There are three major branches of ministry: doctrinal, practical and devotional. What I have to say is mainly doctrinal but with practical implications. My message can be summed up in three statements.
1. God is holy.
2. God makes those who are His holy.
3. God expects and requires those who are His to be holy.
In a word I want to say something about sanctification, which is almost, though not perhaps exactly, the same as holiness. God is inherently, intrinsically holy. He is pure, He is clean, and He is different to every other person. He is apart from all else and from all other persons and we need to bear that in mind. Anything or anyone else that can be deemed to be holy in the sight of God must take on in measure this particular characteristic that God Himself has totally, and be clean, pure, and altogether apart from any pollution or contamination. Then, having considered that, we shall look at positional sanctification; what God has made all those who are believers on the Lord Jesus. We will look at Scriptures where God says that He has set such apart for Himself. Then, finally, we shall consider the third element, what we know instinctively to be true, that those whom God has set apart positionally as to status before Himself, He requires to be sanctified, practically set apart (morally) from others in the world who are not His. This is practical sanctification.
1. God is holy
First of all then, does Scripture support the statement that God is holy? It is prophetically said of the Lord Jesus in Psalm 22, in His holy Manhood, that in that terrible moment of abandonment He cried “My God, My God … Thou art holy” (Ps. 22:1, 3). The prophet Isaiah in chapter 6 says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:3). Perhaps it is because of this statement, repeated in Revelation 4, that God is spoken of as a thrice holy God. God is a triune God, three distinct Persons, one God. When we come to the disciples' prayer in the Gospels the Lord Jesus encouraged the disciples on earth, taking account of God in heaven, to seek that His Name might be “Hallowed,” holy, sanctified (Matt. 6:9). When we come to Peter's first epistle, Peter says, “He which hath called you is holy” and again he says, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). And then in Revelation again, “Thou … art holy” (Rev. 15:4). We do well to test our fundamental statements of Christian truth against the plumb line of Scripture. In this matter of holiness or sanctification we must start with this basic premise, well founded in Scripture, that God Himself is set apart from all others. When we look at these instances in Scripture we will find that it gives substance to any other conclusions we come to.
God has revealed Himself as a triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Accepting that God as such is holy, is it right to say from Scripture that the Father, as such, the Son, as such and the Spirit, as such, are intrinsically, inherently sanctified or holy? In seeking to answer this question as to the Father, we need go no further than the prayer of the Son in John 17. Speaking to the Father, His Father, He said, “Holy Father.” If there is only one Scripture, provided it is established as Scripture and, as far as we can tell, an accurate translation, we do not need more than one. The Father is holy, the Father is sanctified, for the Lord Jesus expressly said, “Holy Father.”
When we come to the Lord Jesus personally we find that His holiness is borne witness to by the three major writers of the epistles: John, Paul and Peter. John says of the Lord, “In Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5). That is a negative way of asserting His absolute holiness and personal sanctification. There was nothing in Him that sin could appeal to, or that the devil himself could use to bring about His apparent downfall. Intrinsically, inherently, He is the Holy One. He revealed Himself in the address to Philadelphia as “He that is holy, He that is true” (Rev. 3:7). That was John considering the Lord Jesus in His intrinsic, personal worth. When we turn to Paul we read that God “Hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Not only was there no sin in Him, but He knew no sin. There was nothing that ever entered His holy mind that was of sinful character for He was perfectly holy, through and through. Peter gives us the last necessary touch. Not only inherently, not only in the thoughts that passed through His mind, but in action too He was absolutely pure and holy. Peter says of Him, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
Now here we have to take account of something slightly different. When we read Scripture we learn of things that are true of the Lord Jesus in Himself, without reference to anyone or anything else. But then we come to statements of Scripture which tell us what He is relative to us and positions or conditions into which He has voluntarily entered on our behalf. I mention this because there are some Scriptures about the sanctification of the Son of God which we wouldn't otherwise understand unless it was in that relation. Remember John 10:36, “(The Son) whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world.” Taking our original statement that to be sanctified is to be set apart to God, we have here in John 10 the Lord's statement that the Father set the Son apart for the express purpose of coming into the world that we might have life through Him. It was not for any need of His own or because of any requirement upon Him. It was on our behalf because it would ultimately lead Him into the work that He did at Calvary for our blessing. It was for that purpose that the Father sanctified the Son and sent Him into the world. The Son then was sanctified by the Father. When we get to the Son's prayer in John 17 He uses this term again in that positional way: “I sanctify Myself” (John 17:19). He was going to set Himself apart from earth and go to heaven and take up a position in manhood that He had never before had in manhood. This again was to lead to blessing for us. He sanctified Himself in leaving the world and going back to the Father and this was a positional sanctification. One way of distinguishing between things which differ is to say that sanctification is to be set apart for the service of God, dedication is rather to be given up to the service of God and consecration is to have the hands filled in the service of God. All three terms were and are, of course, true of the Lord Jesus. In that comprehensive verse at the end of 1 Corinthians 1, speaking of the Lord Jesus again, the apostle Paul said, “Who of God is made unto us,” among other things, “sanctification” (1 Cor. 1:30). He is the epitome of sanctification and unless we are in Him and of Him we cannot enter into this blessing of sanctification. How many blessings we have which are only available to us because we are in Christ! Sanctification is one of them. Lastly, in the epistle to the Hebrews 2, “He that sanctifieth (the sanctifying One) and they who are sanctified (the sanctified ones),” — they owe their sanctification to Him (Heb. 2:11). He is the sanctifying One because He Himself personally and positionally was set apart to the service of God and that is why He came into the world.
God, as such, is sanctified, holy. The Father, as such, is sanctified, holy. The Son, as such, is sanctified, holy — on His own behalf and also that we might be blessed. The Spirit is characteristically so for He is the Holy Spirit. The reference to the Father as “Holy Father” is rare. I do not know of a Scripture which uses the appellation “Holy Son” or “Holy Lord” although the term would be valid. The holiness of the Spirit of God seems to be particularly guarded. In the canon of Scripture almost always, unless there is a special reason, we learn concerning the Spirit that He is the Holy Spirit. And in the opening salutation of that fundamental teaching epistle, the epistle to the Romans, we learn that the Lord Jesus gave evidence of His deity and His holiness in raising dead ones, and that even that was according to the “Spirit of holiness” (Rom. 1:4). Everything that the Lord Jesus did in the days of His flesh was in the power of the Spirit and in particular in the power of the Holy Spirit. That safeguard is there that, in case we are in any doubt, the Spirit is the Spirit of holiness.
