AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH - August 24, 2008
A CONTINUATION OF THE ORIGINAL THRUST AND BASE
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA, ON CHANGELESS BIBLICAL LINES …
The COUNSEL THROUGH HISTORY,
CONQUEST THROUGH FAITH :
FAITH IN HIM WHO IS FAITHFUL
(continued and expanded)
Before we proceed to the criterion of faithfulness, Jesus Christ, we look in a
PRELUDE FOR CONTRAST
Before we proceed today, having stopped short of our third heading last week, to the counsel to faith through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, it may serve to consider some examples of trials finding weaknesses, reminiscent of minute fractures in airplane tails, through metal fatigue.
While the imagery is merely suggestive, the point is this: how did history find a use in showing before all, both participants and observers, the danger of weaknesses, of indulging little flecks of opinionatedness, obstinacy, self-regard and the like, with possible alerting outcomes ? In fact, if the eyes be focussed, in this work of trials, actual cases of things perhaps subtle and spiritual, receiving the equivalent of high power microscopic enlargement, we are enabled to see how history can act like a laboratory aid.
It can stir thought, challenge the heart and enliven the spirit with enlarged perspective.
Three cases initially arrive for us.
1) There was David with the insistence he had on getting statistics: HOW MANY MEN DOES OUR ARMY NOW HAVE! That is seen in I Chronicles 21.
There was this point: it was perfectly evident over the years, in the way the Lord delivered David repeatedly, in the grace and charm of their discourse (David, we read, was a man after God's own heart), that not only was it GOD' S own power that preserved and enabled David in his sacred kingly, and counselling life, but that it was done in a PERSONAL manner, as between friends.
Thus, when in THIS case (all cases are themselves, and not another thing, historically), David was SO keen on finding the massive quantity of men in his victorious armies, that it had a flavour. Joel, the commander, not renowned for spiritual restraint himself, objected. Yet David insisted. He WANTED that number, that of his army. Perhaps, David’s desire for numbers reflected a common feeling and failings, to think too much of man and his numbers, too little of God’s power. If so, mercifully for the people, it had not at least penetrated as far as Joab, whose reluctance to do this task was exemplary. Where power prevails, for a time, the source of this power needs attention; for its wells may be deep in the people! This led to a plague of great proportions. In this, David pled with God, saying that it was his fault, and asking the Lord not to afflict the people.
This showed heart, as the problem showed a head problem, if you will. David in this, quite atypically, represented a danger in the nation, that of dwelling on the work of God as if the results were instead a measure of its power, or again, as if its power were in some way proportionate to its numbers. Whether in Egypt or in more recent times, as in 1948, 1967, 1973, God has shown that this is not so. GOD makes all the difference. He may do this EVEN for a people, like present Israel, which nationally does not - still does not recognise its own Messiah (cf. SMR Ch. 9).
It is thus not only the fear at the numerical superiority of an army which challenges faith, but 'success', the power of one's own army, whether this be of talents or money or prestige or other form of access to thrust. Faith requires neither fear nor lassitude in heart, but to 'rejoice with trembling', like athletes, neither self-assured nor unrealistic. OUR legs are used by the Lord, but our hearts need to be resting in Him, not wrestling as we run, but at peace as the power flows and the heart glows through His grace.
Thus the divine power is absolute, and while zest and zeal, which may work in man, made in the image of God in his original construction, these things are good, yet they are not a replacement for God. They function in His presence, not as if in His absence. HIS is the power and the honour and the glory. In word ? yes, but also in fact: if they call, it is He who answers. This fact is in the heartland of faith: history focusses it, thus endorsing not nominees of faith but its exponents.
Here we come in II Kings 5, to the case of Gehazi, servant to Elisha, and the account includes another, a highly placed man from an enemy country of Israel.
