the full Scriptural implication of the capacity of God to answer the prayers of His people in whatever way will best match His own holy name. The whole passage emphasises the effectiveness of a praying church carrying on its Scriptural ministry. What could be greater than that!



Poul Madsen

Reading: Luke 12:1-12

IN our modern communities we often see warnings. Places are dangerous, so we are commanded to keep out, or medicines are dangerous, so we are warned not to exceed the prescribed dose or that some medicaments are not to be taken internally, etc. All sensible people take due [7/8] notice of such warnings of danger and act accordingly but strangely enough Christians tend not to take some of the warnings of Scripture seriously, even though it is the Lord Jesus Himself who cries, "Beware".

In this instance the Lord was surrounded by eager crowds, but it was to His disciples that He spoke "first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy". Here, then, is a solemn warning of danger which the Lord directs to all of us who are disciples. We may be surprised that such a warning was directed especially to them. Were they more in danger of becoming hypocrites than the general mass of People? Yes indeed they were! And so are we! Especially when we imagine ourselves to be exempt from this sin. Perhaps it is just because we regard ourselves as out of danger that we can be caught in this snare.

In fact a good deal is said in the New Testament about hypocrisy, so the matter must be important. The Lord Jesus seems to have been more severe about this sin than about most others. He called it "the leaven of the Pharisees", presumably to stress how hypocrisy permeated everything they said or did, even in those matters in which they appealed to be so pious and sincere. Hypocrisy is a secret sin which can spread its influence in ways which are not readily detected. The disciples were being warned about a special kind of hypocrisy, for in the original it reads: "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees which is the hypocrisy". The Lord was speaking about religious hypocrisy. Just as the principle of sin is more than just outward acts of sinfulness, so hypocrisy is more than what might be obvious. It is a power, just as sin is a power. And as every sinner is a slave of sin, so every hypocrite is a slave of hypocrisy, though often quite unaware of his bondage. The sinner thinks only of sin as a moral concept, not realising that it is a spiritual power. In the same way, the hypocrite thinks only of hypocrisy as of a moral concept and does not suspect that it is also a spiritual power. He thinks that hypocrisy is putting on a show of godliness, making out that one is what one is not, but the subsequent words of the Lord Jesus reveal that there is much more to it than this.

Having given the warning to His disciples, the Lord Jesus went on to say: "There is nothing covered up that shall not be revealed ... what you have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers shall be proclaimed upon the housetops" (vv.2-3). At first glance these words do not seem difficult to understand, for the Lord was warning against that kind of hypocrisy which we all detest, whispering bad things about people in so called 'confidences' while speaking smoothly to the faces of those concerned. That is all too common, but it is easy to understand. What is more difficult in this context is the warning which follows. Having said that a day will come when He will bring all those secret evils into the light, He continues: "I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them which kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom you shall fear; Fear Him which ... hath power to cast into Gehenna; yea, I say unto you, Fear him" (vv.4-5).

Here are two safeguards about hypocrisy. The first is that in the light of the coming disclosures we should fear ourselves, but the second is the suggestion that we shall be protected from hypocrisy if we truly fear God.

Why should we fear ourselves? Because it is all too possible to seek to defend God's interests with a mind which is contrary to the mind of God. This is indeed the leaven of the Pharisees for they fought wholeheartedly for what they imagined to be the will of God. Perhaps that is why the Lord amplified this warning about the leaven of the Pharisees by His subsequent words about those who can kill the body, for He went on to enlarge on this theme by foretelling the behaviour of these hypocrites who would persecute and seek to destroy the disciples (verse 11). Why would they act in this way? Simply out of a mistaken zeal for God. Saul of Tarsus is the great example. Who was more wholehearted than he? No doubt he detested obvious hypocrisy, as we all detest being something in secret that is not true openly, yet he was a slave of hypocrisy for he sought to defend God's interests with a heart that was hard and quite contrary to God.

How easily can we do the same! If we think of the words of Jesus which say that to be angry is to kill, we wonder what will be manifested when our true spirit in His service is brought into the light. Has it not been hypocrisy when we have fought for the truth with hard and angry hearts? We think that God is with us as the Pharisees also thought, but we are quite mistaken. God is never on the side of the Pharisees. [8/9]

We might think it unnecessary to warn true disciples about this kind of hypocrisy, but has it not so often been evidenced by Christians who have sought to serve Christ in an unchristlike spirit? If there has been anything which has characterised the history of the Church, it is fighting for the truth with an unbroken heart, fighting for God without really fearing Him. Men have been adept at taking the lives of other believers, robbing them of their honour and reputation, instead of being adept at laying down their lives for one another, as true Christians should. Alas, much that has claimed to be zeal for the Lord can only really be described as "the leaven of the Pharisees".

THEN how shall we fight for the truth? There is a parallel passage earlier in this Gospel which affirms this same truth that "nothing shall be hid that shall not be made manifest; nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light" (Luke 8:17). It is commenting on "the good ground, those who have an honest and good heart, having heard the word, hold it fast and bring forth fruit with patience" (8:15). This is the positive side of 12:2-3, for it encourages us by saying that the hidden work of the Word will later be revealed and the secrets (of the inner life) be finally displayed in their full glory. It reminds us that all we have whispered in the inner chambers of secret prayer will be proclaimed from the housetops.

We will be delivered from hypocrisy if we are careful to see that God's interests are served by keeping close to Him, hiding His Word daily deep in our hearts and proving that the Holy Spirit will teach us what we ought to say (12:12). To have recourse to carnal means in an attempt to serve God's interests will bring us under the power of hypocrisy. Clearly, then, the Lord Jesus was telling the disciples to find their liberation from hypocrisy by fearing themselves and fearing God. So shall we best serve Him.

