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A Gem from the past: “Christ our Food” by Edward Dennett

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Excerpted from, Edward Dennett, Unsearchable Riches, chapter 6: “Christ our food”; located here.   Accessed on 8/19/13.

ANOTHER character in which Christ is brought before us is that of our food. This was foreshadowed in the Levitical economy; for the priests received the most minute and precise instructions concerning feeding upon the sacrifices, or parts of the sacrifices (see Lev. 7). But there were differences. In some cases the whole priestly family were admitted to the privilege (Lev. 6:18Lev. 7:6, etc.); and it is in these that we specially see the privilege of believers now of feeding upon Christ. Our Lord Himself refers to the subject during His life. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man shall eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews, therefore, strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me,” etc. (John 6:51-57).

We have in this scripture, “eating the flesh of the Son of Man, and drinking His blood,” and “eating” Christ Himself; and combining this with other scriptures, we are said — speaking generally — to feed upon Christ in three characters: as the Passover Lamb, as the Manna, and as the Old Corn of the land; for it need scarcely be said that all these things are types of Christ. In the scripture cited from John’s Gospel, we have Christ especially as the Manna (ver. 32, 33, 48-50, etc.); and a reference to Him also as the Passover Lamb (compare 4th ver. with ver. 53, etc.); but we shall have to turn to the Epistles to find Him in the character which answers to the Old Corn of the land (Joshua 5:11).

(1) We will consider Christ, first, as the Passover Lamb, as the food for His people. If we go back to the history of Israel, we shall find that they kept the Passover in Egypt (Ex. 12), in the wilderness (Num. 9), and in the land (Joshua 5). The question then arises, When do we feed upon Christ as the Passover Lamb? It is sometimes said that we only do this at the outset, when, convicted of sin, we fear the approach of God as a Judge; and that as soon as we have deliverance, we thereafter cease to feed upon Him in this character. If this be so, why does Israel keep the Passover both in the wilderness and in the land? I think, therefore, that it will be seen that we never cease to keep the Passover; and, moreover, that the place in which we thus feed upon Christdepends upon our state of soul.

Every believer knows what it is (has known what it is) to feed upon the roast lamb in Egypt. Awakened by the Spirit of God, alarmed by the impending judgment, brought under the shelter of the precious blood, how eagerly we fed upon the Lamb that had passed through the fires of God’s holiness when bearing our sins on the tree! True, it was with bitter herbs that we ate it, for we then had a sight of our sins — in measure according to God; and with girded loins, and shoes on our feet, and our staff in our hand, for already Egypt had become morally a desert, and we were only waiting for the word of the Lord to commence our pilgrim journey. It was a time much to be remembered, for it was the beginning of months — the first month of the year of our spiritual life.

But while every believer has passed through this experience, it is to be feared that many feed upon the roast lamb in Egypt all their lives. Not knowing deliverance through the death and resurrection of Christ, or even peace with God as the result of the sheltering blood, they feed upon Christ only as the One who by His death bars the way to God as a Judge; and consequently they do not know God as their God and Father in Christ Jesus. Such a state of soul is both to be deprecated and deplored; for it is the result either of bad teaching, or of the unbelief of the heart in the fulness of the grace of God.

Passing now from Egypt, the next place in which Israel kept the Passover was the wilderness; and they were told to keep it there “according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof” (Num. 9:3). The wilderness is the place of every believer when viewed as a pilgrim. The world has become a desert to him, and he is passing through (as not of) it, because he is waiting for the return of his Lord. How then does he feed upon Christ as the slain Lamb in the wilderness? “It is participation by grace in the power of the death and resurrection of Christ,” by which we have been brought out of the enemy’s territory — delivered from the power of Satan and redeemed unto God. In the wilderness we feed upon the Passover as the memorial of our deliverance from Egypt; and in it we see Christ going down into death, and not only bearing all the judgment that was our due — going through and exhausting it, but also as meeting and conquering all the power of the enemy — destroying him that had the power of death, and thereby bringing us out from the house of bondage, and setting us free as the children, and for the service, of God. In the wilderness, therefore, we feed upon the Passover Lamb as pilgrims and strangers — knowing deliverance, but not as yet come to the land of which the Lord has spoken. Hence in this character we not only value (according to our faith) the precious blood, and delight to contemplate its wondrous efficacy as clearing us for ever from every charge and claim of the enemy, but we also feed upon the death of Christ as such, because of our death (and resurrection) in Him, by which we have been brought out into a new place, where we can look back upon death and judgment as being for ever behind us.

In the land the Passover assumed another character still, and one too which should also find its correspondence with the believer now. It is very evident that to the Israelite it would have a much fuller significance when he was across the Jordan than when he was in the desert. It would be to him now the memorial, not simply of deliverance from Egypt and Egypt’s thraldom and power, but of accomplished salvation. For in truth his position in the land, while it was to the glory of God’s faithfulness and grace in the performance of all that He had promised (“for there failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel: all came to pass,” Joshua 21:45), was the consequence of the shed blood. In other words, the blood of the Passover lamb laid the foundation for the accomplishment of God’s purposes; and hence, to those whose eyes were opened, the blood would have a far greater value when over the Jordan than when in the waste howling wilderness.

So now. For we have a position which agrees entirely with being in the land; for not only have we been quickened together with Christ, but we are also raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2). This is the place before God of every believer; but whether we are occupying it depends upon whether we know death and resurrection with, as well as in and through, Christ; whether we have crossed the Jordan as well as the Red Sea. It is our privilege to do so: indeed, we ought never to be content until, by the grace of God, we do know what it is to be seated in spirit in the heavenly places. But if we are there, we cannot dispense with the Passover. On the other hand, the more fully we apprehend the character of the place into which we are brought, the more the riches of the grace of God are unfolded to us, the more delightedly, and with enlarged apprehensions, we shall look back to the cross, and feast upon the death of Him whose precious blood alone has made our place in the heavenlies possible for us. But our feeding upon Him now will partake more of the character of communion with God in the death of His Son. Our eyes will then be opened to discover, not so much the blessings which have thereby been secured to us, as that God in every attribute of His character has been fully glorified in that death. We shall thus (if we may so speak) feast with God when we keep the Passover in the heavenly places; and the effect on our souls will be adoration and praise: in a word, worship of the highest character will be the result of our feeding upon the slain Lamb when seated in the heavenlies. For we are seated there in peace before God — already in possession of our place in His presence; and it is only then that we can have communion with His own thoughts, and with His own joy in the death of His Son.

We see, therefore, that we feed upon Christ as the Passover Lamb in every stage of our experience; but the place in which we do so — Egypt, the wilderness, or the land — will depend upon our states of soul. And no doubt, when we are gathered together to show the Lord’s death until He come, there are often side by side those who are in the wilderness and those who are in the land. Still they feed alike upon the death of Christ, remember Him as dead, whatever the difference in their apprehensions, or in their experiences or attainments. In heaven itself, indeed, we shall contemplate that death with ever-increasing adoration; for the blood of the Lamb will be the theme of glorified saints throughout eternity.

(2) Christ as the Manna is also the food of His people. The manna differs from the roast lamb in that it was confined to the wilderness. It was not until Israel had been brought through the Red Sea that the manna was given (see (Ex. 16); and it “ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more, but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year” (Joshua 5:12). It was, therefore, the wilderness food of Israel; and in like manner Christ, as the Manna, is the wilderness food for the believer. But a distinction has to be made. Inasmuch as the history of Israel, passing through the desert, crossing the Jordan, and occupying the land, is typical, they could only be in one place at a time. The believer is at the same moment in the wilderness and in the heavenlies. For service, for the expression of Christ down here, viewed as a pilgrim, waiting for the return of the Lord, he is in the desert; his position before God, as united to a glorified Christ, is ever in the heavenly places — whether he occupies it, is another question. Hence, supposing him to know his place, he needs the Manna and the Old Corn at the same time. In other words, he needs to feed upon Christ in both aspects. He is never in Egypt, whatever his experiences; for that would be to deny the truth of his deliverance through the death and resurrection of Christ. A quickened soul may be in Egypt, but a believer — meaning by this term one who has been brought into the true Christian place by the indwelling Spirit — has done for ever with Egypt; for the world has become to him a moral wilderness; and it is as being in the wilderness that he feeds upon Christ as the Manna.

What, then, is the Manna for the believer? It is Christ in incarnation — a humbled Christ. “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses give you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:323349-51). Christ is thus the Manna in all that He was in the flesh — in the expression of what He was both as the revealer of the Father and as the perfect man. His grace, compassion, sympathy, tenderness, and love — His meekness and lowliness of heart — His patience, forbearance, and long-suffering — His example — all these things are found in the Manna which God has given to us for food during our sojourn in the wilderness.

He is continually presented to us in the Manna-character in those epistles which especially deal with the desert-path of the saint. “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith; who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:1-3). That is, we are exhorted to feed upon Christ as the manna to sustain us amid the trials, difficulties, and persecutions incident to the desert. In like manner Peter, who writes particularly “to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus,” etc., continually leads us to Christ in this aspect. “What glory is it if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving its an example, that ye should follow His steps,” etc. (1 Peter 2:20-24; see also 1 Peter 3:1718). The Apostle Paul, too, feeds the saints with manna. For example, though it contains more, we have it in Philippians 2:5-9 — manna, we might say, of the most precious character. “Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” But it is in the Gospels that the manna lies gleaming round us on every side, and where it is to be gathered for use as the needs of each day may require. For there it is that we have the unfoldings of that wondrous life — the life of Him who was the Perfect Man, and, at the same time, God manifest in flesh.