When a Syrian commander came seeking Elisha, because it was (as it is - the same identity) the God of Israel who had power for curing things like leprosy, for healing, the point of the cure provided through Elisha, was made to reach the Syrian's heart. Healing is a work of power and wisdom; but finding misled hearts is a spiritual work of grace and mercy. The former was made subordinate to the latter. Thus Elisha asked this Naaman, the commander, to bathe in the River Jordan. A small thing, claimed the commander, for we have fine rivers at home! The point at last reached him that it was not a question of rivers in themselves, but as being indicated for the task at hand.
If, a servant pointed out, you had been asked to do some wonderful thing in order to qualify for healing, would you not have done it ? Then do this. His flesh, on being dipped as required, became fine and good as that of a little child. The commander realised the power of God, found through HIS specifications as the One who IS, and hence the allegiance he owed. Notice that he passed his test, being willing to accept the Lord’s authority and word, and to acknowledge His glory.
In this, the test was designed to show the eminence of spiritual things, the singularity and power of the only God there is and the nature of His mercy, and that so far from being ONLY the God of Israel, His is a heart which can gladly impart healing for those who seek Him, and will worship before Him, of whatever nation. But they must come to Him, and on His own terms. He does not become futile in order to be pleasing, but as He is, so He teaches.
Thus history amplified truth and its hand ministered mercy, through the work of God within it. God did not shut its mouth by cancelling it, but opened its mouth by inhabiting it, and it speaks! He did not stultify its ministrations, but operated in the sight of all to make clear UNDER TEST CONDITIONS, as at a spiritual Olympics, and not seated with lemonade in a chair of reflection, the realities that truth does not dismiss, but which arrest the erring hand and may invade the listless heart! Yes, they may even appeal to the excited exponent of war, or drown the perception of saints, for a time, that they learn not to lean on the things that appear, but on Him who is invisible, EVEN in the realm of what may seem the eminently visible, like an army!
There David erred temporarily; and in health, Naaman erred temporarily likewise; but each was corrected by a perspective in the first case, for a moment dulled, and in that of the Commander, newly to be attained.
Gehazi, however, the servant of Elisha, did not fare well in his test. Perhaps minimal wage conditions (as he may have felt it), perhaps pure lust for a sting, a success through deceit, the sheer drama caught him, but certainly wrong motives played on him as he ran after the healed Syrian Commander. Reaching him, he lied to the effect that people needing clothes had just arrived, himself seeking these and money, ostensibly in the need to serve them. Lying and lust joined hands.
On his return, Elisha asked him where he had been. Nowhere, he lied. Did my heart not go with you when you asked the Syrian to turn back! Is this a time to seek money! Elisha remonstrated. Gehazi then was stricken with the leprosy from which the SYRIAN had been cured! Such lapses not merely sear the flesh through false motivation, using spiritual things for personal profit, but opens the eyes to the spirituality with which a soldier of Christ must serve. Not just integrity, but sacrificial eyes are needed.
Simon Magnus, as seen in Acts 8, showed some sign of faith in Christ, but so impressed was he as a magician, aspirant of some spiritual power, by the dynamic of God at the hands of Peter and John, that he asked if he could buy such a power. To set about buying something of God (for His power is His own), a precious work for something He has made! What a fiasco! Peter said something to him which J. B. Phillips loosely but interestingly translates as "to hell with you and your money", or something such. Urgent repentance was needed lest divine mercy should not arrive in his way, to prevent calamity. A tender heart was urgently recommended, before such wickedness in a heart "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity" should have its due end!
This showed the folly of imagining that God takes wilful sides, that He can be influenced by bargaining, or haranguing of any kind, that man may manipulate His power, preserved for purity made manifest in terms of that most infinitely expensive Gospel, which He has purchased through His own blood, IN Himself, as displayed IN HISTORY. Would history swallow it up in compromise and carnality! It would try! But God is unmanipulable by man and the very thought is an atrocity, not only against man but against God! The apostolic response was withering.
That Gospel was first proclaimed in Samaria at that time by Philip, apostles coming later, and this purchase solemnised at the Cross of Calvary could not be found elsewhere or seduced by any other source or motive. ONLY there, in repentance as he receives the work of God made available in pardon, the curse taken, the faith not mistaken, can man find the power of God.