But what if this provokes the persecutors to kill us? It is in this connection that the Lord Jesus spoke His comforting words about the five sparrows and the hairs of our head (vv.6-7). What is more striking is that He had already disclosed that God's wisdom governs all: "Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send unto them prophets and apostles; and some of them they shall kill and persecute ..." (Luke 11:49). So it is the wisdom of God which governs what happens to His servants, and it is the same wisdom which will be given by the Spirit to teach them what to say under such circumstances (verse 12).

WHAT is true of us personally is also true of our service, the word committed to us. We have to look back to verses 2 and 3 to remind ourselves that nothing of the glory and riches of the Word which seemed hidden in our hearts will remain so, but will be revealed and proclaimed from the housetops. In other words, this means that our words will be proclaimed much more widely and with much more effect than we can imagine when they are being met by hatred and persecution. Our task therefore is just this, to confess the Lord before men and not deny Him (vv.8-9).

But here again, it is so important that we beware of hypocrisy, for the words of our confession must be matched by concern never to meet our adversaries with enmity and bitterness, but only in the Spirit of Christ. If we truly confess the Lord by having a right heart attitude towards Him, then nobody can hinder that testimony from being spread abroad. Who can destroy the power of our prayers whispered in the inner chambers? No-one! Nothing!

We glory in the title of 'Evangelical Christians' and are perhaps inclined to feel that we know the truth better than others, being specialists about the infallibility of the Bible and the doctrine of justification by faith. This is excellent, but only if our testimony is substantiated by that sacrificial love which is the mark of what belongs to the gospel and can therefore truly be called 'Evangelical'. We must agree that there can be no greater catastrophe than that evangelical Christians should be exposed as hypocrites.

Yet everything that calls itself Christian and does not correspond to Christ is stamped by the Lord as hypocrisy. And it is in the realm of love that the peril of hypocrisy is greatest, not least when we think that our own love is the same as the love of Christ. We are inclined to be severe when our Lord is mild and then tolerant when He is severe, and even when we are rightly severe in our attitude, we can be inwardly lacking in the tender compassion of the Saviour. It is temptingly easy for us to express our natural feelings and [9/10] imagine that these are the same as the love of Christ, or to put on some outward show of what we think is love without having the inward reality. Do we not know that without the mind of Jesus, that is, without His pure, self-sacrificing love, all our critical words about our brothers, however much they may seem to be justified, make us into sounding brass or clanging cymbals or, in other words, hypocrites.

NOW I will not enlarge on this further, for surely it is clear to us that hypocrisy is a deceptive power, just like sin, and that in ourselves we are just as helpless and powerless as regards hypocrisy as we are with regard to sin. The difference may be that we are more on our guard against what we know to be sin, whereas we need to be constantly warned about hypocrisy. In a sense, hypocrisy is an intensified form of sin; I might even say that it is the sin to which Christians are most prone.

Yet we need not despair, however much we may or should be afraid of ourselves in this connection for, with regard to hypocrisy in its innumberable shapes and forms, Christ is our perfect Redeemer. When the trembling sinner comes to Him with all his sin, he finds grace and freedom and is relieved -- not in the sense that the lightening of his conscience makes him treat sin lightly, but in the sense that he knows himself to be liberated from his guilt and sin. In the same way, when the trembling disciple comes to Christ with his hypocrisy, which may seem to him so great, he also finds grace and can breathe freely again -- not that he treats hypocrisy lightly but that he now keeps closer to his Saviour than ever before and finds that heart fellowship with Christ brings him deliverance from hypocrisy. In this passage Luke reminds us that the Lord not only voiced a solemn warning but also gave real heart encouragement. In the same passage in which He tells us to beware, He also speaks His gracious words, "Fear not!" (verse 7).



Michael Wilcock

"The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, In you shall all the nations be blessed. So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith." Galatians 3:8-9

IF we look at the world around us as God sees it, we see it as a truly international community in which boundaries between nations matter a great deal less than they often seem to to those who are not God's people. God has an 'international' view of His world, and we need to see what He offers to this world because of His dealings with it on that basis. In His gospel, God makes a universal offer: He places a choice before all the nations alike. It is not a choice for us and another choice for someone else; not one choice for the Jews and a different one for the Gentiles; it was not one choice before the time of Christ and a different choice afterwards. It is always and in all places the same choice with which God confronts the nations.

We find it in the first great Bible figure who appears before us after the division of the nations which is described in Genesis 10 where God tells us how the single root of humanity began to be divided up into the great nationalities which have existed ever since in our world. The first figure who arises in Bible history after that event is that of Abraham. Genesis 12 introduces us to that truly international man who began from the great civilisation of the ancient world in the valley of the Euphrates and the Tigris, Mesopotamia (or Iraq as we call it today) and who then travelled across such frontiers as there were in those days, settling for a time in Egypt at the other end of the civilised world. He then moved away from there and settled among the nations in the land of Canaan, remaining there for very many years. We are told in Hebrews that all the time he was seeking a homeland. Neither Ur nor Egypt nor even Canaan in which he settled, was his homeland. Had they been mindful of the [10/11] country from which they went out, the chance would have come sooner or later for them to return to it, but they were desiring a better country than Ur or Egypt or Canaan: "They desire a better country, that is a heavenly" (Hebrews 11:16). Deeper than anything else, Abraham had an allegiance to his heavenly home. That is God's concern for all men.

