Australian Bible Church April 27, 2008
A CONTINUATION OF THE ORIGINAL THRUST AND BASE
OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA
ON BIBLICAL LINES …
Australia ? Whither ? Souls ? Hither
CHRIST: Annunciation, Denunciation and Renunciation
The Pharisees, sticklers and keen on particulars, wanted a sign, to tell them that this really was the Messiah for whom they had (presumably and hopefully) been waiting. There had of course been healings as never before, already, words and waves, both propelled and stilled at His will, demons cast out, no failures, there had been the Sermon on the Mount, words for all time, as constructive as the H-bomb is destructive. John the Baptist had called Him
"the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"
and pointed disciples to Him. Such a person was predicted (as in Isaiah 29, 35, 42, 49-55), someone who would not extinguish the smoking flax or break the bruised reed, heal, speak words of power, rebuke iniquity; and Christ fitted all of this already with a power none could imitate.
However they wanted a special sign, just for their own sakes. They did not like the way He used even the Sabbath to heal, or His claiming that He was Lord of the Sabbath: yet what would they expect, if He was Lord; and did He just work for pay, or rather show mercy if a call arose, even on that day! He made the point that a farmer on the Sabbath would not hesitate to bring a cow out of a pit, if it fell in at that time, and should not those who crossed His path of preaching and teaching, afflicted and in trouble, be 'pulled out'.
It was not that He was wrong, and indeed the common people received Him gladly, for His felicitous wisdom and grace, as for the lack of red tape in this Lamb, whose red blood would one day cover the sin symptom and answer its syndrome. It was just that He broke their traditions, and left them ... in the wrong. For the perfect, that was intolerable, and indeed in one prophecy concerning Him, Isaiah 49, the Lord asks,
"Who is blind but My servant, or deaf as My messenger ...
Who is blind as he who is perfect and blind as the Lord's servant" (Isaiah 42:18).
Israel did not like - at least in these representatives as in the case of the Sadducees and the scribes - such things, just as the nation still does not, impeding the presentation of the Gospel to this day, in variable ways. So the obvious was to be asked for a sign, as if He were a penny in the slot machine, religion-on-line, ready for the pleasant probe. If they could fault Him ? then: “which of you convicts Me of sin ?” He asked. Yet they COULD not, try as they would (cf. Luke 11:52-54). But as no clown on parade performance, circus acts, but the Son of God on sacred mission, He had settled all that in repudiating the devil's temptation, and refusing either just to satisfy Himself or use the spectacular as such, to impress (Matthew 4 outlines it all). He would not do it.
His reply, then, to the Pharisees was this: No sign will be given to “an evil and adulterous generation,” except for one. What was that ? It was presented in terms of the prophet Jonah. It was of course well known that Jonah, a prophet sent to the Moscow, if you will, of that day, to Nineveh, capital of the ruling Assyrian Empire, had refused, sought to avoid his mission, taken an escapist sea voyage and met a tempest so bad, that the sailors sought to find who had offended, who had caused it. Jonah admitted all, and at last reluctantly, they fed him to the seas, where a large fish - probably a whale-shark, up to 70 feet long it seems, with an air chamber for refuse, was enabled to swallow him, and as appears their practice, vomit up this waste in shallower water. At all events, this is what transpired.
It felt like the bars of hell, said Jonah (Jonah 2), entombed in that fish's belly (air chamber it seems, part of and included in that total internal works). On arrival back on shore, God sent him once again (he was most fortunate), and this time he went, and the city repented, quite possibly in part because of the testimony of this man, if like other cases, scarred by the acids in the body of the fish, and thus he might be an evidence in himself to the importance of his mission, to seek that cruel city to repent. They did. He was successful in the end, and thus was a TYPE, someone who in one way could be a picture of something far more significant.
It goes like this. Jonah had an evangelical mission, to save souls form hell, to bring them to life in the Lord. Death sought to prevent him (tossed out in the storm), but life was brought to him, even in the 'tomb' of the fish's belly, by the ejection mechanism (Christ left the tomb with His own body, being Himself the One who had 'robbed' it from the place so carefully marked by the women when He was first put there – Luke 23:55). Out of that horror, just as Christ came out of the horror of bearing sin and taking death, came Jonah, and he then had a successful mission, as did Christ, when He paraded His triumph before the disciples, even Thomas, and taught for 40 days, just as He had been tempted for 40 days.
His mission has continued for some 2000 years, through many disciples, through the Bible, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the unchanging and immutable, the beautiful Gospel of grace (Galatians 1), and so the SIGN He gave to the Pharisees, He said, would be that of the prophet Jonah. Indeed, He underlined the significance of the point by adding something. It was this.
"As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the
so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
This was more than a sign. It was enough to dwarf the miracle wrought for Jonah. The nights ? the first night was a real 'first night' performance from Satan, byet one marshalled by God. How was this ? Consider. We find that He was left praying crucial prayer for His vital mission, while disciples SLEPT, was betrayed by Judas, one of them as He foreknew He would be (Matthew 26:24-25, cf. John 6:70), was whacked by soldiers and mocked with dressing up frippery by their acidulous tongues, was sent to Herod, who attempted in vain to make an exhibition of Him, and tried by Pilate with that slowly evaporating courage all too visible on the part of that false judge ... It was indeed a night 'in the heart of the earth', filled with everything low and loathsome.
The implication was of course that like Jonah, He would be restored to life. As the Lamb of God (John 1:29), it was perfectly clear what that meant: the resurrection of the body, the thing in question and under assault (cf. I Corinthians 15:1-4). Of His arising from death, Christ often spoke , as in Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 26:32, and wonderfully implied in John 2:19, 10:17, stated again in John 11:25-26 and so on. He was as careful to prove it to Thomas (John 20:24ff.)! It would be brought alive from the dead, as foreshadowed by Jonah’s lesser case.