Two remarks, however, may be made as to the collecting and use of the manna. The Israelites went out of the camp to gather at a certain rate every day (Ex. 16:4). We must go down for the same purpose. That is, unless we know our place in the heavenlies, and in truth what it is to feed upon the old corn of the land, we shall scarcely be able to feed upon the manna. This is remarkably brought out in the Apostle Paul’s ministry: he began with Christ in glory. So must it be with us. When we know our union with a glorified Christ, our place in Him before God, we shall feast with intensified delight upon Christ as the manna. Historically the manna came before the old corn, but the order should be reversed for the believer — for the simple reason that God has so reversed it in the presentation of Christ to our souls. We preach, as Paul did, a Christ in glory; and when He is thus apprehended, then, and not until then, we can find in a humbled Christ our food while in the wilderness. Hence the great loss, and consequent weakness, of those who are never permitted to hear of Christ in glory; whose only thought of Him is as once dwelling down here in the flesh, when He was made in the likeness of men.

The second remark is the very obvious and often-repeated one, that the manna cannot be stored for use. Every one must gather it every day according to his eating (Ex. 16:16); and if he gather more — unless it be for “the Sabbath” — it will surely become corrupt. No, beloved friends, there must be the constant feeding upon Christ, day by day, and hour by hour; and we can never receive more than our need for the time requires. Thereby we are kept in continual dependence, and our eyes are ever directed to Christ.

As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me” (John 6:5 7).

(3) There remains to be considered Christ as the Old Corn of the land. In the passage already referred to (Joshua 5:10-12), we have the Passover, the manna, and the old corn mentioned together, and this fact makes the interpretation the more manifest. If, therefore, the manna is Christ in incarnation, the old corn, inasmuch as the land typifies the heavenly places, of necessity points to Christ in glory. And we shall find that He is so presented to us in the epistles as the sustenance and strength of our souls, and so presented as our proper nourishment, even though believers may be regarded in the epistles, not, as in the Ephesians, as seated in the heavenlies in Christ, but, as in Colossians and Philippians (and indeed in 2 Corinthians), as down here upon the earth; for though still down here, they are united to Him where He is.

Take Colossians first. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which tre above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection [have your mind] on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). Here it is true we have “the things which are above;” but it is evident that by this term is meant the whole sphere of blessing, of which Christ in glory is the centre — the spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in fact, into the possession of which we are brought, and all of which are summed up in Christ. These therefore are “the old corn of the land,” “the fruit of the land of Canaan,” the proper food and sustenance for those who have died and are risen with Christ.

In Philippians 3 we have the same truth brought before us. For what have we there but a glorified Christ as filling the vision of the Apostle’s soul, and as the satisfying portion of his heart? Thus if we have the manna in chapter 2, we most surely have the old corn of the land in chapter 3. One more instance may be cited (2 Cor. 3:18): “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Hence, too, the value of the constant expectation of Christ. It attracts us to the person of the glorified Christ, engages our hearts with Him, and fills our souls with longing desires for that time when we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

All these passages, and many more of a kindred character, direct us to Christ in glory as the old corn of the land; but this is food with which we cannot disperse: no other will so nourish or impart such strength to the saint. It is heavenly food for heavenly people; and it is only when we are feeding upon it that we can be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might; that we can make war with the enemy for the possession (the occupation) of our inheritance; that we are made willing to undergo anything and everything — fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, being made conformable unto His death, if in any way we may arrive at the resurrection from among the dead (Phil. 3), when we shall be glorified together with Him who has been the strength and sustenance of our souls.

It should be remarked, too, that there is no power to express Christ in our walk down here excepting as we are occupied with Him in glory.* He should thus be, in this character, ever before us; and He will be when, taught of the Spirit, we can say to Him, “All our springs, all the sources of our joy, are in Thee.” And He Himself desires this; for He said to His disciples, when speaking of the coming Spirit of Truth, “He shall glorify Me; for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:1415).

*See chapter 10 for further instruction on this subject.

Feeding upon, occupation with, Christ is, therefore, the Alpha and the Omega of the Christian life; occupation with His death — that death which laid the foundation not only of our own redemption and deliverance, but also of the reconciliation of all thins; occupation with Him in incarnation, when, though He were the Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, when, as the obedient and dependent Man, He found His meat in doing the Father’s will and in finishing His work, and thus glorified God in every detail of that wondrous life; and, above all, occupation with Him in the glory — as the glorified Man — the centre of all God’s counsels, and the object of all His delight; yea, the satisfying portion of His heart. It is thus by occupation with, feeding upon, contemplating Christ, that we are brought, in the power of the Spirit, into fellowship with God; enabled to enter into His own thoughts concerning, and even to share His own affections for, that blessed One who is now seated at His own right hand. Surely here, then, is the source of all growth, strength, and blessing! Satan knows this, and hence he is incessantly engaged in seeking to occupy us with other things, to turn us aside to earthly sources and objects. It believes us, therefore, to be watchful, to maintain exercised hearts and consciences, that we may at once detect, and unsparingly judge, everything which would decoy our souls from the contemplation of Christ.

Blessed Lord Jesus! keep Thyself so constantly before our souls, and so unfold Thyself in all Thy grace and beauty to our hearts, that, drawing out our affections, we may desire to have nothing, to see nothing and to know nothing, but Thyself; for in Thee dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and we are complete in Thee.

“Soon shall my eyes behold Thee
With rapture face to face;
One half hath not been told me
Of all Thy power and grace.
Thy beauty, Lord, and glory,
The wonders of Thy love,
Shall be the endless story
Of all Thy saints above.”

Classic Expositions From The Past: “Come; Take; Learn” by Hamilton Smith

Monday, April 4th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD THE ARTICLE IN PDF., CLICK HERE:  Come, Take, Learn – H. Smith