1. The Blessing which God sets before the nations

There is one great blessing which God holds out to men of every race and colour, every creed and culture -- it is the blessing of justification. The heart of God's desire for the world is to justify men. Our thoughts naturally turn to evangelistic missions and the worldwide spread of the good news, but we have to record that a good deal beside evangelism has gone with Christian missions. All sorts of things have gone on under the umbrella of missions, and rightly so. The classical period of Christian missions in the 19th century was marked by the fact that when the missionary went off to the benighted corners of the globe all those years ago, he found people who had none of our advantages. The folk of those foreign lands had all sorts of needs. Some of them had far too many wives, some lived in grass huts; they didn't have medicine, they didn't have schools and in some remote places they didn't even have clothes.

The result was that, along with the gospel, missionaries took with them all those other benefits which they understood to be part and parcel of a 'Christian civilisation', Christian hospitals, Christian schools and many agencies which provided improvements together with the gospel. These things were good and we rightly supported them, but it is hard now for some Christians to understand that in many parts of the world those needs are passing or have already passed but a fundamental need remains. We have therefore to think again and to ask what is that which still persists even when Western benefits are no longer lacking. The answer of course is that the blessing which is still to be offered, whatever needs may or may not still apply, is the blessing of justification.

It may be that in some ways the world of the 1980s is not so different from that of the 1800s. There is still a third world, there are still needy people who lack the good things which we have. Christians therefore tend to feel that what such people need is food from us who have so much, so modern agencies arise like that of Christian Aid. The hungry must be fed -- and this is truly something which Christians should be doing. Or people must have help to feed themselves, so agricultural instruments and know-how are sent instead of food, and this is rightly seen as Christian activity. What we must never forget, though, is that if such needs did not exist, men still need the supreme blessing, that is the blessing of justification by which they are made right with God.

There are also Christians who argue that the real problem in so many lands is not so much economic but political; they suffer oppression by the governments under which they live. So Christians who are exercised by those who are under right-wing dictatorships have no way forward but to be helped by left-wing activities and all over the third world there has arisen what is called 'Liberation theology'. Discussions go on as to whether it is right for Christians to take up arms against repressive governments. Is it right or is it wrong?

I am not prepared to get involved in such matters but what I do know is that according to Galatians 3:8 the fact remains that under it all and behind it all, the blessing which God wants men to have is more than political freedom or a full belly -- it is the blessing of justification, that men should become right with God. We may be concerned for the rights, but what about the oppressors? What about the right-wing dictators, don't they have spiritual needs too? Do we not have to witness to all alike, to the one on top as well as to the underdog, to the right-wing as well as to the left-wing, to the 'haves' as well as to the 'have-nots', challenging them all in the name of Christ? In that sense it may be right for Christians to get more involved in the world than they have previously done, but always remembering that the heart of the Christian gospel is whether a man in his spirit is right with God or is not right with God. When all the economics are put right, when all the politics are functioning as they should, the question is still the matter of justification before God.

We who have so little by way of need, we who generally speaking are well off and comfortable therefore feel challenged by the condition of [11/12] those who are otherwise. The Spirit of God says, 'You live in the world of the 1980s and you must feel concerned about this, and this, and this'. We cannot avoid these world issues. Yet behind them all, Galatians 3:8 keeps reminding us that what God really wants to do is to justify men. Never be deflected from that central message of the gospel. God cares for the nations and wants them to be right with Himself, for the greatest need of all men is to have bridged that barrier of sin which has separated them at the deepest of all levels from their Maker. That is what God desires -- that is the great blessing which He sets before all nations.

When I ministered in a church in Kent, not far from the North Downs, it was a thing which never ceased to amaze me that wherever I travelled around, in the town, again and again as I came round a bend in the street or over the crest of a hill, I never failed to be confronted by the line of the hills. The hills were all around that town in the valley of the River Medway, and the sight of them met one at every turn. It is so spiritually. At every corner and over every crest, the main feature of the landscape is the need for man to be right with God. You cannot miss it. When all the other needs are met, this remains universal. The blessing needed by all is that of justification before God.

2. The Means which God sets before the nations

If the blessing which God wishes to provide for all is the same, then He also provides the same means. If the blessing is the same for all, wherever they live, whenever they live, then so is the means for obtaining that blessing. We are told here that God wanted to justify the Gentiles by faith. Faith is something which everyone can grasp. Faith is universally possible. There are parts of Scripture which are not easy to translate, to interpret or to understand. We even have that famous admission of Peter's that his dear brother Paul sometimes wrote things hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). Of course there are depths in Christian theology that we cannot grapple with and some which we may never understand until we get to glory. But faith is simple and clear.

It seems to be a principle of understanding Scripture that God has caused to be unmistakably clear those things which He wants everybody to know. We may even suggest that things which are preached in our churches which have to be dug up from the depths and take a great deal of explanation because they are so difficult to understand are, by that very token, of less importance. God knows very well the things which He wants us to be absolutely clear about, and He has seen to it that the issue of faith is very clear. Have you ever noticed how He so often uses the basic illustrations which everyone can understand by comparing spiritual truth to such simple matters as water, or bread or light? These are things which anyone of any culture in any part of the world and at any time in history can understand perfectly well. So it is with faith.

There are great differences between the nations, but in this respect we can say that every nation equally can be regarded as susceptible to faith. Anyone can believe. It is certainly true that anyone can and does exercise unbelief. In the first chapter of Romans Paul sets out very clearly the universal unbelief of man: "they do not see fit to acknowledge God" (Romans 1:28) is only one of the many references to unbelief in this disclosure of man's sin. Anyone can exercise unbelief and therefore its opposite, faith, is also available to all men. There is no-one who will be able to stand up at the last day and accuse the Lord of offering a way of salvation which he was not capable of using.

We probably know the acrostic for FAITH which reads: Forsaking All I Trust Him. In the last analysis, anybody knows what it means to say: "Lord, I leave behind me all the things that I do, all the things that I think, all the religious practices that I perform to make myself right with You. I leave them all behind and put all my reliance on Christ. Amen!" That is faith, and that is what God sets before all the nations. All the great qualities that there may have been in Abraham counted for nothing in his search for justification with God. The one thing that mattered, even in his case, was that he turned from himself and cast himself upon God. And that anyone can imitate.