In Genesis 2 we are given the first reference in Scripture to the term sanctification or holiness. In the Old Testament we find that things as well as persons are set apart for the particular purpose of serving God and there is something special involved in each case. God rested on the seventh day and blessed it and sanctified it. Now this shows the character of what sanctification is. God said of the seven days, one is going to be special. It is set apart that God might rest in it with His creatures in the celebration and in the blessing of the work that had been done on the other six days. So the seventh day was hallowed — it was made holy to God — and He Himself set it apart. Many things in the Old Testament, such as the furniture and holy vessels in the tabernacle, the firstborn in each family in Israel, and the officers of the law, were sanctified to God, set apart, and committed to the service of God. This is not vain repetition. When we come to New Testament Scriptures that speak about sanctification we need to understand that sanctification gives an entirely new basis for living. It is to be set apart and utterly devoted to the service of God and not a term to use lightly.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
The Sin of Miriam and her Restoration (1)
The account of the journey of the people of Israel from Egypt to Canaan contains many valuable lessons for the church of God in the present dispensation. We too are a pilgrim people but we are on our way to a better, that is, a heavenly country. We find Israel's deliverance from Egypt in the book of Exodus, while the book of Numbers describes their journey from Mount Sinai up to and including the conquest of Transjordan. The book of Numbers particularly speaks about the failures of God's people during their journey through the wilderness. Israel failed to listen to God's Word, failed to submit to Moses' authority, failed to take possession of the Promised Land, and so on.
In this respect the complaint that God uttered in Numbers 14:22 is particularly striking: they “have tempted Me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to My voice.” Time and again the grumbling people were punished by God but it all seemed to be of no avail. The people died a miserable death in the desert and therefore it was a new generation (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) that entered the land of promise. Man in the flesh, who was tested by the law, could not please God and had to be born again. Every attentive reader of this Bible book must come to this conclusion and no doubt this is one of the important lessons that God wants to teach us here.
In Numbers 12 the spirit of rebellion that dominated the people also seemed to take control of Miriam and Aaron, the sister and brother of Moses the man of God, who had both been used by God and had played an important part in the exodus from Egypt. Apparently Miriam contributed most to this rebellion against Moses, but Aaron was far too willing to listen to her and therefore their confession is put in the plural: “Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly … ” (v. 11). What was the reason for Miriam's slander? We read that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married (v. 1). Is one not allowed to talk about the marriage of one's own brother? Of course this is allowed but what is important is the manner in which you talk about it! Miriam did so in a negative way and thus became guilty of slander. She disapproved of Moses' marriage and thus damaged his position and good name. This is not said in so many words but can be clearly gathered from the context.
This means that Miriam opposed Moses' course of action and therefore she turned to Aaron for support. Together they then said: “Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath He not spoken also by us?” (v. 2). “And the LORD heard it,” says the next sentence. Let us remember that, when we feel we have to say something about our fellow brother or sister! There is a Witness who hears our conversations, who knows our thoughts and even knows what is at the bottom of our hearts. We cannot hide anything from Him. So it is not without reason that the apostle James so seriously warns about the dangers of the tongue, which can be full of “deadly poison.” With our tongue we bless God, and with it we also curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God (James 3:8-9). This is a serious evil and when somebody persists in it it will ultimately lead to their exclusion, for a railer should be put away from ourselves as a wicked person (1 Cor. 5:11-13). In 1 Corinthians 6:10 Paul says that a reviler is among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Such a person is considered to be among “them that are without.” Unfortunately, things can reach this stage when somebody will not keep their tongue under control through the power of the Holy Spirit (this self-control is also a fruit of the Spirit: Gal. 5:19-23).
Put out of the camp
This is what happened to Miriam as we see in type in this story. She had not hesitated to speak against Moses and therefore she had to be put out of the camp as a leper. In the book of Numbers outside the camp is the place of all unclean persons (see 5:1-4; the lepers are mentioned first in those verses). It is the same in Leviticus 13 and 14, where we find the laws concerning leprosy and the cleansing of healed lepers. A leper was unclean as long as he had the plague: “ … he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be” (Lev. 13:46).1 (See footnote on opposite page).
The remarkable thing is that with Miriam it was apparently a form of leprosy in an advanced stage. The Lord's anger was aroused against Miriam and Aaron and immediately Miriam stood there “leprous, white as snow” (v. 10). This complete whiteness was, according to Leviticus 13:13, precisely the condition for being pronounced clean again! This means that Miriam was stricken by God's judgment, yet right away a proof of His grace could be observed — grace that had her restoration in mind. She was completely leprous, no doubt about that. She had to be put outside the camp as an unclean person and she had to cry out that she was unclean (Lev. 13:45). But it was not forever. God wanted to receive her again after she had been shut out of the camp seven days (Num. 12:14).
I think that this period of seven days (which was also common for other cleansing ceremonies, see e.g. Numbers 19) refers to the complete measure of repentance required for a godly restoration. Similarly, a work of regret and repentance had to take place with the person excluded in Corinth before he could be received again in the midst of the believers (2 Cor. 2:7). Godly sorrow had produced “repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7:10), both in his heart and in the hearts of the Corinthians who had first tolerated the wicked person in their midst.
Removing a wicked person from the midst of the believers, shutting a leper out of a clean camp, should therefore always take place with the hope of restoration. Priestly attention and care are necessary to be able to determine what stage the “leprosy” (which is an outstanding image of sin in a manifest form) has reached. When the leper has been completely stricken with the disease, then the typical lesson is that the person excluded no longer expects anything from himself and recognises that nothing good dwells in his flesh (cf. Rom. 7:18). In other words, a work of regret and repentance can be observed in him. As soon as that has been established the person involved can be restored and brought back to his former place among the believers.
After seven days, Miriam was allowed to re-enter the camp. She was “received in again” (v. 14). So this is a striking example of the excommunication of a wicked person, but also of the restoration of the offender. We cannot deal lightly with sin. God wants us to enforce discipline but at the same time, in His grace, He wants to prepare the way for a complete restoration. Miriam had to wait outside the camp for seven days before she could be re-admitted. But it is very striking to read that the people within the camp also waited for seven days until she had joined them again: “ … and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again” (v. 15). She waited outside and the people waited inside until the work of restoration had been accomplished!
1Here the camp was the dwelling place of the people of God, as recognised by God. He was in their midst as the Holy One and the Just, and they were encamped around the sanctuary of God as a holy and righteous people. As soon as the camp was defiled by idolatry, the place of the faithful was, with Moses “without the camp, afar off from the camp” (Ex. 33:7). Similarly, after the rejection of the Messiah the place of the Hebrew believers was with their Lord “without the camp” (Heb. 13:13).
Let us then notice Moses' attitude which also has much to tell us. No doubt Moses was grieved about the sin of Miriam and Aaron (who as an older brother should have known better but who also played a dubious role in the story of the golden calf). What then was Moses' reaction to this act of rebellion against his authority as the man of God? He kept silent and committed it to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23). The only thing that we read here about Moses is that he “was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (v. 3).
Moses was not naturally humble. He had learned this humility in the school of God. By nature he was a quick-tempered man. He killed the Egyptian and even in his old age his hot temper flared up again, when in his indignation about the rebellious people he started striking the rock instead of speaking to it (Num. 20). Here in Numbers 12, however, Moses reminds us of the One who said to His disciples, “ … learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29). As disciples of Christ, as students who are brought up in His school, we have to react in this way when we have become the object of slander. That is what our personal attitude should be, although in such matters there is also a common responsibility of the church according to Matthew 18:15-20. We even see here that Moses prayed for his sister with a view to her restoration: “And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee!” (v. 13).