“Come”; “Take”; “Learn”
Matthew 11: 25-30

There are certain passages in the Word of God that are especially endeared to the hearts of all
that love our Lord Jesus, inasmuch as they very definitely set forth the loveliness of Christ.
Among such portions we may well include the six closing verses of Matthew 11, for in these
verses we see the perfection of Christ shining out in one of the darkest moments of His earthly
pathway.
The passage opens with the words, “At that time.” We may well pause to enquire, what was
“that time”? The preceding chapters bring before us the Lord’s ministry in the midst of Israel. He
had presented Himself in all the glory of His Person as Emmanuel — God with us — cleansing
the leper with a touch, healing the centurion’s servant with a word, and commanding the demons
to depart (8). He had revealed the grace of His heart in forgiving sins, in sitting down to eat with
sinners, in raising the dead, opening the eyes of the blind, and in making the dumb to speak. He
had revealed the tender love of His heart by suffering in His spirit the sorrows that He took away
by His power, and had expressed His compassions for those who were scattered abroad as sheep
having no shepherd. He had shown the lowly grace of His heart by entering the humble home of
a fisherman, by preaching the gospel to the poor, and by becoming so poor that He had nowhere
to lay His head.
What response did the nation give to the One who expressed His grace by becoming poor in
order to show forth His love and power on behalf of sinful men in relieving them of every sorrow
and pressure, even of death itself?
Alas! Some besought Him to depart; others said “This man blasphemeth.” Again there were
those who laughed Him to scorn; others said He was a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. The
leaders said “He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.” They insulted Him, defamed
Him, and thus speaking and acting against Him, they fulfilled His own touching words, “They
have rewarded Me evil for good, and hatred for my love” (Ps. 109: 5). It thus becomes clear that
“that time” was the time of His utter rejection by the nation of Israel.
This then was the answer the nation gave to all His love and grace. But what answer did the
Lord give to all the insults and scorn that men heaped upon Him? Did He assert His sovereign
rights, and fall back upon His royal power by which He could have silenced every opposer and
crushed every foe? He had, indeed, warned the nation of the judgment that would overtake them,
but He utters no word of resentment, He uses no threats, He is not moved to any act of revenge.
In like spirit, a little later, in the last closing scenes, in the presence of false witnesses, “Jesus
held His peace.” Before Pilate, when accused by the chief priests, “He answered him to never a
word”; and yet again, before the mocking Herod, “He answered him nothing.”
If then He was silent, if He took no revenge upon His enemies, was it that He had no resource?
Far from it; but His resource was not to vilify His enemies and turn upon His foes, but to turn to
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the Father in prayer. As He can say, “For my love they are my adversaries; but I give myself
unto prayer” (Ps. 109: 4). So Peter can write of the Lord, in his Epistle, “Who when He was
reviled, reviled not again: when He suffered He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him
that judgeth righteously.” The answer then to all the insults men heaped upon Him is seen in the
threefold perfection that it called forth from the Lord.
First, “that time” brought to light His perfect and unshaken confidence in the Father’s love. He
finds His resource in turning in prayer to the Father — the One who loves Him, and who has all
power as the Lord of heaven and earth. No circumstances, however terrible, are allowed for one
moment to call in question the Father’s love, or the power of the Lord of heaven and earth. Nor
does the Lord turn to the Father, calling for revenge upon His enemies, but with thanks that, in
spite of all the hatred and opposition of men and devils, divine love and divine power are
carrying out the Father’s purposes. These counsels of love pass by those who by their wisdom
know not God, and proclaim the gospel to the poor who have no resources, and make known the
Father to the babes who make no pretension.
Moreover, a second great perfection comes to light. With perfect confidence in the Father’s love
and power, the Lord perfectly submits to the Father’s will. Thus He can say, “Even so Father: for
so it seemed good in Thy sight.” If carrying out the Father’s will entails the hatred and scorn of
men, He will submit. A little later, Peter, in his fleshly zeal, may draw a sword to resist those
who oppose His Master; but, the Lord, Himself, can say, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the
cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it”? (John 18: 11).
Furthermore, the sorrowful circumstances bring into prominence a third perfection of the Lord,
for He can say, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” In perfect meekness He gave way rather than
assert His rights, and in perfect lowliness He refused to exalt Himself. As He passed through this
world he ignored self in order to serve others in love.
Thus the darkest moment of His pathway becomes the occasion of bringing into display the
moral excellencies of Christ, as seen in His perfect confidence in the Father’s love; His perfect
submission to the Father’s will, and the meekness and lowliness of heart that could think of
everything, and everyone but self.
Thus, in a threefold way the loveliness of Christ shines forth. If, however, we are to profit by
Christ as our perfect pattern it will not be enough to admire His excellencies, we must also give
heed to His three exhortations: First, “Come unto Me”; Secondly, “Take my yoke,” and, Thirdly,
“Learn of Me.”
“Come unto Me.” Israel’s rejection of Christ cannot stay the grace of God: indeed, it becomes
the occasion for that grace to flow out to all, Jew and Gentile alike. Therefore the Lord can say,
“Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” However great the burden of sins we are
welcome to come, even as the woman who was a sinner found in the house of Simon, and as a
poor thief found when nailed on a cross. As another has written, it is as if the Lord said, “If you
are a poor woman, not fit to face any of your fellow creatures, come to Me; I will have you, trust
Me: if you are hanging on a cross for your crimes, you shall go up today with Me to paradise.
My blood is enough to put your crimes away: my heart is open to receive you.” Weary with our
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vain efforts to meet our condition, and burdened with our sins, how good to hear His words of
love, “Come unto Me,” and, in His presence, discover that He knows the worst about us, and yet
He loves us. Then to learn that loving us He has died for us, and that the holy God is so satisfied
with what Christ has done that He has raised Him from the dead and seated Him in the glory, and
that the one that believes in Him is justified from all things, and is as clear of the judgment that
his sins deserve as Christ, Himself, in the glory. Thus it is He brings peace to the conscience, and
we realise the truth of His words, “I will give you rest.”
“Take My yoke.” The yoke implies service taken up in submission to the will of another. With
our natural tendency to self-importance we may seek to be among the Lord’s people as those that
rule and exercise lordship, but He could say, “1 am among you as He that serveth.” Moreover, it
is not service according to our own wills, or doing what we think best; but service according to
His thoughts and in obedience to His will. It is not simply “a yoke” that we are asked to take, but
“His yoke.” Coming to Him as needy sinners He will give us rest; taking His yoke as believers
we shall find rest. Martha, who served the Lord according to her thoughts was distracted and
“cumbered about much serving.”
“Learn of Me.” If, then, our service is to be according to His will and pleasure we shall need to
remember the Lord’s third great exhortation, “Learn of Me.” This involves, not only that we
learn the service He would have us to take up, but that we learn His blessed character, so that we
not only do the right thing, but we do it in the right spirit. Therefore the Lord’s desire is first, that
we should take up His service in submitting to His yoke; secondly, that we should exhibit His
character as the One Who is “meek and lowly in heart.”
We can learn of one another; we can learn by the prayerful study of the word; but to learn of
Him implies that we are in His presence and keep His company. As the Lord could say a little
later, “If any man serve Me, let him follow Me” (John 12: 26). It is not, indeed, that He will give
us any fresh revelation beyond that which is made known to us in the word; but, in His presence
we learn the blessed reality of all that the word reveals. Paul can write to Timothy, “Consider
what 1 say: and the Lord will give thee understanding” (2 Tim. 2: 7). An Apostle may be used to
reveal the truth, but the Lord alone can give understanding of the truth revealed. It is good indeed
to have the doctrine set forth with all the authority of God’s written word; but good, also, when
the written word turns us to the living Word to see the truth set forth in all its perfection in HIM.
In His Person there is brought before us, in a way that must deeply affect us, all the moral
excellencies and spiritual graces that marked every step of His path of devoted service. We look
up to Him in the glory as our object and our hope, but we look back to His perfect pathway to
learn in Him the spirit that should mark His people as they pass through this world. In Him we
see our perfect example, for He was “meek and lowly in heart.” It is still possible, like Mary of
old, to sit at His feet and hear His word, and learning of Him we shall catch something of His
spirit and express something of His lovely character. It has been truly said, “There is so much
Christian service in the world which lacks true strength and beauty, because it stands too little
connected with the source of all service, with Christ Himself, and is too little founded on the
word of God. There are so many believers who like Martha, are busied about many things, but
alas! have neither the desire, nor quietness enough, to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His
precious word. To spend an hour alone with the Lord would be to them far more difficult than to
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labour the whole day about all sorts of things. And whence comes this? It demands a far more
spiritual mind to tarry in His presence than to be occupied with service. In the latter even nature
can find some satisfaction, while in His presence it must be entirely set aside.”
Furthermore, if we learn of Him, we shall not only take up His service in His spirit, but, in the
presence of all the sorrows and trials of life, the desertions and disappointments, the insults and
malice we may have to meet, we shall act as He acted. We shall not allow any of these things to
call in question the Father’s love, but, like Christ, we shall make them the occasion of turning to
the Father in prayer, of confiding in the Father’s love, and submitting to the Father’s will. In the
spirit of meekness we shall be quiet in the presence of every insult. With the lowly mind we shall
refuse to exalt self and seek, rather, to ignore self while seeking to serve others in love. Thus
acting like the Master we shall find rest to our souls.
Then seek to please Him, whatsoever He bids thee,
Whether to do, to suffer, or be still;
‘Twill matter little by what path He leads us,
If in it all we sought to do His will.
Taken from: http://stempublishing.com/magazines/OSW/51-60/osw52e.html Accessed on
4/1/11.

 

Alone But Not Alone

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” John 16:32

Abandonment and loneliness are among the most dreaded human experiences. No one wants to be alone in a time of crisis. Whether it is a neighbor, a relative, or just a good friend, human hearts crave companionship in the midst of difficulties. This innate impulse was not absent from the Lord Jesus, who is “God manifest in the flesh,” yet also a perfect man (1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:5.)

On the night before Christ’s crucifixion, His disciples were perplexed and troubled about His repeated statements that He was about to leave them (e.g. Jn. 14:2; Jn. 16:16.) Their fears focused on their personal situation, not so much on what He would endure. What would life be like without Jesus around to guide and protect them? Given that they had left their old lives to follow Him, this sort of talk naturally disturbed them (Matt. 19:27.) Yet the real horror of the coming day would be experienced by the Master, not His followers. His abandonment by the disciples would merely be the beginning of sorrows for the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:3.)

In The Hands Of The Rabble

Even when the well-armed mob converged upon Gethsemane to arrest the Lord, the unarmed Savior demonstrated His protecting power by orchestrating the release of His eleven loyal followers. Without threatening or invoking angelic aid, He authoritatively said “Let these go their way”; accordingly the captors permitted the disciples to depart unharmed. This seemed counterproductive to their purposes: why not wipe out Jesus’ closest lieutenants with one blow? Yet in their hatred against the Lord, they were blinded to reason, and obeyed His sovereign wishes.

By the end of His arrest, the disciples all rapidly dispersed. Peter and John returned to follow Christ afar off to Caiaphas’ palace. The tragedy of their physical distance was augmented by Peter’s threefold denial of His Master, which the Lord had predicted (Lk. 22:31-34, 60-62.) While it is true that the Lord also prophesied this disgraced disciple’s restoration, it does not diminish the fact that this departure helped fulfill the Old Testament prophesy concerning Christ: “Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psa. 69:20.)

The Harmonious Working Of Father And Son

In spite of this lack of human comforters, the Lord Jesus pointed out to them that He was actually not alone (Jn. 16:32.) Throughout His life on earth, the Father audibly manifested His presence with His only begotten Son (e.g. Matt. 3:17; Mk. 9:7; Jn. 12:28.) Now in view of Mount Moriah – like the ancient patriarch Abraham and his beloved son – the phrase “the two of them went together” described the Divine Father and Son’s approach to Calvary (Gen. 22:6.) The cross was a work of the triune Godhead: God the Father was the righteous judge, the Son was the Lamb offered up through “the eternal Spirit” (Isa. 53:6; Heb. 9:14.) Though the Son was judged as a sin offering at the cross, He remained the uniquely well-pleasing one to His Father. The comfort of their relationship was only displaced by the wrath of God falling upon Him (Matt. 27:46.) He remained the Son of God’s love throughout His sufferings. His great pain is captured by the imagery of Messianic Psalms like the 22nd and the 69th: “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death” (Psa. 22:14-15) and

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; My throat is dry; My eyes fail while I wait for my God. Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; They are mighty who would destroy me, being my enemies wrongfully; Though I have stolen nothing, I still must restore itLet not the floodwater overflow me, nor let the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut its mouth on me. (Psa. 69:1-4, 15.)

The eloquent hymn writer, James G. Deck evocatively pictured the scene in poetry:

Oh solemn hour! that hour alone
In solitary might,
When God the Father’s only Son,
As man for sinners to atone,
Expires — amazing sight!
The Lord of glory crucified!
The Prince of life has bled and died!

O mystery of mysteries!
Of life and death the tree;
Centre of two eternities,
Which look, with rapt, adoring eyes,
Onward and back to Thee.
O cross of Christ, where all His pain
And death is our eternal gain.