Now of course we have to translate the gospel into other people's way of thinking and ways of speaking -- that is one of the great enterprises of the missionary movement -- but what is to be translated is always the same. The heart of the matter, that which everybody can understand once it gets across, is that what is needed is [12/13] simple faith. I realise that it is all too easy just to state that, but we have to face the question as to what exactly is faith and how does it work out in experience. And that is why, knowing our weakness, God has given us a living example. He doesn't explain it in theological terms or talk in abstract phrases but answers the question as to what faith is by calling us to look at one example. Abraham is not just for Jews: he is the one example which God has set before all the nations.

3. The Example which God sets before the nations

To help all the nations appreciate the true nature of faith, God calls our attention to Abraham, that grand, simple and original example. "Thus Abraham believed God and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." "So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham." "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand ...". With his New Testament gospel, Paul takes us back to the Old Testament, to tell us this abiding truth. In three verses he brings before us the three important parts of the story of Abraham by means of three quotations.

First he takes Genesis 12:3 and reminds us of the words, "in you shall all the nations be blessed". Then he quotes Genesis 15:6: "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness". Finally he repeats the statement about world blessing by quoting from Genesis 22:18. We therefore have three quotations from Genesis. What happened on those three occasions? They are the three great stages of experience of this man who is God's example of faith given to all of us. Genesis 12 shows us the Word of God. Genesis 15 shows Abraham's response and Genesis 22 shows us how he proved his faith by obedience. First there was the promise. God told Abraham that He had a great purpose for him, you are going to be so blessed that through you all the nations will be blessed. Abraham had nothing but the word of God to go on. There was no evidence of the promise, no son born as yet, but this promise that there would be became the first stage in his experience as a man of faith. Genesis 15 tells us that Abraham believed God. The promise had been repeated again and again and he trusted it so that it was counted unto him for righteousness. Three times over in the New Testament this statement is repeated (Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23). Finally we have the third stage in Abraham's experience as described in Genesis 22. Told by God to offer up his only and much loved son Isaac, he went to do it. Against all appearance, against his better judgment, against all considerations of humanity, even against what he understood of his God who so commanded him, Abraham proved his faith by obeying. "Do you want to know what faith is?" God asks, "then look back to My great example Abraham."

This is the example which God has set before all nations. By this God preached the gospel beforehand. What was Abraham's experience? God spoke to him. He believed it. He acted upon it. The question for us now is what does God say to us. In the past, maybe years ago, He told us that we must be born again, or words to that effect. We believed and acted upon it. "Repent and believe", He said, "Follow Me", "Go into all the world". We heard; we believed; and we acted upon it. Still today God speaks, putting His finger on this and that in our lives. He touches our will, He tells us what is His will, and we do something about it. It may seem strange that when we are talking about the grand New Testament truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ which we want all men to hear about, God should ask us to turn back to the Old Testament to see the shining example of faith. How comes it that this Old Testament figure fits in with our New Testament faith? Well, that brings us to our last point.

4. God sets the Gospel before all nations

It is one gospel, it is one Scripture, it is one revelation. God has the same message all through time. The fact that it became explicit and we understood for the first time who Jesus was when He actually came into the world at Bethlehem, that is neither here nor there. It is the same gospel through the whole of history and the Scripture was preaching that gospel for all the nations. This is the gospel of the cross and the resurrection. Now it is quite true that by the time he came to die, Abraham had not actually received the promise, but according to Hebrews 11:13 he had seen it afar off and he had greeted it. He understood as much as he needed to understand of what the promise was going to be. It was, in fact, the New Testament promise, the promise of the cross and the resurrection. [13/14]

That it was the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that the Scripture was speaking beforehand is vouched for by the Lord Himself: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56). I wonder when it was that Abraham saw the day of Jesus Christ. I think it may have been on Mount Moriah when he offered Isaac. There, when in the nick of time his hand was stayed and the knife did not descend, God provided a creature substitute to take the knife for Isaac. Abraham's words are taken by some as being "In the mount of the Lord it shall be provided", and of course that was true for the ram was provided in the place of Isaac. It seems more likely that what he said was, "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen". I would not be surprised to know that from that moment onward, to the end of his life, Abraham had more than an inkling of what the gospel was going to be.

Maybe Bethlehem was not thought of in his day. He knew nothing of Galilee and the Son to be born to the wife of a carpenter, but he knew that God was going to do something which would make him right with God and that the something had to do with an offering on an altar. It was the gospel, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it was the gospel for the whole world. God was saying, 'Abraham, I have got something good for you.' 'What is it Lord?' 'It is justification, Abraham. You can be right with Me. You can belong to Me, be My son and live with Me in heaven for ever.' 'Justification, Lord, how do I get it?' 'By faith, Abraham. By believing. That is all you have to do. By forsaking all else and trusting Me.' 'That's great, Lord. Do I just do that?' 'That is right, Abraham, and you become My example for the rest of history. You will stand there at the head of history, all ages and nations understanding through you what faith is all about.' 'Isn't that grand, Lord' says Abraham, 'Just me?' 'No, not just for you. A blessing to you and so the gospel for all nations. It is to be passed on.'

