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Sculpted Trees or Growing Ones ?
Flying Drones or Pilots ?
In Adelaide, one of the most impressive engineering works, on a geographical scale, that one has seen appeared, not too long ago, at the entrance to the City.
Its scope and sweeping lines, the beautiful sense of natural surroundings, the cleft hills, the short but adequate tunnels, long enough to be interesting, not so long as to encourage thought of their demise, the views before the expectant eyes as the car moves in the multi-lane short-circuit to the former winding place of perils, all combine to produce a joy of creation.
However there is one thing, not an engineering marvel at all, but intended to be an artistic one, which comes at the end of these proceedings. It is a concrete copse of 'trees' intended to be an introduction for the visitor coming to the City, and inscribed with various tributes, data or memories, to give a sense of the aura of the place, or its past, hopes or station. These trees are not green. They are that slightly tinged and not too stark concrete hue which does not proclaim life. They have been placed, after much discussion, somewhere in the vicinity of a gas station...
They will never grow.
Christians are not like that (II Peter 3:18), but human creations to impress with an aura of the life, with a sense of the past, or the prospects of a person, these are very like that. They do not grow because they have no eternal life within them; because, in particular, their lives are not among those in whom there lives, by the Spirit of God, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). Chained to form, like concrete trees chained to their bases to prevent theft, they exhibit, they display: but are dead. Indeed, to follow the parallel, in the spiritual sense, they have never been alive.
Life is for the living: God is the God of the living, not of the dead. The words of Christ (Matthew 22:31)? These:
|"But as touching
the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto
by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
"And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine."
As well expect life in concrete as in what does not know the God of life, who made our sort of image-bearing life, our world and our prospects. Sculpted trees may have artistic appeal to some, just as the endless varieties of dead theological propositions which try to engrave themselves on the biblical faith, like worms splattering on rock, in vain; but they do not have life. There is not that vitality, that dynamic, that growth, that involvement with roots, that enduring, changeless testimony inscribed, that capacity for shoots, that nobility of being sent from seed, growing in and into grace.
Take an oak. How small the seed (and yet it has a form that appeals, even that little acorn of hope), yet how vast the accomplishment that waves ever so slightly in the wind, being gifted with a heart of oak, able to sustain enormous branches, perhaps 30 feet in length with huge separate diameters from the main trunk, quietly sustained, brilliantly combining strength and nobility, tenderness in spring tassels with depths amid the branches, ready to be climbed, in a little world almost of its own! Yet it is not of its own, for it may be amid other oaks, in some combination of artistries to delight the eye, stir the heart and bring wafting patterns of light to the shade below.
Life is not an engineering matter, though it has many engineered components. Once it is spiritual life, to which we are here comparing the oak, once the seed has been planted, once the regeneration is wrought by the power of God, so that it is as in Isaiah 61:3,9, then "all may see them and acknowledge them that they are the seed which the LORD has blessed."
"Let," said Christ, "your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). "Walk," says Paul, "as children of the light" (Ephesians 5:7), and again, he declares (I Thessalonians 5:5):
all of you are children of the light and children of the day.
We are not of the night or of darkness."
Let us now turn to the famed Australian eucalypt or gum tree. What colours its river gums can display, in artistic serenity, with massive trunks, and playful seeming branches, moving aloft without haste, moving in slow but graceful geometries! They can survive fire, regenerating in ways almost startling in a rather short time, ever where some charring occurred. They are wonders in days of little rain, having roots that are truly adventurous! Yet to them there is a liability that multiplied living things seek to enjoy their company, and some of the botanical sicknesses which result can be blighting indeed. Even these, they normally fight, and winning, have the victory. Soon again, their gracious vitalities merge slight auras of eucalyptus fragrance with the arboreal air, spreading welcome shade in a kindly fashion, for the traveller.
They fight because they have life. They have configurations changing and remarkable, because they have life. They are planted and germinate and grow and change, without losing their own basic pattern, because they have life. Their leaves rustle and their boughs sway in the winds, the shoulders where the branches take position, sometimes, as in lemon gums, bringing such an illusion of rippling muscles as in man, that the result is quite striking!
IT WOULD BE SPIRITUAL TREASON TO DO LESS THAN TREES
Let us now recall Christ's words, that God is the God of the living, not of the dead. Let us move from analogy to reality. Form and fashion, impact and individuality, these things can be seen in merely engineered products, even art. Man however without God does not have the planting of God (Matthew 15:13) and Christ intimates that EVERY TREE NOT PLANTED BY GOD will be uprooted. Ah but this is a kind of life! the reader may protest. Yes, the point was analogical merely, concerning trees; but the reality is deeper than wooden analogy may suggest. It must be interpreted with spirit. The words that I speak, said Christ, are life and spirit (John 6).
Trees not planted by God have a species of existence which bears formal resemblance to those planted by God, but their 'life' is secular, psychic, social, yes and individual, but not spiritual. They are "dead in sins" and while standing, they have no life. They are like those gums which had some species of life, but could not continue in it. They had no strength with which to prevail.