Moreover, it is not usable for manoeuvre or manipulation of anything or by anyone. It is God's own power and provided for the purposes of HIS love, purity and truth with peace, and can no more be bestowed extraneously, as if divorced from its basis and purpose, than can a flower be constructed of paper and yet grow (cf. II Corinthians 11). Just as teaching without power is predicted for the fallen end of our Age, so its abuse! (II Peter 2, II Timothy 3). The sink has large appetite!
The very drama of these things, by contrast for all time TAUGHT the integrity, purity, incalculable holiness of God, and the folly of ANY who claim the power to get money from you, in order to operate in God's name, or to use His power in their own appointed ways, whether in illicitly manipulated tongues*1 , 'masses'*2 , imaginary angels (v. Colossians 2:8, Revelation 22:18-19, Isaiah 43:10-11) and would-be gods as in Mormonism*3 or any other biblically unwarranted procedure.
Such is a common affliction in sects, some of which become inordinately rich, in seeming to preach Him who had no place to lay His head, in a way disturbingly blatant, but once for all exposed in this case of history.
2. THE POINT OF HISTORY FOR REALISATION
With Christ, there was no need of heavy campaign funds, for His election was not to a wealthy political position, but to the Cross. There was no need of contrived publicity, for His was election to degradation, His elevation to the pit. Yet His mission exceeded that of all kings and counsellors, being not for a moment but eternity, and those who followed Him in faith, these inhabit not the place of security on earth, but a place in the kingdom of heaven, which this earth neither can nor will imitate, until at last He returns to exhibit what He declared, not only in power, but in appearance! Then it will show what His saints already know, and His Sermon on the Mount has declared, better than self-service, national pride, or international delusions: the way for man.
Into history Christ was poured like molten metal, glowing with incandescent wonder, yet like zephyrs He came, giving rest. Whether in power or purity, in strength or in vulnerability used to secure victory, He used time as as template and space as a pen, to inscribe His name as the truth beyond the stars and for all time. Without Him, history would not only be impoverished, but meaningless; God would be a liar; truth would be forfeit and hope for man would be zero. But what is impossible, is not to be found, and what is certain, is to be discovered in history as it flowed to Him through the prophets of His coming, by Him in the Cross, and He flowed over it like a vast breath of oxygen, to stir its dying embers, if by any means any flaming, might be taken and kept, turned into eternal flame when the hearth was gone (Psalm 104:4).
In history is the experience of truth under contest, the expression of truth under rejection, the impact of truth by counsel, amid aliens, the assault on truth by militants; and it stands while all else falls, the Cross in its weakness outdistancing the flurry of arms and pride while force collapses and pride wilts (cf. I Cor. 1).
As God put man into history,
to test and to shatter deceit in spiritual
realms and impressionable hearts,
to teach and display,
to prove and to demonstrate,
to remonstrate and to reveal,
to give to experience under fire the
reality of life,
to expose the weakness of human might even
when it seems insuperable,
to prove in passing time the woeful
falsities of the self-appointed 'wise',
to exhibit truth that none could falsify,
the very light of eternity
to manifest that it is more than power
which rules, for it is wisdom not fools,
to put to death the slanders of the
faithless by the endurance of faith,
to show purity and love in contrast with
devilish insinuations, as in Job*4,
to show that it is not power and privilege which prevails, as if 'nature' were king, but love in life, since God is king,
so did He come Himself into history, to leave the ultimate in practicality in His own Person as Messiah.
Murder could not subdue Him, nor any word, disease could only yield to His command and death was subject to Him. He even made a new day of rest, in His resurrection*5 and His rest is what this world can never match, meet or even understand.
Man who would excommunicate history as too foul, does not understand that it is to exhibit
that sin is foul and truth is glorious;
that peace is illusory without
God and patience is required,
MEANS suffering and its exposure and remedy cannot remove it, but
that God bore
more than all and offered restoration of life to all,
that He loses none, having foreknown His own.