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things about the story of Abraham is that even as he grasped the blessing for himself, he was told that it was for someone else. "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." We hear much about the exclusiveness of the Jewish faith and there are things in the Bible which seem to make it an exclusive thing but whenever the people of Israel built walls around themselves and tried to keep their faith to themselves alone, they lacked the true spirit of Abraham. Thomas Chalmers, the great Scottish divine, spoke of this matter as not providing for exclusiveness but for 'a most expansive liberality'. The very thing which set the Jews apart and made them God's own distinct people was what God intended to lead to a most expansive liberality. The same applies to us. When the gospel comes to us and we respond to it by faith and act upon that faith, we find that it becomes a challenge to us to pass it on to others beside. God's intention is to set the gospel before all nations.

(To be continued)


(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 2)

John H. Paterson

"His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds ... when he had made purification of sins, sat down ... having become by so much better than the angels ..." (Hebrews 1:2-4).

THE Epistle to the Hebrews is a finely-argued letter but, to the thoughtful reader, it begins in a rather strange way. Let me express that strangeness in the form of a question and ask you: if you were setting out to convince a non-Christian of the validity of the Gospel; if you wanted to show him the excellencies of Christ, and the superiority of the way to God through Him to all other ways; if you wanted -- as this writer evidently did -- to make that case in the clearest fashion imaginable, would you begin by discussing angels? [14/15]

I do not for one moment believe that you would! Yet that is the subject to which this writer devoted almost the whole of the first chapter of his letter. And to that curious method of approach he added a further peculiarity -- he took the existence of God for granted, and did not 'discuss' Him at all! He simply began, "God ... has spoken".

Now if you are like me, you would argue this case just the other way round. You would say to yourself, 'What I have to make them see absolutely clearly is that God exists. I must begin by convincing them of His reality, His character, His goodwill.' As to the subject of angels, you would say to yourself, 'What in the world have they to do with the case?' And you might then go on to feel, as I should, that the angels are not only irrelevant to the argument but are actually likely to prove highly embarrassing in the discussion that is to follow. After all, one of the standing reproaches against the Christian church is that, when it should have been seeking men's salvation, it was wasting time arguing about how many angels could stand on the head of a pin.

No: when you and I find ourselves in discussion with friends or acquaintances outside the Christian faith, the subject of angels is not only unlikely to come up but is one which we shall probably do our best to avoid. The last thing we want to suggest in these troubled times is that the Gospel is about white-winged beings who are outside the realm of human suffering and need. And from the point of view of a person trying to follow the logic of the argument in this letter, angels would seem to form a complete non sequitur . What can they have to do with Christ and His salvation today?

What indeed? Well, they evidently have some connection, because this writer to the Hebrews was a very astute person, and we may be sure that, if he brought up the matter of angels, it was not just to form some kind of polite introduction to his letter. Sometimes, my students do that in writing their essays; they seem reluctant to come straight to the business of answering the question -- perhaps because they have not yet made up their minds what the answer is going to be! -- and so they write a paragraph or two about nothing in particular, before they get down to business.

For the writer of this epistle, angels evidently were his business, and his first business at that. To see why, we must try to understand the structure of the epistle.

The Structure of Hebrews

Let us then remind ourselves that Hebrews was written to demonstrate the superiority of the way to God through Christ over another way -- the way that Israel knew in Old Testament days, and to which the Jewish people still held. I almost wrote the word 'clung' instead of 'held', but for this writer that is rather an important distinction to make; the Jews did not 'cling' like a drowning man to a lifebelt or a falling man to a window-ledge -- they 'held' consciously and proudly to their old faith. After all, when God chose Israel they were the only nation who possessed any 'way to God' at all. It might be a narrow, difficult, circumscribed way but it worked and it was real and they knew, because God had told them so, that they had been chosen out of all the nations on earth to be the vehicle of His revelation of Himself.

We shall seriously misunderstand the epistle writer's task if we fail to see this: if we imagine that between Christ and the Old Testament order there was, as the Americans say, 'no contest'. On the contrary, anything that was superior to that Old Testament way must be very special indeed. What could it conceivably do that the old way did not itself accomplish? In setting out to demonstrate that the new way to God was superior to the old, the writer was confronting a truly formidable task.

He faced it by making a comparison between the various elements of the Jewish faith and the Christian. Between the two, he admitted many points of real comparison. You can find some of them in Hebrews 3:2 and 5:4-5, in such phrases as: "... (Christ) was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house" and "... no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ ...".

But he also had a sharp eye for the contrasts between the two faiths; to be exact, for the weaknesses of the old way. He went systematically through its features and showed how, at every level, Christ was greater than the greatest of the [15/16] figures of the past; greater than their marvellous institutions for bringing God and man together; greater than all the sacrifices which God Himself had ordained through Moses. Step by step and feature by feature he analysed these two ways, and showed that, in turning to Christ, they had not been mistaken (as they evidently feared), and so they should not contemplate turning back.

But where to begin? How does one set about making such a comparison? Let us agree that the logical place to start is, quite reverently, with God Himself. He is the great starting point. And here at once we may notice the significant thing: between Jew and Christian there was no disagreement! There was, on this subject, nothing to argue about! The writer of this epistle was not going to complain that he and they worshipped different gods, or that their claim to have God's revelation was false: he agreed with them! There was no need for these people to waste time arguing, as you or I would have to in our office or factory, about the existence of God and whether He is really in control or not. All this, for Jew and Christian, was common ground.

So, at the start of this letter, not a word is wasted: the first word is "God". The first thought is of God, creating, speaking, acting. In these two faiths, or systems of religion and life, there is at the top a common element -- the one true God.

But now we have to try to understand about those angels! -- "... having become so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (1:4). Immediately, you will notice, the tone has become argumentative; we are off the common ground. And I believe that the train of thought is this: that if you begin with God, who is all-powerful -- who has the "word of power" (1:3) -- and move down through the system (or what today we should call the 'power structure'), you will come to the next level or layer, the one below the top, and you will ask, 'After God, who is the next most powerful?'