Oh, how our inmost hearts do move
While gazing on that cross!
The death of the Incarnate Love!
What shame, what grief, what joy we prove,
That He should die for us!
Our hearts were broken by that cry,
‘Eli, lama sabachthani?’

Worthy of death, O God, we were;
Thy judgment was our due;
In grace Thy spotless Lamb did bear
Himself our sins and guilt and shame;
Justice our surety slew,
With Him our surety we have died,
With Him we there were crucified.i

The Father’s Opinion Of His Son On Display To The Universe

Christ was not irrevocably forsaken, however; instead, the Father demonstrated His pleasure in Him by raising Him from the dead three days later. As Peter later said:

Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him: ‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’…This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. ‘For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:24-28, 32-36.)

Other passages confirm that the Father demonstrated His appreciation of His Son by the resurrection (Acts 3:13-15; Rom. 1:4.)

Head Of An Innumerable Company

The stricken One was vindicated by the Father and received into glory, where He never shall be alone (1 Pet. 3:22.)

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!’ And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!’ Then the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever (Rev. 5:11-14.)

For all eternity, the redeemed will praise and fellowship with the Lord of glory, who was judged for sin on the cross, and subsequently glorified through resurrection from the dead. For the future ages upon ages the Father and He will be the center of attention (Eph. 1:20-23; Rev. 21:22-24.)

i J.G. Deck, “Oh Solemn Hour, That Hour Alone”; http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/215

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As Well-Known & Yet Unknown

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

The title of this article intentionally reverses the word order of Paul’s self-description in 2 Corinthians 6:9. Jesus Christ is well-known by name around the world, yet His true identity is unknown to many who assume they know all about Him. This was also the case when Jesus walked on the earth millennia ago. Even many in close physical proximity failed to perceive His true character and mission. Christianity is based on objective and subjective knowledge of Jesus Christ. If one does not know the truth about Him and know Him personally in one’s own experience, than one cannot lay claim to being a Christian. A Christian knows the Lord Jesus, and seeks to increase his knowledge of Him by prayerful study of His Word.
A Case of Mistaken Identity
The Lord Jesus declared Himself to be the Bread of Life who came down from heaven (Jn. 6:35.) Rather than receive His claim, His listeners reasoned that since they knew His parentage, then all of this talk about coming from heaven was nonsense. They ignored the evidence of His supernatural origin – the dramatic sign of feeding multitudes by miraculously multiplying five loaves and two fishes – instead reasoning from only one piece of information about Jesus. Starting from a false assumption regarding Him, their conclusion was inevitably false. This is not surprising, for even the denizens of His hometown mistook Him based on acquaintance with His family, saying: “‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ So they were offended at Him” (Mk. 6:2-3.) They could not fathom how a mere carpenter from an ordinary family could be a miracle-working teacher.
In each of these cases the people made no effort to further investigate Christ’s claims. Later the people of Jerusalem discounted Him as a possible Messiah, for they knew that Micah 5:2 revealed Bethlehem as Messiah’s birthplace. Had they bothered to ask, they would have discovered that Jesus was not born in Nazareth, but in the city that the Old Testament predicted (John 7:42.) The religious leaders made a similar error, assuming that He only had Galilean beginnings (v. 52.) Furthermore, if they had given due weight to the evidence of His miracles, as well as His unequalled teaching, it would have shown that He was more than a man. Instead, they continued in willing ignorance, uninterested in a Saviour who could radically change their lives and deliver them from eternal judgement.
Knowing God, The Core of Eternal Life
While it is tragic that so many lost people misunderstand the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ, it would be a greater tragedy if Christians likewise fail to learn more about their Lord. The essence of eternal life is personal knowledge of God through Christ (Jn. 17:3.) True believers cannot rest content with the basic facts about Christ, such as His deity and teachings. They must go on to know Him with greater intimacy in their every day lives. When he was lost, Paul “…thought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth”; nonetheless, as a believer, his ambition was to “…know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Acts 26:9; Phil. 3:10.) His delight was to probe the depths of Christ’s person, work, and especially His love. He prayed that his converts reflect this interest in learning more of the Lord Jesus. For the Ephesians he prayed: “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 4:17-19.) In like manner, he interceded for the Colossians thus: “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10.)
Nor is such an emphasis on knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ restricted to Paul. Peter also exhorted the Christians to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18.) Likewise, John described the Christian life in terms of knowing God and Christ (1 Jn. 2:13-14.) Obviously Christianity’s essence is to know Christ – an activity that is endless, for as God, His person is infinite.
Fellowship With The Friend Who Sticks Closer Than A Brother
In the fast-paced modern world, time alone with the Lord is often the first thing that is jettisoned from one’s schedule. Careers, academic studies, entertainment, and social events all have their place. If one is not vigilant, however, these things may rob one of precious intimacy with the Almighty. Spending time with Him in prayer and study of the Scriptures is essential for believers. They must daily commune with the Bread of Life, who feeds their souls. To ignore Him, is to neglect our reason for being as redeemed creatures of God. Superficial knowledge of the Lord must be replaced by the deep, personal relationships that can only be forged by spending much time with Him.