Many are they who are not planted by Christ's Heavenly Father. Straggling and struggling, they are mean in spirit, not shifted back to the image of God, products of distortion, ready to be uprooted.
What then is one of the marks of the Christian life ? It is this, the victory which is by faith. It is seen most graphically and dramatically in Romans 7, leading structurally into Romans 8 like a left and right hand, to be taken together.
Paul is in expository mode. He is showing victory, after the focus on holiness in Romans 6. Consider for example verses 15-18:
"What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?
"Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
"But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."
Christianity is doctrinal, yes; it is dynamic also: it is expository, yes, but it is expressive also. It is not in word only, and moreover, its word is with power. Thus Paul declares to the Corinthians in the last chapter of II Corinthians (vv. 4-9), these words:
"For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.
"Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete."
This faith in Christ, it did not start with explanations of failure, but expositions in word and deed, of a dynamic invisible at all times, except when GOD HIMSELF ACTS (cf. Isaiah 64;5). It was not a publicity campaign which 'created' the fame of Christ, but a public demonstration of power in word and miraculous healing, in compassion and precise fulfilment of prophecy, in personality and in grace, all as depicted in doctrine in advance. The forecasts were not aborted, but fulfilled (Matthew 5:17ff.).
The expectations of faith, when He came, these did not find lapses, but lordliness. The lordliness was not repugnant but enticing: a majesty exhibited in word, dependency on His Father of eternity (John 6:38, 8:28-29,58, 6:29), and demonstrated in deed (as in Mark 2). The resurrection was not a damage control unit, except for Rome and the powers of Jerusalem. WHY, WHY, WHY could they not even keep the corpse of the murdered man, removed from their midst for political and ecclesiastical convenience, who FORETOLD REPEATEDLY that He would rise from the dead!
Was a forecast of a 1000 years too little for them to find preparation to retain Him ?
The power of Christ then, as in Acts, moved in the apostles, from Pentecost on, and if Christ escaped the clammy claws of death by simply rising on the third day precisely (as they seem to say in the time signals given for adjusting one's watch), then Peter not once, but twice escaped from prison, without the guards so much as being aware. There was no clanging of iron, no bumping of heads. He was removed from prison twice, as simply and expressly as Christ was taken, once, by Himself in that case, from the tomb (Acts 5:19ff., 12:5ff.).
Indeed, in a manner which might have been
pertinacious and audacious, if it had not been necessary for the continued
preaching of the Gospel, after his miraculous freeing from prison (Acts 5),
Peter AS INSTRUCTED by the angel of deliverance, went right back to the temple
area to continue preaching "the words of this life."
Unimpressed with the power of God so shown, the
priests were however impressed with the danger to their good name; for to murder
is often unacceptable, though in today's world, the distinction is for many
becoming unduly dim!
Life and reality were always the criterion (John 3:11, Acts 4:19-20). These could not be held by prisons, by defacement as with Christ, by whipping as with Paul. Murder itself did not work, to achieve its desire. God mocked the puny power of tyrants (cf. Psalm 2, where this is explicit, concerning Christ, and Acts 4, where this is cited for the apostles).
"Whether," declaimed Peter to the interrogating priests, "it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."
Christianity is never a matter of explaining the vacuous, but of interpreting what has been DONE.
Power is a criterion of Christianity, something
often forgotten by those who fondly imagine that a comfortable life is a good
one, and so that suffering is an evidence of weakness. Could not this author
have readily kept land earlier sold for the work of the ministry, and so in
time, as it now appears, become a millionaire ?
Was this weakness ? Or was it strength, so that the PURPOSE OF LIFE could be achieved, including the writing, as it transpired, of these 65 books! Could not Peter have resumed fishing instead of engaging in conflict with ecclesiastical wolves! Could he not have lived to a ripe old age ? Could not Paul have continued with whips in his own hands, instead of feeling them on his own back!
WHY did they do it ? It is because God is the source of life, the significance of life, the strength of life and the destiny of life: so that man can fight Him if he will, but there is for this neither reason, nor righteousness, but only a kind of dying calumny, like that of some fatally wounded canine, intent on destruction, but unable to live to complete it.
Killing God is not a lively option; dying in the attempt is however, such a thing. Indeed, this death is not to life; it is not an escape from judgment.
In this world, again, it is often thought that the nation which wins is the blessed; but it is not always so at all. It may win in order to become depraved in ostentation and deprived of the truth, witlessly trusting in its own strength and resources until, as with the Roman Empire, its fall is as described in Gibbons' work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Alas, it is no gibberish which documents the fall of man. God declared it at the outset; and this fallen race repetitiously shows its corrupted calibre.
It started once; it continues constantly to exhibit itself, in life, in morals, in politics, in social relationships, in spurious ambitions, in graft, in greed, in isolation from truth, in despising goodness, indeed in all the ways described by Paul in II Timothy 3, and I Timothy 4.