AS THE REMEDY IN HISTORY, He Himself delivers from a depth that is bottomless to rebellion to a height that is wonderful, where faith believes Him (Hosea 13:14, 14:1ff.). The only problem is this: the absence of faith. No orphan except by willfulness (John 14:18), it is man who is the alien, not from space, but through severance from God (Ephesians 4:17-19). Alienation needs reconciliation and for this, offence must be covered by Christ’s blood (Romans 3:23ff.). Righteous wrath is propitiated by due payment, the Cross the site (Romans 1-3).
Why is this so dire ? It is because God has DONE the works of creation and redemption: we no more create our salvation than the earth! It is faith in Him, allied to a personal repentance not least for thinking little or ill of Him who is our Head and beginning, the ground of destiny, which is needed, not nostrums and philosophies of proud presumption and empty assumption!
Man has sinned, God has rebuked him, entered this world and demonstrated the basis of the Gospel with power, and exhibited the results of sin with the loathsomeness of its depiction on Himself, as sin-bearer on the Cross. Man has made history and God has shown man in this same history, the rewards of folly and the way home. ALL responsibility is that of man, and if man does not come to receive the living Christ, and His word which is His, the depths are not for the burial of his sins, but the burial of his ‘sacred self’, too rich to become poor and repenting, be saved.
As to the depth of it, for everyone who receives Him, He has that covered no less than the breadth and the height*6 (Colossians 1:19ff., Ephesians 1:4, 1:10-11 cf. The Glow of Predestinative Power Ch. 8, Ch. 4 , Beauty of Holiness ... Ch. 2, ). The name upon Him is Faithful and True.
3. Christ Shows the Sublimity of Divine Faithfulness
A short look at the Divine Faithfulness of Christ,
who as God showed God, remains.
How faithful was He who outfaced the confronting devil himself, met him decisively and incisively with the covenantal word of God, in the temptation (Matthew 4), who when confronted with the educated wits of unbelieving religious savants, confounded them with His answers till they did not dare to query Him any more (Matthew 22:46). In this case, He had just asked THEM a question: How is it, was the thrust, that IF the Christ is simply a descendant of David (that is, not God as man but mere man), that David in the predictive Psalm 110 concerning Him, calls Him Lord! What father does this to his son! The point: Christ is the LORD of all, and using the seed of man for incarnation, requires faith in Him by all, not as some man, but as God definitive in flesh.
He is no mere image, but the very light of God is His. Not consultant-philosopher, but the word of God is He. Not some arrival, but Eternal is He (John 8:58). No mere oration but declaration with demonstration is His.
‘Faithful and true’ is His name in Rev. 19, and such it is! Rely on HIM! Thus having loved His own, we read in John 13, He loved them to the end. Judas only was lost, foretold devil and deceiver, as in John 6:70, known to Christ long before the betrayal, and indeed shown in Zechariah 500 years before. You see this not only in Zechariah11:12 -13, where the sale of God, incarnate, is noted before it happens with due divine splendour of wisdom and exposure of man’s futile works. Even the sum of money for the sale is there predicted half a millenium in advance! This with Psalms 41, 69, 109, the last cited in Acts 1, when a replacement for Judas was in view, shows the treachery of man summed up and brought to culmination in that of the traitor who gave this ‘fine price’ for his Lord.
It is very beautiful how in Psalm 69 you not only find the anguish of the crucifixion, but the judgment on those who, unrepentant, must face reality at last. When Christ was there, His prayer was for their pardon, but when there is no more mercy, then only due destiny remains. In Psalm 109, the final curse on the besotted Judas is seen in its strength; but in Psalm 69, you have the curse on Christ as Redeemer in its impact for all who received its transference by faith (Romans 5:1, 8:32):
¨ “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.
They also gave me gall for My food,
and for My thirst, they gave Me vinegar to drink.”
Coming to those depths, He could have groaned and failed; but He did not. Some still want to blame God for not just announcing the ‘winners’, but this neglects the life that shows the mind its diseases, the discoveries of the laboratory of life! His is not some authoritarian ensemble but a display of what are not assumptions but actions, not simply verbalised but actualised as on the Cross.