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
Strong Encouragement for a Weak Remnant or A Change of Perspective
“I will fill this house with glory … The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, saith Jehovah of hosts … ”
(Haggai 2:7, 9 — J. N. D. Translation)
In Ezra chapter 3 we read of shouts of joy mingled with weeping (Ezra 3:10-13). A remnant had returned from captivity in Babylon and the builders had laid the foundation of the temple. Apparently there were contradictory feelings about this event but both were acceptable to God: rejoicing over His mercy (v. 11) and weeping over a condition so much inferior to their more glorious past (v. 12). But however justified both reactions were at that time and however suitable the condition of soul from which these feelings arose, it is a sad fact that the building of the temple ceased soon after (Ezra 4:24). Haggai and Zechariah prophesy in this situation and the work is resumed (Ezra 5:2).
It is striking that the prophet Haggai, in encouraging the feeble remnant, does not attempt to reproduce either of the two reactions described above. Being occupied solely with what has already been wrought would carry a danger of boasting in accomplished achievements (although it was the Lord who had wrought it). Haggai refutes any such thought at its very root by his question: “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3). A realisation of the nothingness of their work was necessary to counteract any tendency to boast in it.
On the other hand, Haggai does not suggest that this fact should lead to weeping but, surprisingly, he immediately continues to say “be strong … and work (v. 4). This exhortation is neither based on help received so far (cause of rejoicing in Ezra 3) nor on a comparison between their present condition and past glory (cause of weeping in Ezra 3). The prophet brings before them a two-fold encouragement based on neither of these two elements. Firstly, he points to present resources (the Lord with them, His Word and His Spirit — vv 4-5). Secondly he draws their attention to future glory in a very distinct and remarkable way. The promises, “I will fill this house with glory” (v. 7) and, “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former” (v. 9, J.N.D. Trans.), provide the key. They link the present work of the feeble remnant with the future glory. Their present building may be much inferior to Solomon's but it is linked with one that will be superior to Solomon's. Their present temple may not be filled by the cloud of glory but it is linked with one that will be filled by even greater glory. The link is so close that Haggai identifies both by stating that “this house” will be filled with glory and that the future glory of “this house” exceeds the former. By viewing the temple in their “day of small things” (Zech. 4:10) as identified with the millennial glory-filled temple Haggai exalts the present work to a very high level. This new perspective provides a most powerful encouragement to continue the work. It was therefore perfectly suited to Haggai's aim.1
Today, if we compare the testimony given to the assembly as God's dwelling place (Eph. 2:22) to the powerful start of this testimony in Acts 2-4 we can only conclude it is “as nothing” in our eyes. But this should not stop us from working in the house of God (1 Cor. 3:10. See also passages on “edification” such as Eph. 4:12, 16; 1 Thess. 5:11; Jude 20 etc.). On the contrary! We can rely on present resources (all three of which are available to us in a much fuller sense than in Haggai's day — Haggai 2:4-5). And then, being entirely aware of our present weakness we should not despise what is (however small) a testimony to the Lord and His assembly. Rather, we should regard it as a link between a powerful beginning (Acts 2-4) and a glorious future (Eph. 5:27).
By adopting this perspective, even today, God's people will be encouraged to “rise up” and once again begin to “build the house of God which is at Jerusalem” (Ezra 5:2). And in this sense we will be “prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet … ” (Ezra 6:14).
1Ezra reports the feelings of the remnant (Ch. 3). Zechariah, on the other hand, gives us God's thoughts about the work undertaken (esp. chs. 1-6). Haggai provides help to overcome (internal) obstacles among the remnant and encourages them to resume the work.
The Life of David (11)
David's Son in the Gospel by Luke
If Isaiah 9:6-7 in the Old Testament describes the greatness and glory of the One who will sit on David's throne, Luke 1:26-35 and 67-80 in the New Testament provide the same instruction in different features.
He Shall be Great (v. 32)
If the angel had said, “He is great,” he would have been correct. Jesus is the great God (Titus 2:20). The angel's declaration was about a babe to be born in David's house. The Son of David was to be great. In His manhood He was to manifest a greatness that superseded all the great men of the Old Testament. David was incapable of curing his sick son, or raising him to life when he died (2 Sam. 12:15-23). Jesus, his great Son, raised a young man to life and those who saw the miracle glorified God and said, “A great Prophet has been raised up amongst us” (Luke 7:11-17). When the woman whom Jesus met at Sychar's well asked Him, “Art Thou greater than our father Jacob,” the answer is “Yes, He is” (John 4:6-30). Jacob provided natural water to allay bodily thirst. Jesus supplied living water to satisfy spiritual thirst. When the Pharisees asked Jesus if He was greater than Abraham, the answer is “Yes, He is.” He existed before Abraham was born (John 8:53-59). The day will dawn when Jesus will implement the promises made to Abraham. Abraham built altars and made sacrifices. Jesus is the ante-type of an altar and a sacrifice. Matthew 12:6 presents Jesus as greater than the Temple (vv. 22-29), greater than Satan (v. 41), greater than Jonah, and in verse 42 greater than Solomon. Great Prophet, Priest and King and great enough to subdue the forces of evil. Jesus is truly great. The great salvation that Jesus secured (Heb. 2:3) was great for three reasons:
1) Because of the Person who accomplished it.
2) Because of the far reaching effects for untold millions of people. The church, Israel and the nations, the cleansed earth are all beneficiaries of the great salvation.
3) In it was manifested the greater love that Jesus spoke about in John 15:13.
After the work of salvation was accomplished and Jesus was placed in the tomb, the victory of resurrection saw the great Shepherd of the sheep rise out from amongst the dead. “Death could not hold its prey.” In ascending to God's right hand Jesus was glorified and is described in Hebrews 4:14 as the great High Priest. Israel had High Priests but never a great High Priest like Jesus, the Son of God. When Jesus comes to establish His kingdom and to sit on David's throne, He will come in great glory and in great power (Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:36). During the Kingdom He shall be great unto the ends of the earth and will be the Peace (Micah 5:4-5). How solemn to consider that on the day of final judgment this great and glorious Person shall sit upon a great white throne (not David's) and dispense righteous and unerring judgment. Praise God that because we have received blessing through the great salvation we shall never stand before the great white throne. In closing this section we might well use the language of the Old Testament in relation to Isaac and apply it to our Saviour and Lord. “And the man became great, and he became continually greater, until he was very great” (Gen. 26:13).
