Through the day, we have been occupied with a consideration and recognition of the great truth revealed in the Word of God: that God the Father has appointed His Son, our Lord Jesus, to be the Horizon of all His interests and His activities. "Horizoned" meaning the uttermost bound of His concern and the inclusive sphere of His activities. We saw this morning in a somewhat comprehensive laying of the foundation for these hours, that that word "horizon" occurs in the New Testament, although not in our translation. It is translated, (and we quite sympathise with the translators) the original word is translated, "ordained" - "Whom He ordained." That is repeated concerning the Lord Jesus, but the word is the word "horizon" - "Whom He made the Horizon."
We are not going to spend any time on the definition, but we are going to get on with what is contained in that, we are seeing that God has made His Son the ultimate range and bound of His purpose in this creation. But God has also made His Son the character, the norm, the representative of how things are to be universally when God reaches His end: "Christ, all, in all." This afternoon we commence along the line of how and on what grounds God moves toward that end.
We saw God moving into this system of things by laying His hand upon a man, Abraham, to make him the first of a people who were to be for Him in His desire, the repository of His full blessing for all men. And how, from the time that God laid His hand upon that key man, that generic man, he to begin with was brought into a history of deep discipline under that Divine hand. On the one side, the discipline of undoing. Undoing - a continuous and oft-times terrible undoing, to bring the man to the place where all he had was God. On the other side, constituting him positively on those principles which are to obtain and govern in the universal state of things to which God is moving.
We saw Israel under the hand of God, in discipline, to be made God's servant people.
God's Servant People
The principle of servanthood governing everything, all God's ways with them: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and all the other representative ones were dealt with on this principle of servanthood - utter, complete yieldedness and brokenness before God. That was the way.
It's not difficult with the most superficial glance, to see these men on their faces before God. If we want the key to their lives, that is the key! With all their faults, their errors, their mistakes, their wrongs, and sometimes their gross evils, the one thing of God in their history, in their lives, which kept them under His hand was that they were men down at His feet - broken men, emptied men, humbled men, men on their faces.
How true that was of David. We may have many things to say against David, but the thing that God takes note of is that he is a man on his face before God - worship, adoration, surrender. In every controversy that the Lord had with him, he comes down; he comes down on his knees and so became a part of that vessel God was seeking to form for His service.
This afternoon again we brought this over into the case of the One in Whom all the history of Israel in discipline was summed up, Who took it up in Himself in fullness, in Whom this principle of utterness, of abandonment to the will of God comes to perfection: the Lord Jesus.
We looked at His beginnings on this earth, and the vessel by which He came into this world, the virgin Mary. We saw the greatness of the cost to Mary to accept that vocation, and how the last word, after weighing it all up, after facing all that it involved - the social stigma, the personal dilemma, the religious crisis - she came out: "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy Word". And out of that spirit, that attitude, Christ came into this world and was born. We may say by that the spirit of servanthood was found in Him by the very nature and method of His birth.
We further saw the circumstances of His birth. All those conditions around Him at that time, in that event, which were anything but the conditions of a lord, of a king, of a great one, of one of importance and reputation, name and standing - all to the contrary. He has come in as a Servant on the lowest plane of human life; and from that moment onward, His life was one long discipline by reason of that law: servanthood. We went on then to the thirty silent years to give that explanation which has so often been sought, as to why thirty years should be spent in hiddenness and silence, and apparent nothingness: learning subjection, submission, patience, faith in God when God is doing nothing, and all that. You see the law of Divine service as the way toward that end when all God's universe shall be filled with that spirit: His servants shall serve Him. The last word.
Now this evening we take the next step.
The Baptism of the Lord Jesus
Another great example of this same thing, before we can come to Him, His baptism, we must look at His forerunner, John the Baptist and apprise, as far as we can, the situation at that time. There is little doubt but that it was a situation of concern. Multitudes went out to John, multitudes went out to John, so many, that when Jesus challenged the leaders of the nation with His question, "The baptism of John, was it of heaven, or was it of men?" They said, "If we say, 'Of heaven' then, 'Why didn't you believe him?' That's our predicament. If we say: 'Of men' we fear the people: for all men believe that John was a prophet..." All men!
They went out by their multitudes to John at the Jordan. Why? Well, it may be that there was a movement of the Spirit of God at that time, what we in our times might call a revival. But quite evidently by their going out in their hordes, there was a concern about something. Perhaps a weariness of things as they were, a sense of frustration, that upon which the Lord Jesus put His finger when He said, "Come unto Me, all ye, all ye that labour and are heavy laden" - weariness and frustration, in quest of some answer. Further, evidently a real sense of sin. A real sense of sin, it says, "They went to John to be baptized of him in the Jordan, confessing their sin" confessing their sins; a sense of sin.
