"Praising and Blessing God"

"Behold thou shalt be dumb and not able to speak … because thou believest not my words" (Luke 1:20).

"And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:52-53).

The Gospel of Luke commences with a dumb priest in the temple, and closes with a company of men in that same place "praising and blessing God": proof to us of some great occurrence between the two.

Now if any man on earth ought to have praised God it was Zacharias, for he was a priest, and in the temple of God. Moreover the angel of God had just announced to him most blessed things; but there was no response in his heart to the glad tidings from God: he met them with rank unbelief. As a consequence the astonished Gabriel pronounced God's sentence upon him, and his dumb lips became the outward sign of his inward and spiritual state of unbelief; and this condition was typical of that in which all men are by nature.

It was not for this that man was created, for it is written that whoso offereth praise glorifieth God: God created man for His glory — a well-tuned instrument — to respond to the touch of His infinite goodness with intelligent and joyous thanksgiving. But the devil spoiled God's handiwork by introducing distrust of God into the heart of man; and the chord was lost, and the music died out, and instead of songs of praise greeting God's advent in the garden, Adam — a fallen man, a sinner against God, cowered away in dumb fear from the One who loved and had lost him.

But God cannot be baffled, nor His purpose thwarted, and the apparent triumph of the devil only yielded the opportunity for the establishment of the praise of men upon a secure and eternal basis.

This basis is found in Christ. He came to be about His Father's business (chap. 2:49): this business was to call sinners to repentance (chap. 5:32), to seek and save that which was lost (chap. 19:10), "to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (24:46-47). He came to destroy the works of the devil, and to deliver men from his power and bring them to God, so that faith might take the place of unbelief and love supersede enmity, and worship and thanksgiving break forth from hearts and lips, that erst were dumb.

It is intensely interesting and blessed to see then that when He was "carried up into heaven," His mission to earth completed, there was left behind in this world of sin, and unbelief, and sorrow, and death, a company of men who had been put into tune with heaven, and whose hearts vibrated with responsive praise to that boundless love which had been expressed in the Lord Jesus Christ: they were filled with "great joy, and were continually … praising and blessing God." It will be readily admitted that theirs was a most blessed and desirable condition: and yet this is the normal Christian condition, and where it is absent in true believers there is some cause. But there are certain things which are necessary to it, and these are clearly indicated for us in this closing chapter of the Gospel.

The Word of God

The two disciples travelling to Emmaus had no song, for sad men do not sing (v. 17). They had placed their hopes in Christ as the glorious immediate Redeemer of Israel, but instead of realizing these hopes they had seen Him rejected by the Jews and crucified in weakness; and these walkers according to the light of their eyes were returning to their own homes gloomy and disappointed. There was no need for their despondency for that day was the most glorious in all the annals of time: and if the stars of the morning sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy when the earth's foundations were laid, how much more cause for joy was there on this day in which was manifestly established a new creation which can never be spoiled by sin and death!

But the Lord laid bare the cause of their gloom when He said, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (v. 25), and it was necessary for Him to begin at "Moses and all the prophets," and expound to them "in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (v. 27).

Unbelief lay at the root of their sadness: their own thoughts, and perhaps the traditions of men, had a larger place in their minds than all that the prophets have spoken. Hence they did not understand the thoughts and ways of God.

It is important to note the way that the Lord took to lead them out of the darkness into which unbelief had carried them. He did not straightway reveal Himself to them, as we might have expected Him to do; but He threw them back upon the Scriptures. As another has said, "He led them into the infallible Word of God, which discloses to us the divine counsels of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow, that their faith might rest on the testimony of God in the written Word."

They had neglected to heed all the Scriptures, and so they had missed the precious treasure that the Scriptures contained, the truth as to Himself.

Who but God could have revealed beforehand those sufferings and that glory, and with what reverent joy we who know Christ can turn to the Holy Writings, knowing them to be God-breathed, to find them like to a golden casket which when opened reveals priceless gems, which glow and scintillate before the astonished eye! It was thus with these two troubled disciples, for as they saw and heard things concerning Himself, their sadness and disappointment fled, and their hearts glowed with hope, and faith, and love.

The first essential to fullness of joy is to believe all that God has spoken, to accept His word in simple and unquestioning faith; we shall never understand it, or Him, until we do this; for it is "through faith we understand" (Heb. 11:3), and "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17).

This ministry of Christ is continued to us by the Holy Spirit come down from above, for He has come to take of the things that are Christ's and show them to us; but this is not apart from the Scriptures: they are indispensable to our understanding the ways of God in Christ.

The Risen Christ

But the value of the Scriptures is that they turn the thought and eye to Christ. We are therein taught the glory of His shame; for more glorious was He, thorn-crowned and rejected, than if He had been borne to the throne of David amid the acclamations of the multitude of Israel. Upon the dark background of that unmeasured and unrelieved sorrow there shone the glory of His moral perfection. Men despised Him for what they judged to be weakness, when as a lamb He was led to the slaughter, but then there shone forth that infinite meekness, absolute subjection to the will of God, and the strength of a love that no terrors could daunt. Moreover, it was then that the wisdom, and might, and love of God were displayed: that cross was the triumph of the divine heart, and there in that shamed and crucified MAN we see the glory and wisdom of God's eternal plan. Throughout the eternal ages that cross will be our grandest and most profound contemplation.

But the disciples who had lost Him for awhile (for they could not follow Him into that mystery of darkness and sorrow when surged around Him the hatred of men and devils, and when His soul was made an offering for sin) had found Him again: He was with them in all the value of His sacrifice and the power of His resurrection. He was with them as the Saviour who had died for them (v. 40); the Centre to gather them (v. 36); the Lord to command them (vv. 46-49); and the great High Priest to sustain them in the blessing He had secured for them (v. 50).

With hands uplifted in blessing He was parted from them: they knew that He had gone to the exaltation of God's throne, they knew that that place was the only one worthy to receive Him, it was His due: infinite perfection had received just recognition, and in the sense of this their hearts were filled with exultant joy and praise.

We have the same blessed triumphant Saviour, Centre, Lord, and Priest, the One in whose mighty hand all the purposes and promises of God are held securely, so that not one of them will fail of fulfilment. He is given to us to be the object of our love, and our Lord; to dispossess every idol: and, as in all things He is pre-eminent, we too shall worship Him, and be filled with great joy, praising and blessing God.