What then ? If man insists on becoming like a concrete tree, set hard in his own ideas, ideologies, in his own slighting of divine mercies, in his own defacement, expressed in his very countenance as he seeks to discountenance the true and the living God, then he will never grow. His death will become a species of pseudo-life, until judgment reveals the artifice, the pretence and the shame (Daniel 12), yes, even the everlasting contempt. Objectively, it is simply the case that no one has ever shown the power plus purity of Jesus Christ, the constant, never falsified conjunction with the deity in heaven, the prophetic prowess and the pertinent fulfilment of prophecy, both, and both together; the compassion and the procedure mixed, to feel and to do, whatever it took.
How often we find that "He healed them all", whatever the numbers and the conditions. He even, to use political terms, but not spiritual ones, took an enormous 'risk' in staking all on the raising of the paralytic, as noted in Mark, declaring that HE, JESUS, COULD and WOULD forgive sins, and to show that it was of God, He would tell the paralytic to get up and take up his bed, and walk. If he had not proceeded to do just that ... this paralytic... then ?
This power is what is to be expected from God, as is this willingness to be tested, and desire to provide authenticity for those with the will to witness it. ONE of tne of its places of operation is in the converted heart, the conquered will, which esteeming autonomy mere pretence, accepts that the most powerful personal being in the universe, who is also over the universe, is the most gracious, kindly, loving lord of all that could even be imagined, and that He surpasses all the criteria of goodness, with a power and a provision both marvellous and free.
Of such a heart, then, Paul speaks in Romans 7-8. Let us pursue the point, for it is the heritage of the Christian which is here to be found, in power and performance, in purity and in provision.
BUT THERE IS A TIME TO USE THE PARACHUTE
Of concrete trees, he does NOT speak; nor of flying drones.
These, so like the concrete trees, lack human life entirely.
Of course, as to drones, there is human life on the truck which may be monitoring them; and human life was used in making both the truck and the drone; but on board the drone, there is mere pseudo-perceptive equipment. It is useful to man, but man does not man it.
It is so with spiritual life. Some are so set with controls of culture, of politics, of psychology, of society, of ideological ravagements, which have infected them, that they are SET in their ways, ways without God, ways which are mere pseudo-life, a species of restrictive structure, debased from its origin, and not returning.
However, there is life for a look, as Spurgeon put it, basing his thought on Isaiah 45:22,
"Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return:
That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall swear,
He shall say,
'Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength.'
To Him men shall come,
And all shall be ashamed..."
WHEN this is done, what then of the victory ?
It all depends on your knowing God: that is the prescription (John 17:1-3). If you KNOW HIM, then you can apply, appeal, detail difficulties, seek strength (Isaiah 40:26ff.), wisdom (Ephesians 1:17-19), overcome the world. That last, it is just something that He made, that man has mishandled, so inheriting the curse upon it, and upon himself, until it is surrendered with his life to the Lord, who bore it for those who receive Him (Isaiah 53:3-6).
IF you know God, then there are unlimited available resources, specific promises (II Peter 1, for example), and a specific regimen (II Peter 1 lists available spiritual needs, to be sought and so obtained, since the promise is for all godliness, and these are part of that).
If you love God, you will have the desire, the motivation and the heart for it. What mother does not have such things for her children, and how much more does the God who made woman, children and the whole cycle! and how much more does the heart love the source of its love, its life. It is not here a question of whether or not a person will love God, but rather are we discussing the SORT of love which someone who has become one of God's children has towards God!
When therefore this knowledge of God, and love for Him, are both there, in a person whose life itself has been scoured, not soured, spiritually cleansed and not merely psychically splashed (Titus 3:5-7), effectually changed and not merely resymbolised, the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience (Hebrews 10:22, John 13:10, Exodus 40:31, Numbers 8:7), cleansed with regeneration and renewed in the Holy Spirit, immersed in truth and not dunked merely in some bath (I Peter 3:21), someone therefore whose inheritance is sure (Ephesians 1:11): what of the victory ?
THIS! Paul in Romans 7 traces a contest he once had, a psychic doom which seemed to settle on him so that sin became sovereign, folly become functional and truth became a mere mental mentor, not a living operator.
"What I do, I do not understand. For what I will to do, I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.
If then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I
who do it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh)
dwells no good ting; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice ...
O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me!" (Romans 7:14ff.).
WHO will deliver him ?This is answered in Chapter 8.
In this autobiographical revelation, Paul is rather like the man who is flying, under the stress of war, and with need to escape, finds his harness being stuck, so that he cannot effect an exit.
Whatever will he do ? The “body of this death”, the stricken plane, is bearing him down helplessly: it is an automated sort of thing, this aeroplane. Once so loved, it is now abominated; for it is carrying him in its own specialised career to only one place the earth. That is a crash site.
There is obvious need for a parachute, to be in heavenly places instead of in this flesh net, and to find a way to become unstuck from the dying machine. How is it to be done ?
It is done by calling on the name of the Lord by faith (Acts 2:32), with repentance like a microphone connection. This ? as we saw once before, it is like having an aircraft carrier bending its fire on the enemy, and look, one of its bullets harmlessly helps, by striking the leather where it will not release you, so that NOW you are free to fall*1, and falling freely are safe, since you have taken the parachute.