And we know from his message, that was the heart of things, his message was concerning the remission of sins. The remission of sins. That was the situation and the state of things, in brief.
But look at John. John, with all the apparent success of his mission, a ministry that you might think that multitudes, multitudes going out signified tremendous success of that movement. With all the apparent success, John was labouring under a sense of limitation. He betrays it. He betrays it: "I indeed baptize you in water...there cometh One after me Who is greater than I...He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire... Mine is, after all, a limited kind of thing. What you need, what I need, is that greater, greater thing." He preaches the remission of sins and they confess their sins, and he baptizes them unto remission of their sins. Then, he lifts up his eyes and beholds Jesus and says, "Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world! I can't do that. I may have crowds here, but mine is not a cosmic salvation. Mine is not a whole world salvation. After all, it's but limited. It is this One; this Lamb of God Who will expand this whole ministry of salvation, forgiveness, remission, and expand it to the whole world!" That's the horizon; that is the horizon, you cannot get outside of that. You get tied into that.
But note again John. What was the principle of John's life? Was it not servanthood? Remember that John the Baptist was the sum and climax of all Hebrew prophecy. The last of the prophets of Israel. "There hath not risen," said Jesus, "a greater than John the Baptist". That is saying a tremendous amount when you look over the Old Testament. In him is summed up all the meaning of the prophets of the Old Testament; he is the climax of that. And what was the meaning? Servanthood. Servanthood, every time, all along the way.
And look at John! John I think is the most beautiful and impressive picture of a servant. They sent their representatives to ask him who he was, "Art thou he that should come? Who art thou? Who art thou?" What an opportunity! What an opportunity, what a lot of men would snatch at that opportunity. "Why, don't you know that I am Elijah who was to come? Don't you know that I am fulfilling that prophecy of Malachi, 'He shall send His messenger before His face'? Do you know who I am?" No! "I am a voice crying in the wilderness, a voice... I, but He - I must decrease, but He must increase. I do this, but He will do so much more." As forerunner and harbinger of the Christ, he is so governed by the spirit of service, of servanthood, he brings Christ in on that. He brings Christ before men on that! "I... decrease." "He... greater than I." If you hear any loyal servant talking like that, any pure-hearted selfless servant talking like that, even in this world, "Why, I after all am only an employee, I'm only a servant, it is My Master that is the Man. He is the Man; He is the One. If you want to know anything, you go to Him. If you want to see how things ought to be done, you go to Him." That is the true servant spirit. We haven't got a great deal of it in the world in these days, but that is it isn't it? And that is John the Baptist. The great servant of the Lord whose service is constituted on this principle of self-abnegation, self-abasement, self-humbling, self-emptying. "I am not... I am only... I am only a voice."
Well, to be less than that, of course, is to be silent. But just to be a voice is the positive side of service. There is the door, the door for Jesus. John was the door. John opened the door and let Jesus in and that is the kind of thing that the door is.
Now, we pass to Jesus Himself and His baptism. We have quoted, "They went out to John and were baptized of him confessing their sins." John must have had to listen to a great many tragic and deplorable stories, "confessing their sins." What a build up there must have been on Jordan's banks of confession of sins. It doesn't do to allow our imagination to carry us away in this, but it says that: "confessing their sins." Imagination could make us say, here's this man coming and confessing, perhaps to robbery, perhaps to this and that, and the whole crowd coming, confessing their sins. And that's the setting and that's the situation and Jesus steps right into that, and asks to be baptized with the rest. Confessing their sins, and Jesus, coming with them, joining in with the sinners and their sins, and saying, "Suffer it to be so now."
John had sufficient perception and discernment to see that this is not one of the rest of the crowd; it is a different one. He is not like these others and he would have prevented it and said: "No! No! I have need to be baptized of Thee and comest Thou to me?" That's the discernment; but Jesus insisted. Jesus insisted: "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him." Jesus, Jesus, this sinless, spotless Lamb of God, without blemish. Without blemish, stepping into the place of the sinners, amongst the sinners.
But John sees in Him more than that crowd, he sees the world: "Who taketh away the sin of the world". More than all these terrible stories to which he has had to listen; all these confessions which have poured into his ears, the whole world's sin. The whole world's sin! This thing multiplied ten thousand times ten thousand. The whole world. Jesus stepped into that, the horizon is set for sin. Is sin universal? Is sin only the sin of those who confess it, or is it the whole world? We know what the answer to that is, and that is the horizon of sin. And Jesus, the Lamb, the sin-bearing sacrificial Lamb, encompasses the whole range of sin. That is His service to God.