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Fathers & Sons

Monday, February 8th, 2010

History is suffused with problematic father-son relationships. Within the ranks of biography, works such as Edmund Gosse’s highly biased diatribe against his father’s faith (Father & Son), and Frank McCourt’s lyrical, poignant tale of impoverished childhood (Angela’s Ashes) represent the prevalence of disharmony between fathers and their progeny. Of course, it seems to be a right of passage for many celebrities to do the talk-show circuit, recounting their difficult relationships with their fathers (R & B singer Marvin Gaye was even murdered by his father in 1984 after a violent argument.)i Sadly, family problems are not limited to celebrities; many ordinary families struggle with divisions in their midst – particularly among fathers and sons.
The great families of the Old Testament were not exempt from struggles of this sort. Problems abounded in the relationships of Abraham and Ishmael, as well as among Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. The twelve sons of Israel, however, are decidedly the poster children for family dysfunction. Nonetheless, in His amazing grace, the Lord worked in their lives and used them to found His chosen nation, Israel. In keeping with His expansive character and marvelous redemptive work, their names will forever adorn the gates of the future New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12.) When one compares them with the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father’s only begotten Son, the difference is striking. He alone demonstrates the divine intention for paternal and filial relationships.
The Sins Of The Fathers
The patriarch Israel, formerly known as Jacob, grew up in an environment of rampant favoritism. Whereas, his father Isaac preferred the machismo-exuding Esau, the younger son Jacob was his mother’s darling (Gen 25:28.) From dear mama he inherited – and learned by example – an ability to gain advantages through opportunism and duplicity (25:29-34; Ch. 27.)ii Years later when Jacob had a family of his own, he also showed partiality among his wives and sons, preferring Rachel and her children over Leah and her offspring (including the children born by the concubinage of Bilhah and Zilpah.) This fostered a climate of suspicion and envy among the sons that did not proceed from Rachel. By giving Joseph a multicolored tunic, he indicated his singular love for the boy.iii Moreover, the garment was a declaration of status: no ditch digger was he! He was destined for important position within the family and its holdings. The stage was set for a confrontation between the disgruntled older sons and their annoying little brother Joseph, who always seemed to be having dreams of his own greater grandeur at their expense.
Among the patriarchs, Joseph bears the most resemblance to the Lord Jesus Christ, but then for most of their lives, his brethren posed little competition for this distinction. A survey of the lives of his oldest four sons demonstrates their checkered careers. For example, Israel upbraided his eldest son in these scathing words: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, My might and the beginning
of my strength, The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. Unstable as water, you shall not excel, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it…” (Gen. 49:3-4.) All of his early promise and rank as the eldest son was negated by his habitual instability. He committed adultery with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. When he should have opposed his brothers’ evil plan to kill Joseph, he was reticent, intending to rescue the youth later by trickery. In the aftermath of Joseph being sold into slavery, he went along with the cover-up, heedless of the injury that it did to his father. His manic conduct is finally illustrated by his outrageous suggestion that if he did not return from Egypt with Benjamin, Israel could console himself by executing Reuben’s sons! Clearly, his character calls to mind the proverb “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint” (Prov. 25:19.)
Their Violence Besmirched Their Father’s Name
Simeon and Levi were also a disappointment to their father. They used deceit and wanton violence to avenge their raped sister Dinah by a bloody massacre against the men of Shechem (Gen. 34:25-31.) Israel summed them up this way: “Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place…Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel!” (49:5, 7.) Although he promised to “…scatter them in Israel,” by the grace of God, this was not entirely a punishment (v. 7.) It would be ironic, but for grace: the progeny of the angry, vengeful one, became those who averted the wrath of God against the people. Later, Levi’s descendants properly used the sword in the incident of the golden calf, and therefore were set apart as the priestly tribe. Thus, they served in the public worship and service of the Lord, as well as the instruction of the Israelites in the law (Ex. 32:26-29.)
From Rake To Role-Model
The wayward youth of Judah is perhaps the most surprising feature of the patriarchal history to modern readers of the Bible. After all, luminaries such as Caleb, King David and his royal line – including the Lord Jesus Christ Himself – descended from this impressive tribe. Nevertheless, their ancestor’s early career had some infamous blemishes. Besides leading the way in selling Joseph into slavery, he married a Canaanite woman and produced two exceptionally wicked sons, named Er and Onan (Gen. 38:1-10.) Each of them displeased the Lord and were executed for their evil ways. When Judah wrongfully withheld his third son from the twice widowed Tamar, she took matters into her own hands. In the guise of prostitute, she was unrecognized by her father-in-law, who sated his lust by fornicating with her – a union which produced twin sons, called Perez and Zerah (vs. 12-30.) When the parentage of these boys was revealed, he acknowledged that it was his fault, saying: “She has been more righteous than I” (v. 26.) This sordid incident stands in stark contrast to the conduct of the enslaved Joseph, who resolutely resisted the repeated entreaties of Mrs. Potiphar to carnally indulge himself with her. Judah had no constraints to his freedom, yet he was a slave to his misguided fears and passions. While his betrayed brother maintained his purity and loyalty to the Lord in spite of having many things
against him in Egypt. Indeed, for His faithfulness, Joseph seemingly went from bad to worse, finding himself in the political prison of the mightiest superpower of the day.
The Gracious Discipline of God At Work
His gross sin notwithstanding, God graciously continued to work in Judah’s life, molding and training him until he became the one to stand up for Benjamin in front of the governor of Egypt (Gen. 44:18-34.) He could not bear to put his father through the grief of losing another favored son, and so offered himself as a substitute. This act was a beautiful foreshadowing of what his descendent, “the man Christ Jesus” – who was also “God manifest in the flesh” – would do in becoming a substitute to those who were condemned to slavery and eternal death (1 Tim. 2:5; 3:16.) By His death and resurrection, He justifies the ungodly, sanctifies them, and glorifies them (Rom. 3-8.)
The Perfect Father-Son Relationship
Unlike the sons of Israel, there were no skeletons in the closet of the Lord Jesus Christ. Among His contemporaries, He alone could lay claim to the title “Only begotten Son”; furthermore, to Him only could the title Messiah be credibly applied. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit identified with Him at the commencement of His public ministry (Matt. 3:16.) The Former declared in unmistakable terms His unqualified approval, saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight” (v. 17, JND.) Only the Lord Jesus could honestly say “…He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (Jn. 8:29, emphasis mine.) He alone could declare in solemn prayer to His Father: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (17:4, emphasis mine.)
Weighed in God’s Balances
To prove the unique claim of Jesus as the Son and Christ one must compare Him with those who held the offices that were demarcated by anointing: prophet, priest, and king. True prophets were few and far between in early first century Israel. John the Baptist was a divinely commissioned one, but he readily confessed that he was not the Christ (e.g. Jn. 1:20.) There were pretenders aplenty, with no shortage of would-be political saviors vying to deliver the Jews from the onerous Gentile yoke of Rome. The venerable rabbi Gamaliel recounted the mistaken messianic pretensions of two ill-fated revolutionaries in these words: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you
cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God” (Acts 5:35-39.) So among the prophets, no one else had the credentials of the Lord Jesus.
As for the priests, it is apparent that Annas and Caiaphas posed no threat to Christ’s role as the true Great High Priest in heaven (Heb. 10:21.) Extra-biblical sources, such as the first century historian Flavius Josephus ben Mattathias, tell us that the former cleric controlled the priesthood like an economic and political dynasty. Five of his sons held the high priesthood at different times, but none had the office longer than his son-in-law, Caiaphas. Each of these men were appointed to their positions by the Romans, and conducted themselves with a realpolitik flair – “pragmatism before truth” could have been their family motto (e.g. Jn. 11:49-52.)iv Discounting the evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship they conducted a show-trial, which set aside many of the ordinances of Jewish jurisprudence. As one writer describes it: “His [i.e. Caiaphas’] conduct at this preliminary trial of Jesus (Matthew 26:57-68), its time and its procedure, were almost entirely illegal from the standpoint of then existing Jewish law…”v Clearly, the One who referred to Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” stands out when put alongside the likes of Annas, Caiaphas, and their cronies (Jn. 14:6.)
Pax Romana, Lex Romana, et Peccamen Romanavi
On the side of kings, neither the Roman emperor Tiberius or his representative, the governor of Judea Pontius Pilate, can challenge the character and qualifications of the “King of Kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14.) The former was not as openly violent and depraved as later Caesar’s like Caligula and Nero; nevertheless, he was a sinful man, who was reputed to indulge in various perversions.vii The failings of his civil servant Pilate are well documented in the Gospels. Though he knew Christ was innocent, he still delivered Him up to be crucified. He tried various means to free the problematic prisoner before him, but in the end, he chose Caesar over the Lord (Jn. 19:12-16.) It was a matter of one’s career over truth and personal eternal well-being. The governor cynically asked, “What is truth?” in conversation with God incarnate “who cannot lie” (Jn. 18:38; Titus 1:2.) By contrast, at the Great White Throne the Lord Jesus, the Judge of all the earth, will uphold the truth and will not compromise it in the slightest degree (Acts 17:31; Rev. 20:11-15.) Justice will prevail through God the Father’s faithful only begotten Son.
It is evident that in the annals of human history there has never been anyone like the Lord Jesus Christ. He uniquely pleases God the Father and is eminently qualified to be prophet, priest, and king. At their best the heroes of the Old and New Testaments faintly foreshadow His greatness. The Lord Jesus is the perfect Son, who forever lives in perfect harmony with His Father. If human families are to be what they ought, than they must bow to the Son of God’s love and permit Him to work in them. Thankfully, He is willing and able to overcome human dysfunction and sin, and to form a great family in heaven (Col. 1:13; Jn. 1:12; 1 Jn. 3:1-2; Eph. 3:14-21.)
.
i http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/marvingaye/biography
ii One should not blame Rebekah too much, for Isaac was also capable of serious deception on occasion, e.g. his pretending to be her brother rather than her husband in Gerar; see Gen. 26.
iii The idea of multicolored goes back to the ancient Greek (LXX) & Latin (Vulgate) translations. An Aramaic cognate word gives the idea of a long-sleeved coat. Either way the garment was distinctive, spoke of rank, and was not something one wore to do menial labor. For a discussion of the original words, see Gordon Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 2: Genesis 16-50, Dallas: Word Publ. Inc., 2002, electronic edition (Logos), comment on Gen. 37:3.
iv For the historical background to Annas, Caiaphas, & family, I recommend the following: J.A. M’Clymont, “Caiaphas,” ed. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible Dealing With Its Language, Literature, & Contents, Vol. 1, New York: Scribner’s, 1901, p. 338 ; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hastings/dictv1.i.vii.html ; C.M. Kerr, “Caiaphas,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939, http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/C/caiaphas.html ; Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on “Joseph Caiaphas.” New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1913: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03143b.htm, All of this links were accessed on 2/8/10.
v C.M. Kerr, “Caiaphas,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939, http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/C/caiaphas.html [Brackets mine.]
vi Latin for “Roman peace, Roman law, & Roman sin.”
vii The ancient Roman historian Suetonius wrote of his violent temper and wicked sexual practices, but many modern historians and Classicists think these are mere malicious rumors spread by Tiberius’ enemies. E.g. Suetonius, Lives of the Caesar’s: Tib. 43-44: http://artflx.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/citequery3.pl?dbname=PerseusLatinTexts&getid=1&query=Suet.%20Tib.43.

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Lessons From The Upper Room

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Throughout the Lord’s Upper Room discourse, He demonstrates His deity. Perfect knowledge and perfect love are two of the most frequently displayed divine attributes in this section of God’s Word. As one reads His final teaching to the disciples before the Cross, one realizes that He is in total control of the circumstances, and is working all things together for their (and our) good. Christ’s all-encompassing knowledge and unlimited love provides the assurance of the Almighty’s ability to channel all events for the accomplishment of His will and the believer’s eternal blessing.
The Introductory Statement Reveals His Complete Knowledge
John 13:1 reads: “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” The impending betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion did not take the Lord Jesus by surprise. He knew that His hour had come. Previously, He had evaded unwanted attention and life-threatening danger, because His time had not yet come (Jn. 2:4; 7:6, 30; 8:20.) Now it is upon Him, and He approaches the hour with calm determination, knowing that these events will accomplish the divine mission of redemption, eventually leading Him back to eternal glory with the Father (Jn. 13:1; 17:5.)
Several times the Lord informs His disciples of coming events in order that they may look back on that dark night, and realize that it all unfolded “according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23.) He openly tells them this in John 13:23: “Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He.” In preparing them for His physical departure, Christ identifies His betrayer, clearly predicts the persecution that the disciples will face in the world, and details the coming of the Holy Spirit, as well as other future events (Jn. 13:10-11, 21, 25; 16:1-4; 14:16-17.) If He had not mentioned these things, after they occurred the disciples might wonder if the Lord was ignorant of the happenings that led Him to the Cross. With His perfect foreknowledge, however, the Lord Jesus displays compassion for them. Now they could look back and say, “The Lord knew it all the time! It all took place according to His will. He went willingly to Calvary.”
The Introductory Statement Reveals His Unlimited Love
The second half of John 13:1 says that the Lord “having loved His own who were in the world loved them to the end.” Some scholars translate the last phrase: “to the uttermost” or “to the fullest extent possible.” His love not only encompassed all of His dealings with the disciples, it also surpasses anything else in its quality. This type of love is humble (as seen in the feet-washing, Jn. 13:4-11), faithful in the face of the disciples’ unfaithfulness (Jn. 13:26-14:3; 16:31-33), and makes provision for their ongoing instruction, protection, and comfort (Jn. 14:16-27.)
The caliber of this love is evidenced by our Lord’s own description of the greatest demonstration of love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13.) In thinking of the Lord’s sacrificial death for them, His disciples could not deny that His love transcends anything else in the world. Romans 5:8 reminds us that “…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We could not even say that we were His friends in our natural, lost state. He loved us when we were unlovely, and brought us freely into the fellowship of His love by grace. Indeed, this is a love that goes beyond the world’s usual trite usage of the word.
Love: The Believer’s Natural Habitat
Christ’s love has a powerful impact on the life of a believer. He describes the practical significance of love in the Upper Room teaching. His doctrine may be outlined thus:
1. Love’s Standard: Jn. 13:34 – “…as I have loved you” – It humbly imitates Christ’s selfless love.
2. Love’s Requirement: Jn. 14:21 – “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me…” – It obeys Christ’s Word. Compare 14:31 where Christ shows the world His love for the Father through obedience to the latter’s command, which will lead Him to the death of the Cross.
3. Love’s Result: Jn. 15:9-10, 13, 16 – “…ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” – It produces the Vine’s fruit in the believers’ lives, while they lay down their lives for each other.
4. Love’s Completion: Jn. 17:26 – “…that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” – It unites them with the love of the Father and the Son.
Therefore, love has a dramatic practical effect on the believer by leaving an example of humility, obedience, and fruitfulness. Manifesting the love of Christ towards one another is the mark of true discipleship (Jn. 13:35.)
The Lord’s perfect knowledge and love repeatedly appear in John 13-17, showing their essential part in the accomplishment of God’s will. As Christ sends forth His followers into the world as witnesses, they go forth accompanied by the Triune God, Who knows all. There are no obstacles that He is unaware of, nor any problems that He cannot solve. What is more, His love ensures their protection, provision, and empowerment. The love that led the Savior to Calvary and the tomb will surely not spare anything in working for their good. The love that conquered death through resurrection will ultimately take believers to the Father’s house, where they will eternally behold the Christ’s glory (Jn. 14:1-3; 17:24.) Nothing can defeat the Lord Jesus Christ, nor thwart His purposes. As Romans 8:37 says: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