The Son of the Highest (v. 32)
David's Son is none other than the Son of the Highest. This Name indicates the great dignity and power of the One who in relationship with God, and in nature Himself God, will fill the throne of David. Melchisedec is described as the priest of the Most High God, and also as King of righteousness and King of Salem (Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7:2). Abram, the Friend of God, is referred to as Abram of the Most High God who made him independent of a king's offer of wealth (Gen. 14:18-24). In Daniel 3:26 Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego are addressed by King Nebuchadnezzar as “servants of the Most High God.” God, the Most High, had a remarkable priest; a friend in whom He could confide; and servants who were faithful to Him. But a Son, and such a Son, is nearer to the heart of the Most High God than ever priest, friend or servants could be. David unfortunately had sons who were unworthy of him and many who filled his throne were a disgrace to his name, but the Son of the Most High will fill David's throne with superlative worth for the glory of God. There will be an accurate representation of God in His righteousness and power. This will involve the overcoming of Satanic power and influence. A picture of this victory is seen in the healing of Legion, the man possessed with many demons. In Mark 5:1-26 and Luke 8:26-39 demons recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of the Most High God. The possessed man had been in torment and every effort to curb his violence and misery had proved ineffective. But Jesus, in Divine power, ordered the unclean spirits to leave him. They obeyed a command they could not disobey. The result for the man was marvellous. He obtained peace and clarity of mind and suitably clothed he became a testimony to the amazing power of God. He became a mouthpiece to proclaim the greatness of Jesus. There is much Satanic influence abroad in the nations today. The ruler and god of this world, Satan, has permeated every strata of society. His corrupting influence is obvious everywhere. Politics, philosophies, religion and all well-meaning organisations are impotent in the face of Satan's power. Every failed effort to curb evil seems to give it more energy and power. Will there ever be a solution to the power of evil? The answer is “Yes.” When the Son of the Most High sits on the throne of David illimitable, omnipotent power will overwhelm the forces of evil and Satan himself, and the world will be liberated from its bondage. When that takes place, and it will, there will be glory to God and a testimony rendered to the greatness of Jesus (Rom. 8:18-23).
The Son of God
No pen is adequate to describe the greatness of the Son of God. His greatness is set forth in the Holy Scriptures in an abundance of testimonies. Every feature of true Deity and true Manhood is expressed in Him. The angel's announcement to Mary the virgin expresses in precise language how great He is. He is not conceived in Mary's womb by human generation. He is conceived by the power of the Highest and the Holy Spirit. In this mysterious and profound transaction the unique glory of the Son is carefully guarded. When born He is to be holy. Not a vestige of Adam's fall is connected with the birth of the Son of God into this world. He was intrinsically holy. He was born holy and lived a holy life without a stain of evil. As the Holy One made sin He accomplished the work of redemption that sinners might be made holy. How well He did His great work! As the reference to the Son of God is in the passage where David's throne is mentioned it may be appropriate to refer to passages where the Son of God is mentioned in relation to the coming Kingdom.
Nathanael's testimony to Jesus in John 1:49 is a beautiful recognition of this greatness. No doubt inspired by the Spirit of God Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel.” What a Son for God! What a King for Israel!
There are four glimpses of the coming Kingdom in the New Testament. All point to the unique greatness of the Son of God (Matt. 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:29-36 and 2 Peter 2:16-18). In each of these pictures of the future Kingdom, the Father's voice draws attention to His beloved Son. There will be great and illustrious persons taking part in the administration of the Kingdom, but towering above them all will be God's glorious Son. David was well nigh heart-broken by the selfish rebellion of his son Absalom and his eventual death but God will be satisfied completely with the reign of His well-beloved Son. “The pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10).
It is the Son who shall subject all things to God's will in the Kingdom. The Kingdom over which the Son of God shall reign shall never deteriorate or be diminished. No enemy is powerful enough to overthrow it. No internal dissension shall undermine His authority. Psalm 2, which presents the Son/King, portrays Him ruling with a rod (sceptre) of iron. Evil shall be effectively curbed which will make way for righteousness to be paramount. Empires and dynasties come and go for various reasons. The Son shall hand over His Kingdom to His God and Father, that God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — may be all in all. God cannot be anything less than all. The triumph of His counsel and purpose is that He will be all in all created beings for all eternity (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
In Hebrews 1:8 the Son is addressed as God. His throne is to last for ever — no breakdown for one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6). His upright sceptre will assure that righteousness reigns. Wonderful assurance for faith! One said aptly many years ago: “He died to remove what He hated in order to maintain what He loved.”
The dayspring or sunrising is the harbinger of a new day. It was a new day in Israel's history when David, the son of Jesse, the warrior king, ruled undisputed over Israel and the adjoining nations. Unfortunately, that victorious time was eventually forfeited because of the unfaithfulness of the nation of Israel. Through the long years of Gentile domination over Israel, broken briefly by the revival depicted in Ezra and Nehemiah, the Nation longed for deliverance from its enemies. Their prophets foretold that light would come which would dispel the darkness and despair of their bondage (See Isa. 9:1-7; 60:1-3, 15-22). Zecharias thought that these prophecies and many more were about to be fulfilled in the One born in David's house. John, his son, was to be the prophet of the Highest to introduce the Messiah to Israel (Acts 13:24-25). When Jesus was presented to Israel, the Nation through its leaders refused to acknowledge Him. They rejected Him and crucified Him. There was no doubt about that. Matthew 4:14-16, a quotation of Isaiah 9:1-2, was a partial fulfilment of the prophecy. As Israel's day turned into darkness it must wait until a coming day for the complete and literal fulfilment of the ancient prophecies and promises. That the light of another world had dawned in the coming of Jesus was borne out in His own words in the Gospel by John (John 1:1-4, 9; John 3:19; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:35, 46). How sad that except for a few, the light was refused. The darkness didn't apprehend the light and men loved darkness rather than light (John 1:5; John 3:19-20). They still love darkness in modern times. However, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, divine light in all its brilliance became available for all who believe in Jesus and His wonderful redemptive work. That light streams from the face of the exalted and glorious Son of God (2 Cor. 4:4-6). Peter describes the light as marvellous and so it is (1 Peter 2:9). John in his epistle said “the darkness is passing and the true light already shines.” Paul, Peter and John are united in informing us that for the believer in Jesus darkness has been dispelled and divine light is shining, not to expose, but to bring into sharp focus the great things that love and light have secured for the children of light.
The Horn of Deliverance
Horns in Holy Scripture symbolise power. Two passages will suffice to prove this. In Revelation 17:12-13 there are ten horns which are crowned with royal diadems. They depict ten powers that give their power and authority to the beast which is the revived Roman power. Zacharias in his great prophetic utterance by the Holy Spirit blessed the Lord God of Israel for raising up a horn of deliverance or salvation in the house of David His servant. No doubt Psalm 132:17-18 was in his mind as he uttered these words. There the Psalmist said, “There (in Zion) will I cause the horn of David to bud forth … His enemies will I clothe with shame.” Zacharias was expectant that that prophecy and many more like it were about to be fulfilled in the babe that was to be born in David's house. Sadly that was not to be. Jesus in His public life of service for God manifested His power in a great variety of ways. Satan's power was broken in the lives of many. The dead were raised, demons were cast out and many forms of illness were healed. The versatility of the power of Jesus brought blessing into the lives of many. Matthew 4:23-25 presents the gospel of the King, the Son of David, and gives an epitome of the great service of Jesus. Did Israel embrace its opportunity to have deliverance through the horn that God had raised up? No. The envy of Israel's leaders, and the blindness of the unrepentant Nation refused to acknowledge the rightful claims of the Messiah and eventually crucified Him. Israel's deliverance, so vividly described in the prophetic Scriptures, was put in abeyance and awaits the great day when its omnipotent Deliverer will come from Zion. He will deal with their ungodliness and set them free from their enemies (Rom. 11:26-28. See also Zeph. 3:14-20 and Isa. 11 and 12).