Nor in the searching flame of life, did Jesus Christ grow too disgusted to serve and to save, when betrayed for a little time even by Peter, nor did He waste time haranguing that disciple, but just LOOKED at him (Luke 23:61). As good Shepherd (foretold in Ezekiel 34), He did not merely talk about laying down His life for the sheep, or go only so far, but went to the Cross, on the way, well able to have denied that He was the Son of God (Mark 14:61ff.), so saving Himself. Yet keen to the end to be true to His people, to His godly vocation as Saviour, His work as Shepherd, His sacrificial act of atonement, providing redemption freely by Himself being bound (Titus 2-3, Romans 3:23ff., Galatians 3), He lived it through to the end.
It is godly endurance, not simple survival which matters!
“Mercy shall be built up for ever: Your faithfulness You will establish in the very heavens,” (Psalm 89). God never fails (Zephaniah 3:5) Part of this may involve cherishing as discipline. If judgment must begin at the house of God (I Peter 4:17), let us be ready like Hezekiah and cleansed, that we may serve instead of being spiritual hospital cases! There is work to be done, for the night is coming when no man can work! (John 9:4). Let us rejoice and exalt the Lord, let HIM be worshipped, His word followed and no other! Let God be God, and the Lord be Lord, and no other! “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) and as to those who refuse to receive Him, the wrath of God looms over them (John 3:36).
¨ This world crumbles under its own spiritual weight; but there is no other name.
resources are polluted, rifled, and wars erupt to spoil them further;
but there is no other name.
¨ Its civilisation exalts itself, while millions fall, but there is no other name.
philosophies destroy themselves in ambiguities, equivocations, contradictions;
but there is no other name.
laughs at life, but cannot make it.
It distorts life and cannot correct its own mischiefs.
It soars to the skies, and falls to the pit:
for there is no other name but One, Jesus Christ
who foreseeing all, foretold what was to be,
and now that it is, is soon to return,
the conditions fulfilled.
It is as
if an aircraft coming closer to a city,
passed first this, and then that of many landmarks, making the situation clear.
History makes it clear, chained in its flow to the word of God,
that His return is near (Luke 21:24 - cf. Answers to Questions Ch. 5).
In this case, for the unbeliever, appallingly near, so that eyes must be closed; but for the believers, refreshingly clear, so that the heart must be kept open, keeping ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21), looking with faith to eternal life (Philippians 3:20-21), and seeking the lost to the end.
What is the good of seeing the Titanic sink, with partying and gladness, even if the band is playing Near my God to Thee! It is better to be airlifted to deliverance, and transferred into the heavenly places (Colossians 1:13); for deliverance from the wreck of ages is at hand. Man needs however to be lifted from the deck before he also is confounded with the wreck (Hebrews 2:1-3).
A short look of faith at the Lord of heaven who brought salvation freely to earth will suffice, to the Lord's Christ and to not another, if it be mixed with faith; for then a very long look can proceed, for as Isaiah 40 put it, "Say to the cities of Judah, Behold your God!"
It is He, as the prophet stated in that Chapter, and history showed, who would take the lambs in His arms! "This is the will of Him who sent Me," cried the Christ,
"that everyone who
sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life;
"Look to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is no other"
said that same God before the incarnation.
There is neither separation, nor division, neither alteration nor revision. The God of eternity, the Lord of creation, the maker of history, Him lifted up on the Cross has come: if you see Him (not some illusion industriously given His name), and believe in Him, then everlasting life is yours. If this does not appeal, then scarcely could you know Him. For me, eternity is great time to know God, most fitting, eminently desirable and intensively felicitous. HE made us all!
See A Question of Gifts.
See: SMR pp. 1088Bff.)
See for example:
Spiritual Refreshings Ch. 11, Stepping out for Christ Ch. 9 incl. p.126 - see also News 74 and News 46),
See TRIALS, TESTS and TRIUMPHS in TEMPTATION.
Bedazzlement, Bedevilment or the Beauty of Christ's Holiness