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WHAT A MAGNIFICENT START !
Going with Mark 1:1-34 for the New Year
Comfort is not only in company,
companionship, concern and empathetic tenderness, with strengthening from a
hallowed presence, though it is all of these.
Let us examine Mark 1 to find a further aspect,
giving special emphasis to the time for TEST.
Test first and peace is profound; test last and it may be far too late!
1. The Sign Post 1:1-11
John the Baptist signals and gives
the Different Baptism ...
to Christ, upon request and despite protest.
John 1:29ff., Matthew 3:13-15: it is for Him on whom the Spirit was seen alighting. This was the designation, the signal and the sign, and it was this Christ who sought a baptism outside John's current concept. Hence came the latter's protest.
How was it different ? Christ
insisted on being baptised despite John's apt protest that it was he who needed
to be baptised of the Messiah, not vice versa. For
'righteousness' sake' however,
Christ declared it fitting that He be baptised, and as John knew, it was He on whom the Spirit
would come like a dove who would baptise with the Holy Spirit, calling not in mere formality, but in dynamic reality.
What then was the need for such a distinction for John, one who baptised thousands ? It was the difference. John had a water baptism of preparation, but it was the Messiah for whom it was a part of a preparation which John was sent to make. Why then should the Messiah be 'prepared', and what was the difference, and why did John not want to baptise Him at first ?
There was only one righteousness, only one way in which a sinless Christ (I Peter 1-2) could be baptised, and that was as a form of setting apart, just as the descent of the Spirit like a dove did so and was known to do so to John: it was the sprinkling of the Levite in consecration which was in view, and this required a difference in KIND (Numbers 8:7). No sacrifices could be relevant to the Great Sacrifice, Jesus the Christ (Numbers 8:12), but just as Aaron offered
before the LORD for an offering of the children of Israel,
so was Christ sanctified as He declared so clearly in John 17:17, set apart from all that would defile, and recognised as sent.
Here then was a beginning of Christ's final ministry of service, to displace all Levites, all Priests, all sacrifice with His own life's gift of ransom from sin, realisation of eternity and conferment of eternal life. Hence apt was it for the singular mark of the descent of the Spirit as if in loving communion and designation of so ultimate a ministry (cf. Hebrews 8:6). The symbolic link with the old, so deftly chosen, helped the integration with the new.
Here was a start, not merely to a year, but to a Work of Grace that would never dull.
Let this stir your thoughts of your own coming year, not some splash of time, but an opportunity to serve the timeless Christ, in time, while there is still time to do so (cf. John 9:4).
2. Sign-Post and Christ both Tested 1:12-15
Signallers are vulnerable, the
fearless may pay rather than be paid,
but their work may be splendid.
So was John imprisoned because of the honesty with which he spoke from the word of God - as we all must as led and enabled - with fearless truth, in his case, even to a king, Herod. For this, as the king lost his head to a young lady, John lost his head to the whim of the king, just as Herod also lost his liberty in his cunning diplomacy, being banished at length by the Emperor to Lyons where he died. Truth has not failed, just as it did not in New Zealand's Presbyterian Church in 1966, when one denounced their heretical resurrection statement in Assembly. God has one man there to do it, and it was done. It is better to lose one's life than the truth!
John however had done his great work: he had not only exposed the fraudulent king who in time would be posing as belonging to Galilee, had not only uphold the glory of God in fearless denunciation from His word even in high places (Matthew 14:3ff.), but He had far more importantly, correctly identified the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), leading to vast results, coming with comparative ease at the first. What then met Christ near the very beginning of His mission ?
What is choice withstands test, and what God appoints, works. It is necessary to remember this as the new year comes, and not to wail or be frail under testing, relying on Jesus who Himself has the victory.
Jesus Christ was Himself put to the test! It was not as the young man tests his new sports car, hoping and expecting all to be well, but as one tests purity to attest its reality. What a test was here in the wilderness, bodily self-discipline to the uttermost, spiritual clarity, the disjunction of all worldly ambition, all sensationalism in method, all meeting of merely personal desire, adherence to the revelation of God in the Bible, precise exposure of Satan's weakness and fraud, victory for His work to come.
It is timely therefore, as the New Year struggles to reveal its light in the midst of the Moslem murders, the earthquakes, the tensions and lies, the pretences and the devastations, and the sales of human souls, lives for some lord or other: to consider who your Lord is!
Is it power to deploy what you will,
gain what you would ?
Is it influence to be important and
Is it property to enable
proprietorship and its rights of disposition and opportunities for creativity ?
Is it popularity that you might have
the salve and satisfaction of being well regarded ? Is it perhaps magnificence,
that you might be first ?
or dominance, that you might be a
standard, a level or a lord over people ?