This, in this parable stands for the security of Christ as Saviour, and His power to GIVE the victory, so that what was doom, becomes delight, and what was and end, the beginning.
· "There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit ... So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His..."
Let us look now more closely at this statement of the apostle.
Thus it is clear that being in Christ Jesus IMPLIES having His Spirit, and being IN the Spirit . If indeed the Spirit of God does not dwell in you, as Paul explicitly states, then you are declared to be no Christian! (Romans 8:9). On the positive side, this; but equally, if a Christian, you are NOT being IN the flesh.
IF, Paul continues (8:10) "Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through His Spirit who dwells in you..."
Accordingly the Christian is IN the Spirit, not in the FLESH, and Christ dwells in him/her. If the Christian were in the flesh (contrary to fact) then that person COULD NOT even please God (Romans 8:7-8). Being in the Spirit, and having Christ within - the heritage of every Christian as Paul here declares - means that the "body is dead" and you are one to whom Christ gives life ... The 'body' and the 'flesh' here of course are symbols for the entire life of a man or woman, yes or a child, as you see in Romans 8:5-6, where part of the functioning of being in the flesh, is having a carnal MIND. What however of the change ?
Paul in 8:28ff. gives the background to this transmutation, from being in the flesh to being in the Spirit, proceeding from foreknowledge and predestination, to justification and glorification. In view of this basic governance and present power, he asks rhetorically: WHO shall separate us from the love of Christ!
Covering an exposed set of possible aspirants to such a task, he dismisses them all , declaring: "In all these things we are more than conquerors!" HOW ? It is "through Him who loved us!"
NO creation, NO power, NO principality has the
power to separate from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. That
is the apostolic declaration made with enormous vitality and exhaustive
Now it is necessary to realise that while Paul is here undoubtedly focussing love, he has equally been moved to call forth foreknowledge and divine predestination. This, in turn, is in such terms that the basis, the background and the government is seen as full of life, and so acting, bringing needed supplies, and in supplying, providing power to persons. This then causes their lives to be dynamised, their actions to be transformed, flesh to be in abeyance - that is the internal lust for independence with all its woes - and their spirits to be mortified to sin (8:10), its lusts emaciated; while like a solar panel on a roof exposed to the sun, the Christians are now energised for God, so that they are IN the Spirit and not IN the flesh.
There is thus a total, wholesale transformation wrought by God, applicable in the temptations, embracive in the love it receives, undergirded by kindness, operated in power, based in truth. Victory is GIVEN (Romans 8:37), for being "MORE THAN conquerors" makes those concerned extraordinary victors.
They are victors
|over death, since
that is covered (Hebrews 2),
sovereignty of sin (Romans 6, I John 3), since pardon equipped with power
as the Spirit of God is applying truth and vision to the heart (Titus 3:5-7);
|over agencies of
|over the shrewd
and subtle empires of satan,
|over anything IN time or even beyond it.|
The DESTINY is covered, the LOVE covers, the BLOOD annuls, the BLESSING continues, the DYNAMIC works, the SPIRIT leads (8:15-17) and instils the inspiring word to the Christian, YOU are a child of God!
THE WONDERFUL LIFE OF A CHILD OF GOD
Children tend to KNOW their parents, and in this case, it is no different. Knowing, you are aware of all the profound abundance of solicitude, serviceability, direction, and power, such as an adult healthily has for a child (Isaiah 49:15-16, I John 3). How much more is that so with THIS Father, who has not only made US, but our parents, the world, this universe, its laws, the liability to temptation, the grace to overcome to be available (I Corinthians 10:13), and the strength needed in His children to be found at their cry (Psalm 145).
Certainly, Paul acknowledges, during the course of this Chapter 8, the world is groaning in travail during its cursed epoch (8:18ff.), but this merely emphasises the blessing to come, when the stage of this environmental setting being removed, the stage of temptation being past, felicity will consummate faithfulness. NOTHING can overcome, NOTHING can separate, NOTHING can condemn (Romans 8:32).
he declares. "Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem! Do not fear or be dismayed..."
In I Corinthians 15, we likewise learn that "the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." So in I John 5:4, THIS is the victory which overcomes the world, YOUR faith!
Faith is the conduit; power is the product. Christ is the OBJECT of the faith. It is operative because and when and provided that it is rightly directed.
Victory is the resultant. It is GIVEN. You see just this emphasis in the case of Jehoshaphat, as seen in II Chronicles 20:15: "Do not be afraid because of this multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's!"
Here the prophet Jahaziel so announces before king and people. The victory is a gift. "You will not need to fight in this battle,"
So on the morrow they went forth with singing and praise, and the enemy was found to have self-destructed.
manner, you find in the case of King Asa, as seen in II Chronicles 14:11,
the same sort of conviction: "O LORD, it is nothing with You to help, whether with many
or with those who have no power: help us, O LORD our God, for we rest in you
and in your name ..."
a later battle that very king had to be reminded of this fact, when he
strayed for a little into fleshly conceits, and sought alien help for the
people of the Lord. He is then rebuked by the prophet Hanani, who after the
strictures, declares this:
"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to be strong on behalf of those who heart is loyal to Him..." (II Ch. 16:9).