Many centuries have passed since Jesus was rejected and crucified by Israel and Rome. In this period the delivering power of Jesus has been experienced by millions of people in almost every nation in the world. Eternal salvation is theirs because of their deliverance from the power or authority of darkness (Heb. 5:9). The Father accomplished this great work of deliverance because Jesus broke the power of Satan when He died and rose triumphantly from the dead (Col. 1:12-14). Paul testified in 2 Cor. 1:9-10 that day by day deliverance was experienced by him and his companions as they served God. Many can testify to the same deliverance. “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of trial” said Peter (2 Peter 2:9). Jesus is an all-the-way-home-Saviour. Praise God, He has delivered us from the coming wrath that will sweep over the world after the church is caught up to glory (1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Thess. 5:9).
The Great One — the Son of the Highest — the Son of God — the Dayspring — the Horn of Deliverance, such are the glories of the One who will sit on David's throne. The Lord Jesus, because of who He is, will bear all these glories with the perfect distinction that belongs to each of them. He will bring glory to God and to Israel and the nations. How infinitely great He is!
(The final article in this series is to follow, if the Lord will).
Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea (2)
(Continued from page 126)
(3) “The beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14)
It has intrigued me many times why the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Colossians refers so often to Laodicea. In order to find the answer would it not help if we understand the character of this letter written to the saints at Colosse? It is a declaration of the greatness and the pre-eminence of Christ, who is the Eternal Son on the one hand and the Firstborn on the other. His greatness is presented and defended in this epistle but is also to be demonstrated in the lives of the believers. The Colossians were in danger of practically giving up the Head because of the influence of gnostic teachings. They promoted so-called higher or deeper knowledge, or 'super-knowledge' we would say today. But in reality they were adding to Christ and thus taking away, diminishing, if not entirely robbing Him of His glories. Laodicea probably found itself in a similar situation. Paul presents Christ's greatness to the Colossians as the answer to their needs and as the remedy to the enemy's attacks. Therefore in Laodicea the Lord Jesus takes upon Himself the task of the Witness because the assembly had utterly failed to be faithful. He also presents Himself as “the Beginning of the creation of God.” In introducing Himself in this capacity to them, they (or at least some of them) would be restored to first love. They would realise what Christ actually means to God and to the believer.
Is it not the purpose of Paul's writings to show that Christ is the Wisdom of God, that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Him? In a similar way, though even more pronounced, the apostle John does this in his writings. To counter the same errors and false teachings John goes back to Him who was in the beginning and to that which was from the beginning. In other words He introduces the One who is all-sufficient, who was and who is and who will be, the Same. This remedy is applied by the Lord Himself in Revelation 3. He is no longer presented in His greatness by His apostles: He presents Himself in all His greatness to the believers in Laodicea, and we may add to us and to the believers in our days. What an impact it would have if we were impressed by the greatness of the Person who speaks to us! Could there be someone greater than the “Beginning of the creation of God?”1
Inside or outside
Could there be somebody who would be able to replace Him? In Laodicea they were (are) so pleased with themselves that they did (do) not even think of the Lord! They did (do) not even realise that He was (is) no longer among them, that He was (is) “outside!” Do we see Him as the Author, the Originator, the Starting point of God's ways; the Beginning and therefore the Object and Goal of God's counsels? Do we worship Him as being the Head of the new creation, who is the Head also of God's family? He is our life, the hope of glory, and in Him all God's treasures of wisdom are to be found. In Him the glories of the new creation are and will be displayed for ever and ever. He will be the expression of God's glory in an undiminished way for eternity. He will fill the universe with His glory (Eph. 4:10) because He is all and in all (Col. 3:11)! This is true reality. This is “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Is there anybody left to compete with Him? Does He have any rivals? However, the enemy always tries to rob Him of His glory, or put Him in the shade of something else. Although our blessed Lord can never lose His inherent glory, He can lose it as far as our testimony for Him is concerned. Therefore let us watch and be vigilant.
Once more “The beginning of the creation of God”
This does not mean at all that He was created as the first and highest of God's creatures. Nor that He is an emanation of the Godhead. No! Colossians 1:16 clearly shows that all things in relation to the first creation are through Him, made in the power of His Person and also for His own glory. Please compare this with John 1:3, 10; Hebrews 1:2 and Revelation 4:11. The passage in Proverbs 8 which speaks about God's wisdom, cannot be used to suggest Wisdom is God's work in creation. On the contrary, it was always there in God Himself, from the beginning (Prov. 8:23). As in Colossians 1, this passage brings out Christ's greatness as the (Eternal) Wisdom of God, as He is also the Eternal Word and the Eternal Son.
1See further the comments on Christ as Chief on the next page.
Furthermore, concerning the new creation, the Word of God confirms the greatness of Christ as the Creator and therefore the Head or Beginning of the new creation. He is its Author, Originator, Chief Executive, Firstborn and Centre. Just commenting on the expression “the Firstborn,” I suggest this to be a title of honour. The firstborn in Scripture speaks of special privileges and rights and eminence in position. “The Firstborn” is also an indication of Him who, by His death and resurrection, has introduced the believers into this new realm of the new creation. See further Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:13; Colossians 2:10. Can you find a greater Person than the One who could do this?
The new creation
Passages like 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10; James 1:18; Revelation 21:1, 5-6; Revelation 22:13 and others are very helpful to see more of His greatness with respect to the new creation. In this context I underline especially 2 Corinthians 5:17 (new associations), Galatians 6:15 (a new rule), Ephesians 2 and 4 (a new morality) and Colossians 3 (a new system of knowledge). The same Scriptures show the practical implications with regard to our position as Christians before God and men. Meditation upon these passages will lead us to worship Him who is the Beginning, Object, Centre and Head of God's new creation. Considering His ways (Rom. 11) and His works, whether in creation, in redemption, or in judgment, will lead to worship and so it will be in heaven. How great He is!
Christ as Chief
The three titles the Lord uses in Revelation 3:14 are intimately linked together. Our Lord is God blessed forever and therefore also the Amen. But at the same time the Amen is seen in Him as Man who is in obedient response to the divine Amen. Our Lord Jesus came to do God's will: this was His Amen. This implied for Him, as we have seen, suffering and rejection. Nevertheless He was the Faithful and True witness and still is today. The third expression (beginning, ruler or chief) is derived from a verb that means to rule or to begin. The noun indicates primacy in time (beginning) and/or in rank (ruler, chief). In these titles dimensions of past, present and future are always present, because He is the Alpha and the Omega.