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The True Identity of Christ

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The Lord Jesus Christ has impacted world history more than any other great historical figure. Like other famous individuals, Christ’s real identity is the subject of great debate among scholars & ordinary people alike. Such disagreement is neither surprising, nor new. During His own time, many questions swirled around the person of the famed preacher from Nazareth. When He asked His disciples: “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?”, they responded by linking Him with great religious men of the past. Jesus led them into this line of conversation during a visit to Caesarea Philippi, a city whose name was synonomous with idolatry.
In Ancient Israel, this city boasted noted shrines to various pagan deities. In this place, which was associated with man’s false concept of the nature of God, Jesus asked them: “But whom say ye that I am?” Simon Peter was quick to answer: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Lord Jesus commended him for this correct response, & pointed out that this had been made known to Peter by God the Father Himself. He discloses that He is the Christ, the long promised Savior. What’s more, in contrast to the many statues of wood, stone, & metal at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus was shown to be the Son of the Living God. He is not a son of God in some generic sense; rather He was God the Father’s Son, co-equal with the Father & the Holy Spirit. Here was God manifest in human flesh, revealing Himself to His creatures.
Matthew records the startling teaching that came next: “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” The disciples were understandably perplexed. Peter even began to rebuke the Lord. They could not fathom how the long promised Christ—God the Son—could suffer a shameful end like crucifixion. This form of execution was reserved for the lowest type of criminal. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus willingly endured the Cross, bearing the sin of mankind, in order to provide a way of salvation for helpless sinners like each of us. As John 3:16 expresses it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The reality of this promise is demonstrated by the fact that the Lord Jesus rose again from the dead, & ever lives to save those who will repent & place their faith in His completed work on the Cross.

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Melchizedek

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The need for a priest originates in the first book of the Bible. The fall of mankind caused a serious change in man’s relationship with his Maker. Instead of enjoying fellowship with God during walks in “the cool of the day,” Adam and Eve suddenly hid in shame from their Creator. This distressing state of affairs was remedied by the divine provision of a covering for the guilty pair; thus permitting pardon and ongoing relations with the Holy One. Thereafter in Genesis heads of families, such as Noah and Abraham, built altars, worshipped the Lord, as well as making supplications, intercession, and prayers (e.g. Gen. 8:20; 12:7-8). In chapter fourteen, Melchizedek, an independent priest, is introduced – One who is closely linked in the Scriptures with the Lord Jesus Christ. Of Battlefields and Benedictions
The mysterious “King of Salem” appears on the scene at a strange time. Where has this man been? At first glance, he seems to have little to do with the other events of the passage. Lot’s life steadily intertwined itself with the politics and affairs of Sodom. Consequently, when one of that wicked city-state’s battles went awry, he is taken hostage in the aftermath of the military rout by King Chedorlaomer and his allies. Thankfully, Abraham “the Hebrew” engineers a daring rescue of his captive nephew, simultaneously recovering the other prisoners and material spoils.1 Afterwards, the king of Sodom approaches Abraham with a tempting offer. Thankfully, he is first met by Melchizedek, who exercises what turns out to be an important ministry. Before encountering the subtle wiles of the potentate of Sodom, Abraham is fortified by this spiritual king-priest. The text identifies Melchizedek as a “priest of the Most High God” (El Elyon in Hebrew, Gen. 14:18). This name of God occurs for the first time in Scripture in this passage. He goes on to bless Abraham in this mighty name. In this fitting benediction Melchizedek reminds the patriarch that the Lord is “the possessor of heaven and earth,” thereby emphasizing the sovereignty of the Almighty. He also gives full credit to God for the impressive military victory. Lastly, he thoughtfully brings bread and wine to strengthen and cheer Abraham physically. How good it is that our God remembers our weak frames (Ps. 103:14). When our bodies are feeble, the Lord cares for us. Just as He provided a meal for the depressed Elijah under the broom tree, so He ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of His downcast saints (1 Kings 19:1-8). Bread and wine cannot help but remind us of the wonderful symbols of provision and fellowship that God has given us in the New Testament (1 Cor. 11: 20-34).
Armed with this knowledge of the character of God Abraham is prepared to meet the king of wicked Sodom. The king’s offer was alluring, but the Hebrew chieftain rejected it without a second thought. The proffered spoils are spurned with these words of conviction: “I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will
1 Some scholars believe that “Hebrew” stems from the phrase “One from beyond the river”; thus making this a reference to his “pilgrim and stranger” status, and not just a comment on his ethnicity.
not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich” (Gen. 14:22-23). Since God Most High had blessed Abraham and given him the victory, there was nothing of lasting value that an earthly king could offer him. What is more, Abraham wanted God to get all of the glory for enriching him.
Christ’s Preventative Ministry
Like Melchizedek, the Lord Jesus exercises a strengthening ministry on behalf of His children. For example, before His betrayal He forewarns His disciples of their impending desertion. He especially cautions Peter of the dreadful testing that was about to overtake him. He said: “…Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). Not only did Christ predict the denial, He also assured Peter of his eventual restoration and subsequent helpful ministry.
After his key role in preparing Abraham to meet the temptation of the king of Sodom, Melchizedek disappears from the record for a millennium. He resurfaces in another seemingly strange context. Psalm 110 looks prophetically at the future triumph of God’s Messiah. In the midst of detailing His martial victory, David interjects this statement: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4). Just as Abraham’s battlefield triumph was accompanied by a king-priest from the Most High God, so Christ’s future exaltation will see Him acting as prophet, priest, and king.
The New Testament Comparison of the two king-priests
Another thousand years elapses before Melchizedek reappears in Hebrews 5-7. In many ways first century Judaism appeared to have the advantage over Christianity. The Jews had a visible system of worship, which included the Temple, the Mosaic covenant, and the Aaronic priesthood. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit points out that Christians have a heavenly Temple, a New Covenant with better promises, and an infinitely superior high priest – the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Christ’s priesthood is not according to the Levitical system. He was a Judahite rather than a Levite. Hebrews assures us, however, that His priesthood has an even more ancient precedence in Scripture. The Lord Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4); thus connecting Him with a form of mediation that supercedes the old priesthood. The Genesis 14 passage holds the key to this superiority. Firstly, even the great patriarch Abraham gave tithes to this king-priest. By extension, Levi – who was in the loins of Abraham – participated in this payment (Heb. 7:4-5). Secondly, superiors bless inferiors, and Melchizedek blessed the patriarch, thereby blessing Levi and all of his other descendents. Thirdly, his names indicate the type of fruit that his ministry produces, for he is called “king of righteousness” and “king of peace” (Heb. 7:2). The Lord Jesus’ priestly ministry brings peace with God in a righteous manner (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1).
In addition to being exalted by Abraham’s behavior, the Melchizedekian priesthood is demonstrated to be superior by God’s attitude toward it. He is the one who proclaims with an oath the Lord Jesus to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:21). By contrast, the Levitical priesthood could point to no oath establishing themselves as priests. Finally, Christ’s priesthood is like Melchizedek’s in that it is not limited by age or death. Many priests had come and gone since Aaron; this always presented a weakness in the old system. Under the new covenant, however, the high priest serves “after the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16) and therefore “ever lives to make intercession” (Heb. 7:25) for His people. Having entrusted one’s representation before God to the Lord Jesus, they never need fear that their case will be neglected or fall through the cracks. Whereas the old covenant perfected nothing, the new covenant presents the believer in a living relationship with the Creator through the glorious redemptive and intercessory work of Christ.
The presence of Melchizedek in the Bible reaffirms the truth that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Tim. 3:16). What at first glance seems like a strange intrusion in the text, turns out to be the legal and spiritual basis for the great high priestly work of the Son of God Himself. How thankful the Christian should be for having such a high priest “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). Having undertaken this work Christ will faithfully perform it forever, praise be to His name.