Is it not similar in Mark 11:23's report, for Christ Himself proclaimed this: "For assuredly, I tell you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says."
VICTORY is not only in the world to come, to be savoured, but in this one, to be wrought; and it is done by faith through the name of Christ the Lord, and no other. Internal in overcoming temptation, and providing leading and power, it is also external in moving mountains that would block godly living as in II Peter 1's focussed promises; moreover, as in that same chapter. Likewise, it is spiritual in adding the necessary growth hormones and strengths noted there, from godliness to brotherliness. You visit your medical bureau ? You visit here your spiritual bureau, using the drawers of promises, written in the Bible, your name inscribed on His hands (Isaiah 49:16).
|Faith ? it is
ambitious in seeking the purity and celestial
mark*2 of the
"high calling in Christ Jesus" (Philippians
|Victory, it is accorded to the journey (Philippians 3:21).|
Powered more than any engine, lifted more than by any aircraft wing, the pure vision of truth and valour before them (cf. Isaiah 40:26ff.), focussed in Christ the source of the power, the vision and the way in Himself, they move as through the clouds in some lofty plane. What is in store for those who seek, for the children who love their heavenly Father ? Knowing the destination, having the thrust supplied, descrying the home at last to come, with ever increasing clarity, indeed seeing the "land which is very far off" (Isaiah 33:16-17), they are led by the Spirit (Romans 8:16), and "strengthened in the inner man" by Him.
This above all, it is not in some intrinsic power of their own, but through the NAME of that Christ who being in the form of God became man (Philippians 2), that they, being in the fact in the elements of manhood, should go in His name to His home where, a place prepared (John 14:1ff.), they find Him at last direct and face to face (Revelation 22). Yet, even now by His Spirit in them, He reveals the taste, the quality, the texture and the comeliness of what is to be (cf. Psalm 17:15).
This, it is the victory in motion, not just in notion; it is the peace not in prospect only, though there in perfection, but resident in refreshing realisation now (Philippians 4:4ff.).
Here are the vistas on the slopes; there is the vision on the summit.
As for fraud in all this, the Judases, what of them ? The matter is self-excluding, for where saving faith is absent, these things are not present. It is like an air-tank when diving. If the tank is absent, the air is absent; if it is present, the air from above is already about one, though the freedom to come when one has arisen once more to the surface is not yet as it will be. Nevertheless it circulates even now, as does that air from the tank on the back of the divers.
Were these things not so, were the power not adequate, were the presence not vitalising and dynamising, were the words not backed by works on the part of the Lord who conducts us, then was there a gap which would make the Grand Canyon look like a puddle dried up. Since it is otherwise, and all these things take place, equipped with just that suffering which likewise verifies that we "take up" the cross and follow Him, enduring not suffering that scars but travail that purifies, we proceed in validated ways, verified paths.
Even in suffering for His name's sake, for His work's extension, we are offered opportunity to attest the motivation in the Master, helping others to seek His face. In all these things, indeed, we find the empirical, the logical, the scriptural and the personal in one holy harmony of truth.
Victory, as with the Kings of Israel noted above - exceptional kings - is GIVEN, and given to faith. Few there be that find the narrow path where beauty lies, and peace is the atmosphere; but though small in percentage, they are vast in number. Many are those deceived (II Peter 2:1). Indeed, if you only want to think you believe, you will no more find these things given than will a diver, who only wants to think he has an air tank, find air in the depths! IF, says Paul, the Spirit is not in you, you are NONE OF HIS!
This is not some strange pneumatic phenomenon, but simply a direct concern of the President of your residence - if you ARE His, faith in Him is making His person to be alive in you from heaven, through His Spirit on earth.
The Spirit does not speak on His own (John
16:13), but as directed; and so you are brought near to the Lord, who, being
near, stops at nothing good in fulfilling in you His holy purposes (II Timothy
Who is HE in whom such value is provided, from whom such gifts are gained ? The name which alone is operative for the Christian is spelled out in Acts 4:11ff., that of the Lord Jesus Christ: for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given to men by which they MUST be saved. Thus, if you are drowning, and call on the name of the life savers (if there is a provision to do so! here there is, in the knowledge of God who hears the cry), then they come; but if you call on what you think would be a good substitute for them, it is not entirely the same! They are commissioned for it, and for reception as addressed.
In the narrow because specified way, Moses went as SEEING Him who is invisible: that is faith (Hebrews 11:27). Without it, there is nothing living and operative to see (John 3:1ff.), or for that matter, to enter. If you do not enter, you are not in Him, and He is not in you; but if you do, (John 10:9,27-28), then as His, you have company, and the power in this instance, it is in the COMPANY of CHRIST!