The gnostic teachings in Colosse (and perhaps in neighbouring Laodicea) caused Paul to emphasize especially Christ's greatness.2 Firstly with regard to the first creation (Col. 1:15-17) and secondly in connection with the new creation, on the basis of His death and resurrection (Col. 1:18). John uses the same expression in John 1:1f (beginning) with regard to the Word, as he uses to refer to Christ as the Head of the new creation in Revelation 3:14. Finally there is another Greek word, derived from the same root as the Name Chief or Beginning, that conveys the idea of ruler and dominion. This word occurs in Acts 3:15; Acts 5:31; Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 12:2, where we meet our risen and glorified Lord as the great Author, Leader and Prince of life, salvation and faith.
2Notice in Col. 1:18 also three titles: Head, Beginning, Firstborn.
A. E. Bouter.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
From Our Archive
The Revelation of the Father (4a)
(Continued from page 111)
If we are concerned with the revelation of the Father and His love, then this chapter is the very centre of the matter. The Name Father occurs in the New Testament some 255 times and of these practically a half are in John's Gospel. Although there are only six explicit occurrences of the Name Father in chapter 17, we obviously have to take account of the fact that every “Thee” and every “Thou” is a direct reference to Him, which brings the number to at least 50 times.
We are all familiar with the beginning of the chapter in which the Lord Jesus Christ says, “The hour is come.” Whenever a moment of extreme portentousness is concerned we find such words coming from Him. “His hour was not yet come,” or here now, “The hour is come.” It has long and generally been recognised by those initiated in the things of God and the ways of holy Scripture that the Lord Jesus Christ is taking His place here in this prayer with the cross behind Him. “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” I connect this very strongly with a later part of the passage where the Lord Jesus says: “I am no more in the world … I come to Thee.” For a long time I thought that this meant the Lord Jesus Christ was coming to the Father in the prayer. But simple reflection on the passage makes it very clear that this is not what the Lord Jesus Christ means. He means: “These are in the world but I am leaving the world and I am coming to Thee, back to the place which I have left.” Therefore it becomes very important that before He left the world He should leave on record such words as these which present the very last thing that is to be said. “And now come I to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” How absolutely amazing that this prayer should have been heard by the apostles so that by the Spirit it could be remembered and written down. Our apprehension will change from time to time but it should be amongst the words that are treasured and hidden in the heart, and if we keep these words then our joy in the Father and in the Son will indeed be fulfilled.
“The hour is come;” the Lord Jesus says, “glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.” What follows seems to make it very plain that while there are few explicit requests made in this prayer, this is the first one: “Glorify Thy Son.” The purpose is “that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.” This is to be taken with the statement “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” In other words the Lord Jesus Christ is praying that He might be taken to the place that belongs to His glory, so that from that new position He might continue to glorify the Father but in an entirely new way. He has glorified the Father and above all we know that He has glorified the Father in the work of Calvary. This needed His coming from heaven to earth, but now He is praying that He might be restored to the glory so that He might glorify the Father in a new way.
Now what does “glorify” mean? I have for many years represented it to myself to mean something like this: “To make the real excellence of a person known to others.” I am convinced the idea of it being made known to others is essential to the thought. The original word first of all, before it began to have its Bible use, means “opinion.” In other words, the view, the opinion of people is very important to the meaning of it. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Word, the Son, had come from heaven and upon earth He had glorified the Father in all that He had done but now He was going to glorify the Father from His place in heaven. How was He going to do that? If I were slightly to amplify the second verse I would put it like this: “Glorify Thy Son that Thy Son also may glorify Thee inasmuch as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh in order that He might give eternal life to as many as Thou has given Him.” I haven't said very much about eternal life but here we have come very close to the heart of the matter about what is eternal life. Brethren have said that this is not a definition. If we think of a definition as something that absolutely and entirely includes every facet of the matter being defined then perhaps it would be wrong to expect anywhere that there would be a definition of eternal life. But I am sure holy Scripture does not afford us a greater one than these words in this chapter. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent.” It seems to me that we are being told in this verse that eternal life is the life that belongs to the Father's house. The life in which the Father and the Son lived together in that eternity where they were at home together — the life of pure delight, the life of eternal love, is what is eternal life. No wonder that we are told that if we have imparted to us eternal life, then this is the knowledge of the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ His sent One. Oh what a wonder that we are given the life which is capable of entering into relations which a chapter like this describes. Apart from this there could be no answer to the last prayer of the chapter, “that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Therefore the thing that is standing at the very portal of this prayer is that He might be put in the place where in a new way He may glorify the Father, by making Him fully known in the sense that He gives eternal life to as many as are given Him.
What is the Name of the only true God? The Name of the only true God is the Father. The blessed Son and the Spirit are one with Him. The Son eternally begotten, the Spirit eternally proceeding. But the Name of the only true God is the Father. This is confirmed in 1 Corinthians: “though there be that are called gods … But to us there is but one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8:5-6). The disciples are given, and all those who were to believe on their Lord were to be given, this wonderful life in the power of which they can know the only true God.
I want to dwell on this word “true.” What does it mean that He is the only true God? Was not Jehovah the true God? Was not El Shaddai the true God? Was not the most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, the true God? In one sense they were all Names for the one true God but in another sense the Father is the Name of the only true God because only, and this is one of the tremendous things that we have tried to see, only in the Name of the Father is God fully revealed. That is what the word “true” seems to mean. Whenever you have it in this Gospel especially, you have it plainly meaning the fulfilment as distinct from the promise. You have it meaning the perfect and complete as distinct from the partial. We begin with “the true Light.” Well, John the Baptist was a light from God but he was not the true Light. It means that in a partial sense he was a light but in the full complete and final sense, Jesus is the One who could say, “I am the Light.” There was “the bread of God.” The manna was the bread of God was it not? Indeed it was but it was not the true Bread because it was entirely superseded when the Lord Jesus Christ came and said, I am “the true Bread.” He said in chapter 15: “I am the true Vine.” Well, several parts of the Old Testament are devoted to explaining in the most touching language how Israel was the vine or the vineyard. In Psalm 80 we have the story of how God cultivated it and so it would go on until the One came who He had made strong for Himself, and when He came He said, “I am the true Vine.” Was not Israel the vine of God? Indeed they were, but the true Vine entirely superseded them in the sense of being equipped and able to bring forth fruit which would glorify the Father. So we have the meaning of the word “true” prepared for us beforehand by those examples. The deepest secrets of the heart and life of God were made known when the One came who spoke of His Father as the one true God. Eternal life is not an earthly thing because it really and certainly consists in the knowledge, not of Jehovah, not of Almighty God, not of the most High God, but it consists in the knowledge of the only true God, the Father. The knowledge of the Father is wrapped up with the real meaning of eternal life and the real possession of eternal life. But then it goes on to say, “that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Thy sent One.” Now in such a context it must indeed have a wonderful meaning almost tantamount to expressing the very deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a concept which takes us right back to the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 6 the Lord said: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and Isaiah says, “Here am I; send me.” Isaiah became the first sent one; not the sent one of the Father, but he became the first sent one of Jehovah, the God of Israel. I would also allude to that beautiful passage in the eighth chapter of Isaiah when he was referring to the greatest message that he had brought from Jehovah to His people. It was a message to awaken them, a message to restore them to Himself that they might learn His mercy and His grace, but they refused it and so Isaiah said, “Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah” (the sent One) “that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son; Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many.” Even back in Isaiah's day there was something very special about his being the sent one and the waters of Shiloah flowed softly, with a sweet and loving voice of God's mercy and lovingkindnesss. How much more is the word full of meaning when it refers to the Father's sent One? In the Gospel of John 9 when the man who was born blind has clay put upon his eyes and the Lord Jesus Christ sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam (which means “sent”), it is the truth of the Sent One coming down here to be, as it were, as the water upon the earth. It was the means whereby sight was given to his blind eyes. So again and again we have this concept of the Father's Sent One. When we read later in this chapter 17, what is it that the disciples have believed, what is it that the world is going to believe, what is it the world is going to know? It is that the Father sent the Son. This is something supremely important for us to receive into our hearts and for us to meditate upon — it is eternal life. “That they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Thy sent One.” You cannot get beyond this, that the Lord Jesus Christ is giving to those who the Father has given Him, eternal life. This is His present way of glorifying the Father because in that life is the knowledge of the Father, the only true God and Jesus Christ His sent One.
