Faith, Faithfulness, Fellowship

"And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe . . . After this came Joseph of Arimathaea . . . And there came also Nicodemus" (John 19:35, 42).

Faith

We begin with faith. Faith is the response in a human heart to a Divine revelation. God says it, I believe it. That is faith. God has made a full revelation of Himself. He has shown to men what He is, but when He did it we were not there to see, and if the revelation is to affect and bless us, if we are to believe and understand it, we must have a true record of it, a divinely inspired record, and such we have here. He that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, THAT YE MIGHT BELIEVE." What was it that he saw? The Son of God hanging dead upon a cross, with blood and water flowing from His wounded side. That was a great sight, and God commends it to our special attention.

Since the time that the startled earth was first made to drink the blood of a man, foully slain by the son of his own mother, there had been millions of deaths in the world, for death from that time was as common as birth, and tears and misery. We do not wonder at that, for when by one man, Adam, sin entered into the world, death followed quickly and irrevocably upon its heels, and it has passed upon all his children and claimed them as its rightful prey. These multitudes who had died were all creatures whose life was forfeited to their Creator; they commenced their journey to the grave with the first breath that they drew, for not one of them was without sin. There was nothing noteworthy in the death of any of them, for death was the common lot, but in the death of this Man who John saw yield up His life there was. Death had no claim upon Him at all, for He was not a sinner, but the holy, sinless Son of God. He had shown Himself to be the Master of death before many witnesses on at least three occasions, for He was the Word, the Creator and Life-giver. Yet He died, and because of what He was and who He was, His death was unique. Never had there been one like it before, and never shall there be one like it again. It stands alone, unrivalled, to be unforgotten for ever and ever. An eye-witness has recorded the fact. He did not argue about it, there is no room for argument, the fact was too stupendous; he did not even interpret it; he has simply told us what he saw, and his testimony commands our earnest consideration. It is a Holy Ghost inspired testimony of a great event and it cannot be ignored. It calls for our faith for it has been told us that we might believe. Yet we on our part may reverently ask for an explanation. What does the death of the Son of God, and Has death in such circumstances, mean? Let us see.

God sent His only-begotten Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it. He became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. It was the day of revelation and of testing. Never before had absolute goodness appeared in the world; never before had unconditional mercy unfolded its treasures to assuage the miseries of men; never before had the true light shone in the darkness, for never before had God been manifested in the flesh. What was the answer to it on the part of men? Hatred, treachery and murder! "Ye have been the betrayers and murderers of the Just One," said Stephen, when he pressed home upon the leaders of the Jews their awful guilt.

"The Father sent the Son
  A ruined world to save.
Man meted to the sinless One
  The Cross, the grave."

As we read the record of John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," let us stand in thought near to that cross with him and fix our earnest gaze upon the Lord as he assuredly did. Many things that are recorded for our learning and faith in the other Gospels John did not see, or if he saw them it was not his work to record them. He does not, for instance, record in such full detail the unspeakable cruelty with which men treated his Master. The other evangelists show us that nothing was left undone that they could imagine. In the excess of their hatred they heaped suffering and shame upon Him as never was heaped upon a man before, and we do well often to read their records, that we may have no delusions as to what the heart of man is when he is put to the test. But John does not dwell on this side of the cross, he is absorbed with his Lord. So when he describes the going forth to Golgotha, he is the only witness who says, "He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull." In the other records we read that He was led forth by His foes, and John tells us this too, for that was the culmination of their guilt; but He went forth, that was the triumph of His love. He went forth; do we not discern the majesty of that lonely Man, with thorns on His head and a cross upon His shoulders? He was not driven forth or dragged forth, but in obedience to His Father's command He went forth to lay down His life and to take it again. It was this that John saw, though he could not have understood at that time the full meaning of it, and the sight made an indelible impression upon his soul. We read in the ancient Scriptures that "His goings forth have been of old, from everlasting" (Mic. 5). How glorious were those goings forth when as the great Creator He cast the stars before Him as a shining pathway for His feet, and the sons of God shouted for joy as they beheld the wonders of His works, but none of those goings forth were as wonderful as this, when bearing His cross He went forth into a place called the place of a skull. In creation He displayed wisdom and power; at the cross He revealed in all their glory, righteousness and love, and fuller wisdom and greater power than were called for or possible at creation.

John heard Him cry, "It is finished," and saw Him bow His head and give up the ghost, and bears witness to what he heard and saw, and again we feel that there is a majesty about this that fills us with awe, and we do not wonder that "when the centurion [a pagan up to that moment as far as we know] which stood over against Him saw that He so cried, he said, Truly this Man was the Son of God" (Mark 15).