From Him also comes your calling, as in II Timothy 1:8ff., for it is a holy calling which He provides, not only to come, but once you have come, to GO (John 10:9, Romans 12), into whatever function in the church of the living God, HE pleases; for HE gives these to each as HE WILL (I Cor. 12:1ff.). This calling, this function within the kingdom, like your work as someone IN the kingdom, and your desire for the consummation in Christ, these things function together, and by faith. Just as Elijah's servant saw the small black cloud signifying the rain which was denied pending repentance in the people, and it grew, so by faith one finds, not because of the faith (the link) but because of Him in whom it is vested (the traction through the link), that the speck of hope, the strength of patience and the savour of Christ together bring nearer and nearer the fulfilment of those things which He has consigned.
As to the rest, the things that seek to have appeal: it is as dung (Philippians3:8-9), says Paul, that is, when it exalts itself, seeking to be equal to, or competitive with the calling and command of Christ.
Like the ocean tide coming in on some lonely but lovely ocean beach, casting its powers against the rocks, washing them, witnessing to them, so the tide of Christ comes in as one's life goes on, and the work He has committed more and more nearly is completed. This work, it is internal (Ephesians 3:16, II Corinthians 3:18), it is external (as in Mark 11), it is specialised (Romans 12, Ephesians 4, I Corinthians 12), and it is given by divine will and command. Just as Christ finished HIS GREAT WORK OF REDEMPTION, and then went (John 19:30), so the Christian, though unable to redeem anyone (Psalm 49), has yet a spiritual service to perform (as Christ expressed it so pointedly in Matthew 20:28); and it is this which must be finished. The strength for it is sufficient, the grace is sufficient (II Corinithians 12:9), the Spirit within it is sufficient, for there is nothing too hard for the Lord.
The beauty of grace here is not least in this, that although it is a duty which one has to perform and complete one's special commission which the Lord appoints to each, and although it is like a race, like athletics, as one surges on in His power and strength: yet the result, the destiny, is already appointed. It is like being a scholar in a great college. You are IN IT whatever your performance. You were paid for, and accepted (Ephesians 1:6). But what you DO, this is the opportunity which you utilise, and it is expressed - if you were to love that school - in affection, done in duty, not cold but warm and devoted.
It is just like being children: you could NOT BE a child of your parents without having the genes contributed by them; and so here, you COULD NOT BE a child of God without having the spiritual regeneration, the new nature, the inhabited situation with Christ in you (Colossians 1:27).
Hence that 'seed' remains (I John 3:9), the seed of God's begetting a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17ff.), one to be adopted, cleansed, corrected, groomed and used. This seed of God, that begets, it is the word written and it is the spiritual transformation inscribed on the heart (Hebrews 10:16, I Peter 1:23): it is a characterisable thing, as in the children of earthly parents. It MAKES you different, so that sin has no longer the power to rule, even if in imperfection it seeks to overthrow and overcome from time to time; against this, however, is the quenching might of Christ. As with Peter, so the disciple who strays, is quickly corrected (II John 2:1, Luke 22:61, John 21).
Life in grace, it is not like concrete trees, or flying drones. Its quintessence is Christ Himself, IN YOU by His Spirit, FOR you by His word, WITH you by His grace, till the end, which after all, is only the beginning of the next phase of eternity in eternal life (Matthew 28:19-20, II Timothy 1:12, 4:8).
For more on this topic, see Tender Times for Timely Truth Ch. 4
*1 What of the parable ?
While YOU, however, the formerly trapped pilot, are free to fall, the aeroplane is forced to continue without you, on its line to its crash. In the parable as envisaged, it hits the aircraft carrier, the type of Christ, at a red cross which was painted on its deck, and so sinks the carrier. Soon only oil and fragments remain. (I Peter 2:22ff., 3:18, Isaiah 52:12ff.).
What however of the resurrection, since the aircraft carrier here symbolised the Saviour ? Stored in its depths, there is a naval box, which is so developed in advance that it shoots from below, rises splashing through the surface of the water, and moves aloft on a great journey into the heavens: all those about duly perceiving its dauntless completion of the exercise (Acts 1:7ff.). On board that rising projectile is life so concentrated that, though it is visible as it leaves the planet, it changes all who look upon it (Isaiah 45:22-23, John 6:40).
This is the victory, that life eternal is freely given, readily discerned, gloriously triumphant, and its power is by grace received so dramatically, that one is “sitting in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6), able to discern from the elevation provided, some of its perspectives (Ephesians 1:17, Psalm 119:105, John 8:12), even now.
*2 What is the 'mark' ?
EXTENSION ON YEARNING WITHOUT YAW, UPWARD NOT DOWNWARD
In Philippians 3:14 there appears a fascinating and most instructive phrase. It should be pondered, as a beautiful view.
Paul has advised us that he counts everything as dung in comparison with Christ, counts things as dross, as rubbish, where the slightest competition is concerned, in the interests of another objective, of having that excellence that is to be found in the knowledge of Christ Jesus.