In Old Testament days, there was very little doubt about the answer you would have received: the angels! Think of all the occasions in Israel's history when one of these mysterious beings appeared, and the upheavals and cataclysms that followed! The angel was more powerful than the great king, David, who saw him striking his people with pestilence as a consequence of David's own sin (2 Samuel 24:16-17). There were Abraham at the altar and Moses at the burning bush, great men both of them, but taking orders from angels. There was the father of Samson, who was convinced that, because he had seen an angel, he was bound to die (Judges 13:22). The association between angels and power, in the mind of the Jews, was very clear.

I think that this was the sequence of ideas which our writer was logically following. To prove the superiority -- indeed the perfection -- of Christ he had to start at the top of the 'power structure' and work down. If he had simply argued that Christ was greater than men, he would have left himself open to the rebuttal that men were, in Jewish experience, dominated by angels and that perhaps Christ was, too. As we now know, he was really going to argue just the opposite (Hebrews 1:14): that the angels are actually sent to "minister for" men. It was a step in his reasoning which, however, he could not omit, given the background of the readers he had to convince. If Christ is not greater than the angels, then His power is limited.

But He is greater! There are in Hebrews 1 three grounds for this claim. Very briefly, Christ is greater than the angels because He has:

(1) A better name

(2) A permanent throne

(3) A finished work behind Him

A better name -- the name of Son of God. The angels who appeared in Israel's history seldom had names. They were discreet, self-effacing, delivering messages but revealing little else. Only someone who shared a family tie with God could have spoken of Him as freely and fully as Jesus did. The angels could deliver a message but they could not, or would not, explain the thought behind it. Only a Son could do that.

A permanent throne. The angels are the most impermanent of beings, insubstantial as flames (1:7), unpredictable in their comings and goings. They never stayed for long; yet their presence made such a difference! If only the contact with God could be permanent, assured, continuous! And in Christ it is, for He is permanent though [16/17] heaven itself perish (1:11): "Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail". He is permanently seated on a throne to which He is entitled not only by inheritance, as God's Son, but also by His achievements (1:9): "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows."

A finished work. Did God ever say to an angel, "Sit thou at my right hand" (1:13)? The implication is that the person who is invited to sit down has finished his work. This is simply not true of angels. Far from having completed their tasks, they are obliged even now to be continuously active. Who would be prepared to have his guardian angel stop work and relax? Which of us is prepared to say, 'Thank you; you can sit down. I don't need you any more'?

No: the irony of the position is this -- that, powerful as angels are, their real task is simply to serve men. And this is just the first step in the argument of this writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christ is greater than all. In that fact we can rejoice!

(To be continued)


Poul Madsen

Reading: 1 John 3:1-3

WHEN we speak of the Coming of the Lord Jesus, we are dealing with something which lies quite outside of a historical subject. We cannot rightly call it a historical event. Neither the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus nor His resurrection from the dead can be called historical events in the ordinary sense of the words, even though they happened in the course of history. They were rather the mighty works of God, and perhaps that is why they are not mentioned in the world's history books. When Jesus comes again, it will not be just a historical event, though it will take place in a moment of time, but rather a matter of God's intervening.

More Than An Interesting Subject

For this reason we do not find this matter treated systematically in the New Testament. It bursts the bounds of any system. It is something that is revealed and if we have the least ear to hear we will not think in terms of an 'interesting' subject, but rather bow and tremble at its personal and practical implications in our own lives. If anyone begins to read this series in order to know when Armageddon will take place and what it will consist of, the reader should be warned straight away that I do not propose to deal with the variety of events but simply with the fact that Christ is coming .

In 1952 Professor Niels Bohr gave a lecture on nuclear physics, and was surprised to get no reaction from his audience. His comment was: 'If they were not terrified, then they did not understand me at all'. Since then the world has come to understand, and no longer considers it an 'interesting' subject, but one that inspires fear. When we talk of the Second Coming, the same danger is possible, and is more like trying to fit the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into their place. If that is our attitude, then we have entirely missed the point. Surely if there is anything calculated to inspire concern it is the fact that Christ is coming visibly. If we know ourselves, we will fear and tremble, for who are we to speak glibly of so meeting Him?

Far be it from us to indulge in sensationalism over world events. Do you find Christ crucified a subject of sensationalism? Do you think that the resurrection of our Lord was in such a category? No, we read that they were terrified when they saw Him; they fled in terror from the empty tomb. On that great Day of His Coming, people will not invite one another to enjoy an exciting sensation. It will be the appearing of the Holy One, and the only concern will be our personal and responsible relationship to Him.

Rather than a new development in history, this Coming will be the conclusion of history. That which is entirely new and divinely new, which no-one can even imagine, will come into being in a moment. We need grace to consider the matter rightly, and not drag it down into a 'subject' which can be enjoyed and then discuss [17/18] its details over cups of coffee, approving or disapproving of some points which may or may not be Scriptural. The central point, according to John, is that in the light of His pure presence we must purify ourselves. We now consider our great hope in this spirit.

The Future Aspect of Salvation

To a great extent, salvation lies in the future. Thank God that there is complete salvation today, "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14). Yet while it is perfect, it is also interim, for the same letter tells us that our Saviour will appear "unto salvation for them that wait for him" (9:28). In other words, those who are saved are still waiting for salvation. Then we will be delivered not only from an earthly body but also from a carnal nature which still exists.

This interim experience of salvation is everywhere made a matter of contrast in the New Testament; salvation is now, for it is now that we have peace with God, now that we are justified, now is the day of salvation, and yet Paul insists that he had not already obtained nor was already made perfect (Philippians 3:12). Paul preached that salvation is now, and yet knew that he still waited for the fulness. We are called 'saints' and yet deceive ourselves if we deny that we are sinners. Satan is conquered by the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:15) and yet he is still very active (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Death is defeated by Christ's resurrection and yet death is still active. All these things will change when Christ returns and there will be nothing that remains interim. That is why we long for His Coming.