Or is it security, that your days
might be unblighted by poverty or want and your wishes given a modest fulfilment
Perhaps rather content ? so that you
might relish what you have and are ?
Again, is it health, or family,
freedom ? so that you should be strong, nothing wrong, or ensconced in the midst
of your fellows,
or simply wings, with which to fly
where you will, in mind, or body or spirit ? if you could...
Or is the liberty itself your
lord so that you may avoid the Lord, give loyalty to none,
who is that, your God, whether you know it or like it or follow Him or not!
You cannot detach your retina usefully from your eye (though it may detach itself with serious consequences for your vision), nor can you detach yourself from the Creator of ALL the rest of you, including your spirit, your sponsor! Yes, the One whose you are, and from whom, flying, you fly into fog, not void, filled with perilous objects fit for mindless evasion or cunning withdrawal, alike... He does not evacuate because you wish to avoid Him. He is always there, from the first, and before time for our 'first' began, since from nothing, nothing could ever come, since if it did, it must have been ABLE to do so, and if was able to come from what was before it, then that was SOMETHING WITH A FUTURE, which is assuredly not nothing.
GOD is always there, always sufficient for mind, matter and spirit and their unison in man, since if He were not, quite simply, the inadequacy would see this result, which we are both using at this instant, void. It is however NOT VOID! Nor is He! His adequacy for the servitude of matter and the analytical thrust of mind, which fits into it like a hand in a glove, for the strength of spirit which can defy many laws, and take the consequences, deceive itself and postulate rubbish in order to satisfy its vanity, it is multi-dynamic, pan-directive and the embracive power to converge what He first makes. Unable to be voided, or avoided, God was there or you are not! If you are not, why talk ? You deny your theory! It is better to awake, and to realise this, that you are on TRIAL, being TESTED.
Imagine how dead would be the student who, at an examination, had neither prepared for it, nor yet studied, and who in fact did not even REALISE he was sitting it! Spiritual sleep is enough to make one weep, as millions abort truth and face fraud charges, absconding with their own selves, dysfunctional and doomed; but God will not force, for then freedom would lose its meaning, and results would be parodies, not persons! Watch well this test then, now, for it is ON ...
The junctures of your mind, body and spirit are not welded, but melded so that without the coping stone, the One FOR whom you are made, they tend to disintegrate, become superficial, or even absurd, so that meaning becomes the lack and morals the fiasco, built on yourself by yourself for yourself, though your auditor will not agree to follow your lead and submission when the time comes for the Divine Audit of your life!
Thus wandering and wilful, you become like an unfinished arch, going up but ready to come down, a mischief miscreancy, a sort of personal surd, an irrational number, in human format! So it is right that you should be, for losing your way concerning the maker of your matrix, vastly dissimilar powers and the basis of your personality is another way of being structurally lost, like tottering buildings, founded without foundation and foundering with the inadequacies of your imagination, hurriedly inserted beneath... Cf. Acme, Alpha and Omega: Jesus Christ, Ch. 9).
Or so you think, for you cannot get beneath yourself, for without God it has neither meaning nor knowledge, so that you become merely baseless, not in design, but in function, because of the burning of the papers of your design, though its biological aspect is inscribed in your DNA and generated into you genome. Just as information is NEVER found to increase over the generations, so LIFE is NEVER able to generate itself, and without your Generator, you run on borrowed power! The end of that is loss of liberty, assimilation with rupture into a structure you neither understand nor can control, a depersonalisation and a deprivation, ending in a judgment for the alien arrogance of irrational pride.
Christ then was put to the test, and neither did He flinch, fidget nor occasion fiasco, for in strength He met the devil's suggestions of alternative life, including that of ignoring His Father in favour of the adversary himself, and with the word of God written, the Satan was smitten (Matthew 4, Mark 1:12-13). Truth hurts the devil, and from it he flees (cf. SMR pp. 590ff.). Thus did he depart, helpless before Christ.
You too must meet your test, if a Christian, with both the power of God and the guarantees of Christ by your hand (cf. John 10:27-28), even if for a short time these severely try your soul, your patience and reduce any pride to ashes, this helping your realisation anew that it ALL depends on the Lord Himself, who ALONE is your Saviour (cf. I Peter 1:6-7). Thus comes again the joy that passes measure (I Peter 1:8). If however you are not relying wholly and only on the Lord as your sufficiency in life, its source and its salvation for you (cf. II Corinthians 3:5ff.), then it is time to flee from imagination and to find reality, repenting into life (Acts 11:18).
Consider how Paul was enabled to see the procedure of piety in the presence of the Lord from the former reference:
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves,
but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient ..."