But John seems to gather up all his energy to bear witness to the final scene that was enacted when the Lord had yielded up His life. He tells us that "one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." It is this that he saw, and to this he bears witness, and his witness cannot be challenged, he knows that he saith true, THAT YE MIGHT BELIEVE. This witness is essential, it is vital, for here is the revelation that awakens faith and to which faith responds What does it mean? Let us see. The devil by his subtlety in Eden turned the hearts of God's creatures from Him and made them believe that God did not love them, for was He not withholding something from them that would do them good? The poison did its deadly work, and they fell from their faith and fidelity, and from that time onward the very nature of men has been suspicion of and enmity against God, as the Scriptures declare. That enmity found its final expression in that spear thrust that rent the side of Jesus. The wickedness of men was fully exposed by it, but the blood and water was God's answer to that wickedness and to the devil's lie that was the first cause of it. In the blood we behold the triumph of God; it is the great price that He has paid to rescue us from darkness and destruction. His care for His creature's blessing was fully revealed by it. It is the witness to us that GOD IS LOVE. No less a sacrifice would have done, no greater could have been given. "God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all," and He "commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Our sins have met their judgment in the death of Christ, all that we were passed under God's condemnation when His dear Son was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. By the death of Jesus God is just and the Justifier of all that believe. Here is solid ground upon which we may rest in peace; here is a revelation of God which calls for our willing faith. Here we meet with God in Him whom He hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, and before this mercy seat we bow down and worship. The darkness is past for us and the true light now shines, and hereby we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us and faith can sing: —

"The precious stream of water and of blood
Which from the Saviour's side so freely flowed,
Has put away our sins of scarlet dye,
Washed us from every stain and brought us nigh."

Faithfulness

If we have believed the witness of the disciple whom Jesus loved, let us still stand with him and watch the sequence of events. The end has come. No miracle has been wrought to save the Son of God from death, and there He hangs, dishonoured and dead, the whole world against Him, and the world apparently triumphant. He had pleaded with men, toiled for them, wept for them, and now He had died for them, but they knew it not and were glad to be rid of Him. But will His death be in vain? Will any amongst the vast multitude that had gathered to see that crucifixion be moved by it? Shall there be any response in any man ere the sun goes down to this boundless love? Yes, there is a movement. One man stands forward, separating himself from his fellows; he goes to Pilate and begs the body of Jesus. And now he stands beside the cross, one solitary man in the face of a hostile world. It is as though he said, "O Jews, ye have spurned Him, but I embrace Him. O world, ye have despised and crucified Him, but I love Him. I share in His shame, and will bear His reproach. Christ for me. Ye are on that side, I am on this." Ah, heaven must have been thrilled at that sight, and so are we, as we see Joseph of Arimathaea turn his back upon the world and its prizes and honours and stand friendless and alone by that cross for the love he bore the One who hung upon it. It was here that Paul stood when he said, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world." It was here that the Eunuch from Ethiopia stood, when, having heard from Philip that the life of Jesus was taken from the earth, he said, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" And his identification with Christ in His death is the only place and path for the believer who would be faithful to Him "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?" and as He suffered without the gate, faithfulness demands that we should go forth unto Him bearing His reproach.

Fellowship

The love of Christ constrained Joseph to take his stand in faithfulness to Christ regardless of all consequences, and to take it alone; but he has no sooner done it than he is joined by another, for Nicodemus, braving the frowns and scorn of his fellow-Pharisees, throws in his lot with Joseph, and they, with perhaps two women or more, are joined together as one to do honour to their rejected and dishonoured Lord. It is a moving sight to see them identified with His dead body, Himself their object, their love to Him the bond that makes them one! And in them we see illustrated what true Christian FELLOWSHIP in this world is. Look at those "two or three" as they tend the sacred body of the Lord, wrapping it in linen clothes with the spices and bearing it away to the sepulchre. The world is lost to them, they are heedless of its praise or blame, they have one common object, they are absorbed with Him, and they are acting according to the mind of heaven and with the approval of God.

It is well that we should ask the question as to how we stand in regard to this same matter. Any fellowship that we may profess is a mere show, if this that moved the hearts of these people is lacking. We may stand for external correctness and strive even to have everything according to the terms of the truth, and be intolerant of any who do not see as we see, but if there is not this faithfulness to Christ, and this affection for Him that binds hearts together as one, it is of no account to God, it is the shell without the kernel, and a stumbling block to others.

Do we know the meaning of the words, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread"? Do we know what it means to "SHOW THE LORD'S DEATH TILL HE COME"? It means that we stand together in faithfulness and affection for the One whom the world rejected, and that by eating His supper together, which brings Him to mind in His death for us, we declare to all who can take notice that we are identified with Him, that we stand by His cross, that it has become our boast and our glory. It is a solemn stand to take but a blessed one. It will not meet with the world's approval but it will have God's. It will cause us to walk in self-judgment and in separation from the world, but it will open up for us a sphere in which Christ is everything and in which we shall be more than satisfied with His love, for it is written, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him," but these things are revealed to us by His Spirit and they are our common portion to be enjoyed together as faith produces faithfulness, and faithfulness draws us together in holy, happy fellowship.