No Deficiency In Our Salvation

This condition in which we find ourselves does not mean that there is any lack in our salvation. Is it a lack that we grow old, that our body wears out, that it is not yet redeemed? Those who think so make a great mistake. This is the will of God and must be the case until Christ comes. This is the interim period in which God wants us to learn to trust Him. Some might argue that this gap between our actual condition and the future that we long for is due to a lack of faith. This is almost as bad as the false teaching, exposed by Paul, which said that the resurrection had already taken place. It has not!

It is in the wisdom of God that we grow old and grey, no longer being able to do the things which we could do twenty or so years ago and groaning for our new resurrection body. Paul tells us that we have received "the spirit of adoption" but in that very same chapter he reminds us that "we are waiting for our adoption, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:15 and 23).

No, there is no deficiency in our salvation, but since at the moment our salvation is outwardly invisible, we are called upon to fight the good fight of faith. When people of the world come and look at us they do not say that obviously we are saved, for our life is hid with Christ in God. They cannot discern suffering believers in lands of oppression as children of God, and might well be inclined to argue that if there is a God He must have forgotten them since they have no power and little or no comforts.

Faith wins the greatest victories in circumstances in which superficial preachers regard it as having failed. If God wants to give more power to a sick body, He is well able to do so, but if He does not so wish, then He gives all the more grace. No-one -- not even the one who has been healed -- avoids growing old and the loss of physical powers. This is the dispensation of faith, the interim when all the real treasures are hidden. We are still waiting for the redemption of the body.

If, however, the world cannot recognise our salvation by other means, there is a way by which it can be known, and that is by a holy life. Such a life of holiness can be the means by which men are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, something very different from sensational manifestations. Salvation is a mystery. It is called so in the New Testament. Faith is a mystery. The world can neither understand salvation nor faith; and it can be difficult enough even for us when things go in the opposite way from which we had expected to be the case for a man or woman of God. It is the way of the cross, and it calls for ever-growing faith.

The Final Denouement

When Christ comes, the interim will be changed into the final, the imperfect to the perfect, the hidden to the visible. This will not be a gradual change or development but will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. And it will be by reason of the intervention of God. For that reason, in principle it will not be one more phase of history, but something entirely new; something [18/19] created by God and quite beyond our understanding. In a sense, everything will come to an end and everything will become new. This is quite beyond all schemes of events and diagrammatical demonstrations, for it will be God Himself who appears. It will be so surprising that even the deepest students will be unable to claim that they foresaw it just like that. No, for it will be what no eye has seen, no ear heard, what has never entered into the heart of man to conceive. It will not just be an occasion -- it will be a Person.

It fills us with awe. If the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, then surely this truth is relevant with regard to the Coming of Christ. There is a right kind of fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and it is with this that we face the prospect of Christ's Coming. God never comes without judgment, so this Coming will bring us into the light of what we really are. Everything will be made clear, "For we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ as we are" (Danish). It will not be as we have appeared to others, or as we have hidden behind a screen of piety, but as we have been abiding in Him (1 John 2:28). I know, of course, that this is not the whole story, but it will not hurt us to replace mental interest in the subject of the Second Coming by a deep respect and awe. On that day we will fall on our faces and worship.

The work of judgment goes on all the time, though at present it is largely hidden. A sensitive conscience makes us aware of God's mind. On that day, however, the judgment will not be hidden but openly manifest at Christ's judgment seat. That is why John tells us that everyone who has this hope in Christ "purifies himself, even as he is pure". At present grace reigns. Then it will be glory that reigns, then, but not till then. Until then we prepare ourselves. Until then we follow the Lamb. Until then we commit ourselves to His will.

There are many 'subjects' connected with the Coming; the rapture, the millenium, the judgments, etc., but His Coming is more than a subject, it is a hope which should both awe and thrill our hearts. "We shall see Him as He is!"

(To be continued)


(Some comments on Ezra)

Harry Foster

IN 1 Corinthians 12:31 the apostle exhorts us eagerly to desire the greater spiritual gifts. I cannot aspire to the highest ones of apostleship or prophetic office but at least I can work up the list to that most desirable gift of what are classified as 'helps'. I am encouraged to pray for this gift since it has a whole book of the Old Testament devoted to it under the title of Ezra. Now, of course, Ezra was a historic character, but the word actually means 'help' as, for example, "a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). If God is an 'Ezra', a Help, then I would earnestly desire to have this spiritual gift too.

The man Ezra was a kind of second or third generation man, for in his book he himself only appears from chapter 7 onwards. Others had pioneered the return from the captivity -- Zerubbabel and the others -- while Ezra came in at a later date to help the work on. He explains how he was able to do this with the phrase about the hand of his God being upon him, an expression which he repeats six times in chapters 7 and 8. They may repay a closer examination.

1. Purpose (7:6)

He discloses what was in his heart by his words of praise about Artaxerxes: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord" (7:27). Well, it was only in the king's heart because it began in the heart of Ezra himself who had his request to the king granted, "according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him". Surely this was a noble purpose of Ezra's -- to beautify the house of the Lord.

It was not an impulse or his own bright idea, but the effect of having the sense of a grip of God upon his life. This is where it should all begin. Those who take up some task for any lesser reason will sooner or later discover that the thing is too big or too hard for them. But [19/20] none need hesitate or delay. The honour of God's house should be our first concern and if it is we will soon find our whole outlook mastered by a divine purpose.