That's His service to God, but, but look at the cost! Look at the humbling, the emptying for Him, He knew Who He was. He could later say, "Which of you convicteth Me of sin?" challenging, and yet, as such coming right down here, for the sin of the world, emptying Himself, "being made sin, He Who knew no sin." That is the spirit of service. In Israel we have seen the many types and figures of that in priests and sacrifices, bullocks and lambs. And here is the One, Who did what all the millions of those sacrifices could never accomplish, "To take away the sin of the world." The world.
What is it that I am burdened to impress upon you? This, dear friends, is so patently, according to the Word of God, the way, the way toward that great universal issue when all things shall take their character from Christ. It is the costly way, the way of emptying, of suffering, the way of accepting charges. Very often, we may be called upon to accept charges which are false. The New Testament tells us so. When there are thrown at us those things which would put us in a false light; they are not true about us, and we are not allowed to open our lips, we are not allowed to give an answer. This Lamb of God was silent in the presence of the false witnesses; all the false charges He knew so well. That is the spirit that leads on to: "Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him". It leads on to: "All authority has been given unto Me in heaven and on earth". There is your horizon of Christ in redemption. We are not surprised are we, that when He took that position, He accepted that in the spirit of the true servant-Man. Immediately the heavens were opened. The heavens were opened. The horizon was, so to speak, pressed back to the uttermost boundaries. And the heavens were opened and the Divine Voice was heard attesting, "This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased".
Now, that is what happened in His case, the heavens were opened over Him; a clear way right through, right through to heaven, to the Father, God. "My Son, My Son." All earth bounds were broken. All the limitations of a sinful world's horizon were broken through. Heaven was opened. What is in His case, is what God is working toward for this whole creation: an opened heaven! That's where you finish your Bible, isn't it? "He carried me away to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven." The picture which follows is the picture of a people under an open heaven. That was secured when Jesus took His place with the world's sinners and sin in His baptism. And I say, what is true in His case is what will be true when Christ in those terms is reproduced in His people. It is true, this may sound like teaching, but it can always be put to the test.
When the Lord Jesus comes into any life, into His place in any life, call it what you will: conversion, new birth, when He comes in, is it not true that our consciousness is that the dome has been removed from over our heads between us and God, and heaven is opened? "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." When Christ comes into His place on this ground: that He is the norm and the representation of what God is going to have, and as such, coming into our lives, there is an open heaven and the inward attestation of the Spirit. The Spirit begins His sealing of us as children of God.
I am not going to try to carry you further this evening. All this, I do not know how far, how much all this is registering with you. I can tell you that, so far as I am concerned, it is not studied teaching. It comes out of a quest to know what it is the Lord is trying to do in our lives! What is it? Is He doing anything? He must be, because things are so strong, so real - sometimes so terrible. Spiritual experience is something which we cannot get away from. It is not just all calm, quiet and negative nothing. It is upheaval, it is discipline, it is challenge, it is trial, it is testing, it is suffering, it is adversity. What is God doing? That is my question and I am sure it must be yours. I have sought the answer and this I believe to be it.
As through the Old Testament, as in the case of His own Son, as in the case of the Apostles, note it: as in the case of the Church and the churches, it is not long after the Lord comes into His place, that you find that this rupture and rift and conflict is set up in furious antagonisms in spiritual consciousness.
It is all under the hand of God: He is permitting it and allowing it. If God is over all, if He is responsible for all, if He is Lord of all, we have got to settle that. Settle that: He is either Lord or He is not Lord - no halfways over this. If He is, then truly as God said to the devil over Job, "You can go so far. I give you liberty up to a point. I give it to you, I allow you - so far." As truly as that in our case, the Lord permits, gives tenure to the forces of evil.
What is He doing? He has introduced this historic discipline, on the one side, to bring us into weakness, into weakness - the thing we do not like. The thing we like least of all things is to feel weak. It's one of the most amazing things a man like Saul of Tarsus should say that he glories in weaknesses. Glories in weaknesses!
Feel weak? "Yes, He weakened my strength in the way to know emptiness." You haven't got it in yourself, if the Lord does not provide it, you are finished. That kind of thing on the one side is going on in Christian lives. On the other side, is it not true that where that has its way, the Lord has given His way something of the character, I say, the beauty, the other kind of strength, that is, Christ's begins to show itself. An influence. An influence... Oh, for a mighty influence to go out from our lives, for us to be an influence for God in the heavens. The building up of something positive of Christ - it's the other side. This is the interpretation.
We have yet much ground to cover. We see it in other connections in the life of our Lord. But this, again, is enough to put our feet on the way of God's work, and God's purpose, God's method, God's end.
There is no doubt about it that when God reaches the end that He has set, it will be this kind of Christ that is met everywhere. You are not going to strut about heaven as little lords, and important people. I discern that when we really reach the end, we will be saying, "It is all of His grace. It is all of His grace. It's all due to the Lord. It is the Lord, just the Lord." And that is how it will be for eternity. It is the Lord! He will be our occupation and our theme of praise.