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War & Peace: The Controversial Claims of Christ In Matthew 10:34

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). At first glance, this statement seems incongruous with the popular conception of Jesus Christ. No doubt guided by Hollywood’s unhistorical and imaginative depictions, He is often pictured as insipid, blandly noncontroversial, or benignly accepting of anyone and anything. Modern thinking reduces Him to a supremely tolerant ethicist: one who condemns those people and things that society’s conventional wisdom deems as bad, while simultaneously excusing individuals from their personal guilt. In short, Jesus is modern man’s psychoanalyst, guru, confidant, and all around “buddy”, who will by no means challenge or offend contemporary sensibilities. Needless to say, this is a caricature of the true Messiah, whom the Scripture describes as a “stumbling block” (1 Cor. 1:23; cf. Rom. 9:32-33). The Lord Jesus’ own words reveal His controversial claims and actions, which even today offend the natural man. Isn’t God a peacemaker? Christians may also be confused by this stark verse, however, bearing in mind that Isaiah calls Messiah “the Prince of Peace” and the epistles speak of Him as a great peacemaker (Isa. 9:6; Col. 1:20). What is more, Christ Himself called peacemakers “the sons of God”, thereby implying their likeness to the Father who delights in peace and will eventually cause it to prevail in the new heavens and new earth (Matt. 5:9, NKJV). Walter Kaiser agrees, saying:
One thing is certain: Jesus did not advocate conflict. He taught his followers to offer no resistance or retaliation when they were attacked or ill-treated. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ he said, ‘for they will be called sons of God’ (Matt. 5:9), meaning that God is the God of peace, so that those who seek peace and pursue it reflect his character…Individuals and groups formerly estranged from one another found themselves reconciled through their common devotion to Christ…if Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector were able to live together as two of the twelve apostles, the rest of the company must have looked on this as a miracle of grace.1
The Gospel offers “peace with God” to those who receive justification by faith (Rom. 5:1). Likewise, Paul’s habitual greeting in his epistles is “grace and peace”, thereby combining the two common Hebrew and Greek salutations into a theologically cogent expression of
1Walter C. Kaiser: Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, Il : InterVarsity, 1997, electronic ed,, Logos software, S. 378.
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Christianity’s essence (1 Cor. 1:3). In what sense then does Christ bring the sword rather than peace? Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war
The Lord Jesus’ word choice evokes images of combat, and rightly so, for people in this fallen world are at war with their Creator. As He sent His disciples forth as heralds of the kingdom, He warned them of the adversity that they would face. They would experience the same opposition that their Lord faced. As He assured them: “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” (Matt. 10:24-25; cf. John 15:20-21). Spiritual conflict often leads to physical persecution. Alexander MacLaren noted this regarding the world’s response to Christ: “He is first King of righteousness, and after that also King of peace. But, if His kingdom be righteousness, purity, love, then unrighteousness, filthiness, and selfishness will fight against it for their lives”.2 To serve Christ will inevitably lead one into spiritual warfare; thus, the Lord metaphorically speaks of weaponry. Similarly, Ephesians 6:17, and Hebrews 4:12 describe the Christian’s armaments, likening God’s word to a sword. Likewise, Revelation 2:12 pictures the Lord Jesus wielding His blade against the false teachers in Pergamos. Evil and falsehood must be met with severe countermeasures, rather than compromise. Means and Ends The Lord’s bellicose-sounding terminology also reflects the division that His controversial claims engender among men even to the present time. One is either for Him or against Him – neutrality is not an option! Two well-known apologists express it this way:
…the immediate consequence of Christ’s coming was to divide those who were for Him and those who were against Him – the children of God from the children of this world. But, just as the goal of an amputation is to relieve pain, so the immediate effect is to inflict pain. Likewise, Christ’s ultimate mission is to bring peace, both to the human heart and to earth. Nonetheless, the immediate effect of His message was to divide those in the kingdom of God from those in the kingdom of Satan.3
2 Alexander MacLaren, , Exposition of the Scriptures: Matthew, electronic edition, Rio, WI: Ages Software, 387, n.d. 3 Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992, electronic edition, Logos software; no pagination, comment on Matt. 10:34.
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Therefore, His coming drew a clear line of demarcation between His adherents and opponents. The ire of the latter group was aroused by the unwavering purity and truth of the One Who is described as “the light” (John 1:7-9). Conflict Resulting In Perfect Peace
At Christ’s second coming His sword will be the prominent accoutrement on His person. His prominent weapon is linked with His word, just like Hebrews 4:12. Revelation 19:15 asserts that “a sharp sword” will proceed from His mouth, showing that peace will only come on earth after the Lord subdues His enemies. C. H. Spurgeon aptly described the battle in this way: “Christ is the great Peacemaker; but before peace, he brings war. Where the light cometh, the darkness must retire. Where truth is, the lie must flee; or, if it abideth, there must be a stern conflict, for the truth cannot and will not lower its standard, and the lie must be trodden under foot”.4 Elsewhere in Scripture, the evocative metaphor of Christ’s enemies being made His footstool is used (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:27; Heb. 1:13). Like Joshua instructing the Israelite leaders to put their feet on the necks of the vanquished Canaanite kings, so the Lord will put down all opposition beneath His feet (Josh. 10:24). After thousands of years of inviting people to be reconciled to Him, the Lord will come to forcibly establish His kingdom. If some have not received Christ’s gracious salvation by then, it will not be because they had no opportunity, nor because God was not willing for them to be delivered from wrath unto eternal life. From the first century to the present time He has been entreating men to come to Him, offering pardon in exchange for unconditional surrender. Sadly, some will never willingly bow the knee to the King of kings Who once became the Man of Sorrows. Peace With Honor
The modern age celebrates tolerance as the greatest virtue. Christians are urged to embrace other belief systems and “alternative lifestyles” (a euphemism for sinful behavior). While it is true that the Lord Jesus loves humans and wants to save them, His approach is no “peace at any price” tactic. He never achieves peace at the expense of righteousness. To declare peace without removing the underlying cause for hostility – human sin – is a delusion. The New Testament makes it clear that Christ never advocated physical compulsion or temporal combat to advance His kingdom (John 18:36). Nonetheless, the Lord’s exclusive and admittedly controversial claims are non-negotiable. Jesus clearly taught: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one
4 C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening : Daily Readings. Complete and unabridged; New modern edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006: evening meditation, December 28; electronic edition, Logos Software.
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comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6; see also Acts 4:12). True peace comes from being in a right relationship with God the Creator through His Son, which then leads to a lifestyle that pleases Him. No matter what the spirit of the age proclaims, believers must adhere to Christ and His teaching. Now more than ever they need to wield the spiritual sword of God’s word in the great conflict in which they are engaged: both in Gospel witness and in the doctrine held up by the Church.