In verse 6 the Lord Jesus says: “I have manifested Thy Name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world.” Now to say that He had manifested the Father's Name means that He had set it in a clear light. He had made the knowledge of it available to those who had eyes to see. In the first part of the Gospel we read of those who had not eyes to see. Their hearts were hardened and their eyes were blind. In the very words following that explanation of the blindness of Israel it says, “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” This is to be taken together with the fact that He has given to His own eternal life that they might fully make their own that manifestation that He has made of the Father's Name.
J. S. Blackburn.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
(Continued from page 103)
Does Prayer Work?
We will all answer “yes” to this question. However, I wonder if we always like the answers that are given to our prayers? From the following Scriptures we will see that the answer is sometimes “no,” sometimes “yes” and sometimes “wait.” We shall also see that we are not always given to understand why the answers are as they are.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9 we find Paul is given a “no” to his prayer. A serious affliction affected Paul and with exercise and effort in prayer he looked for relief. But the apostle was brought to realise that his burden was to remain in order that he might gain a fuller and richer appreciation of the grace of the Lord. There was to be an increased demonstration of the power of Christ in Paul's life through enduring and triumphing over the affliction. The answer came: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Like Paul we must learn that God has a better way forward and it may not be the way we expected. Such a learning process may not be easy.
In Acts 12:3-16 there is the account of Peter's release from prison by an angel. His deliverance was a matter of earnest prayer on the part of the saints. Herod had taken the apostle James and killed him in order to please the Jews. However, when the determined prayers of the saints were answered there was unbelief that God had answered with a “yes.” Are we ready for when the answer comes and is it in line with what we have requested?
In Acts 16:6-10 Paul and his companions were prevented from moving in various directions by the Spirit of God. This would certainly have led to exercise and prayer. There was a time of waiting, for it was not until the vision was given that a clear direction was communicated to Paul and the others. Similarly, in Psalm 73 we find Asaph deeply troubled by the prosperity of the wicked. It is not until he went to the place of prayer (verse 17 — the sanctuary of God) that the answer could be given. Then he was given understanding as to the end of the wicked. Sometimes God asks us to wait for an answer or for understanding. In these Scriptures as in others to be considered we find that the word used implies effort and perseverance associated with continuous prayer. Clearly, to be a praying people requires energy and patience.
How Much Effort do I Need to Give?
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7 we find Paul considering the relationship of husband and wife. He indicates that the natural desires associated with marriage are not to be lightly denied, except in connection with burdens and exercises where both need to be involved in prayer and fasting. The husband and wife consent for a time to refrain from a physical relationship, in order that they might give themselves wholly to determined prayer. Even necessary food is forgone in order that prayer may be made without distraction. This shows what a powerful activity prayer is when seeking to gain the resources available from God.
In Romans 12:12 we have the expression, “continuing instant in prayer.” Persevering is the thought that is emphasised; not giving up till the answer comes. From the context of the verse we see that this prayerful attitude is a feature of the Christian life-style. In order to have time to pray we may need to give it priority over other things in our busy day. This takes effort, and interest and concern for others and for Christian things. This will be an opposite kind of life-style to that which marks the unbeliever. When we say we will pray for someone or something, do we? And for how long do we do so?
Colossians 4:2 reminds us of the same requirement to “Continue in prayer” but also tells us to “watch in the same with thanksgiving.” We are to be awake and vigilant and looking for the answer to come. We are to be a people who expect their God to answer. I am reminded of Elijah, a man of like passions to ourselves, who prayed that it might not rain. The answer came and it didn't rain for 3½ years. At the end of that time Elijah was used to prove to the nation of Israel that Jehovah was the only and true God. He defeated the false prophets of Baal. God consumed Elijah's sacrifice with fire and then Elijah prayed for rain. He prayed and watched. He sent his servant to look for the rain clouds. Did Elijah give up when the servant reported that nothing was happening — that there were no clouds to be seen? No, he told his servant to go and look again seven times. He prayed, and watched and it did rain the same day. The verse in Colossians 4 also reminds us that when the answer comes we are to be thankful.
Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 saints are encouraged to “Pray without ceasing.” The answer may be a long time in coming but we are not to give up. We are to continue in those exercises we have committed ourselves to. It may be that no one else but our God is aware of the burden that we carry. There is to be the washing of the face etc., so that we appear to others not to have any particularly deep concerns, and this because the issue is with the only One who can bring about a solution. Our part is to faithfully continue in prayer.
Who to Pray For
In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 we find that there are times when our prayers are to be very wide in their scope, embracing all men. And it is good to pray and give thanks for the government under which we live and for the other tiers of government and authority. It may be that some saints live in countries where those in authority misuse their power, but this is even more reason to pray that they might exercise their authority in a responsible manner.
In many places in Scripture we are given instruction regarding specific prayer. In 2 Timothy 1:3 Paul reminded Timothy that he was constantly in the thoughts of the apostle and that he prayed for him night and day. It is always encouraging to know that others are praying for us. Sometimes it is not until we have experienced the Lord's guidance and help that we discover someone was praying for us in those circumstances. Indeed, it may be many years before we learn that we have been the object of someone's prayers, or perhaps we shall only discover this when we are with the Lord! We may not appreciate the way that the Spirit of God moves saints so that they are burdened and pray for others, but He does. Let us not suppose that a believer has to be in difficulty before we pray for that person. Let us seek out one or more that they may be the specific objects of our prayers, and let us make a long term commitment in prayer exercise, without them necessarily knowing about our exercise for them.
Of course, it is right that at times we ask the saints to pray for us. In 1 Thessalonians 5:25 Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him and those that were with him. He was continually praying for others and he valued the prayers of others for himself and his companions. We find in Romans 15:30 that Paul asked the saints at Rome to pray for him, and that he was also praying for himself! “Brethren … strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” There are times no doubt when we need to tell the saints about a situation, as Paul did here in chapter 15. However, Paul was exercised to pray himself in connection with what he thought was God's will as to his service at that time. He wanted to go to Rome and then into Spain. Scripture does not record whether or not he got to Spain and his journey to Rome was no doubt different to what he had expected.