Nor is it only a knowledge, an acquaintance; a friendship. It is a repository in the species of friendship, a place to be, a site to occupy: His care and government, His love and His faithfulness, as when one comes to a farm, where on sometimes visits, and finds there the little brook, the rising hills, the soft verdure, the glowing clouds, the sheep quietly grazing, the large eucalypts spreading gently, a scene of peace and order, of beauty and content. The quiet waters as Psalm 23 puts it, they are here, the bluish hills with the sharp rising peak nearer to the eye, to attract as it wanders in a luxury of delight, to the haze and the touches of pastoral quietness nearby and stretching far off, as the French have it, to loss of view.
This is written in Philippians 3:8-10, this "excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord," this being "found in Him". Indeed, it is here allied with the resurrection: for this is no philosophical paunch, sitting for contemplation in the near vicinity of the spine, nor any intuitive hunch, resting solidly in a hiking pack which one carries about as a load. Rather is it the practical reality of someone SO VERY PRACTICAL that He suffered His body to become an actual corpse. That, then, that is an outing if you will! Out of the body ...That is an experience for the escapist to consider, instead of bungee jumping. What about a corpse condition ?
Not very interested ? In Christ's situation, it was not especially appealing either (Hebrews 5:7, Luke 23:46ff.), and He sought if by any means it might be avoided, for the corpse part was not the worst! As has been declared, "The suffering of His soul was the soul of His suffering"! Not lightly does eternal purity assume bodily form and suffer for sin! Consider the outrageous disparity, the clammy contact, the utter alien character of the guilt assumed, vicariously! Yet in perfect obedience as Messiah on earth, He faced it, outfaced it, and broke death in the process!
That is the necessity, there, of being authentic; but it is also the necessity of being God, if you wish to take on death and break it. To be sure, it is His OWN penalty for sin, since life does not tolerate in eternity the dissolution which sin brings; but it is irrefutable nonetheless, in fact all the more! Thus He in purity bore it for all who receive the transaction which He wrought, and Himself, the One who wrought it, bringing man by these means, and these alone, back to God (Acts 4:11-12, John 14:6, 10).
It all went in a package: first to DISPLAY DEITY, which He was and is, the eternal word of God in human form (John 8:58, I John 1:1-4, 5:19-23, Philippians 2, Micah 5:1-3, Psalm 45), and with this to DELIVER POWER in the way and manner of healing (cf. Isaiah 35, 7, 9, 11, with With Heart ... Chs. 4-7), and PRESENCE, so that as in the transfiguration (Matthew 17), He might with the eminence of peace, of purity and light, spearhead the truth like a rocket exploding not to destroy, but in grace to bless, dazzling in splendour, but adjusting the light to the eye to behold it!
This, it was not all: for He came also to DELIVER LIVES (Philippians 1:19-20, John 14:6, 14:19) from the dragnet of sin drawing them with the current of culture to the whirlpool of witless circling, never arriving, always contriving, going down, sucked to desolation. In a word, He came to bear sin and to break even death as its aftermath; and in doing so, He had to die, since the justice which demanded death for the sin which can not even live in the presence of God in heaven, would settle for nothing less (Hebrews 2, Romans 3, Romans 3:22ff.).
In so donating pardon, He equally credits righteousness to those who receive Him, and this, it is no mere cipher, no mere accounting transaction (though it is no less), for THIS righteousness comes complete with the very presence of Christ by His Spirit, so that its fragrance (like that of real flowers, as distinct from pleasant-looking paper ones) and its beauty are alive in one's heart (Philippians 3:9); for it is a righteousness, declares Paul, which is BY FAITH. This is the realisation of things invisible, the conviction of them and the attestation which accompanies them (Hebrews 11:1) all wrapped in one, and that one is wrapped in the grace of the Lord who giving Himself for sin, also gives Himself as pastor for His people, and is with them to the end of the Age!
This is in the eye of Paul as he surveys the spiritual scene, the pastoral splendour. HE, CHRIST JESUS, was resurrected, Paul declares, and I WANT TO BE WITH HIM IN THIS! (cf. Philippians 3:10). Certainly it is as a derivative from that colossal divine duty, which the Messiah so gladly took up and performed (Psalm 40, cf. Joyful Jottings 22), that others who relate to it by faith, receive the resurrection (Romans 10:9); for it is HE and none else who was raised in stark simplicity attesting the power with which He had previously raised others, such as Lazarus, and the son of the widow of Nain.
Yet what matters is not this, that it is derived, but that it has arrived. Christ has done it. It is accomplished and Paul shares in it.
To this, he strenuously moves, not in mere hope, but in ardent expectation, one which thrusts him like a mini-rocket in the trail of the wonderful One who came first. Seeking with ardour, pursuing with delight, alive to the uttermost, Paul perseveres (Philippians 3:14,21), knowing the assured outcome, but all the more for this, driving delightedly, all but oblivious of the cost (3:8).
Again, what is it like ? It is like someone running down the slope like explorers seeing water, and with assured expectation thrusting on, even if on wearied legs, to find it and drink.
NOT, says Paul, that I have all this yet (3:12): I myself am not a finished product, he implies, but being moulded (as in II Corinthians 3:18), I seek to APPREHEND that for which I am APPREHENDED.