Those of you who are reading inside the book form of this address, Lord willing, will shortly find much more about the way Paul learned and kept clear on this lesson, in the next Chapter!
Chapter or not, it is well to be ready for TESTS, which will show what is below, in your foundation!
3. The Four Called 1:16-20
Let us now revert to John the Baptist, to consider the selection of some of the first disciples.
John the Baptist was long being prepared, and the disciples heard him, heard his testimony concerning Christ, found Christ and followed. They collected like clouds driven in by the ocean winds. Read John 1 here, and see how the steps proceed from John 1:29 where John the Baptist points out Christ and so leads to the transfer of many of those whom he called, to Christ in important cases, and how the sheer marvel of Him there leads to a ricocheting effect, skipping on and on, more gathering to His side. In the end, as in Mark, Christ called and they came.
Therefore be sure than when YOU are called to service, you do not dither, but come, and then for Him, GO!
4. Objective Authority 1:21-22
Philosophy suggests, truth tells. God is in no need of wondering: He knows. Christ taught as one having authority. He pronounced, announced, not descending to the tampering and scampering of ignorant parties.
Scribes debate; God declares. Christ as God on earth, specified spiritual things, as one who sees and knows, pointing out what He has seen and sharing what is the case. It is not a matter of doubt, or disputation, but of delight and exposure. This reminds us that the wonder that GOD HAS SAID is the grandeur of God's love for us; and the shrinking from it, or shuffling away, is the folly that has afflicted this race from the first, and is destroying it to the last.
5. Authentic Healing 1:23-34
Folly squeals, Truth peals.
Practical tests, like taking an aeroplane out of the wind tunnel,
into the open day, show what is authentic. Evil knew it when its name was called, but God
was not interested in its advertisement! (1:25). Evil spirits were utterly under control, being aware of the deity of the One who commanded them. Healing billowed in the sails of progress, and the knowledge of Christ spread rapidly.
In this way, Galilee fulfilled its royal charter (Isaiah 8:21- 9:1ff.) of being a focus of divine power in the Messiah. This had to be as part of the identikit for the Messiah, being foretold with great drama and in a bold stroke of depiction.
The obedience of evil spirits suggests a power for man's weal, so that in full accord not only with this but with the Messianic missions (as in Isaiah 29, 35) healing followed on masses of people from the region.
Reflect that this authority in word and deed was as sure as its results. One act of floundering in word, one example of feebleness in deed and the effect on the concept of the Messiah, the focus for faith, would have been devastating. When the mission is that of the Messiah, the pass rate is 100% and the task type is divine. This is the second test! The TYPE of result in view is miraculous, and it was in this domain that no lapse was permissible. This is the third test.
Soon we see that if charity does not have to begin at home, it must at least be visible there, and it was, Peter's wife's mother being raised like the rest, to service.
Here lies a word for your coming year. IS your HOME a site of charity that is not cold, but as in I Corinthians 13, a thing of steadfast beauty, to which is added personal affection without affectation, and a courteous grace, painted, daubed with the colours not of mere sentiment, but if need be, of sacrifice ?
Let us however return to Christ with His new and not very receptive 'home' on this earth. What did He do after so great a healing ministry, with such power and such authority and such a preaching impact ?
6. Effective prayer
Early in the morning did He pray, so that when they found Him, work already called; many desired to see Him. However He had understanding of where to go - into the surrounding towns. Napoleon reputedly said this, that an army walks on its stomach; but those who are of God, walk on their knees. Prayer is not an optional extra, or a nice completion to things, but an initiation; and without it, you are like a leaf flying in the wind. Foundational to the day, it is fashioning you before you begin, setting your sails in the right way for the day.
Man's call, then, and God's are clearly distinguished and the fact that a life in the Lord is wholly divorced from a life in fulfilling your own desires or those of your fellow men, is made plain. It is not that this inures you to need, but it enables you best to meet it, in God's way. People of God walk and work with God, and churches like such people, must do the same: hence the centrality of the prayer meeting. It is Christ from whom this comes, His cross our glory (Galatians 6:14); and it is not with masses but in mission that we are sent (Hebrews 9 cf. SMR pp. 1042-1088H). From Christ therefore comes this call, that to prayer, the prayer of faith, the prayer of His people met for this purpose and persevering in it.
Now let us consider further, that this action of Christ in going to further towns did not IGNORE those who wanted more from Him in the town where He was: LET US GO TO THE NEXT TOWN! was His answer. In that way, He could spread the gospel, heal the sick and have those KEEN enough to FOLLOW Him find Him there! To follow Christ is to be keen, and there is nothing in between.
We are now looking
forward to the new year, 2004,
due to be born next Thursday.