In this way, then, He had enunciated His identity. This was firstly, the Messiah to die for the sins of those who would receive Him, and cover them as in Isaiah 53. Secondly, this was the Son of God who would be attacked by men (as in Psalm 2), but rise to rule. Thirdly, He showed Himself to be master of death as also Lord of the Sabbath, acting with power from His Father on that day, able to control even the elements, as in the fishing episode (Matthew 8:23), and to heal any disease. THIS is who He was and is, for time is beneath Him, an invention for man and angel, but no more part of Him than is a book part of its author. "Before Abraham was, I am," He declared (John 8:58).
Thus He made it clear, as so often, to those who sought Him, who He was and what He would do. Something else He made clear.
He actually denounced His enquirers. He compared them with two other people, or groups of people, and showed that though these had less testimony, sign, signal, evidence of the will and word of God, than He Christ was presenting, YET they carried the message and acted on it. THEY would be able to denounce these enquirers, the unbelievers in His generation who, presented with the ultimate in evidence, still would not believe.
First was Nineveh. As we have seen, this city, cruel and imperially central, actually repented when the Jew, Jonah, came with His underlying message of do it or be doomed. If they with so RELATIVELY little evidence believed, would they not rise to condemn the Jews of Christ’s day who disbelieved when the very Son of God was addressing them, answering their diseases of devils, mind and body, rebutting their errors, presenting the way of life and living it in precise fulfilment of prophecy, constantly and consistently, with never a failure and inviting those who would come, to do so freely!
A greater than Jonah is here, He cried, but THEY repented at Jonah. What then, He asseverated, is your judgment that they will declaim against you!
Second was the Queen of Sheba. She came from a far nation to Solomon, and was famously impressed to the uttermost - she had heard hardly the half of what he had done with the assitance and prompting of the Lord. If these works through a called but still human king led to such awareness of the power of God (I Kings 10:8-9), what of His contemporaries! She was ready to believe what required it, saying:
"Happy are your men and happy are these your servants,
who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom!
Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord has loved Israel forever,
therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness."
Yet a greater than Solomon had come to Christ's own generation at Jerusalem, and still they did not believe. She therefore, that Queen, in the resurrection would rise in judgment on them, having seen and attested the power and wisdom of God and His greatness, on a relatively far less crucial and amazing ground, than Christ Himself presented. Indeed, Christ declared further, as seen in John 15:22-25:
"If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin,
but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.
If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin;
but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.
But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law,
‘They hated Me without a cause.’ “
From what Christ first said, in our text this morning, it was made apparent that He was going to die for their sins, and pardon them as surely as they repented and believed in Him. Since this laying down of His life so that He might take it up again (as in John 10:17), this dying of the Good Shepherd for His sheep, was voluntary, it was a grand perfume of eternity –
"I lay down My life for the sheep ....
Therefore My Father loves Me,
because I lay down My life that I may take it again.
No one takes it from Me,
but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.
This command I have received from My Father."
It was also a renunciation of His own life. He refused to imprint the spectacular as a ground for faith, for that is not what real life is about. He would not PERFORM like a circus trapeze artist, for reality not appearance was the issue, so He denied the Pharisees' ludicrous request. They had already had enough 'signs' to sink a ship, far better than the Titanic!
What He was prepared to do, was to suffer ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE, permitting people to arrest Him as He often foretold, to spit on Him, as foretold also by Him and by the Psalmist in prophecy concerning Him, to deride and scorn Him, reject Him, kill Him, declare Him an evil person and delete Him as far as they were able, from the land of the living. He was prepared to do as His Father in heaven had commanded and as He in heaven (cf. John 17:1ff.) had resolved to do (Psalm 40), and in integrity of utterance and of deed, to present such a testimony of truth and control with power and peace, that none who searched in sincerity could doubt, and all who sought Him would find Him, all who desired Him would be found in Him.
We too must be willing to renounce, not on such a grand schema, since we are mere sinners, but with the same sort of complete devotion to duty and reality, to the Father and to the Son, as He showed to His Father, and to do so with the love which He sheds abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). What is it we are to renounce ? Why, our own wills as determinants of what we want and do. NOT MY WILL, but THINE be done was the famous conclusion of Christ at Gethsemane. This is not the word of the One who merely shows for fun: IT WAS AN EXAMPLE, as well as unique in its portent, the Cross, for Him.
If we only would trust Him UTTERLY, follow Him sincerely, avoid the entanglements which deceive, pursue goodness and mercy like dogs chasing sheep, having received the simple pardon from His work on the Cross and leading to it, so that He could be utterly pure and so take sin on Himself, as a substitute for sinners (Matthew 28:20) - then we could move mountains (Mark 11), find the paths of spiritual service and please God in a wonder of friendly counsel and near comradeship. There is no other way.
It is a good way. The LORD IS GOOD. How OFTEN it is declared and shown (Micah 7:19ff., Psalm 31:19-20, 144:2, 34:8, 100:5, 135:3, Jeremiah 33:11, Nahum 1:7). Even the bruised reed He will not break (Isaiah 42:3), and He endures faithful though we be faithless (II Timothy 2:13), for "He cannot deny Himself." He restores the believing soul, the perfect Shepherd, filled with goodness.
His way is perfect. So wait on Him and He will perfect that which concerns you (Psalm 138:8). Moreover, in that path lies eternal life, and those who hate death, should seek it. It is found nowhere else.
For the movement in Australia, which may be read in the above context, at the national rather than the individual level, see Preface to the April 2008 work just published, Jesus Christ for the People, but Not for This World