What a delightful verbal play is this! He has been seized (Acts 9), and he in turn wants to seize the goal for which he IS seized (Philippians 3:12). Can you not see the zest in this quest! It is total, elemental, lends glow to the eyes, valour to the heart, strength to the legs, enduring to the suffering of shame and misrepresentation (to the end, as in II Timothy 4:14-18).
Now we come to the MARK of which the apostle speaks in Philippians 3:14. Paul, doing all this in the glow of assurance and the government of his God, the Lord, looks past the past in the sense of not being unduly preoccupied with its earlier quest, towards what is drawing him. He surges like an ocean wave, rising to its peak of hope, then falling in tumultuous foam and forward moving. To what ? To what shore does he thrust ?
We turn now to the aerial realm, to cover the elements of this beauty, in the figures of thought. He is stretching out, that is the sense of this verb, as if in heart to the splendour of some Autumn scene or Spring exuberance of awesome beauty; indeed, he is reaching with extension, like a little child with extended arms looking for and expecting to find his father, and he is doing this to a specific end. It is the GOAL, the DISTANTLY SEEN OBJECTIVE. This, it is personal, it is pure, it is complete, it is divine because it is DEITY!
THIS, it is the 'mark'. The word in Greek can signify either the observer or the thing observed. In the latter sense, it comes with the root apparent, to 'spy', to peer, to look discerningly; and here, it is in the sense of the THING discerned. He stretches out in the yearning of faith, the assurance of conviction, to this discerned deity, this risen Christ, with the eyes of faith and the confidence of heart wrought by the Spirit within Him, confirmed continually in the works which He has done through him and for the kingdom in him.
It is so like Isaiah's phrasing in 33:17: "Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; they will see the land that is very far off." It moves in the aura of the Psalm of David, 17.
Let us see first the progression from Psalm 16. Here he declares in predicting the Messiah, and of Him :
"You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fulness of joy..." (16:11).
This of course comes after the resurrection on which this Psalm dwells (16:9 cf. Psalm 22), in prefiguring the Messiah (cf. Joyful Jottings 25). It is not a pleasure-SEEKING psalm, but one which, facing the death for sin which was to occur to liberate life in man, and for him, looks past the corpse to the overpowering of death, to the conclusion. This is the Messianic Psalm of bearing for sharing, breaking for making, dying for life, and then delighting in the fulfilment of love and mercy, in the resurrection: of the willing Victim, now as Victor, providing for the rendering of grace to mankind.
With this Psalm, comes Psalm 17 in its steps: where the paths of righteousness and their gleaming suffering in the midst of integrity is found, as it moves to this glorious dénouement:
"As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness:
I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness."
It is one of the marvels of the interlocking of word and thought, that one cannot well determine whether this is the 'correct' translation, or this, "I shall be satisfied when I awake, with Your likeness." (Bold to help sight, not alter translation!)
The preposition concerned here can suffer both meanings, with and in. Of course, both are true contextually in this instance, and neither can well be excluded. David will be satisfied in the consummation of charity, of love, of grace, of truth, of righteousness most broadly, when, leaving this earth, he comes into that presence of God which is life forever (as in Psalm 21). It is not poetical, for it deals in the corpse! It HAS poetry in the sense of lyricism, but it is no less concrete than that very substance; only more so, for THIS concrete is most intricate, in the abstract sense. The actual is most magnificent.
IN the likeness of Christ (I John 3) and so being able to communicate most intimately, as friends may, being able to understand one another (I Corinthians 13:11ff., Revelation 22:3-4), he will be satisfied. It is to this Lord that he comes in his new likeness, to this God, this reality, this completion of the redemption wrought in the testimony of the resurrection (Romans 1:4), that the shepherd David comes in faith, in expectation, declaring in advance, the result "when I awake".
By the redemption of Christ, then, the bodies of believers, covered already but now discovering their new homes (II Corinthians 5:1ff.) are uncovered in light: when the time comes (I Thessalonians 4, Philippians 3:21, I Cor. 15). It is to HIM, practical, personal, all-powerful, peaceful, pure, merciful, demonstrated on earth, verified in time, validated in heart, manifest in thought, majestic in life, humble in countenance, that Paul looks. It is to that day when the consummation succeeds the preparation, and the rest follows the wrestling (II Corinthians 12:7, 2:10-11, Ephesians 6:12), when the gift of eternal life finds its visible expression and the power of God in raising His own Son, is seen in the opening of the doors of the place prepared: eternal for those eternal, and individual for those individual (John 14:1ff.).
As to David: Found then IN His likeness, he will be satisfied WITH His likeness, with that of the Messiah of whom he so often spoke (Psalm 2, 16, 22, 40, 55, 69, 72, 110 for example), seeing Him to whom, and with whom he has been coming for so long.
THIS is the mark, the objective, the goal, the scene peered at now, clear to faith now, perfect in clarity then: it is to this that the apostle is driving, like driving rain, moving with determination, resolution and continuity.
THIS is the 'mark' of the 'high calling' which Paul denotes in Philippians 3:14. Indeed it is a "prize", a precious presentation, a radiant reality in which what is awarded is the reality.