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The Man For All Seasons

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Modern man faces a bewildering array of difficulties. Economic uncertainty, soaring crime rates, devastating wars, and conflicts within families all threaten to overwhelm people. Because Christians live on this fallen planet and are not yet morally perfect, they are not exempt from these problems. Thankfully in facing the crises of life, we have an ever-present Saviour, who is capable of dealing with any situation. In the truest sense of the phrase our Lord Jesus is the Man for all seasons. The High Cost of Discipleship
The Lord’s letter to the beleaguered saints in Smyrna showcases His multifaceted character. They were facing hard times. The name of the city itself hints at their afflictions. John Gill describes it in this manner: “Smyrna signifies ‘myrrh’, which being bitter of taste, is expressive of the bitter afflictions, and persecutions, and deaths, the people of God in this interval endured; and yet, as myrrh is of a sweet smell, so were those saints, in their sufferings for Christ, exceeding grateful and well pleasing to him.”1
The city was a pleasant place for most people to live, vying with Ephesus and Pergamum for the distinction of “first city of Asia.” Its lovely situation is described thus: “…Smyrna was a center for science and medicine…and renowned for its fine wine, its beautiful buildings, and its wealth.”2 The ancient geographer Strabo affirmed that it was the finest city in that region during his time.3 It was also a literary mecca, having produced gifted writers – most famously, Homer the celebrated poet who created the epic Iliad and Odyssey. An ancient writer, Apollonius of Tyana, contrasted the beauty of Smyrna’s buildings with human character, exhorting the citizenry to pay more attention to the latter: “… [Smyrna] is the most beautiful of all cities under the sun, and makes the sea its own, and holds the fountains of Zephyrus, yet it is a greater charm to wear a crown of men than a crown of porticoes and pictures and gold beyond the standard of mankind: for buildings are seen only in their own place, but men are seen everywhere and spoken about everywhere and make their city as vast as the range of countries which they can visit.”4 Nevertheless, for the church this glorious city was a dangerous place of many hardships.
Christ assures them “I know thy…tribulation, and poverty…” (Rev. 2:9.) Tribulation indicates “a pressing or pressure.”5 On top of the ordinary stresses of life, these believers
1 John Gill’s Commentary on the Bible, electronic edition, www.e-sword.net 2 D. E. Aune, Vol. 52A: Word Biblical Commentary : Revelation 1-5:14. Word Biblical Commentary . Word, Incorporated: Dallas, 2002, CD-ROM edition. 3 The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, (eds. Richard Stillwell, William L. MacDonald, Marian Holland McAllister); http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3atext%3a1999%2e04%2e0006&query=id%3dsmyrna#id,smyrna 4 Quoted in W.M. Ramsay, Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, electronic edition, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ramsay/letters.xxi.html 5 Joseph Thayer, Greek Lexicon, electronic edition, www.e-sword.net
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encountered opposition for their identification with the Lord Jesus. Whatever problems they wrestled with they could console themselves with the thought that the Lord knows. As one Bible student notes: “Every trial is measured by the heart of infinite love in a hand of infinite care!”6 [As a quotation block in the text] Should Thy mercy send me Sorrow, toil, and woe; Or should pain attend me On my path below; Grant that I may never Fail Thy hand to see; Grant that I may ever Cast my care on Thee -James Montgomery, “In the hour of trial”
Christ’s reference to their “poverty” indicates that material privation was their common lot. Perhaps they were like the Christians in the book of Hebrews: “…you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:32-34, ESV.) Persecution and penury are common bedfellows. As John Stott points out: “…It does not always pay to be a Christian. Nor is honesty by any means always the best policy, if material gain is your ambition. Poverty has often been part of the cost of Christian discipleship.”7 Rich man, poor man
In spite of their circumstances, Christ appraises the impoverished believers’ true spiritual net worth, saying “…you are rich” (verse 9.) Walter Scott relates their actual affluence: “Truly the Church is rich, whatever its poverty on earth may be. Endowed with the love and riches of Christ, which are enduring and placed beyond the possibility of loss or corruption, we may well triumph in Him who knows not only our tribulations and poverty, but knowing all, pronounces us ‘rich’.”8 Material wealth is often a hindrance to spirituality. Our Lord declares the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:24.) Paul cautions against seeking wealth, warning that “…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:9-10, ESV.) Earthly things can distract from eternal riches and create a mistaken sense of security.
6 William R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation, Chicago: Moody Press, 1935, p. 46. 7 John R.W. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958, p.39. 8 Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1982 (reprint), p.67.
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On the other hand James says: “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” (Jms. 2:5-7.) Of course, poverty does not ensure spirituality; nor do riches automatically preclude faith. The father of faith missions, Anthony Norris Groves used his lucrative dental practice to help the indigent and support Christian work. His contemporary George Muller faithfully handled the equivalent of millions of dollars in assisting the nineteenth century orphans. Twentieth century Christian businessmen like R.G. LeTourneau used their wealth in the great tradition of successful believers like Lydia, who put her home and possessions at the disposal of the Lord (Acts 16:14-15.)9 Verbal assassination of character
The Lord also knows “the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, but are not” (verse 9.) “Blasphemy” literally means “speaking harm” and carries the thought of “to slander, [or] defame…”10 The professing Jews of Smyrna employed their tongues against the believers, accusing them of all sorts of evil. The Lord sees through their invective, and knows who His real followers are. As two Greek scholars remark: “From the NT point of view, the real blasphemers are those who deny the messianic claims of Jesus, and therefore revile and mock at him like those by the cross who said, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross’…He who impugns the dignity of the one sent commits an offence against God himself.”11 Still today Christians are mocked and slandered in the world. They can rest in the certainty that Christ suffered the same treatment and will one day sort between the lies and the truth (Mat. 12:36.)
Many of the first century Jews rested on their natural descent from Abraham as their claim to Divine favour. John the Baptizer, the Lord Jesus, and the early apostles make it clear, however, that spiritual rebirth is the key to God’s mercy and blessing (Mat. 3:9; John 1:12-13; 8:33-59; Gal. 3-4, etc.) They became opponents of the early church, believing that Jesus was a false Messiah (1 Thes. 2:14-16.) In common with the prevailing orthodox attitude, Saul of Tarsus persecuted the Christians, thinking that they were a spiritual cancer on the body of first century Judaism. It took a personal appeal from the glorified Christ to dispel his antipathy toward “the Way.” In the second century A.D., Jewish antagonism towards believers in Smyrna continued, as is evidenced by their role in the martyrdom of Polycarp. This aged Christian was burned at the stake for his faith in Christ in A.D. 155 or 156. Even though his execution took place on the sabbath, some of the local Jews rushed into the pagan stadium in order to bring bundles of wood
9 For information on R.G. LeTourneau see http://www.letu.edu/about_LU/museum/Museum_Online/index.html 10 H. Währisch & C. Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, CD-Rom edition, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d. 11 Ibid.
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to kindle the murderous fire.12 Through God’s grace, many Jews throughout the Roman empire received Jesus as their Messiah and Lord during the early centuries after our Lord’s crucifixion. Furthermore, one cannot read Acts 2-4 or Rom. 9-11 without acknowledging that God wants Israel to be saved. The New Testament offers no support for the frequent acts of anti-Semitism that have been and are committed throughout Christendom. This notwithstanding, it is clear that those who should have bowed the knee to the promised Deliverer, instead rejected Him and fought His people. Infernal testing in the crucible
In John’s day the church in Smyrna would be tested by the Devil himself. He would incarcerate some of them, subjecting them to torture; others would bear witness to their faith by giving up their lives. His character and tactics are revealed by his titles which are used in verses 9 and 10. Despite their profession of loyalty to God, the synagogue in Smyrna was actually Satan’s – literally “the Adversary” – who opposes all that pertains to the Lord. The term “devil” refers to him as a deceiving slanderer who falsely accuses the people of God.13 In Zech. 3:1 he is standing at Joshua the high priest’s right hand “to accuse him” (NAS, ESV, NIV, etc.); this is what he delights to do. Thankfully, the Lord responds by rebuking the Evil One, asserting that defiled Joshua is clothed in righteous garments before God through the redemptive work of the Branch (Zech. 3:2-8.) Similarly, a bystander in Smyrna might erroneously think that the conflict between the Jews and their pagan allies on one side and the struggling church on the other was a mere disagreement between religions. It was actually a spiritual battle being waged between the Risen Christ and the Devil – an epic fight between supreme good and pernicious evil. As R.C. Trench summarizes it: “…these great fights of affliction through which they were called to pass, were the immediate work of the Devil.”14 Our Lord’s response to their coming testing was to exhort them to “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer” (verse 10.) With all of the difficulties that they were facing, one might ask why they should not fear? The answer lies in our Lord’s variegated ability to meet every circumstance. He addresses Himself to this assailed church as “the First and the Last” (verse 8.) Christ is the First, who always existed. Before the vaunted Roman empire, before the birth of their persecutors, before even Satan was created, the Lord Jesus was the great I am that I am (Jn. 1:1-2; 8:58.) He is also the Last. When time is no more, and the kingdoms of this world are a distant memory, the everlasting Christ will still be ruling over all. The persecuting Roman emperor Domitian was but a blip on the screen of time; the Lord Jesus is King forever.
Even though He is the eternal one, the Lord still condescended to become a man, “for the suffering of death.” (Heb. 2:9; see also Phil. 2:6-9.) Thus, He knows what it is like to endure hardship and pain. He literally says that He “became dead.” The Smyrnian Christians were facing physical death, but the Lord Jesus became “a man of sorrows, and
12 See the 2nd century document The Martyrdom of Polycarp 13:1 at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/martyrdompolycarp-lightfoot.html 13 For definitions see Thayer. 14 Quoted in Vincent’s Word Studies, electronic edition, www.e-sword.net
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acquainted with grief” and experienced physical and spiritual death (Isa. 53:3.) His anguished cry from the Cross “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” reveals the intense sorrow of being “made sin for us” (Mat. 27:46; 2 Cor. 5:21.) Their suffering – painful though it was – would never approach His experience. In the truest sense of the word, the Lord Jesus could empathize with them and with all suffering believers. He not only endured unimaginable pain, but also entered into His glory (Lk. 24:26.) As He says in Rev. 2:8, He “came to life” (NKJV, RSV, ESV.) Though He died, yet He triumphed over death in the resurrection. In like manner, He promises deliverance to His people through the trial. Suffering will inevitably lead to glory. With a mighty triumph o’er His foes!
Their distress only lasts for a limited time (“ten days”, verse 10), and whatever happens, they “will not be hurt at all by the second death” (verse 11, NIV; cf. Rev. 20:6, 14; 21:8.)15 What is more, the Lord promises the overcomer “the crown of life.” His resurrection life can overcome any adversity. He “rose again for their justification” and nothing would “separate [them] from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 4:25 ; 8:39.) For eternity, they would display the crown of life – not the laurel crowns offered in the Smyrnian games, nor even the majestic buildings that were described as a crown – but an eternal honour, displaying their incorruptible life.16 William Kelly eloquently writes of Christ’s ministry in suffering: “The Lord is like the tree of old which was cast into the waters of Marah. He went into the bitterest waters of death, which have thus been changed into sweetness and refreshing for us.”17 Suffering saints find temporal and eternal comfort from the suffering Saviour who never abandons them. With the hymn writer they can say:
I need Thee, precious Saviour! I need a friend like Thee: A friend to soothe and comfort, A friend to care for me; I need Thy heart, Lord Jesus, To feel each anxious care; To bear my ev’ry burden, And all my sorrow share.18
15 The phrase “not…at all” translates a double negative in the Greek, indicating “by no means” or “in no wise” (JND.) 16 On the “buildings as a crown” metaphor, see endnote 4. 17 William Kelly, Lectures on the Book of Revelation, Addison, IL: Bible Truth Publishers, 1984 (Reprint), p. 40. 18 Frederick Whitfield, “I need Thee, precious Jesus” – http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/n/ineedtpj.htm

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The Man For All Seasons