2. Progress (7:9)

Ezra was a man of prayer but he was equally a man of action. It took four months of arduous travelling for him even to get to grips with the work in hand, but he was able to make progress along that daunting journey because he had not only the hand, but "the good hand" of his God upon him. The same avails for us. Our faith and patience may be tried by difficulties and delays but we will always find the good hand of our God upon us if we persevere in that to which we have been called. We notice that he not only began with a set purpose but made his progress in the same spirit for "Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach ..." (v.10). With our set hearts and God's good hand, how can we fail to make spiritual progress?

3. Power (7:28)

Nothing really worthwhile is easy. Whether Ezra was a strong character or not, he soon found that he needed divine energy and encouragement if he was to press on with his task. And so do we. The question is not whether we are strong types or not, but whether we are enjoying constant renewals of strength, as Ezra did, according to the good hand of the Lord our God upon us. This is only another way of describing the working of the Holy Spirit, the One who gives power for building in God's house. Remember, we began by a reference to 'helps' as spiritual, charismatic, gifts. There is no reason, therefore, for us to be discouraged or deterred, since power for service comes from God. Somehow faith is infectious. In Ezra's case it meant that he was able to gather together choice colleagues to share his encouragement of heart as they faced the work.

4. Partnership (8:18)

"According to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man ...". In the end there was quite a group of them. No-one can worship or serve in isolation. Whether or not a church can find it sufficient to have one apostle or just one miracle-worker, I do not know, but I do believe that it will be a feeble and unfruitful church if it does not have real co-operation in this sphere of being helpful. In their three-day encampment by the river, Ezra realised the great need for partners in the work of God's house. The hand of God provided them -- "all of them were expressed by name" (v.20). What about your name?

5. Prayer (8:22)

No doubt Ezra had been a man of prayer all the time but at this juncture he felt that special prayer was called for, so they humbled themselves before the God whose hand they so desperately needed and concerning whom they so boldly testified. To me it is always inspiring to read that Ezra was "ashamed" to ask for human help. This, surely, is the right kind of shame. Having testified so confidently to the king that God's hand was upon those who trusted Him, how could he then turn and request assistance from the world? Incidentally, he had mentioned to the king that God's hand was far from being on those who forsake God, so it would have been a shameful thing for Ezra even to appear to have done that. May the Lord give us that kind of shame and that kind of faith -- it will surely help to beautify His house.

6. Protection (8:31)

The whole story is a thrilling one of how the whole band was prospered and protected in its journey, finally reaching the goal with no loss at all of the treasure committed to them. It was not without its hazards. There were -- and still are -- many enemies and "liers in wait" in the path of those who seek the honour of the Lord's house, but how can there be failure or loss when men have the overshadowing of the hand of the Lord as they move forward in His will?

7. Provision (7:22)

There are only six references to God's hand but I suggest that the story is better for being completed by just one more reference which lists the provisions laid down by statute so that everything should be as God would have it. It is wholly adequate. We read of "an hundred" in the list of talents, measures, baths, etc., but the final item of salt is described as being "without prescribing how much"! The vital ingredient, never to be lacking in the whole range of sacrifices, was to be provided unstintingly and without measure. This seems to reassure us that when we humbly know the good hand of our God upon us in any enterprise, we can always count on an adequate supply of life and grace to meet every need. [20/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(is it not a little one?)" Genesis 19:20

THERE has been so much appreciation of the series on "Spiritual Parentheses" that I feel encouraged to embark now on the Old Testament, continuing to try to find spiritual values in phrases which are enclosed in brackets in our English versions. This one: "is it not a little one?" could easily have been passed over, for it is so insignificant. It centres on Zoar which itself means 'little'.

LOT was not an attractive character. Somehow the whining, wheedling request to be allowed to find shelter in Zoar seems to fit the man. It was the little prayer of a little man.

HE was little in the eyes of the Sodomites (19:9) as also in the eyes of his sons-in-law (19:14). He was little to his wife, for she seemingly walked out on him from Zoar and little indeed to those two daughters of his, who thought nothing of using him for their own purposes (19:32). His prayer about Zoar was answered, but did him little good, for he was soon afraid to stay there and went up into the mountains after all (19:30) only to get involved in those disgraceful episodes which produced two great enemies of God's people -- the Moabites and the Ammonites.

IT would hardly be worth writing about this little prayer if it were not for the background of the great prayer of Lot's kinsman Abraham (19:27-29). It is amazing that, in answering Lot's prayer, the destroying angel confessed that he was powerless to rain down the fires of judgment until Lot was safe: "I cannot do anything till thou be come hither" (verse 22).

IT was really Abraham's prayer that God was answering. The pettiness of Lot's plea about Zoar was completely swallowed up by the greatness of his kinsman's mighty persistence in prevailing prayer (18:20-33). I am inclined to despise Lot's self-centred prayer which was not about Zoar or even his family, but just about his own safety. I marvel that it received such acceptance and that Zoar was spared for his sake. Yet who am I to do that? Possibly I have often been a little man praying little and unworthy prayers, but even so I can testify that my prayers have been heard and wonderfully answered.

THE explanation of Lot's experience was that, in the presence of God, he had a kinsman-redeemer whose prayers were accepted and remembered. The same explanation is surely valid in relation to our prayers. We have the Lord Jesus, our great Kinsman-Intercessor ever living to pray for us. That is why we are not only to be saved but saved "to the uttermost" (Hebrews 7:25). That is why our prayers are so graciously answered.

LOT only prayed for selfish reasons but in fact Zoar was spared for his sake (19:21) and was still there as the last place which Moses saw when he surveyed the land from Mount Pisgah (Deuteronomy 34:3). What a wonderful prayer-answering God we have. Zoar may have been a very little place, but it brings us a big lesson about a great Saviour.


[Back cover]

Jeremiah 17:12

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