The coming year ? If you are a Christian, then consider it like a ministry, a divinely helped service (Romans 12, Ephesians 4)
with its test, its challenge and cost,
its scope and opportunity,
its God-given wonder and direction,
its absolute need for constant and continual prayer, both individual and church,
with the authority of the word of God in Gospel and the book of the Lord,
to tell it and spread it.
Thus ponder the power of God to perform what you cannot. Life is not meant to be lived like leaves on the run in the air currents, but fixed on the tree of life, with the sap of the Spirit coursing in your leafy veins, bringing vitality IN PLACE!
Our place is on Him who, cut down, yet lives, whose Autumn has become Spring, from whom is all Nature, and in whom is all peace, since there is nothing but peace in following Him, His life in your heart, His will in your mind, His fire in your spirit. He makes His servants a living flame (Psalm 104:4).
Here is found a delight in dynamic, a merger in movement with Him who sends, a crispness of precision, an appointment with date attached, with the King of grace and the Lord not of some rings or other, but of life. Of course there is suffering: for this world is increasingly like an ulcer, and to minister to it involves many foul juices, and much hardness; yet our assignment is not for ease but action, not for evanescent dreams but for teeming production, not for aching hearts but aching limbs, not for asininity but sanctity, not for greed but to feed hearts with the medicine of immortality, the meat of the will of God, the message of peace and the way to it.
It is not FOR this delight that we move, since its delightfulness is in its truth: the joy is merely resultant and the bloom of His presence, the dew of His rain, when He comes, as He does on those who are His, whose hearts await His return and continue in His work because it is HIS! (Hebrew 9:26ff.). It is for HIM that we go.
ONE of the many attestations of the power and truth of God is simply this, that HE works and we who work with Him experience His power in the performance of His will (Acts 5:32, Ephesians 3:16, John 14:12). For example, in these writings that this author has been constrained to produce, the only thing one can effectively say is this: that it is nearly always difficult to know where the impetus and the strength for them, and the understanding come from or go to... Thought and research of course is made, but as to the things to put down, they come, since this is the call, and the needs on the way are met with an intimacy of much relish, because the Helper is royal who assists.
This task is assuredly NOT one that this author would have chosen, but being given it, one finds it a privilege, as is all work for such a king in such a kingdom. What is the point of the work to which each of us who know God is called ? Its essence is to explore with God the will He has for one, and then to find in God the way to do it; and with this, to experience - not just in some visionary manner, as if this were all, though vision is a wonder of its own, but in the virtue of production - the keenness of His wit, the presence of His grace and the desire of His heart.
To KNOW Him is not some mere theological phrasing (though it is this, John 17:3, a matter of the keenest appreciation); it is an actuality which has the habiliments of friendship: the intimate knowledge, the multitude of individual events, the constancy of support and loyalty, the help in need, the kindness in travail (as in Hebrews 4:15-16, so in life). It has likewise the criteria of a DIVINE FRIENDSHIP, namely the adequacy of the power, the sufficiency of the leading, the direction contrary to the desires of the flesh and the mind, the beauty of holiness and the devotion which this induces, the trust of heart being moulded with the grounds for it, not only in theological correctness, but in vital observability and friendly concourse.
This is, as with all truth, a criterion indispensable. Not only is the word of God true, harmonising with itself, but its application is true, gifting grace with performance.
In other words, it is not only the formulation, but the performance that one finds in the laboratory of life as one follows the book of the Lord with the faith in Christ; and just as the power to be formulated is vital to it, so is the power to have it performed. Truth and power walk hand in hand; and often they are joined by suffering, not extraneous but correlative, for after all, this world lies in the wicked one, its prince, whose burning passion is against God, his very name being 'adversary'.
To vacuum your house can also involve suffering, but the need is the machine with its fit for the work, and the power to operate it. So here, the kindness of the Lord involves cleaning, but both the word of truth and the spirit of power are available in terms of it, from the Lord Himself, for the work concerned. You are not left alone, but filled with meaning, can say following Christ, My meat is to do the will of the One who sent me! (John 4). The servant truly is not greater than his Master, but it is truly great to have Him working with one.
It is all there, nothing missing, the Lord, His word and His work, and they harmonise; but as for this world and its naturalistic, secular, pragmatic, expedient, changeable, self-serving, self-interested, self-glorying and nebulously self-sufficient deficiencies, it is PRECISELY WHAT ONE WOULD EXPECT, of idolatry (cf. Wake Up World! Your Creator is Coming Chs. 4-6). It is all sound and fury, and it is nil in actuality. It goes on, like an arrant talker, goes off like sour cream and goes under like a failing concrete foundation, where the rats are, as reputedly in some of the skyscrapers of New York.