From time to time we will have exercises in our lives which demand prayer and which we can share with others, whom it will be right to ask to pray for us and with us.
What About my Burdens!
There is a wonderful verse in Hebrews 4 which reminds us that there is a place we can go to where we will find One who is able to provide healing balm of mercy and grace even to a situation that is beyond our control. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). There is One there who can both share the burden and perhaps relieve us of the burden. Let us be quick to approach this throne, the quicker the better, for we shall find there that unnecessary heartache is removed. There is One whom we can approach in fullest confidence; One who understands how burdened we are.
In Matthew 11:28-30 we are also reminded that the Lord is more than willing to share the burden that we carry. In such situations saints who have taken His yoke upon them have found that our Lord does all the carrying and He puts His arm around us and provides the needed support as we journey on in the way.
The lessons that I find in these two Scriptures are that the Lord wants us to bring our troubles to Him and to leave them at His feet. He does not want us to carry them away again. It is important that we believe that the Lord is able. As the hymn writer says, “What a friend we have in Jesus … ”
D. G. Pulman.
If the Lord will, the next part of the series on “The Sermon on the Mount” will appear in the next issue
Psalm 119 (14)
(Continued from page 82)
11. Kaph — the palm of the HAND
The eleventh letter of the alphabet signifies “a wing” and it may also represent “the hollow of the hand.” This figure is found in the Chaldee alphabet and its form in the Hebrew is like the curve of the hand between the forefinger and the thumb, signifying the palm of the hand. Its numerical value is twenty.
When it is prefixed to a word it has the meaning of “likeness, as, like as, as if” (this is similar to Arabic). It will not be far-fetched to suggest that we have here the idea of security. (In Isaiah 49:16 we read: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are continually before Me”). In the palms of His hands we are secure!
Verses 73-96. Spiritual Maturity through Daily Meditation
Section Eleven. Verses 81-88: “The Word of God for My Security”
Only He can really satisfy
Verse 81: KAH-LATAH … “ … (is) being consumed (spent) … ”
This whole section speaks of danger from enemies! Verse 81: “My soul fainteth … ”; verse 83: “For I am become like a bottle in the smoke … ”; verse 84 “ … them that persecute me”; verse 85: “The proud have digged pits for me”; verse 86: “ … they persecute me … ”; verse 87: “They had almost consumed me … ” Conscious of being under attack, the writer seeks refuge with the Lord and His Word. His only hope is in the Lord, and so it is for you and me.
We cannot help ourselves; nor can anyone else help us. That is why we have this pathetic cry: “My soul is being consumed for Thy salvation … ” (literal rendering). It is good to realise day by day what we sometimes sing in a hymn: “Now none but Christ can satisfy.” Have we found this secret yet?
We may fail, but He never will
Verse 82: KAH-LAU … “Fail (do my eyes for Thy Word … )”
Do we discern a note of impatience? “When wilt Thou comfort me?” Had he not been hoping in His word? (v. 81). Why does not the Lord act quickly? “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick … ” (Prov. 13:12). Do not let yourself be discouraged by appearances. Peter said: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise … ” (2 Peter 3:9). We sometimes want to limit the Lord to our time. Sometimes we cannot see the reason for such and such a thing. But we should leave everything in His hands. He is never too late. We must learn to persevere in faith and hope and the study of His Word, and take our eyes off our circumstances.
I am nothing
Verse 83: KEE … “For (I am like a wineskin … )”
He is really exhausted. The strain and stress have been unbearable. Of course Satan's strategy is to wear us out! It was by the constant nagging of Delilah that Samson's soul was “ … vexed unto death … ” (Judges 16:16). She wore him out.
It is necessary for us to get to the end of ourselves, to despair of our self-sufficiency. When we get to the end of our own resources, then we realise that our Father's full giving has only just begun. When we feel empty like a bottle in the smoke, and our spiritual energy seems shrivelled up like a wineskin, when we realise our own nothingness, then we are ready for His fulness to be revealed on our behalf. How do you see yourself?
I feel under spiritual attack
Verse 84: KAH-MEH … “As what (or Like unto what?)”
“How?” “When?” He is so full of questions in this verse. Is he complaining? He certainly seems impatient. Does he say: “Lord, when art Thou going to deal with these enemies?” Of course it is not Christian to ask for the execution of our enemies — rather we should pray for their salvation. But just for the moment, let us not forget that this Psalm 119 gives us the expressions of the faithful remnant of Israel during the great tribulation. We can understand therefore that they are wondering when the Lord will come to deliver them.
Our enemies are not of flesh and blood but wicked spirits of darkness and spiritual powers. The day of their judgment is certainly getting near and they know it. That is why we see in our days such a world-wide manifestation of occult and demonic powers.
Yes, we are under attack. Yes, we are engaged in a spiritual warfare. Therefore we should put on the whole armour of God and resist, and, having done all, to stand and not fail or falter. The Lord is our strength and our security.
The battle continues
Verse 85: KAH-RAHLI … “ … they have dug for me … ”
Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 1:6: “ … it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.” But that moment has not yet come for the New Testament believer waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus. For the moment we must accept what the Lord Jesus said: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world”(John 16:33). The apostle Peter says: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings: that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
All who will live godly will suffer persecution
Verse 86: KOL … “All (Thy commandments … )”
It is good to remind ourselves that His Word and His promises are faithful. It is commendable to suffer persecution because we want to remain faithful to Him and His Word. Is this our intention and determination? The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). In this verse we have:
a. The intention to live godly: “ … all that will live godly … ”
b. The secret power for godly living: “ … in Christ Jesus … ”
c. The cost of godly living: “ … shall suffer persecution.”
Accounted as sheep for the slaughter
Verse 87: KAM-GAT … “ … in a little while … (Almost!) … ”
The Psalmist says: “They had almost consumed me upon earth … ” Yes, even believers are not spared tribulations or sufferings. No doubt when you or I are passing through a very difficult circumstance Satan may insinuate that the Lord has forgotten us and that He does not love us any more. The apostle Paul helps us in those circumstances when he writes to the believers at Rome who were also being persecuted. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37). Satan may use circumstances to sow doubts in our hearts. But why should we doubt? Is not God for us? Did not God give up His Son for us? Did not God justify us? Did not Christ die for us? And does not the Lord Jesus intercede for us always? We have nothing to fear. We are absolutely secure.
More than conquerors
Verse 88: KA-GHEHSEDAK … “ … by Thy mercy (give me life … )”
“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). What does it mean to be “more than conquerors”? I quote from the writings of another: “It may be that we do not 'conquer' at all, but we do MORE: we wrest from defeat values that could never be gained by conquest: Enduring tribulation, we gain Hope which is not put to shame, Bearing persecution, we are demonstrating the meaning of true godliness. Suffering hunger, we are proving that man does not live by bread alone, but this is only possible through Him that loved us — through His grace.”
Jesus was crucified through weakness, and yet the cross released the greatest power to save!